What would Rick Porcello be worth now? A year ago, the four-year, $82.5 million extension to which the Red Sox signed the righthander — which runs from this season through 2019 — was viewed by many in the industry as a considerable overpay. No longer. If anything, the deal now seems like a bargain relative to what his market worth would be, at a time when Porcello has been one of the elite pitchers in the game.
It’s not supposed to look like this. Complete games against American League East opponents who play in tiny ballparks are not supposed to come without breaking a sweat.
Yet on Monday night in Baltimore, Porcello managed just that, exhibiting a ruthless assault on the strike zone that seemed Greg Madduxish at times. He carved the strike zone with sinkers (34 of 45 — 76 percent — for strikes), four-seamers (10 of 15, 67 percent), curveballs (7 of 11, 64 percent), cutters (8 of 10, 80 percent), and changeups (6 of 8, 75 percent). His complete game represented 89 pitches of artistry.
“That’s why you win 21 games,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter after Porcello and the Red Sox beat his team, 5-2, to open a four-game lead in the division. “It’s not always the guy that throws the hardest. He’s got plenty of that. But five different pitches and command of them.
“It’s like Orel Hershiser used to say: One to compete, two to win, three to kind of dominate.”
Porcello has been doing a lot of dominating this year. Indeed, he is on the sort of run that has been seen few times in Red Sox history.
|2000||Pedro Martinez||Red Sox||11||85.33||16||114||0.95||1|
|2016||Rick Porcello||Red Sox||11||84.66||5||66||2.34||?|
He has now made 11 consecutive starts in which he’s logged at least seven innings while giving up no more than three earned runs. No other American League pitcher has had a streak of more than six straight starts that featured those elements. The last Red Sox pitcher to have such a run was Pedro Martinez, who likewise reeled off 11 straight in his second Sox Cy Young season in 2000. Prior to that, the last such run was authored by Herb Pennock in 1919, at a time when Babe Ruth was a fellow member of the rotation.
Meanwhile, Porcello’s strike-throwing has become outrageously consistent. He struck out seven and walked none on Monday. In his last six starts, he’s issued a total of one walk. He’s faced 170 batters in that time. He hasn’t issued a walk in seven of the last 11 starts; he’s issued one walk three times; and he’s allowed two free passes once.
On Monday, he didn’t go to a three-ball count until the 22d batter of the game, running a count full against Mark Trumbo. He concluded the at-bat on the next pitch, getting Trumbo to swing over the top of a cutter.
The last time an American League pitcher had at least 11 straight starts of seven-plus innings, three or fewer runs allowed, and two or fewer walks was 1989, when Bret Saberhagen did it in 14 straight starts for the Royals en route to a 23-6 record and the Cy Young Award. With two starts left, Porcello has a chance to match Saberhagen in wins, and with each outing, his chances grow of taking home the same kind of hardware.
Given what he’s accomplished, it’s intriguing to ask what kind of contract Porcello might receive if he’d been a free agent this year. In a world where he hadn’t signed his extension (for the sake of argument, perhaps one can assume that he would have received a one-year qualifying offer at the end of last year, either accepting or heading elsewhere on a one-year deal to re-establish his value) and sat on the cusp of free agency, what kind of gold mine might have awaited him?
A survey of a handful of evaluators took stock of that question, stirring the stew of his remarkable performance this year, the brevity of his standing as a dominant starter, his career track record, his typical durability, the unusually young age (27) at which he’d be a free agent, the thin free agent class of starters, and recent long-term contracts for pitchers.
Multiple evaluators noted that Jeff Samardzija received a five-year, $90 million ($18 million average annual value) from the Giants last winter as a 30-year-old coming off a down year. The most skeptical evaluations of Porcello suggested that he would land somewhere between Samardzija’s deal and those received by Jordan Zimmermann (five years, $110 million, $22 million AAV) and Johnny Cueto (six years, $130 million, $21.66 million AAV).
Others thought that $25 million a year for five or six years would be in reach. Yet another thought that six years and $150 million might be light, given Porcello’s age, market scarcity, and the possibility that he might have a Cy Young Award as a decorative accent in his living room.
In other words, there’s a very good chance that what had been called an overpay a year ago is now the opposite. How does Porcello view the matter?
For the most part, he doesn’t. The righthander suggests that his focus is completely on the field, and that he hasn’t wasted any time or thought on the matter of what he might now be worth. However, he did allow that there is satisfaction in holding up his end of the bargain on a deal he struck in early 2015 with then-Boston general manager Ben Cherington.
“I don’t want to be the guy that comes in here and is overpaid and doesn’t help us win and doesn’t live up to things that, coming in, I’m supposed to do,” said Porcello. “I want to be the guy that does my job. That’s it.
“I hold myself accountable to that. That’s my focus. I think that’s really all I’ve focused on this year, just having tunnel vision to a point where I really don’t think about or hear anything else that’s going on. I just go out and try to pitch.”
He is doing just that in exceptional fashion.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexspeier.