The Brewers need another starter. Could David Stearns look to bolster the rotation with 2016 AL Cy Young winner, Rick Porcello?
Rick Porcello is a free agent again. The 2016 Cy Young winner, is turning 32 at the end of the month and looking for a new team. There are reasons the Brewers should be that team.
2020 was a seemingly ugly year for Rick Porcello. He was with the New York Mets on a 1 year, $10MM deal. He started 12 games, pitched 59 innings, had an ERA of 5.64, and a FIP of 3.33, with 1.7 fWAR.
A deeper dive into the numbers shows Porcello is an intriguing fit for Milwaukee.
Porcello saw an increase in K/9 (8.24), K/BB (3.60), and a decrease in HR/9 (0.76). His HR/9 was the lowest of his career, and the first time it was under 1 since his 2016 Cy Young season. The short season also saw Porcello give up an opposing batting average of .303 (career average: .276), a BABIP of .373 (.309), and a WHIP of 1.51 (1.36). That’s not exactly impressive, especially when his ERA was 5.64 and his ERA- was 134, which is 34% worse than average.
Porcello did not qualify for any statistical leaderboards, falling one inning short, but had he, his BABIP would have been the worst in baseball and his ERA would have been 2nd worst.
However, 2020 was an aberration year. Stars of all walks of life struggled. There are underlying metrics that make Porcello appear better than at first glance.
FIP is a neutralized formula that looks at what would happen based solely on batted balls and not what happens with no defense. Home Runs is a major calculating factor of FIP, which is one reason Porcello had such a lower FIP than his ERA. His FIP was 3.33, which was much lower than his career FIP of 4.06. His FIP- was 76, 24% better than average.
In addition to FIP, there is Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). Unlike FIP, this metric factors in fly ball rate instead of just the Home Runs hit. Using xFIP, Porcello recorded a 4.38 xFIP, which is not the best, but still over a point better than his ERA. His xFIP-, which is scaled so that 100 is league average, was 98, which is 2 percent better than league average.
Other metrics show the unluckiness of Porcello. His Average Exit Velocity was 87.2, which is lower than his career average of 88.5. He did allow more barrels than his career average, of 8.4% vs 6.8%. His Hard Hit% was in line with his career average, 36.3% vs 36.0%. Even his high BABIP indicates he was unlucky as BABIP typically falls around .300
Porcello has trended to becoming more of a flyball pitcher in his career, which could lead to struggles in the hitter friendly Miller Park. However, his pitch selection could help to mitigate that.
Looking at his pitch usage from 2019 to 2020, Porcello reduced his four seam usage, and went back to his sinker, throwing it 43.7% of the time. Porcello’s curve ball also saw an extreme decline. He used it 11.9% of the time in 2019, but only threw it 5.1% of the time in 2020.
Porcello is not the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young in 2016, but he doesn’t have to be in order to be effective. ZIPS projects Porcello to be worth 1.5 fWAR, which is quite respectable.
If Corbin Burnes was able to reinvent himself, becoming a sinker pitcher and even turning into a possible Cy Young candidate himself, perhaps the Brewers top secret pitching lab could help Porcello further reinvent himself.
The Starting Pitching free agent market is not exceptionally deep. Trevor Bauer remains the big fish, but with Drew Smyly, Charlie Morton, Mike Minor, and Kevin Gausman already signed with teams, and Lance Lynn traded to the White Sox, Porcello is among the top pitchers on the market, and that may price him out of what the Brewers would be willing to spend on a pitcher, especially with Burnes, Woodruff, and Houser, as well as potentially cheaper targets such as Taijuan Walker, and Jake Odorizzi out there.
Porcello could provide a sturdy veteran presence on this roster, which may be much needed, after the departures of Ryan Braun, Brett Anderson, and Jedd Gyorko. As with all things, it will come down to price, and how much the front office is willing to spend to contend.