keyboard_arrow_uptop
Chat with Jesse Roche now!

Agreed to a four-year extension with RHP Rick Porcello worth $82.5 million. [4/6]

For the second time in the past two months, the Red Sox have extended a pitcher who hadn't thrown a regular-season pitch for them. Unlike Wade Miley, whose three-year pact worth $19.25 million qualifies as chump change, Porcello received a real, live payday. It was always going to be that way, of course, since Porcello was closer to his date with free agency than Miley. But does that make this extension a good idea?

You can understand why Ben Cherington thinks so. Porcello won't turn 27 until he's bored of his Christmas presents, yet he's already surpassed the 1,000-inning mark. He's shown stellar control over those frames, consistently notching solid-to-good strikeout-to-walk ratios despite being light on strikeouts. Similarly, Porcello has coerced more than 50 percent groundballs in each of his six seasons. Aliens could invade and imprison humanity tomorrow, and Porcello would nonetheless find a way to toss 180-plus league-average innings.

At the same time, there's a legitimate case to make against extending Porcello. His innings count is impressive for his age, but until recently he's always carried the underachiever label. His next all-star appearance or Cy Young vote will be his first, and he went five years between 100 ERA+ seasons. Additionally, Porcello doesn't miss bats—his contact percentage was similar to Kyle Kendrick, Dillon Gee, and Eric Stults—and until last season he'd allowed lefties to post an post an OPS of .800 or better in three consecutive seasons. Oh, and lest we forget about his FIP-ERA discrepancy and BABIP.

Porcello has over the last three seasons one of the highest BABIPs in baseball. Corey Kluber owns the worst mark, but nobody cares because he strikes batters out; Porcello doesn't have that going for him. Porcello didn't have infield defense going for him either, as Marc Normandin noted, which adds to the complexity of the issue at hand. It's no wonder Porcello inspires disagreement: his statistical profile is unusual, and therefore divisive.

If you can see through the metric-induced haze, Porcello looks like a tolerable middle-of-the-rotation starter. However, therein is another polarizing aspect to this deal: nobody is accustomed to mid-rotation arms making $20 million per season, especially not through an extension.

Six other pitchers with more than five seasons of MLS have signed multi-year extensions over the past two years: Phil Hughes, Jorge de la Rosa, Homer Bailey, Clayton Kershaw, Charlie Morton, and Tim Lincecum. Obviously Kershaw is an ace, Lincecum and Hughes are bigger oddballs than Porcello, and neither de la Rosa nor Morton qualify for the same tax bracket. Process of elimination leaves Bailey, who received $23 million more despite comparable numbers:

Pitcher

GS

IP

ERA+

SO/BB

Bailey

143

853

95

2.55

Porcello

180

1,073

98

2.49

That sounds like vindication for Cherington, but remember: Bailey's deal is and was a relative outlier and was given based on promise as much as production. Such reasoning doesn't apply here. Porcello, though young, lacks the breakout profile. He could improve by bettering himself versus lefties and thanks to a slicker infield defense, yet the shift from Comerica to Fenway Park is going to eat into some of those gains. Besides, Cherington seems content with what Porcello is: "The Sox believed the contract made sense based on his track record rather than daydreams about what he might become."

So what other explanation is there? One is Cherington paid Porcello more for a shorter term. This strategy recurred throughout Boston's offseason, as both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez seemingly took shorter deals for bigger paydays. Yet that explanation feels dubious in Porcello's case, since mid-rotation starters seem to top out at four years. Maybe Porcello's age would have coerced a team into giving him a fifth year, but nobody can say for sure. (Plus this winter's free-agent class could be flush with above-average starters, which might have worked against Porcello if anything.) Another is that Cherington paid up to keep a pitcher he liked in red socks—though again, that's an odd explanation given how the Red Sox seemed to like Jon Lester a lot, too, albeit at a different price point.

It would seem then that there is no silver bullet explanation. For some, that's fine. Cherington signing off on the deal is enough to provide them with peace of mind—well, that, and knowing the Red Sox won't be hamstrung if Porcello fails to develop further. For others, the unanswerable aspects leave them queasy or against this contract. Altogether, there's enough merit on both sides to call this a curious, if ultimately tolerable deal that is sure to inspire debate throughout its duration.

In that sense, this is the perfect contract for Porcello.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
DetroitDale
4/08
Interesting you mention Lester in the analysis, as the Sox having then losing Lester was likely a factor in both this contract, and their acquisition of Little Ricky in the first place.

During last year's trading period there was a lot of speculation that the Red Sox's plan involved trading Lester at the deadline for prospects, then signing him as a free agent, meaning they could have both Lester and some good young players.

But halfway through the plan something went awry. The Cubs swooped in and signed Lester out from under them. Around the time this was happening, there were heated rumors of a Cespedes for Porcello deal with Detroit. The talks appeared all but dead right up until the Lester announcement came out, then within days, the trade was announced, with the Sox trading for Porcello, giving up not just Cespedes, but two throw-in pitching prospects.

So learning their lesson that you can't count on the free agent market breaking their way, they chose not to roll the dice again with Little Ricky, undoubtedly still remembering how they lost Lester.
Deadheadbrewer
4/08
With $9 billion in revenue flowing into MLB in one year, I would argue that questions regarding dollar values of contracts are moot. So then the question for me becomes, who WOULDN'T want a very durable, very respectable pitcher for his age 27-30 seasons? As a Twins fan, I look at the $41M they're paying Hughes, Nolasco, E. Santana, and Pelfrey this season and think, "I'd take Porcello, regardless of cost!"

And I'm not convinced that we've seen the best of Porcello yet. He had almost no minor-league seasoning, but has shown (here and there) everything you want in a pitcher, even, yes, strikeouts (in 2013 for three months). It would not surprise me to see him (with good defense and a different pitching coach, both things which he now has) turn into Dan Haren, which ain't so bad. And Porcello definitely isn't bad as he stands currently.
huztlers
4/08
He is young, but he has a ton of mileage on that arm. His stuff is also steadily degrading. Don't be fooled by his age. This is a player with collapse coming up on him sooner than later unless he reinvents himself.
hotstatrat
4/08
Why should we believe this declaration - other than the points made in this article?
dfloren1
4/09
Good point John. That statement, or "declaration" as you put it, is wanting for backing. It has no meat on its bones. If it were a fish I reeled in, I wouldn't feed it to my family.
DetroitDale
4/09
I disagree, mainly because I think his latest step forward can be traced not to the improved infield (which never fully materialized thanks to the Iglesias injury), but Jeff Jones getting him to dump his slider and emphasize the curveball more. If I'm right in the correlation/causation speculation. This step forward looks very sustainable.

Despite his coming to the majors early, the Tigers have been very careful with is use early in his career, so is there any study that shows pitches in the majors wear out an arm more than minor league pitches? If not, there's no reason to assume his recent success can't be sustained, and Little Ricky is gonna be a great pitcher for a lot of years to come, I only wish he would still be doing it in Motown.
DetroitDale
4/10
to clarify, I was disagreeing (respectfully of course) with Hutzlers, agreeing with Carter. Position of comment might be confusing.
jfranco77
4/08
These are the kinds of moves you can make when you are paying Betts and Bogaerts $500k each.
dfloren1
4/09
Even taking into account relative paydays, I wouldn't say that Miley's $19.25 million contract doesn't rise to the level of a real" or "live" payday. We all live real and live days while we live. The basest churl enjoys the same reality as the dapperest Dan. Relatively massive payouts are reserved for the outliers, who, while all too "real" and "live," are not more real or live than the rest of us. Use superlatives or even hyperbole for these outliers.
jsdspud
4/08
Paying over $20M per year based on potential. I just don't see how this contract can turn out well for the Sox.
greggborgeson
4/08
It's certainly conceivable that Porcello could average more WAR per season over his next five, than Lester over his next six -- for half the price.
sbnirish77
4/09
Who were the Red Sox bidding against here?

How did this negotiation go?

Red Sox : We'll offer 4 years at 18 million
Porcello : We want 4 years at $23 million
Both : Lets settle at $20 + million

Does anyone think Porcello would have turned down 4 years at $16, $ 18, $20 mil that the Red Sox had to go over $ 20 mil?