Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Boston Massacre: What's Wrong With Rick Porcello?

Danville, Kentucky – Rick Porcello had a pretty good life. A spot in a Cy Young-studded Detroit Tigers rotation, a 3.43 ERA and 15 wins to his name, in what many described as a breakout season for the 25 year old right-handed sinkerball artist from Jersey. He was a pillar of Detroit’s rotation, throwing 3 complete game shutouts, including a Maddux, at times looking like the reincarnation of the groundball guru Maddux himself. More importantly, he stepped out of the shadow of aces like Justin Verlander & Max Scherzer, finally making a name for himself.

His strong 2014 campaign was rewarded with a trade to the Boston Red Sox, a team freshly loaded with proven hitting talent like Hanley Ramirez & Pablo Sandoval. Next, the Sox promptly made Rick a $82.5 million/4 year offer he couldn’t refuse. Afraid to let the young stud walk, the Red Sox snatched Kid Rick up like the last Cheddar Bay Biscuit at Red Lobster.

Fast forward a few months, and Porcello has an ERA north of 5 and a 4-8 record on a Boston Red Sox team floundering like the big banks before Obama spent my hard earned tax dollars to bail them out. What went wrong?

Nerds and FIP certainly can’t offer any explanation. It’s not like Boston’s defense is a substantial downgrade over Detroit’s, which for many years had more traffic cones (see: Prince Fielder & Jhonny Peralta) than a Kentucky highway during summer. Indeed, Boston’s defense boasts some plus defenders like Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts. If Rick kept the ball down like he usually does and let the defense do the rest, the Green Monster would be no more a threat to his ERA than the Green Party is a threat to Hillary in 2016. On paper, it looked like a good fit.

Yet according to Wikipedia, baseball is a game played on a grass & dirt field with a "minimum distance of 325 feet (99 m) from home plate to the fences in left and right field and 400 feet (122 m) to center", not on paper or spreadsheets. Something went wrong with Rick. Skipper John Farrell hinted in the right direction when he said that Rick’s problem is not providing “shut down innings” after the Red Sox score. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe gets even closer to the problem when he wondered if Ricky was pressing too much, and struggling in his new surroundings:

"Is he pressing being on a new team? In Detroit he had Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, to take the pressure off. He just had to blend in there."

I’m not afraid to speculate about what went wrong with Ricky. And it isn’t his BABIP, HR/FB, K/9 or xFIP. It’s chemistry. A baseball team is like a finely tuned machine (a ’69 Ford perhaps) or a “Triple Hog Dare Ya” handheld at Applebee’s.

If even one ingredient is out of place – such as the succulent pulled pork, ham, bacon, and crispy onions which grace this heavenly sandwich – the whole ensemble falls apart. Such is the case with Applebee’s handhelds, and such is the case with ball clubs.

Rick Porcello is a great pitcher. You can’t fake the reliability and efficiency he showed last year. He may yet succeed in Boston, and have a bright future serving up groundballs by day and feasting upon freshly-caught lobster by night. Yet, it’s not surprising to see a young man of only 26 years old struggle in this new and unfamiliar environment. The explanation for Rick’s struggles is simple. It reminds me of when my eldest son Will Hart Jr. went to summer baseball camp when he turned 10 years old, leaving my younger son Peter Rose Hart to spend summer alone with me and my Basset, Barry Goldwater. Peter was miserable that summer. He missed being around his big brother, just like Ricky misses being around big brothers Justin and Max, who he has acknowledged were a positive guiding influence on his development as a pitcher.

What veteran hurlers are available to mentor Rick in Boston? Wade Miley? Joe Kelly? Those two serve up more meatballs than Olive Garden.

Let’s not forget what a toxic environment Boston is as well, where some players have been in open mutiny against their manager.

Rick is transitioning from a clubhouse that wanted to win now, to a clubhouse that wants to sit on the toilet and play on Instagram. Perhaps these growing pains are to be expected, given that the Rick Porcello of yesteryear once engaged in mortal combat with the Red Sox.

Boston is located in the state that gave us Kennedy in ’60, and by transitive property, Johnson in ’64 instead of Goldwater. The state that deflated the integrity of the National Football League. Let’s not forget what a half-witted organization this is either; according to that terrible Brad Pitt movie they were one of the first front offices to jump on the sabermetrics bandwagon. Why are simple concepts like interpersonal relationships and comradery so impossible for the nerds to understand? These aren’t xFIP scores on a spreadsheet, they are human beings who need nurturing and companionship to succeed. Championship teams aren’t built on spray charts, they are built on friendship, chemistry, and love. For the sake of the Boston Red Sox and the young Rick Porcello’s still-promising future, I hope the clam chowder-slurpers in Bean-town realize this sooner rather than later.

It'll be OK, Rick.