Rick Porcello Makes No Sense For Mets
The Mets are in a spot where they need to find a fifth starter to replace Zack Wheeler in the rotation. Finding such a starter is complicated because the team is attempting to at least give the allusion they are trying to contend in 2020, but so far, they have very limited resources this offseason. In some ways, that makes Rick Porcello a prime candidate, which according to reports, he is.
Porcello, 30, is just a few years removed from winning the 2016 American League Cy Young. With his Cy Young, being a local kid from Morristown, New Jersey, and his having won a World Series, he is someone who could be sold to the fan base. The fact he has proven to be a durable starter who will make 30 starts a year and pitch over 170.0 innings is of real value. In essence, he could be viewed upon as a Bartolo Colon who keeps himself in shape, doesn’t cheat, and is not a deadbeat dad.
Make no mistake, Porcello does have real value as a fifth starter for any team. There is also some potential for some upside with him. After all, his ERA was worse than his FIP, and the Red Sox having just a putrid defense last year with a -40 team DRS. To that end, the Red Sox were particularly bad on the infield.
Among the biggest culprits were SS Xander Bogaerts (-21 DRS) and 3B Rafael Devers (-6 DRS). Ultimately, the Red Sox team -11 DRS at second was the second worst in the majors. Their -12 team DRS at third and -20 team DRS at short were the third worst in the majors. When you are a pitcher like Porcello who is a sinkerball pitcher, albeit one who is generating more fly balls in two of the last three years, that is not a recipe for success.
That is exacerbated by the batters only going the opposite way against Porcello 22.3% of the time. Ultimately, if Porcello is going to be successful, he needs a strong infield defense behind him. Moreover, with Baseball Savant noting how Porcello likes to pound the bottom of the strike zone, he needs a catcher who is adept at framing the low strike. Breaking it all down, Porcello and the Mets are a very poor match.
In terms of the infield defense, the Mets actually had a worse team defense than the Red Sox with a -93 DRS. That was the worst in the National League, and the second worst in the Majors. Remarkably, that was even worse than the -77 DRS the team had in 2018. What makes those numbers all the more daunting is the Mets appear set to lose Todd Frazier, their best defensive infielder, to free agency.
Like the Red Sox, the Mets were bad defensively across the infield. The Mets -5 DRS at first and -7 DRS at second were sixth worst in the majors. Their -5 DRS at third was the seventh worst in the majors. Finally, their -18 DRS at short was the fourth worst in the majors. As noted by Mark Simon of The Athletic, this is all exacerbated by the Mets being one of the worst defensively aligned infields in the majors. Part of that is an organizational philosophy which tries to minimize the extent to which the infield is shifted.
Now, there were some positives to the infield defense with Amed Rosario playing at a 0 DRS in the second half last year. Of course, behind that is the fact he has consecutive -16 DRS seasons at short. Also, while Frazier is leaving in free agency, Jeff McNeil has proven to be very good at third base in this brief Major League career. If it is him who takes over at third, and not J.D. Davis, the Mets might be able to put Porcello in a position to succeed.
The caveat there is Rosario’s second half improvement is real, and McNeil’s successes are not a short sample size illusion. If we believe in that, and there is reason to believe, that could help Porcello who has a high pull rate against him. However, that is mitigated by Robinson Cano and his poor play (-6 DRS) at second last year. It is very difficult to imagine Cano will be better at second in his age 37 season.
Even if the Mets find a way to configure the infield successfully, Wilson Ramos presents a significant problem.
As noted by MMO‘s Mathew Brownstein, the Red Sox were the fourth best framing team in the majors last year. With respect to Porcello, he had “the 13th-most pitches in the shadow zone (edges of strike zone) called for strikes in 2019.” With respect to Ramos, as noted by MMN‘s Roberto Correa, Ramos was in the bottom 15 in the Majors in framing. Particularly, Ramos struggled in the so-called shadow zone and the low pitch.
In terms of the Mets 2019 pitching staff, we would see this have a significant impact on both Noah Syndergaard and Edwin Diaz with Diaz being the far more vocal of the two. Really, across the board, Mets pitchers performed worse with Ramos behind the plate as the pitching staff adjusted from historically strong framers like Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. If Porcello is a Met in 2020, we will likely see him have similar struggles.
Ultimately, Porcello may well prove to be a quality fifth starter or better for some team in 2020. He may very well prove to be a surprise for teams who have good defensive infields as well as a catcher who can get him the low strike. Unfortunately, that team is not the New York Mets. As a result, Porcello should look elsewhere for that bounce-back season, and the Mets need to find another pitcher to fill that fifth spot in their rotation.