“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Rick Porcello was born on December 27, 1988 in Morristown, NJ. Baseball was in the family gene pool. His grandfather, Kearny High grad Sam Dente, was a sure-handed shortstop for five major-league teams in the years after World War II. Rick’s older brother Zach became pitching coach at Seton Hall, while his younger brother Jake pitched college ball for the Pirates and was drafted by the Tigers in 2009.
As a teenager, Rick attended Seton Hall Prep in West Orange and was a star pitcher on the baseball team. During his senior season in 2007, he had a spotless record of 10-0 with 103 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA in 63 innings pitched. Rick also pitched a perfect game that season, on May 12, against Newark Academy.
Rick wasn’t all brawn; he was a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society and graduated SHP with a GPA of 3.94. As one of the most promising young athletes in the country, and a standout student, Rick sparked interest from many colleges. He signed a letter of intent to attend UNC Chapel Hill, but decided to forego college after the Detroit Tigers selected him with the 27th pick in the first round of the 2007 draft.
The Tigers enticed him with a contract and bonus worth almost $15 million. Rick became the highest-paid high-schooler ever. The bonus of $3.5 million was the second-largest ever given out by Detroit.
Rick started out with the Tigers’ class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2008. On July 19, he pitched part of a seven-inning no-hitter against the St. Lucie Mets. His season ended with an 8-6 record in 125 innings pitched with a 2.66 ERA, the lowest in the Florida State League. Rick had the velocity to fan big-league hitters, as many minor leaguers do. What set him apart in terms of development was his heavy, two-seam fastball, which broke down as it neared the plate. At the tender age of 20 he already understood how and when to pitch to contact.
The following spring, the Tigers decided Rick didn’t need any more seasoning in the minors and he broke camp with the team, making him the youngest pitcher in the league that year. He made his big-league debut on April 9th against Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero, making history for the first time in MLB history that two first-round picks faced each other in their respective debuts. Rick’s first career win came 10 days later in an 8-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners, allowing one run and no walks and retiring the last 14 batters he faced in the seven innings he pitched. He finished third in the voting for the AL Rookie of the year behind Elvis Andrus and Andrew Bailey.
Rick got off to a slow start in 2010 and was eventually sent down to Toledo in June. A strong finish carried over into 2011. Rick solidified his status as one of the top young starters in baseball, winning 6 of 7 decisions from April to June, and 5 starts in a row during a spectacular July. He finished the year 14–9. In 2012, he regressed a bit to 10–12, gave up the most hits in the AL, and was used sparingly in the postseason, as the Tigers won the pennant.
In 2013, Rick went 13–8 with a career high 142 strikeouts. In 2014, Rick finally had the breakthrough season. He led the club with a league-best three shutouts. His 15 wins were tied with Justin Verlander for second-most on the club.
Prior to the 2015 season, Rick was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, making up for the loss of Jon Lester to free agency. Rick battled a sore arm through the first half of 2015, but after a stint on the DL, he was lights-out the rest of the way. His 9–15 record does not hint at how well he pitched in September, although the Red Sox had long since dropped out of the division race at that point.
Rick built on this momentum in 2016, stepping up as one of several young Boston players turning in career years and winning the American League Cy Young Award. Pitching brilliantly to contact, he allowed three runs or less game after game, and let the team's potent offense do its job. He won each of his five April starts and was undefeated in June and July, too.
Porcello won his 21st game and was ruthlessly efficient, as the Sox beat the Orioles at Camden Yards, with a 5-2 victory on September 19th. He needed only 89 pitches for a complete game, 65 of them strikes. He allowed four hits and struck out seven without a walk.
In a taut Game #1 of the 2016 ALDS, his biggest start of the season, Porcello couldn’t keep the ball in the park or get through the fifth inning. He lost a 2-1 lead when the Indians hit three home runs in the third inning. He ended up getting pulled after just 4 1/3 innings, for his shortest start of the year.
It was in 2016 that Rick Porcello celebrated one of the most improbable Cy Young Award victories in recent memory. His 2016 season was more surprising than his 2017 fall from grace. Porcello’s 2017 numbers were more in line with his career marks than what he put up last year. With 33 starts, he was 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA, and 181 strikeouts in 202 1/3 innings. What’s most interesting, however, isn’t his face-value decline. It’s the nature in which it has happened.
Porcello surrendered 38 homers in 2017. He allowed 23 in 2016, and 25 in his first year with the Red Sox. No one pitch was the main driver behind his increasing home run rate.