Two days after signing a four-year, $82 million contract extension with the Boston Red Sox, Rick Porcello will make his 2015 debut against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night.
Red Sox reward Porcello
Last season, his sixth with the Detroit Tigers, was probably Porcello’s best. He pitched a career high 204 2/3 innings and set career lows in ERA (3.43) and WHIP (1.23).
In 2016, 13 other pitchers - based on their current contracts - will earn at least $20 million. During Porcello's career (2009-15), those other pitchers have been more productive, averaging more than twice as many Wins Above Replacement (4.2 to 1.8) per season than Porcello.
Porcello's career ERA of 4.30 ranks 33rd out of the 39 pitchers who have thrown 1,000 innings since 2009. Nine other pitchers who have an ERA of more than 4.00 during that span are on major league rosters, and they'll make an average of $10.6 million this season. None will make more than $13.5 million.
Still, Porcello, 26, might have more upside than other players who've received contracts of this size. The last four pitchers to make 20 or more starts in their age-20 season, as Porcello did, were Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke.
Expect defensive shifts
The top two hitters ranked by balls in play against a shift in 2014 are expected to play in Wednesday’s game. David Ortiz of the Red Sox and Ryan Howard of the Phillies put 505 and 453 balls in play against a shift, respectively, last season.
The shift has had more of an effect on Howard than Ortiz.
Since 2010, Howard has a .366 batting average on grounders and short line drives with no shift and a .183 batting average on those balls with the shift.
Since 2010, Ortiz has a .253 batting average on grounders and short line drives with no shift and a .229 batting average on those same balls with the shift.
Reversing a trend pays off
The Red Sox were the most patient team in baseball last season, seeing 4.06 pitches per plate appearance. But all five of the home runs they hit Monday came in the first three pitches of an at-bat.
Monday’s game marked the second time the Red Sox have hit four home runs at Citizens Bank Park (they also did it in 2012). All other visitors to Philadelphia since 2012 have combined for three four-home run games, with no team doing it more than once.
The Red Sox are the first team to have gone from last place to first place to last place in a three-season stretch. Only the New York Yankees (nine) and St. Louis Cardinals (eight) have made more postseason appearances than the Red Sox (seven) since 2003.
Meek expectations for the Phillies
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has Philadelphia’s over/under for wins at 67, which would be a 67-95 record. The last time the team had that poor of a record was 2000, when it was 65-97 and manager Terry Francona was fired after the season.
Westgate gives Philadelphia the longest odds (200-to-1) to win the National League East. Atlanta has the next-longest odds at 75-to-1.
From 2004 to 2010, the Phillies averaged 5.1 runs per game. They’ve averaged 4.1 runs per game in the four seasons since, including 3.8 runs per game in the past two seasons.
Last year, the Phillies’ offense posted some of the franchise’s worst statistics in 15 years. Their on-base percentage (.302) was their worst since 1972, their slugging percentage (.363) was their worst since 1991, and their at-bats per home run (44.8) were their worst since 1997.
Howard had the worst full season of his career in 2014, and he turned 36 in November. He is owed $60 million and can block trades to 21 teams.
His .380 slugging percentage in 2014 was a career-worst, and he had the second-worst marks of his career in at-bats per home run (24.7), OPS+ (93), on-base percentage (.310) and home run-to-fly ball percentage (17.7).
Howard’s performance against right-handed pitchers -- always better than his performance against left-handers -- plummeted last year.
In 2009, Howard hit .320 and slugged .693 against right-handers. Last season, he hit .221 and slugged .353 against righties.
The book on Howard used to be a steady diet of off-speed pitches that he would chase, especially if he was behind in the count.
In 2011, Howard saw 41 percent fastballs, the lowest figure of any qualified hitter in baseball. But after he tore his Achilles tendon in that year’s playoffs, pitchers haven’t been afraid to throw him fastballs. He faced fastballs 53 percent of the time last season.