Rick Porcello fondly recalled his youthful appreciation, as a New Jersey kid, for Mike Piazza and the 2000 Mets on Monday. What the 2020 Mets would really appreciate is if Porcello, their newest starting pitcher, could reach back only as far as 2016.
The Mets signed Porcello, who turns 31 this month, to a one-year, $10 million deal primarily because of his durability, as he has qualified for the ERA title (minimum 162 innings pitched) each of his 11 seasons in the big leagues, a most impressive feat. On the other side of the agreement, Porcello settled for such a modest deal because in the 174 1/3 innings he clocked for the Red Sox in 2019, he tallied a ghastly 5.52 ERA, quite a plummet from his 2016 season when he won the American League Cy Young Award with Boston, recording a 3.15 ERA in 223 innings, or even his 2018 when he tallied a 4.28 ERA in 191 1/3 innings for the champions.
“It’s kind of a long list of things, honestly from the offseason leading into spring training. Certain things [that] kind of happened during the course of the season contributed to some of the struggles I had,” Porcello said during a telephone news conference. “I’ve got a pretty good grasp of what was going on with the mechanical side of things. Mechanically, when things are off, it starts to affect how you’re thinking on the mound, and then the mental stuff starts to go a little bit.
“But it was just a matter of not being in position to execute pitches, when you really boil it down to that. So I’ve got a bunch of things that I’ve been doing this offseason, whether it’s drill work or looking at video, comparing some of the things I’ve done well to when I wasn’t doing well. Making sure that I’m staying on top of that.”
A look at Porcello’s advanced statistics shows, quite clearly, that he lost mastery of his off-speed pitches in 2019. His slider dropped in velocity by nearly 2 miles per hour from about 86 mph to about 84 mph, as per both FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball’s Pitchf/x Tool, and the new changeup he introduced last spring, using a two-seam grip he learned from Boston teammate Eduardo Rodriguez, didn’t pan out. He responded by using his fastball more often, a decision that probably prevented his season from being even worse.
One viable theory: Porcello, after making 33 regular-season starts and five postseason appearances to help the Sawx win it all in ’18, experienced a 2019 hangover just like his teammates David Price and Chris Sale.
“It was a short offseason, absolutely,” Porcello said. “First time I’ve pitched in and won a World Series before. So it was a new experience dealing with the extra innings, especially starting [three times] and coming out of the bullpen [twice]. All I can tell you is I’ve had some extra time this winter and my body feels great. I’m trying to use that time wisely to rebuild physically, mentally, mechanically. All of those things.”
With the extra time, as Boston didn’t qualify for the playoffs, “I started throwing earlier, a lot, this offseason,” Porcello said, “using some different drills and mechanical things to help me get my arms in position a little better. Some of those things are a big difference in me executing pitches. It’s a fine line between being on and off, and I’m just using this extra time in the offsesason to leave no stone unturned, making sure everything’s on track. And I’m prepared to enter the season and spring training throwing the ball the way I know how to.”
The Mets were the first team to reach out to Porcello when his free-agent clock started, he said, and that excited him since he still makes his home in Morristown, N.J.. That Mets adviser Al Leiter, also a Garden State native, vouching for Porcello impacted him enough that he thanked the retired southpaw along with the Wilpons, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and deputies Allard Baird and Jared Banner in his introductory comments.
“I’ve always been a huge Al Leiter fan,” said Porcello, who said he attended a few Mets games at Shea Stadium growing up. “One of my favorite [Mets] teams of all time was the 2000 team, and he was a big part of that.”