Red Sox

Why Rick Porcello has been off, and the plight of sinker-ballers

Why Rick Porcello has been off, and the plight of sinker-ballers

BALTIMORE -- Some Rick Porcello outings have produced a sinking feeling. He needs more of that.

Baseball’s becoming a power-based game all around, from velocity for pitchers to extra-base hits for hitters. Lifting the ball is a matter of launch angle, of upper-cutting.


Sinkers, then, aren’t going to miss bats or produce weak contact and whiffs as much if hitters are more often swinging into them, getting underneath them.

“I do think it’s harder. I think hitters, I think swings have changed and I think guys are more trying to lift the ball,” Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said. “I think you see many more low-ball hitters in today’s game than you did 10-15 years ago.”

That doesn’t mean Porcello, who starts tonight against the Orioles at Camden Yards, and his ilk are just hung out to dry. The game was like this in 2016, too.

“He’s still a sinker-ball guy with the ability to elevate,” Willis said. “We need to make sure we keep it in that regard: sinker-ball guy with the ability to elevate, not a guy that’s gonna elevate and occasionally throw a sinker. But right now, you know, his sinker’s not quite where it needs to be. I think he’s thrown some two-seam fastballs that maybe aren’t sinking, that are getting viewed as four-seamers, and they probably are two-seamers. So, it’s just getting action to the pitch back.”

Assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister echoed the same sentiment generally about guys who rely on sinkers.

“If you’re going to pitch as a sinker-baller, you just have to make sure it actually has sink on it,” Bannister said. “I think the guys who are throwing two-seamers without enough depth on them are having a tougher time now. So you really just have to sell out to throwing the pitch with as much depth as possible. It’s harder to throw an average sinker nowadays, just because hitters are going for more risk-reward. 

“You look at basketball and the Golden State Warriors, it’s just more 3-pointers. Even if they miss them, they’re going for the 3-point shot, and hitters nowadays, they’re willing to strike out for the homer. So, if you are going to throw more into the upward swing nowadays, you just have to make sure you can get below the barrel, because they’re gonna hit it harder because they’re swinging harder, especially in two-strike counts.”

Rick Porcello’s strikeouts are up in 2017, to 9 per nine innings from 7.6. His walk rate is basically the same, at 1.7 per nine, compared to 1.3 last year. But he’s given up a ton of hits (88), the most in the American League. He gave up 193 all last season when he went 22-4 on the way to winning the A.L. Cy Young Award. 

Per, hitters have a .407 average against his sinker this year. Last year, they hit .294. The batting average against every one of his pitches, in fact, is up. Some of that must be a luck factor, because a .370 average on balls in play is incredibly high. But Porcello and Willis haven’t approached his bullpens that way.

Here’s the other side of it: Porcello (3-6, 4.21 ERA) is getting more whiffs per swing on every one of his pitches this year too, although the difference with his sinker is small.

“A little up in the zone, a little flat,” Willis said generally of Porcello. “I really, I don’t think he’s that far off. But I think more times than not, mechanics issues sometimes come from mental issues. And you know, Rick’s a perfectionist and he wants to go out...and put the ball on the ground. And he wants to go out and control the count. And he wants to go out and be in control and command of the entire game. And right now, he’s getting some tough counts. He’s giving up some hits. 

"Sometimes then you try to overcorrect, you try to do a little more. That’s when mechanical issues start to creep in. So, I don’t think it’s anything glaring as far as being complicated. I think it’s simple, and think we got to figure it out.”

Willis did not want to identify specifics of mechanical changes.

“There are things we’re talking about in the bullpen,” Willis said. “A lot of times you have to realize too, going kind of back to mental — effort level, effort level’s huge.”

In this case, he means too much effort.

“When you try harder, your body muscles tend to tense up and lose a little bit of flexibility,” Willis said. “There are things we are talking about, but I really really don’t think he’s far off. And I really feel extremely confident when he takes the mound.”

John Farrell joins ESPN’s ‘Baseball Tonight’ as analyst

File Photo

John Farrell joins ESPN’s ‘Baseball Tonight’ as analyst

John Farrell can add another job to his resume.

The former Boston Red Sox manager has joined the crew for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," according to The Boston Globe. His debut will be on Wednesday for a season-preview show.

The Red Sox fired Farrell on Oct. 11, 2017 despite a second-straight A.L. East crown. Alex Cora will begin his first season in Farrell's old role during the 2018 season.

Farrell added the broadcast work after the Cincinnati Reds hired him as a scout and adviser with a focus on pitching. He interviewed this offseason for the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals managing jobs, but both teams passed on him.


Red Sox minor league team invites Trump, Biden to settle it in ring

File photos

Red Sox minor league team invites Trump, Biden to settle it in ring

In this corner, the challenger out of Scranton, Pa., Joltin' Joe Biden...In the other corner, straight out of Queens, the President of the United States, Dandy Donald J. Trump!

The venue: LeLacheur Park, Lowell, Mass., home of the Red Sox Class-A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's The Slasher at LeLacheur!

After the former Vice-President told a crowd at the University of Miami earlier this week of the current President, "If we were in high school, I'd take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him, President Trump fired back on Twitter Thursday morning. 

The Spinners, the Sox' short-season New York-Penn League affiliate, have offered to host a boxing match between the Republican President and Democratic former Vice President on Aug. 17 by the flagpole at LeLacheur. Former light-welterweight champ and Lowell native Micky Ward has agreed to referee.

No word yet if Trump, who'll be 72 by then, or Biden, 75, have accepted the invitation.

The Spinners' press release announcing the invitation says that if the two do accept, "the boxing match will take place regardless of the weather, no matter how stormy it may get."