With Zack Wheeler officially jumping ship to join a division rival, the Mets are exploring options on the starting pitching market, speaking with free agent right-hander Rick Porcello and his representatives, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
At the outset of the offseason, MLBTR tabbed Porcello to receive a one-year deal worth $11MM. Coming off an awful 2019 season, the 30-year-old doesn’t have all that many factors working in his favor, but the sheer number of teams lacking depth in the starting rotation makes it a likely proposition that Porcello attracts his fair share of interest—especially given his durability; he’s never made fewer than 27 starts in any of his eleven big league seasons.
And while he can hardly be considered a direct substitute for Wheeler’s production, Porcello nonetheless represents an intriguing option with some potential. After a nice 2018 showing, Porcello regressed considerably last year, stumbling to a 5.52 ERA that ranked dead last among qualified starters. But his control and K:BB ratio makes him a viable candidate for a spot in the back end of a Major League rotation.
The question that defines Porcello’s market is how much teams buy into his ability to spin the baseball, which ranks among the best in baseball. Per Statcast, the spin rates Porcello generates on his curveball and fastball rank in the 89th and 74th percentiles, respectively, with his slider also grading out well. Teams who think they can transform that skill into on-field results might look to add Porcello on a relatively low-risk deal.
However, that profile glosses over his troubling inability to prevent home runs. Porcello ranks firmly below average in groundball rate and home run rate, and while that in itself isn’t a dealbreaker (he shares company with names like Jack Flaherty, Gerrit Cole, and Justin Verlander) it often spells bad news for a pitcher who doesn’t miss a lot of bats—Porcello saw his K/9 drop from a career-best 8.9 in 2018 to just 7.4 last year. The aforementioned trio of Cy Young contenders is distinguished from Porcello in that their opponents simply don’t put the ball in play enough to do real damage with the home run. It bears mentioning that New York’s Citi Field certainly offers a more pitcher-friendly environment that could mitigate Porcello’s weakness somewhat.
While the Cy Young Award on his mantle suggests otherwise, Porcello has never really been a bona fide ace. Still, he showed in 2018 that he can be a fine complementary rotation piece, filling out the Boston staff behind Chris Sale and David Price. Just one season removed from that 4.28 ERA/4.01 FIP year, Porcello could fill a similar role behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. And given the organization’s penchant for honing starters’ sliders, the Mets may aim to boost his slider (and curveball) usage at the cost of his fastball and sinker, which opposing hitters collectively mashed in 2019.