For one month early in the 2015 season, Rick Porcello, traditionally a sinkerballer whose fastball sits at 91, led with the four-seam. It was only the second month in Porcello’s career in which the sinker’s position as his primary pitch was usurped by the four-seam, and unlike the other instance of this happening, the magnitude of the shift was noticeable.
It was the beginning of Porcello’s tenure in Boston, his new home after spending the first six years of his career in Detroit, and so at the time, it seemed like focusing on incorporating the four-seam fastball might’ve been part of the early organizational roadmap for Porcello. But the experiment didn’t go well. In eight four-seam-reliant starts, Porcello allowed 31 earned runs in 48 innings, good for a 5.81 ERA and a 4.76 FIP. All of his patented ground balls went missing, his home-run rate ballooned, he walked more batters than usual, and just like that, the four-seam trial run was over. Back to the sinkers he went.
If it really was an organizational thing — that the Red Sox encouraged Porcello to use his four-seam fastball more early in the season, if not just to see what it was like — it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, results notwithstanding. Even though Porcello’s “heater” only sits at 91, he has the ability to ramp it up to 96, and even more important than that, he’s able to naturally generate more spin on his four-seamer than almost any pitcher in baseball. We know that high-spin fastballs can be effective when located up in the zone, even without velocity, and so Porcello seems to possess a real weapon with his high-spin heater.
For whatever reason, though, the plan didn’t work, and so it didn’t stick. Maybe it was command, maybe it was comfort, maybe it was the way relying on the four-seamer affected the rest of his sequences, or maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the case, Porcello went back to the sinker being his primary pitch, and he hasn’t looked back since. But the four-seamer is still there. And the way he’s using it now is making it more effective than ever. The idea to employ a four-seam approach may not have gone as smoothly as originally planned, but it looks like it’s working itself out anyway.
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