I saw many of Rick Porcello's critics saying that he was the same pitcher he has been his whole career yesterday and that his good spring training meant nothing. As usual, he gave up some hard hit balls, was not missing many bats and couldn't get through six innings. The final numbers looked familiar - three runs on six hits and two homers with just two strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
A closer look (at a very small sample size) reveals that this was not a typical Porcello performance. As he showed in Lakeland, Porcello scrapped his ineffective slider for a curveball, a pitch some scouts feel he never should have abandoned as a pro. According to BrooksBaseball.net, he threw no sliders and 19 curves in yesterday's game. Whether it was due to the cold or just adjusting to a new pitch, his command of the curve was not great resulting in 67% balls. He did not give up any hits on curves though and the two home runs came off fastballs.
One of Porcello's big problems in the past was his inability to get left-handed batters out. Yesterday, he had no trouble versus left-handed batters allowing just three hits and no at walks in 16 plate appearances (Baseball-Reference.com). Both of his strikeouts were also versus lefties. This time, it was right-handed batters that killed him - three hits including two homers plus two walks in eight PA.
Another thing which typically derails Porcello is that he tires early in games and his velocuty drops dramatically. Figure 1 below (click to make it bigger) shows his first start last year (April 10, 2012) where he he was throwing as high as 93 MPH in the early innings. By pitch 75, he was unable to reach 90 MPH which was representative of his entire season.
As shown in figure 2, he was better able to maintain his velocity yesterday. A comparison between the two charts clearly indicates more consistent speed from the first pitch to the last in Thursday's start. In fact, he was still able to hit 90 MPH on pitch 95.
Figure 1: Rick Porcello's Velocity by Pitch Number, April 10, 2012
Figure 2: Rick Porcello's Velocity by Pitch Number, April 4, 2013
So, Porcello may have had the same mediocre outcome in the opener as he usually has and maybe his critics are right that he'll never get any better. How he got to yesterday's results was quite a bit different than the past though. It's going to take some time before we know whether his new pitching process is going to yield sweeter fruit. By the same token, it's going to take more than one start before we can honestly say he's the same old Porcello.