By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rick Porcello could become the first pitcher in over 30 years to do something that no pitcher should ever want to do.
The reigning American Cy Young Award winner took his 10th loss of the season on Wednesday night against the Twins, letting up four runs in six innings. It wasn’t his worst night, but it was another subpar outing for a pitcher who led the AL with 22 wins in 2016.
At 4-10, Porcello is on pace for a staggeringly bad 8-21 record. If the pace holds up, he would become the first pitcher since 1984 to hold the outright lead in losses one season after leading the league in wins. Former White Sox pitcher LaMarr Hoyt led the AL with 24 wins in 1983, then led the league with 18 losses in 1984.
There have been close calls in recent history. The Indians’ Corey Kluber tied for the AL lead with 18 wins in 2014, then led the league with 16 losses in 2015. The reverse has happened with Justin Verlander, who led the AL with 17 losses in 2008 only to tie for the league lead with 19 wins in 2009.
But to find an exact match for what Porcello is on pace to do this season, you have to go back to a completely different era in baseball. Hoyt threw 11 and 14 complete games in 1983-84; he pitched in an era where starters regularly pitched double-digit complete games, often hurling 20-plus. Only one major-league pitcher has thrown more than nine complete games in a season in the 21st century; James Shields threw 11 for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.
The last NL pitcher to hold the outright lead in wins and losses in consecutive seasons was Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, who threw an incredible 48 combined complete games in 1972-73 for the Phillies. Incredibly, Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro led the National League in both wins and losses when he went 21-20 in 1979 for the Braves, making an unheard-of 44 starts with 23 complete games.
So for Porcello to potentially lead the league in wins and losses in consecutive seasons – in an era where starters are more limited than ever in their starts, innings, and pitch counts – would be hugely disappointing, and almost impressive.
It’s important to note that wins and losses are not the best measure of how pitchers perform over the course of a season. Porcello may not be a true 20-game winner, but he’s not as bad as his loss total and 5.08 ERA would indicate either. Hitters have a massive .367 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against him and his fielding-independent ERA (FIP) is at 3.99, indicating that hitters have had plenty of good fortune against him. He also has the seventh-worst run support among qualified AL starters with 4.12 runs per start.
But even with a 3.99 ERA, Porcello would still be regressing from his Cy Young season, when he posted a 3.15 ERA. Meanwhile, hitters’ hard contact percentage against him has skyrocketed from 30 percent in 2016 to 42.1 percent this season; the latter is the highest mark in the majors.
Win-loss record may not be the best way to gauge a pitcher as a individual, but Porcello is nonetheless on pace to “earn” the dubious distinction of leading the AL in losses the season after leading in wins. It would simply be another indication of the disappointing drop-off from his Cy Young campaign.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.