Born: December 27, 1988
Frederick Alfred Porcello was born on December 27, 1988 in Morristown. Baseball was in the family gene pool. His grandfather, Kearny High grad Sam Dente, was a sure-handed shortstop for five major-league teams in the years after World War II. Rick’s older brother Zach became pitching coach at Seton Hall, while his younger brother Jake pitched college ball for the Pirates and was drafted by the Tigers in 2009.
As a teenager, Rick attended Seton Hall Prep in West Orange and was a star pitcher on the baseball team. During his senior season in 2007, he had a spotless record of 10-0 with 103 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA in 63 innings pitched. Rick also pitched a perfect game that season, on May 12, against Newark Academy.
Rick wasn’t all brawn; he was a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society and graduated SHP with a GPA of 3.94. As one of the most promising young athletes in the country, and a standout student, Rick sparked interest from many colleges. He signed a letter of intent to attend UNC Chapel Hill, but decided to forego college after the Detroit Tigers selected him with the 27th pick in the first round of the 2007 draft.
The Tigers enticed him with a contract and bonus worth almost $15 million. Rick became the highest-paid high-schooler ever. The bonus of $3.5 million was the second-largest ever given out by Detroit.
Rick started out with the Tigers’ class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2008. On July 19, he pitched part of a seven-inning no-hitter against the St. Lucie Mets. His season ended with an 8-6 record in 125 innings pitched. His 2.66 ERA was the lowest in the Florida State League. Rick had the velocity to fan big-league hitters, as many minor leaguers do. What set him apart in terms of development was his heavy, two-seam fastball, which broke down as it neared the plate. At the tender age of 20 he already understood how and when to pitch to contact.
The following spring, the Tigers decided Rick didn’t need any more seasoning in the minors and he broke camp with the team, making him the youngest pitcher in the league that year. He made his big-league debut on April 9 against Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero, making history for the first time in MLB history that two first-round picks faced each other in their respective debuts. Rick’s first career win came 10 days later in an 8-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners, allowing one run and no walks and retiring the last 14 batters he faced in the seven innings he pitched.
Rick kept rolling. He became the youngest pitcher to win five starts in a row since 1985. His final numbers were 14–9 with a 3.96 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 170 2/3 innings. Rick finished third in the voting for the AL Rookie of the year behind Elvis Andrus and fellow New Jerseyan Andrew Bailey.
Rick got off to a slow start in 2010 and was eventually sent down to Toledo in June. He was called back up less than a month later and turned in the best start of his career. He hurled eight innings against the Cleveland Indians, allowing one run, walking none, and striking out six batters. His season ended with a 10-12 record, but he won 5 of his final 6 decisions.
The strong finish carried over into 2011. Rick solidified his status as one of the top young starters in baseball, winning 6 of 7 decisions from April to June, and 5 starts in a row during a spectacular July. He finished the year 14–9. In 2012, he regressed a bit to 10–12, gave up the most hits in the AL, and was used sparingly in the postseason, as the Tigers won the pennant.
In 2013, Rick switched numbers from 48 to 21 after Detroit acquired Torii Hunter. Hunter offered to pay Rick for 48; instead, Rick asked him to make a donation to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy. The new number equaled the number of pitching decisions he recorded that year, as he went 13–8 with a career high 142 strikeouts. In 2014, Rick finally had the breakthrough season Tiger fans were waiting for. Part of a rotation that included Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and David Price, he led the club with a league-best three shutouts and had an ERA jnearly a full run better than in his previous four seasons. His 15 wins were tied with Verlander for second-most on the club.
Prior to the 2015 season, Rick was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in excahnge for slugger Yoenis Cespedes. They also picked up Justin Masterson and Wade Miley, making up for the loss of Jon Lester to free agency. Rick battled a sore arm through the first half of 2015, but after a stint on the DL, he was lights-out the rest of the way. His 9–15 record does not hint at how well he picthed in September, althgouh the Red Sox had long since dropped out of the division race at that point.
Rick built on this momentum in 2016, stepping up as one of several young Boston players turning in career years. Pitching brilliantly to contact, he allowed three runs or less game after game, and let the team's potent offense do its job. He won each of his five April starts and was undefeated in June and July, too. On September 9, Rick bested the Blue Jays to become baseball's first 20-game winner. His three losses gave him a winning percentage of .870, putting him contention for the AL Cy Young Award. Heading into the season's final weeks,the Red Sox were leading a tight 4-team race in the AL East—a race they had no business being in with the rest of Boston's pitching staff hovering at the .500 mark.
Rick finished the year 22–4 with career-best totals in innings pitch (223), strikeouts (189) and ERA (3.15). He was especially stingy with free passes, issuing a mere 32 on the year to give him the best K-to-BB ratio among starters at 5.91. Boston captured the AL East but ran into the red-hot Indians in the Division Series. Rick started the opener and was bombed in the third inning with solo homers by Roberto Perez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor. The Red Sox lost 5–4. They dropped the next two games to end their season.
One month later, Rick was announced as the AL Cy Young Award winner for 2016. He won despite the fact that he received fewer first-place votes than former teammate Justin Verlander. Rick was the fourth Boston hurler to win the trophy after Jim Lonborg, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. He was also the first player from New Jersey to win the Cy Young. With Mike Trout winning the AL MVP, it marked the first time ever that a pair of New Jerseyans copped two major baseball awards in the same season.