The days Rick Porcello doesn’t start for the Boston Red Sox, they’re barely a .500 team.

It’s true. The Sox are 19-6 in Porcello‘s 25 starts, after their 10-2 win over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night. They’re 49-47 in their other 96 games.

So maybe that four-year, $82.5 million contract wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The Red Sox have a real chance to go worst to first. Their win Friday alongside Toronto’s stunning loss in Cleveland left the Sox just half a game behind the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.

Porcello has already made just as dramatic a turnaround, going from “What were they thinking?” to “Where would they be without him?” in the space of a year.

A year ago Friday, he was still on the disabled list with a 5-11 record and 5.81 ERA. In 33 starts since then, he’s 21-7 with a 3.20 ERA. He’s tied with J.A. Happ for the major league lead with 17 wins this year, and while that has a lot to do with Porcello and Happ also being one-two in the American League in run support, it’s a reminder of how important his starts have been to Boston.

As the Red Sox were pulling away from the Tigers on Friday night, bouncing back after Thursday’s tough loss, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweeted another way to look at it:

Yes, it helps that the Sox score a lot of runs when Porcello pitches. They’ve been in double digits his last two starts, and they’ve scored eight or more in eight of his 17 wins.

But it helps just as much that Porcello has seven starts in which he has gone at least seven innings while allowing no more than two earned runs. He’s done it in each of his last three starts, helping spark a run in which the Red Sox have won seven of their last eight.

Their starting pitching has been outstanding this month, with David Price improving and Drew Pomeranz starting to look like the pitcher they thought they traded for last month. But Porcello is the one who has been most consistent, the one who has most resembled an ace.

He’s also the one who has been spectacular at home, with a 12-0 record and 2.96 ERA in 13 Fenway Park starts.

Friday’s start was sort of at home, too, because Porcello spent his first six major league seasons with the Tigers. He hadn’t pitched at Comerica since 2014, before the Tigers traded him away because they didn’t want to give him the contract he eventually signed with the Red Sox.

“I think the one thing was that we weren’t sure as time went on if he would take the jump to be a top-of-the-rotation guy once we had him,” Dave Dombrowski told Rob Bradford of “We looked at him maybe as a middle-of-the-rotation type.”

Dombrowski was the Tigers general manager who traded Porcello away, and now he’s the Red Sox GM who has watched Porcello take over that top-of-the-rotation role.

That’s one thing that gave Friday’s start added significance. The other was that Porcello was matched up with Michael Fulmer. As Mario Impemba pointed out on the Fox Sports Detroit telecast, the Tigers basically traded Porcello for Fulmer in December 2014, because they got Yoenis Cespedes and two minor leaguers for Porcello and later traded Cespedes to the New York Mets for Fulmer and Luis Cessa.

Fulmer gave up the first six Red Sox runs Friday, but he’s been a minimum-salary bargain and a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s also just 23 years old.

But Porcello is only 27.

People tend to forget that, because he debuted with the Tigers when he was 20 and already has 233 major league starts and 102 big league wins. In fact, as a Fox Sports Detroit graphic showed, Porcello has the most career wins of any major league pitcher 27 or younger, ahead of Madison Bumgarner (97) and Chris Sale (71).

Among those not on the list are Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom, not just because they have fewer wins but also because they’ve already turned 28. Porcello‘s 28th birthday isn’t until December.

By that time, he will likely have pitched in his fourth postseason. The first three came with the Tigers, who only used him as a starter for two games, both in 2011. His last postseason appearance came in relief in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS, against the Red Sox at Fenway.

Assuming the Red Sox get there this year, you can bet Porcello will be a starter. He might not be the Game 1 starter, but the way he has pitched this season, that might not be the worst idea.

You know what else wasn’t the worst idea: Trading for Porcello and immediately signing him to a $20 million-a-year contract.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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