First off, let’s give credit where it’s due. With all the heat that Boston Red Sox Chief Baseball officer Chaim Bloom has been taking lately, he has had some success in lower-profile trades and Rule-5 draft selections.
One of those was the satisfying selection of Garrett Whitlock from the New York Yankees system, which was left unprotected and off the Yankees’ loaded 40-man roster while recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
Whitlock was phenomenal in 2021 out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. The 25-year-old RHP out of UAB recorded eye-catching numbers to the tune of a 1.92 ERA while punching out 27.2 percent of batters he faced. He was electric and continued earning more significant roles out of the Sox’ Pen.
But given his repertoire and excellent command of a legit 3-pitch mix, it’s not surprising that the Red Sox and many others saw Whitlock’s future in the rotation as opposed to the bullpen. Wanting him in the rotation was never the problem; how the Sox tried to move him to the rotation was both untimely, worked against the Sox’s glaring bullpen deficiencies, and, worst of all, made zero sense for the development of this young right-hander.
Boston Red Sox: The continued emergence of Garrett Whitlock
Coming into 2022, Whitlock signed a 4-year $18.75 million contract. It was echoed by the organization that they eventually wanted Garret to be a starter but still wanted to limit his pitch count as he was fairly fresh off of Tommy John Surgery. So he would start 2022 right where he left off in 2021, pitching high-leverage innings in the back of the Red Sox pen. Alex Cora failed to name an official closer, but it felt like Whitlock would get the majority of opportunities.
Whitlock finished April with more of the same incredible numbers, a minuscule 0.54 ERA, a save, and 20 punch-outs in 16.2 innings pitched. At times, he felt like the only viable option for the Sox after the 6th inning. And then the Red Sox did what seemingly made sense for no one; they moved Whitlock to the rotation. The rest of the bullpen had a 4.38 ERA at the time, ranking them 27th in MLB. So much of this is perplexing.
Red Sox didn’t help Garrett Whitlock with this mid-season transition
What made Garrett ready to hit the rotation in May but not April? If they were going with the opener-type mentality, why start him in the pen at all? And what did they see in the bullpen that made them feel comfortable taking him out of that role? The pen was a mess aside from Whitlock.
Why not give him the entire off-season to prepare for this move? The worst part of it is that Garrett Whitlock struggled to make the pointless mid-season transition to the rotation. Whitlock finished with a 5.73 ERA in his five starts in May and did not record a decision (the pen blew three late leads in Whitlock’s starts). He also saw a drop in his strikeout/9 rate, and his WHIP ballooned to almost 1.5.
This was just so poorly executed. Pitchers are creatures of habit; absolutely everything changes in a pitcher’s daily routine when you move him from the bullpen to the rotation. His throwing schedule changes, he needs to add bullpen days, his lifting schedule changes, his cardio routine changes, his pre-game routine changes, and even the time he gets to the yard changes.
The Boston Red Sox realized this move wasn’t helping Garrett, and it wasn’t helping the team as their pen continued to flounder.
In July, Whitlock was removed from the rotation and made six appearances all out of the pen, and he was as shutdown as he had ever been, and the numbers backed it. He posted a 0.9 ERA, with a jaw-dropping 0.6 WHIP and a .147 BAA. As a reliever for the season, Whitlock finished with a 2.75 ERA and a 0.788 WHIP. As a starter, he finished with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. He even had two more wins as a reliever, mainly because the pen blew his potential wins as a starter.
These numbers don’t mean that Whitlock doesn’t have a future as a starter. It means the way in which the organization went about the transition made zero sense.
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All signs point to Whitlock starting in the rotation in 2023, which is how they should have handled it all along. There was absolutely no reason to rush, especially considering how depleted the pen was without Garrett.
An entire off-season of rest will allow him to prepare for this the right way, the way the Red Sox should have allowed him to do it all along. He can get on his starter throwing program, his starter rest schedule, his starter lifting and cardio schedule, and most importantly, his starter sides and bullpen schedule. He can build up his arm strength and pitch count without having to do it in live major league games.
He’ll now get to test the waters as a major league starter with the full preparedness of an off-season and spring training, approaching it mentally, physically, and emotionally like a starting pitcher. In an off-season that has felt void of anything to be excited about, Garrett Whitlock gives Sox fans something to look forward to now that he will be managed the right way.