In that first portion of the MLB offseason, before the lockout began and transactions were frozen, there was a flurry of activity throughout the league, and specifically a flurry of activity in the starting pitching market. The Boston Red Sox largely sat out the top of that market, but they didn’t sit things out entirely, bringing in Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and James Paxton.
As a result, the back of the rotation is a bit crowded and uncertain, albeit with a nice mix of experienced, veteran options along with young talent to provide some upside. For today’s roundtable, we’re going into a bit of a prediction mode with these pitchers. I asked the staff for this week’s question who will finish with the most R9WAR (so, WAR based on runs allowed per nine innings) among the following pitchers: Rich Hill, Tanner Houck, Nick Pivetta, and Michael Wacha.
I believe Tanner Houck will have the highest R9WAR out of this group. I do think Michael Wacha has a chance to rebound in Boston, but not to the degree that he has a chance to compete with the other three players on this list. Hill is coming off of a real solid season, but I’m not banking on the 42-year-old to have the innings, so this really comes down to Houck versus Pivetta to me. I went with the former because he is expected to have an increased workload in 2022 and was more effective on a per inning basis compared to Pivetta. If Houck can pitch at least 75 percent of the innings Pivetta has in 2022, he will have the highest R9WAR.
Out of these four selections, I believe that Tanner Houck will finish with the most R9WAR. He showed promise in relief performances in the postseason and 2021 regular season, and seems primed to move to some role as a reliever and/or opener in the coming season, which he has overly succeeded in during his time in Boston. I believe that Pivetta has the opportunity to be a close second to Houck, depending on if he reforms back to his 2020/early 2021 form and continues to build off his success in the playoffs, or if he shows his stuff from the middle of 2021 that contributed to his high ERA and mediocre season. I do not expect much from either Rich Hill or Michael Wacha. I believe most of the time they will be short start guys, or even possible openers for both Houck or even Garrett Whitlock.
Bayleigh Von Schneider
With regard to Pivetta, Wacha, Hill, and Houck, the truth of the matter is each man is a relative question mark. The safest best to me is Rich Hill, given his years of experience. Tanner Houck is a big wildcard to me, and there’s some upside with Pivetta. Last season Hill finished with an RA9 of 4.12, Wacha 5.27, Pivetta 4.65, and Houck 4.17. If we are going by last season, and overall track record, Rich Hill is the choice to finish the season with the better R9WAR for the 2021 season.
I wrote about Tanner Houck’s 2021 and his outlook for 2022 and beyond earlier this offseason and I was pretty confident he could get his four-pitch mix working to be an effective starter for 2022, so I’m going to ride that wave of confidence and say him. The little hitch of R9WAR makes this a bit more of a stretch is the strikeouts Houck racks up have far less of an impact, so this prediction really is based on blind faith in his progression as a starter and building on using all of his pitches more rather than remaining a two-pitch pitcher. Still, the stuff is there so let’s put it out there into the universe and manifest it into action, shall we?
Between these options, I believe Pivetta will finish with the most RA9WAR at the end of the 2022 season. Of these four, I think he has the best chance to put together a healthy 2022 campaign in which he remains in Boston’s starting rotation throughout the year. Dating back to the start of the 2020 season, Hill actually leads this group in RA9-WAR (4.1) by a fairly wide margin. However, with Hill turning 42 in March, I am somewhat concerned that the veteran left-hander will wind up missing some time in 2022, as he does have a rather extensive injury history and is only getting older.
With all due respect to Michael Wacha and Rich Hill the RA9-WAR race is a young man’s game, and a game about keeping guys off base. Tanner Houck has the best ability of these four to strike out batters and the least chance to issue walks, and he also gives up a low batting average against. If you’re not on base, you’re not going to be a run. Will he be the bet pitcher of the four? Maybe not. Will he lead the group in RA9-WAR? It’s either him or Nick Pivetta. Hopefully no one checks this bold claim after the 2022 season.
Houck Hive, assemble! Tanner Houck was fantastic last year even though the Red Sox kept shipping him back and forth from the minors while asking him to fill the role of starter, middle reliever and set-up man. Even with such an unpredictable year, Houck still had a 30.5 percent strikeout rate and 2.58 FIP in 69 innings. At times, he looked completely unhittable, especially with his slider, which I’m convinced breaks the space-time continuum. Compared with Nick Pivetta (who probably hit his ceiling in 2021), Rich Hill (who should be fine but without huge upside) and Michael Wacha (who I still don’t think the Red Sox should have signed), Houck is the easy answer. Houck deserves a full-time rotation spot and if he gets one, I expect him to beat out the other guys on this list.
I’m gonna be bold, I think, and say Nick Pivetta. I feel like among this group he’s the most likely to be a consistent starter and stay healthy, which pretty much narrows it down. I do not think he has the highest ceiling of the group, but that’s not the question. If that was the question I’d have a different answer, which I will not tell you for less than $1,000.
I think it’s Tanner Houck. I don’t see any reason why Nick Pivetta would improve upon last year’s numbers, and I think Wacha, Houck, and Hill are all two times through the order guys. Out of those three, I think Houck is the best. Houck’s shown an ability to be dominant two times through the order while Hill and Wacha haven’t. Maybe they make adjustments that I can’t foresee and Houck regresses, but until then I’d trust Houck over all of these guys.
I’m kind of surprising even myself here a little bit, but to me Pivetta is a fairly easy answer just by process of elimination. If you were to tell me Houck would spend 80 percent of his season in the rotation, I’d go that way because I think he’s more talented, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even spend half of his season in that role. The innings just favor Pivetta between those two, and I think they do with Hill as well given the age concerns many have already mentioned. And as for Wacha, I just don’t see him being in this conversation at all, frankly.