With the Red Sox potentially having at least six capable starters, many of whom have injury histories, there had been talk about using a six-man rotation to ease each pitcher’s workload. Alex Cora dispelled those rumors a few days ago, however, stating that the Red Sox plan to roll out a five-man rotation. The first four spots in that group are solidified, and will look something like:
1) Eduardo Rodriguez
2) Nathan Eovaldi
3) Garrett Richards
4) Martin Perez
The order may be tweaked a bit, but those are the names. The question becomes: Who fits in that fifth slot? Well, maybe the question is: Who should fit in that fifth slot, as Tanner Houck being optioned answered that first question. Many thought Houck would be a lock for the Sox’s 2021 rotation after he exploded onto the major-league scene at the back end of the 2020 season. In just 17 innings last year, Houck gave Red Sox fans some of the best pitching they’d seen all season. He pitched to the tune of a 0.53 ERA and struck out over 11 batters per nine innings. However, I wouldn’t hold out hope that these trends will continue – his impressive statistics were largely fueled by a .161 batting average on balls in play and a 95.9 percent left-on-base rate.
Fast forward to spring training this year, and Houck has not found the same success he did in 2020. He currently holds an 8.53 ERA and has walked 10 batters in just 6.1 innings. Walks are something Houck struggled with throughout the minor leagues, where he had a walk rate in the double digits at both High-A and Triple-A. Even in his productive stint in the bigs last year, his BB% was up over 14%. If Houck wants to eventually win a spot in the rotation and have an impact this year, he’s going to need to give up fewer free passes.
Instead, Nick Pivetta will start the year as the Red Sox’ number five starter. Pivetta’s spring training has been quite the contrast to Tanner Houck’s — he’s been able to limit baserunners through a solid 9 innings, and his ERA sits at 3.00. Pivetta is also the more experienced and proven pitcher of the two, having accumulated 4.1 fWAR in his first 300 innings in the major leagues from 2017-2018. However, he’s had his share of struggles in the two years since then, resulting in his trade to the Red Sox.
A report came out during the offseason stating that the Rays tried hard to beat out the Red Sox for Pivetta, and that they viewed him as another potential Tyler Glasnow. While I don’t share quite that same level of optimism, I’m confident Chaim Bloom knows what he has in Pivetta, and that, with a few adjustments, Pivetta has the potential to at least revert back to his solid 2018 form. His success thus far in spring training has definitely been a step in the right direction. If he can produce at his 2018 level, Pivetta will be a revelation at the back-end of the Red Sox’ pitching staff, and would make him an absolute steal from the Heath Hembree/Brandon Workman trade.