At the start of the week, Bob wrote a compelling case to put Garrett Whitlock in the rotation as soon as this season, which is something I think that many people here would agree with. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Boston Red Sox will follow that path, and in fact it could be argued that their offseason so far makes that less possible. On the other hand, they’ve talked since Whitlock first entered the organization about him being a starter long-term. So that led me to this week’s staff roundtable question, which is: In 2022, will Garrett Whitlock make more appearances as a starter or a reliever?
I expect Garrett Whitlock to make more starts than relief appearances. My reasoning is pretty simple. As the team is currently being constructed, I would expect Whitlock to start out in the rotation. Considering how talented Whitlock has proven to be, I feel as though the team will consider him too valuable in whichever role he has on Opening Day to move him around mid-season. The Red Sox do have depth on the way with James Paxton due to return around the All-Star break but I expect Whitlock to have proven to be far too talented to lose innings. If the Red Sox get through spring training fully healthy (which is probably unlikely) Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Nick Pivetta would be locks to make the rotation, with Rich Hill, Whitlock, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Wacha as possible back-end starters. I would expect Whitlock to earn a spot outright with Houck likely continuing his swing-man role. Any injury could guarantee both players make the rotation.
Bayleigh Von Schneider
I would have to say given that the Red Sox have Chris Sale, Nate Eovaldi, Rich Hill, Nick Pivetta, Michael Wacha, and Tanner Houck all available to start in 2022, Garrett Whitlock will pitch mostly from a relief role. Do not count out the Red Sox also adding a number three type starter either in free agency or via trade after the lockout, giving more and more reason to keep Whitlock in the pen for the 2022 season.
Garrett Whitlock will make more relief appearances than starts for the Red Sox this season. Whitlock has already proven that he is capable of being a quality reliever at the major-league level. While there may be some temptation on the Red Sox’ part to move him to the starting rotation, Whitlock is best served for undertaking a high-leverage relief role out of the bullpen in 2022. The Red Sox, after all, already have plenty of rotation options as it is between Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, and Tanner Houck. Notice how I didn’t include James Paxton, who could be back after the All-Star break if all goes well with his Tommy John rehab.
At present, the Red Sox bullpen is relatively weak when you consider that several key contributors from down the stretch in 2021 – such as Adam Ottavino, Hansel Robles, and Garrett Richards – are all free agents. Moving Whitlock from the bullpen to the starting rotation would only further weaken a soft spot on the roster. With that being said, Whitlock should be used strictly as a reliever in 2022 to provide the Boston bullpen with a boost.
I think that Whitlock, ultimately, will make more relief appearances than starts in 2022. I believe that Cora will hesitate to throw Whitlock into a heavy starter role, and will probably roll with him as some sort of 3-4 inning opener instead. I do believe it is possible that he makes the rotation for a few games, but truly his skills are very useful in the back end of a weakened Red Sox bullpen filled with young hopefuls going into 2022. Whitlock established himself and demonstrated his abilities last year, and his excellence in the back of the pen should not be replaced with a starting position that completely changes his game plan overall.
I really wanted to have a strong stance on this, one way or another. Will Garrett Whitlock be a starter or reliever (determined by percentage of appearance) is probably a question for Spring Training and the rest of the offseason. Do they sign more starters? It’s incredibly bold to go into the spring with Whitlock and Houck as two-fifths of the starting rotation. But there are a lot of good names for relievers, a likelihood that Matt Barnes bounces back, etc. I looked back at the Joba Rules and the Strasburg limits...and I think when Chaim Bloom at co. considered Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 draft they did so as a starter. Might he make 20 starts and 10 relief appearances in some way to limit his innings? Sure. But the bulk of his innings and appearances are going to be as a starter because he’s got the ability to do it and it starts to answer questions about 2023, 2024, 2025 if he’s good.
I expect Alex Cora to task Garett Whitlock with a really key late-inning bullpen role for the 2022 season. Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and James Paxton — three of the biggest names that Boston acquired prior to the lockout — figure to be some of the first in line to fill the holes left behind by the departure of Eduardo Rodriguez and the seemingly impending losses of Garett Richards and Martin Perez. Factor in a full season of Chris Sale and Tanner Houck and Richards’ opportunities to start shrink further. Meanwhile the bullpen — which rotated late-inning duties around Matt Barnes between a variety of pitchers for most of last year — looks less crowded.
I really believe (and hope, for the Red Sox’s sake) that Whitlock has the chops to transition into a full-time starter, but right now his talents will be best used in the bullpen. Boston will be loaded with rotation candidates this coming season, so I think the coaching staff will keep him in a relief role for most, if not all, of the year. They won’t coddle him — he’ll have to throw in some high-leverage situations — but it will be a temporary posting for the talented 25-year old.
I’m guessing that since their rotation is already filled out that he’s going to be their capital C closer going into the season. I could be wrong there. They extended Matt Barnes last year in the midst of his run of dominance with the idea that he could be their Closer through 2024 and Whitlock’s best deployed as a multi-inning man in the Andrew Miller mode if he’s going to be used out of the bullpen. Personally, I’d love to see him and Rich Hill piggyback each other every fifth day. Neither Hill nor Whitlock would have to turnover a lineup for a 3rd time and you get the lefty/righty split that you want when searching for a piggyback partner. You could also piggyback Hill and Houck with Whitlock as a sixth starter if you wish, but I think the team keeps him in the bullpen for now.
I think Whitlock will be more of a reliever than a starter, because he’ll be one of several people penciled in for that role this year, alongside Connor Seabold and Tanner Houck, most notably. I’d expect any/all of them to have slightly more relief appearances than starts, and while one could certainly break the pattern, the odds are, I think, in favor of them being relievers. 2023’s a whole different story, but it’s… well, a whole different story.
I wrote this in a longer form earlier in the week but I believe Garrett Whitlock will make more starts than relief appearances in 2022. It may not be a certain plan right now but I would expect the Red Sox to have several pitchers stretched out to throw four or five innings by the end of spring training, including the “swing men’’ like Whitlock and Tanner Houck. This will allow flexibility in deciding who the fourth and fifth starters are, as well as provide depth for if and when an additional starter is needed due to injury or ineffectiveness. Coming up as a starter through the minors, I expect Whitlock to be comfortable in a starting role and pitch well in spring training, as he did in the spring of 2021. If it happens, I would expect a lot of five inning appearances to manage workload but, in my mind, the more innings the better from Whitlock in 2022 as the Red Sox search for a number three or four starter until James Paxton is, hopefully, healthy down the stretch.
It seems right now that the easy answer is as a reliever, because there are already at least five veteran starters presumably ahead of him on the depth chart, and perhaps Houck as well. Plus, it’s easier to rack up relief appearances than starts, so if he spends half the year in each role he’ll have more relief appearances than starts. Howevah, I’m going starter. I think at the end of the day talent wins out. Whether it’s because they don’t have the same injury luck in their rotation in 2022 as they did in ‘21 (a likely outcome), or because players like Wacha just don’t perform well enough (again, probably somewhat likely), I see Whitlock making his way into the rotation within the first six weeks or so of the season, and once he’s there I don’t think he leaves.