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2022 In Review: The Bionic, Mediocre Man

Is Nick Pivetta good? We’re not sure, but he’s definitely taking the ball.

Tampa Bays Rays vs. Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

2022 In One Sentence

“Oh look, Nick Pivetta’s starting today,” he said, every five days until time lost all meaning and the universe collapsed back in on itself.

The Positives

As this depressing, ungainly season was limping to a close, Joiner and I recorded a pod in which we discussed reasons to keep watching the 2022 Boston Red Sox. One of the top reasons, we agreed, was Brayan Bello. I love Bryan Bello. I love his pitch mix. I love his darting changeup. I love the swagger he kept taking to the mound every game, even after getting off to one of the more unlucky starts to a Major League career in recent memory.

That’s why I concluded that segment by stating that I’m already mentally preparing myself to have my heart broken when he blows out his arm and undergoes Tommy John surgery in 16 months.

This is what it means to be a fan of pitching in 2022. There seems to be nothing we can do to protect pitchers’ arms. They throw; they get hurt; and though they may return, there’s no guarantee they do so as the same player you remember from the before times. Don’t ever fall in love with a pitcher — or, at least, do so with open eyes about what you’re getting yourself into. Protect yo heart.

The one exception to this, though, may be Nick Pivetta. Since being drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2013, Pivetta has been placed on the Injured List just four times in his entire professional career — and never for more than ten days. Go ahead and read that again: four times. Chris Sale has been placed on the IL 12 times. Garrett Whitlock has already been in the IL seven times in his young career. Tanner Houck was placed on the IL on three separate occasions this past season alone. But Nick Pivetta just keeps pitching.

Over the past two seasons, Pivetta is tied for third in all of baseball in number of games started with 63, just two behind the leader. That alone makes him incredibly valuable to the Boston Red Sox, but fortunately, those 63 starts have included a few runs of brilliance. For 13 starts between the end of April and the start of July this year, Nick Pivetta pitched at a near-Cy Young level: 83 innings, 81 strikeouts, 58 hits, and an ERA of just 2.28. The Boston Red Sox had an absurd .769 winning percentage in the month of June, and during that stretch, Nick Pivetta may have been their best player.

The Negatives

Unfortunately, despite being third in games started over the last two seasons, Nick Pivetta is just 30th in innings pitched. The difference between those two stats in Pivetta’s case, is being consistently good versus merely being consistently healthy.

Pivetta followed up his transcendent June with an abysmal July, giving up 25 earned runs in just 24 innings pitched. For the rest of the season, he settled into mediocrity, to the tune of a 4.72 ERA. Taking a deeper look at his numbers, it’s this back-end of the rotation version of Nick Pivetta that appears to be his true self. He simply isn’t particularly good at anything:

Baseball Savant

To the extent that any of those numbers do stand out, we can see that, disconcertingly, Nick Pivetta gets hit very, very hard. Frankly, those don’t look like the numbers of a pitcher you’d expect to have a spot in the starting rotation of a contender.

Best Game Or Moment

Is there any question about this one? On May 18, Pivetta took the mound against the Houston Astros, who were 10 games over .500 at that point and already staking their claim as the best team in baseball. The Sox, on the other hand, sat in fourth place in the division and had won just five games all month. Pivetta allowed a leadoff home run to Jose Altuve . . . and then proceeded to shut down the eventual World Series champions for the next nine innings, allowing just one more baserunner.

The Big Question

Let’s keep this simple: Is Nick Pivetta good? As explained above, we know that he has been and can be. But he’s also been downright terrible, and those batted ball metrics are hard to ignore.

And there’s something else worth keeping in mind. Take a look at his spray chart against lefties for the past two years:


That’s a big ol’ blob of groundball outs recorded in shallow right field, which isn’t surprising, since the Red Sox shifted against lefties behind Pivetta almost 77% of the time last year. But with the shift ban going into effect next season, many of those outs are going to turn into hits. Given how hard opposing batters hit Pivetta, how much was the shift responsible for keeping his numbers at least somewhat respectable?

2023 And Beyond

It’s easy to pencil Nick Pivetta into the starting rotation for 2023 and then expect him to take the ball every five days, because that’s what he’s done his whole career. And yet, it’s possible that he finds himself as the odd man out on opening Day next year. Barring injury (a massive caveat given a few of these names), Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello, and James Paxton—all of whom have a higher upside than Pivetta—will likely start next season in the rotation. Negotiations with Nate Eovaldi apparently continue. And, if Chaim Bloom is going to make good on his promise to Kiké Hernandez that the 2023 team will be “way better”, then that would almost necessarily mean that at least one more established arm will be added to the team this offseason as well.

Nick Pivetta does nothing but throw the damn baseball. But it’s far from guaranteed that he’ll continue to do so as a Red Sox Starter for much longer.

Avery Hamel’s Fangirl Response

Avery Hamel, widely recognized as the world’s biggest Nick Pivetta fan, would not — COULD NOT — let Dan have the last word. So, in the middle of a busy midwestern airport, ignoring the commotion of a US World Cup game swirling around her, she typed up this response:

First of all, I am the proud owner of a red, away Nick Pivetta jersey — so Bloom better not get any ideas of trading the man who doesn’t become free-agent eligible until AFTER I’ve graduated college (I’m currently a freshman).

Secondly, Nick Pivetta may be inconsistent on the field, but the man is consistently ON the field. . . and that counts for something in my book!

If you follow me on Twitter, you are aware of my immense affinity for Pivetta — which causes whiplash throughout the course of a season. I’ll admit, he is not the best pitcher in the league. . . or in the division. . . or on the staff in general. He will never win a Cy Young (unless I rig the vote), never make an All-Star team (I’d assume), and never even be a #1 starter— but I am willing to appreciate him for what he is.

Though he causes both heart attacks and immense periods of joy over the course of a season, the man is consistently mediocre — and may I remind you that mediocrity is necessary in baseball! Heck, no starter besides Chris Sale an ERA under 3.00 during the Red Sox’s 2018 World Series run. And who can forget how important(ly fun) Rick Porcello was that year with his 4.28 ERA! Again — my appreciation for mediocre 20-something starters is never-ending.

So, dog on the man all you want. I get it! I would probably be doing the same if I didn’t immediately latch on to the mediocre, scrawny, 26-year-old when imagining trade scenarios with Brandon Workman in 2019. But with his flashes of greatness amid some worse times, I’m willing to still give him a chance in the 2023 rotation, especially with the question marks of health among other contenders.

Quick note: I also just want to say that his 2022 FIP was lower than his ERA (and his xFIP even lower than that), which makes me think that there’s not *too much* to be concerned about regarding the effect of shift-banning on his numbers.