Before Garrett Whitlock moved to the starting rotation, the 2022 Red Sox had one of the best relief squads in the league for that early stretch in the season, and one significantly better than what many fans expected it to be. But, when he made his first start on April 23, it was like the bullpen became so unsure of how to operate with this absence that nobody felt comfortable in their new roles. In fact, the stats were so staggeringly different that Boston dropped to the bottom seven or so of the league in most statistical categories. The group when from fourth in fWAR, seventh in ERA, and fourth in FIP all the way down to 24th, 22nd, and 19th, respectively, after Whitlock’s shift to the rotation.
The Red Sox, at least with their current bullpen construction, need Whitlock in the position of a high-leverage innings eater, because right now names like Ryan Braiser, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Austin Davis, among others, are being given roles far more important than what their current skills and general big-league experience can support. But with two of Whitlock’s pitches topping 95 miles per hour, and a slider and sinker with significant movement, Whitlock has proven that he is ready to perform in high-leverage situations and that he has the arsenal to guarantee success.
In his career in relief, among all qualified relievers,Whitlock ranks 15th in fWAR, 19th in FIP, and 9th in ERA, with an overall line of 1.84 ERA, 83.0 IP, 27.6 percent strikeout rate, 5.7 walk rate, 1.05 WHIP, and 3.16 xFIP. Holistically, this places Whitlock in the top-15 relievers since he made his debut with the Red Sox. When someone is excelling that well in their role, there really is no justification for taking them out of it unless completely necessary.
Now, it is understandable why Alex Cora and company thought the decision to be necessary at this early point in the season, as Boston was already falling behind in the division, their de facto number two starter Nick Pivetta had a 10.00 ERA, and Chris Sale was placed on the 60-day IL, causing immediate concern for how this rotation could sustain a .500 team until his return. Whitlock was the obvious candidate, as Tanner Houck was already a full-time stater and no other bullpen piece had the skills to step into this role. But still, his skills would best fit the position he was meant to be in for this roster: the bullpen.
It’s not that there shouldn’t be confidence in Whitlock as a starter— his skills will allow him to excel in any role that he may choose or be assigned to in the future. It’s more that, looking at the team at this time, with the bullpen it has, it clearly needs him as a staple for late innings. His addition has helped the rotation improve their statistics, but really, they have shown their skill all season long. His spot in the bullpen gives more immediate value to this team and is the main reason why he should move back to his role in the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
All that being said, we should also note that while Whitlock’s current role should not be in the rotation, he definitely has the potential to be a starter in the future. In four games started, Whitlock has posted an impressive line of 3.00 ERA over 15 innings, striking out 36.5 percent with a 9.5 percent walk rate to go with a 1.13 WHIP and 2.55 xFIP. These stats are not even up to his full potential as well, since a couple of starts were cut short as he’s still working up his arm strength.
All in all, Whitlock has great potential for whatever role he may take on in the future. As a late innings stronghold, though, he has the current ability to bandage this buckling Sox bullpen and provide them with much more success than what he may be able to provide as an immediate starter.