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What Can We Expect From Garrett Whitlock, Starting Pitcher?

Whitlock is back in the rotation in 2023. This time, he’s there to stay.

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The Red Sox rotation has more questions than a troll beneath a bridge, allowing passage to weary adventurers. Among those many questions is, “How will Garrett Whitlock fare as a full-time starter?” Whitlock was used primarily as a starter in the minor leagues in the Yankees’ system before being selected by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft and becoming a reliever. After he spent his entire rookie season in the pen, he made nine starts in 2022, although he both started and finished the season as a reliever. He’s slated to spend the entirety of the 2023 season in the rotation after he was used in multiple roles last season, according to GM Brian O’Halloran.

Why It Might Not Work

Here’s a look at a few of Whitlock’s 2022 splits between the rotation and the pen:

His numbers are better as a reliever, which is to be expected to an extent. He wasn’t built up as a starter in spring training and really needed to learn how to be a major league starter on the fly. It’s a different approach to pitching as a starter, knowing you’ll see each hitter two or three times in a game. Based on his starts last season, he’s still working out how to balance his pitch mix in a starting role.

Whitlock’s fastball is his best pitch, but he leaned on it less when he was in the rotation. In a few starts, he deployed the pitch under 50% of the time. It could be a matter of hitters doing a better job game planning for a starter, or it could be a matter of stuff. When Whitlock starts, he’s getting fewer swings on his fastball outside of the zone, and hitters are making more contact, which could be due in part to decreased velocity. Hitters are being less aggressive, and the fastball isn’t as much of a weapon. If he can’t use his secondaries effectively, the Whitlock starter experiment might go the way of the absolute atrocity that was “McSpaghetti”.

Why It Might Work

Last season, there was a lockout, a shortened spring training, and a plethora of injuries to the pitching staff that forced Whitlock to shuffle between the rotation and the bullpen. This year, Whitlock has clarity about his role and is preparing to be a starter. I’m not a professional baseball player and know little about the day-to-day preparation of one. I’m sure if you, (read: I) DM Garrett Whitlock on Instagram and ask about the difference in preparation, he won’t respond. If he were to respond though, he’d likely say something Belicheckian, something along the lines of “I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win”. Most athletes are creatures of habit though, and I’m sure Whitlock is excited to have his role defined, and create a routine that helps him feel prepared.

Aside from the mental aspect, Whitlock has the stuff to succeed. He has three pitches he throws confidently, enough to give different looks each time through the lineup. He can get both lefties and righties out; there’s no need to worry about a lineup stacking hitters on one side of the plate. He has no problem throwing strikes, he should be able to get through multiple innings without gassing out too early. There’s plenty of reason to believe Whitlock can remain a star while pitching every five days.


I’ve always been a fan of Whitlock out of the pen. The multi-inning relief role that’s become popular in recent years can be incredibly valuable for closing out games with a weaker bullpen. This season, the back end should be stronger, and the need for a “super-reliever” may not be as great. With so many options for the rotation, somebody else could easily fill that role as well (Kutter Crawford, anyone?) Like it or not, Whitlock will be in the rotation this year. He likely won’t throw 200 innings, but for my money, 150 innings as a starter are better than 70 innings as a reliever. With newfound consistency in mental and physical preparation, Whitlock could emerge as the ace of the 2023 rotation.