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Garrett Whitlock: Is He Back?

Sunday’s outing was a glimpse at just how important Garrett Whitlock is going to be for the 2023 Red Sox.

I’m going to start with a caveat here because it’s unignorable. We’re talking about one start. ONE START?! To generate any good statistical analysis, you need a heap more data than just one start. I get that. I’m not even going to give into the bull that Whitlock threw 99 pitches, and that’s a larger statistical sample to work off of, frankly, because it’s not each individual pitch I need to look at here. This is about one start in the context of the entire season. With that, close your eyes (metaphorically here, please keep reading) and take yourself back to last Sunday.

The Red Sox had taken the first two bouts of their four-game series against the Angels. A win streak in this economy? Unheard of. It could be said that maybe the Red Sox were finding a groove. Under the hood, I wouldn’t have thought so.

Friday night, Tanner Houck tosses four innings of decent work, striking out six but walking four and giving up two runs with four hits. Going down 2-0 after the first frame is not how you set your team up for success. Saturday, Nick Pivetta fares way worse. Another four-inning outing, but with three walks, five hits, and six earned runs. Giving up four runs to start the game is even worse, ignoring the fact the Sox were able to cut that deficit in half in the bottom frame. What do two starters giving up leads quickly and getting yanked not even halfway through games lead to? Taxed bullpens.

Josh Winckowski has already thrown 12.0 innings this season, granted very effectively with a 1.50 ERA and an ERA+ of 326. And literally, as I’m writing this, Winckowski has given up a solo homer to Max Kepler. Do you know who has the most appearances out of the bullpen so far? Ryan Brasier. That’s right, the man NONE of us here at Over the Monster want to see step on the mound has taken the bump MORE than any other reliever. Chris Martin has already thrown his shoulder off, heading onto the 15-Day IL. Richard Bleier has been the most ineffective arm out of the bullpen so far, with an ERA+ of 43 in 5.1 innings. Kaleb Ort has also somehow thrown 9.0 innings in eight appearances.

Over time, a trend like that is going to lead to overworked bullpen arms, seeing guys like Kenley Jansen used out of turn because, genuinely, no one is going to have an arm left. Look at the case of John Schreiber last year: fireman extreme to the point where he threw so many innings he looked winded by season’s end.

OK, enough about the bullpen; the title of the article says Garrett Whitlock.

Sunday afternoon, watching Garrett Whitlock pitch was the biggest breath of fresh air all season.

7 frames, 3 hits, 1 ER, 2 walks, 5 Ks. 14 swings and misses, a .136 batting average against. Take a look at his pitch breakdown for the game.

Baseball Savant’s Gamefeed of all 99 of Garrett Whitlock’s pitches on April 16th, 2023.
Location specific doesn’t even begin to cut it.
Baseball Savant

It may look like a bunch of dots, but when you dig deeper as to his pitch usage on Sunday, it’s almost formulaic how Whitlock approached this game. Primarily, Whit threw his sinker, 49.5% of his pitches. Everything is around the strike zone, but everything is above the knees. Whitlock’s sinker set up his changeup 19.5% of the time, used mainly as a pitch tailing into the right-handed-batter heavy Halos’ lineup. Then comes arguably Whitlock’s most effective pitch all game: his slider. Hurled 31.3% of the time, his frisbee was the final dagger in all five of his strikeouts, notably to Mike Trout and Hunter Renfroe, twice.

THIS was the Garrett Whitlock we all were used to seeing in 2021, the guy who would come in and dominate for two or three innings. Pitching like he had an Uber waiting outside Fenway to take him back home (back then because he merely just wanted to, but this season because he has to, thanks to the pitch clock). Sunday, he stretched out that effectiveness over the course of seven frames to vitally save the bullpen. Did it pan out the next day? Hard to say, with all the Patriot’s Day rain and Kutter Crawford tossing 6.1 otherworldly innings. However, what can’t be missed is the trend Whitlock can set. He had a bad first start but shook it off and excelled against the Angels. The Red Sox absolutely need more outings like this, not just for the confidence of the rotation but for the sake of every arm sitting in right-center field.

I won’t go so far as to call him the ace of the staff. Remember my caveat from the beginning? One start does not maketh a pitcher. Also, Chris Sale exists, and we all can hope he pulls himself out of his slump as well as he did on Tuesday evening.

However, Sunday’s outing can’t be just a flash in the pan. Maybe, just maybe, the real Garrett Whitlock is back.

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