It’s been a wild ride for Garrett Whitlock over the past few seasons. He went from a relatively unknown Rule-5 draft pick, to super-reliever, to starter, to the IL, to reliever, to starter, to the IL, to reliever, and so on. Did you get all that?
Every iteration of Whitlock has been more or less the same. He throws a ton of strikes, uses the same three pitches, and works at a blistering pace. Yet, each time he returns from injury, there’s a slight tweak to the repertoire in an attempt to replicate that 2021 form. While his stats don’t offer a ton of reassurance, there are some signs that he may be inching closer to the pitcher he was when he burst on the scene.
Let’s throw it back to Whitlock’s first outing back from injury. It’s August 13th, the Red Sox have a four-run lead against the Tigers, and Whitlock takes the mound for the sixth inning.
AB #1: Matt Vierling
I’m using a new source to embed the videos. I’ve noticed that they automatically loop on a desktop. If the videos are choppy, be sure to pause any clips that may be playing on a loop above. That should fix the issue.
First pitch, backdoor sinker for called strike one. Great pitch in a vacuum, but not by Whitlock’s standards. He’s lost both drop and run on the pitch since 2021. causing the Stuff+ on the pitch to drop from 117 to 93. Since returning from injury, the number has climbed back to 102, so it appears that the early season is weighing down his average. Either way, it’s not the nasty sinker he had in 2021.
No swing at the first sinker, why not do it again? Exact same spot for another strike.
Three in a row? Vierling looks to be expecting something off-speed as he fights this off with a defensive swing. Should be a quick out for Whitlock, except Pablo Reyes forgets how to field, panics, and throws the ball into the dugout. The 2023 Boston Red Sox.
AB #2: Kerry Carpenter
This is just a great piece of hitting. Whitlock throws a fastball above the zone, and Carpenter is somehow able to drive it out to right field to move the runner over. Whitlock executed his pitch well, not much you can do about that.
AB #3: Spencer Torkelson
With a four-run lead, that run scoring wouldn’t be the end of the world. Still, a strikeout would be nice to keep Vierling on third base.
Back to the backdoor sinker. Thank you, Mr. Umpire. 0-1.
Here, we see our first changeup from Whitlock. Early in the season, the shape wasn’t quite what he wanted it to be as he lost some vertical movement. Since returning from the IL, it’s right where it needs to be. This one is a beauty down in the zone. Torkelson can’t hold up, 0-2.
97 MPH upstairs. Too high to get the swing, but we love to see the velocity.
Another changeup that Torkelson hits weakly to shortstop. It looks like he wants to start this one over the plate and have it run in on Torkelson, he just misses his spot and leaves it up in the zone. The run gets home, but this easily could have been a 1-2-3 inning.
AB #4: Zach McKinstry
Another changeup miss. Let’s go away from that for a second.
Sinker that he yanks to make the count 2-0. With two outs and nobody on, now would be a good, low-stakes opportunity to throw his first slider of the afternoon.
See? McKinstry is taking all the way. Whitlock goes with the sinker and misses again for ball three. Pitching requires a lot of “feel”, and sometimes pitchers need to find a chance in game to find their pitches. Maybe he doesn’t want to use the slider right away, but this would have been a perfect opportunity to flip one in there for a strike.
Whitlock takes a little bit off this one for strike one.
Another sinker that’s fouled off to run the count full.
I’m not entirely sure what happened here. Whitlock yanked another one, but McKinstry sells out and whiffs to end the inning. Not the best pitch, but it did the job.
I have to highlight this pitch. It’s incredible. Isan Diaz is the hitter. He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen. Truly a physical specimen. I would put him up against anyone in almost any athletic competition. Actually, now that I think about it, I beat him in three-on-three basketball at the Springfield Jewish Community Center circa 2014. I guess the transitive property says that makes me one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen. Pretty cool. Anyways that’s a sinker down the middle or whatever.
This was just the first outing back from injury for Whitlock. He still has some work to become the dominant pitcher he once was. For me, the biggest difference is the sinker. It’s lost some movement and the “seam-shifted wake” effect has also vanished. Interestingly enough, the stats against the pitch and right where they were in 2021, and it’s the changeup that’s been punished. On the surface, it looks like he’s throwing the changeup in the strike zone more often and hitters are making contact. Maybe it’s a case of him being less confident in his other pitches, or it could just be poor command. Either way, I believe some adjustments to his sinker would help get Whitlock back to where he was in 2021.