Breakdown of Red Sox Starting Pitching Candidates
For the majority of the past decade, Red Sox fans have been blessed with watching one of the best offenses in baseball. The Red Sox lineup is filled with talented hitters such as Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo and Kiké Hernández. The Red Sox offense should be as dynamic as ever in 2022 but once you get the Postseason, pitching matters most. The Red Sox starting pitching has had its inconsistencies over the years. We are currently in the middle of a long rebuild of the pitching staff. Last season, the Red Sox were fortunate to have Nathan Eovaldi emerge as an ace and leader of the pitching staff. Everyone in baseball knows Chris Sale is the Red Sox number one starter. I mean, he is Chris Sale. Prior to undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Sale was an elite pitcher on a path to Cooperstown. It is without question he put together some of the best seasons of any Boston starter since Pedro Martinez. Similar to every pitcher who returns after Tommy John, Sale struggled at times in 2021. He was not at full strength last season but the Red Sox believe he can return to his dominant self in 2022. After Sale and Eovaldi, who will be in the Red Sox’s starting staff is a big question mark. However, there are plenty of interesting candidates who can contribute to the Red Sox rotation in 2022. Here is a breakdown of those candidates.
Nick Pivetta was at a crossroads in his career when he arrived in Boston in 2020. His ERA of 5.50 in nearly 400 innings with the Phillies just was not good enough to consistently stay in the Major Leagues. Whether it was in the starting rotation or the bullpen, Nick Pivetta was terrible for the Phillies. Once he arrived in Boston things got better. Pivetta has been working hard every offseason on making adjustments in order to finally have success as a Major League starting pitcher and he did find some success for Boston in 2021. His ERA of 4.53 was a major improvement from his time in Philadelphia and was enough to contribute as a serviceable back of the rotation arm. His second half struggles were largely due to a heavier workload than he is normally used to his career. Despite that, Pivetta was electric as both a starter and reliever for Boston during their playoff run. His game three performance in game 3 of the ALDS saved the Red Sox bullpen and was a critical reason why the Red Sox not only won the game but the series. In the ALCS, Pivetta did more than you ask of a back of the rotation starter allowing only 1 run on 2 hits over five innings in game 4 of the ALCS. In those games, Pivetta showed the Red Sox organization and fans his fiery personality, competitiveness and will to win. He was emotional but also electric on the mound in October and won over the hearts of Red Sox Nation. The hope for the Red Sox is that Pivetta keeps improving and can contribute to the Red Sox starting staff in 2022. A few years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays wanted to sign him as they viewed him as potentially being a second Tyler Glasnow, who has had incredible success in recent seasons. He has potential to be a quality starter for Boston. The question is will he be? Or will other pitchers beat him out for the job?
There’s a good chance Tanner Houck becomes the first legitimate starting pitcher the Red Sox have drafted and developed since Clay Buchholz. Houck was drafted twenty fourth overall out of the University of Missouri in 2017 and has been a decent success at every level of the professional ranks. There were times in 2022 where he was flat out dominant for the Red Sox. His fastball, slider combination slider is lethal to opposing hitters. His Strikeout per Nine innings of 11.3 over his career is elite. The question with Houck is, how good will he be? Is a starter or reliever. Despite looking dominant in some of his big league starts, there have been a few times where he has not looked ready. Houck only has only pitched eighty six innings in his Major League career and despite the success he has had as a big league starter, Houck needs to develop his splitter as a quality third pith to continue to succeed at the highest level. It is no secret that any viable big league starter needs at least three quality pitches to be successful long term and we’re not sure Houck has that. There is no doubt he has a role to play in the Red Sox future but we don’t know whether we will see him as a starter or a reliever. I believe Houck will be a solid middle of the rotation arm for years to come but that is not a guarantee. The Red Sox know that and that is why they added several pitchers via Free Agency for a contingency plan if Houck doesn’t perform as a starter but I believe his fastball and slider will continue to miss bats while his splitter develops into the third pitch he needs to succeed.
Rich Hill signed a one year five million dollar contract in 2022 to return to his hometown of Boston. One thing everyone can admit about the Southpaw is persistent. Hill will be forty two on Opening Day and has seen it all. Over the course of Seventeen big league seasons Hill has been demoted to the bullpen, forced to sign minor league contracts and released on multiple occasions. He even pitched in the Independent League for a good part of a season. Despite a bumpy if not remarkable career, Hill is still competing on the mound every night he takes the ball. Last season, Hill made thirty one starts for the Rays and Mets throwing 158.2 innings with a solid .386 ERA. Still effective as ever, Hill realizes he is in the twilight of his career and is returning to Boston for his fourth stint on the Red Sox. Hill is on the verge of retirement and has given everything he can to the sport of baseball. The journeyman is here to compete for a spot in the rotation. At this point in his career, Hill only throws in the 80s but in doing so he has managed to keep his ERA before 4.00 for the past seven seasons. Let's hope the local guy can defy all odds again and contribute to the Red Sox pitching staff in 2022.
The Red Sox signed James Paxton to one of the most creative contracts so far this offseason back in November. Paxton underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2021 and will likely return to Boston late in 2022. Due to this injury, Paxton was unlikely to sign a multi year contract but Bloom signed the Canadian lefty to a one year contract worth six million dollar contracts that include two thirteen million dollar team options for both the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Paxton will not contribute to the Red Sox staff until the end of the season but he will certainly be a useful addition for them down the stretch. When healthy, James Paxton is one of the best middle of the rotation starters in baseball. Over nine seasons, Paxton has posted an ERA of 3.59 for the Mariners and Yankees. How much impact will he have on the 2022 Red Sox? It is hard to tell. How much will Tommy John affect him? Will he start or serve time in the bullpen in 2022? Paxton’s signing comes with some questions but at some point he is expected to be a major contributor to the Red Sox pitching staff and perhaps for multiple seasons.
Michael Wacha has a memorable history as an opposing pitcher at Fenway Park. In Game 6 of the 2013 World Series, Wacha allowed six runs, on five hits and four walks in 3.2 innings leading to Boston’s third World Championship. Despite a strong start to his big league career, Wacha has struggled to keep runs off the board since 2016. His numbers are subpar to say the least but he showed signs of his old form again with the Rays in 2021. In September and October, Wacha looked excellent on the mound for Tampa with an ERA of 3.00 and striking out a batter per inning. It is too small of a sample size to know whether Wacha figured something out or simply had a good month. Tampa is known for helping players, especially pitchers reinvent themselves. The starting rotation is filled with potential candidates, many of whom are likely ahead of Wacha on the depth chart. He probably will serve as a depth starter and a reliever unless he truly did figure things out before he left Tampa Bay. For one year and five million he is worth the gamble.
Connor Seabold was actually the key piece in the trade that brought Nick Pivetta to Boston. The young pitching prospect was very good for the Worcester Red Sox in 2021. In thirteen starts, Seabold had a 3.47 ERA and was the best pitcher for Worcester. Unfortunately, due to there being no minor league baseball during the 2020 pandemic shortened season and injuries in 2021 his development has been slower than the Red Sox probably wanted. Seabold has only had 54 innings at the AAA level and likely needs more time to develop. He is expected to start the season in Worcester as the Red Sox have several arms ahead of him on the depth chart. However, if guys like Rich Hill and Michael Wacha struggle, Seabold should see an opportunity with the Red Sox.
It’s clear the Red Sox have plenty of options to have a solid rotation that can compete to help them win another World Series. There is a lot of potential that these arms to make a big difference this season. The Red Sox hope that their arms will continue their recent success or continue to improve in order to help them win ball games. We may be lucky enough to see several pitchers have breakout seasons for the Red Sox. In any case, Boston’s rotation will certainly be an interesting one to keep an eye on in 2022.