The Red Sox should keep Garrett Whitlock in the bullpen
Now that we’re fully into free agent season and despite having a pending lockout more than guaranteed, it’s hard to not look toward the 2022 season. While the Red Sox are doing what they do best by showing interest in literally every free agent on the board, some of our deficiencies can be solved in-house. Pitching is one of the biggest holes in this team’s armor and one guy has his name coming up in multiple conversations.
Boston had the best closer in the business through the first half only to have him collapse when they needed him the most, in order to fill that gap, Chaim Bloom should look to Garrett Whitlock. We all know Whitlock’s story. Drafted by the Yankees only for them to not protect him ahead of the Rule 5 Draft where Chaim swooped in and stole the right-hander. He then came to Boston where he was one of the best pitchers in the entire world for 2021.
So, what do the Red Sox do with Whitlock? The former Tommy John recipient has always been linked with an eventual trip to the starting rotation, but is that the best way to use him? In my eyes, we can address the rotation via Tanner Houck and either a combination of free agency or the farm system. I’m not as worried about that area of the game, not having a closer is what keeps me up at night. I love Matt Barnes, but for as good as he was in the first half he was equally as bad in the second.
This brings me back to Garrett. Since day one, both Alex Cora and Chaim have talked about slowly stretching out his reps in order to build up his stamina for a starting role. However, when you’re one of the nastiest arms coming out of the bullpen and can give anywhere from one to three innings of work without breaking a sweat, you may want to stay in that department.
In the grand scheme of the business he can make more as a starter, but being the best closer in baseball pays pretty well too. In 2021, he ranked 16th in all of baseball with his 1.6 WAR. For a rookie to be in the Top-20 of some of the best relievers in the game is pretty damn cool if you ask me. His 1.96 ERA also locked him into 6th in MLB, again, pretty cool. Now, let’s look where he finished in just the American League.
That very same WAR gets him up to the Top-10 with a 9th place overall ranking in the AL with his ERA earning him a Top-5 ranking. As much as the Red Sox need depth in the starting rotation I don’t want to take those results away from an even weaker bullpen. If it were up to me I’d flip Barnes and Whitlock and put Garrett in that closer role, at least to start the season.
He was an absolute assassin in 2021 and that’s the kind of guy I want with the ball in his hand with the game on the line. Worst case scenario is he either can’t get the job done and then he just gets put back into the bullpen slot that allowed him to do the most damage this season. His 8-4/1.96/2.84/1.105 line through 73.1 innings of work was stellar for a rookie on the biggest stage there is.
One of the most glaring aspects of his performance this year that further wants me to keep him in the bullpen is his 81/17 K/BB ratio. It broke down to an average of 9.9 K/9 to just a 2.1 BB/9 which is something I want from a reliever. Keep the free passes to an absolute minimum while mowing down each and every batter possible. This Red Sox bullpen loves giving up walks and knowing Garrett isn’t one of the guys that does it gives me confidence in his future.
I understand the desire from not just the Red Sox but the fanbase to get a pitcher the caliber of Garrett Whitlock into the starting rotation. The guy is an absolute monster and has been a starter his entire life until 2021, it makes perfect sense. But in my eyes, he’s shown to be a stone-cold killer out of the bullpen and that’s something this team desperately needs right now. We have options to fill the rotation, but I think the best move is to keep him right where he is.