Red Sox: Tanner Houck will be a vital part of the starting rotation in 2022

Sep 18, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Tanner Houck (89) pitches during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Tanner Houck (89) pitches during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Tanner Houck will be vital to the Red Sox in 2022

There wasn’t much to be happy about toward the end of the 2020 MLB season. The Red Sox were damn near eliminated from the Postseason before we even realized the season began. A slog of a 60-game window made for some long nights when it came to this team. One bright spot, though, was the debut of Tanner Houck. With an all but guaranteed spot in the rotation set for 2022, the righty is poised to hit every bit of his potential.

I’ve been a big Houck-A-Maniac from the get-go and I think many members of Red Sox Nation can say the same. There’s nothing to not like about this guy. He’s personable, great with fans, never gives any pushback in regards to his status, and when he’s on the mound he gives his all. I’m sure there are more than a few that would’ve lost their minds with the way Boston has handled his career so far, but he punches the clock and gets right to work.

In his debut back in 2020, he only made three starts but we saw more than enough from the right-hander to get us excited for the future. He tallied a 3-0 record in 17.0 innings with a 0.53 ERA. Yeah, you read that right, he posted a sub-1.00 ERA in his MLB debut, pretty sick if ya ask me. To add to the hype, he owned an 11.1/4.8 K/BB ratio.

Spring training didn’t quite go his way and it was uncertain if he’d be in the starting rotation for the season. He did wind up starting 13 games in 2021 but would see the bus plenty as he was often shipped back and forth between Boston and Worcester. His ERA would shoot up to a 3.52 this season, which was to be expected as he’d be getting a lot more looks from the opposition. He did improve his FIP from 3.25 to 2.58, while also strengthening his K/BB to an 11.3/2.7.

There were some ups and downs for Tanner this past season as I’ve eluded to but for the most part, I thought he absolutely killed it in his rookie season. In fact, BSI’s own Sean Penney placed him on his list of best pitching performances from the Red Sox this season. Considering who he’s working alongside, that’s pretty impressive.

With Eduardo Rodriguez now calling the Motor City home, there are two open spots in the starting rotation. Garrett Whitlock will likely remain in the bullpen where he’s best served, which leaves Rich Hill, James Paxton, and Michael Wacha as his competition. Houck more than has the right stuff to pass the other two and solidify himself as one of Alex Cora’s go-to starters.

After the brief glimpse in 2020, and now a full season in 2021, I can’t imagine a world where he doesn’t earn with the fourth or fifth starter spot. Having him follow Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, and Nick Pivetta with one of those depth starters as the fifth man is a pretty solid rotation.

It’s definitely better than the ones we saw the past two seasons. The job should be his to lose, if he can come to spring training ready to rock every fifth day, he’s going to be our guy.

Houck leans heavily on a fastball/slider combo with a sprinkle of a splitter in there for some fun. His heater topped out at an average of 94.1 mph and he went to it 55% of the time in 2021. His slider, which has been compared heavily to Sale’s, was his knockout punch and it lives at 84 mph with a 37% usage rate.

Cora has spoken a bit about wanting Houck to expand his arsenal but when you’re two best weapons are that good, anything else is just a cherry on the sundae. However, if he can either get his splitter up to snuff or add a fourth pitch, his mix could be nasty as all hell.

I’m optimistic that 2022 will bring Tanner Houck his best season to date. While his big league career is still very much in its infancy, hitting his stride this early can allow him a long and fruitful career.

The Red Sox aren’t known for cultivating homegrown pitching talent and Houck has the weapons and ability to be one of the few that succeeds. With spring training right around the corner, lockout pending, I can’t wait to see what the righty has going for next season.

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