The Athletic’s Red Sox roster prediction expects significant pitching change

Sep 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tanner Houck (89) throws a
Sep 26, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tanner Houck (89) throws a / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Whitlock's new look was one of the brighter spots of the Boston Red Sox's Winter Weekend a few weeks ago.

Many Sox players showed up for the festivities. Not much has changed since last year and the roster is pretty much the same. But Whitlock turned a lot of heads.

The right-hander packed muscle onto his 6-foot-5 frame and his swift transformation has earned him comparisons to Red Sox great Jon Lester. Whitlock is a reliever by trade, but Boston used him as a starter last season alongside some relief appearances. The Sox told him to arrive at Spring Training ready to get some work in as a starter. But will that be the case?

The Athletic dropped its roster prediction for the Red Sox and suggested something different. Despite Whitlock's change in stature, Red Sox reporter Jen McCaffrey placed him in the bullpen. Tanner Houck got her starting rotation nod.

The Athletic predicts Tanner Houck will begin season in Red Sox's rotation over Garrett Whitlock

McCaffrey's reasons for her choice make sense. Houck and Whitlock have been battling for a spot in the rotation for nearly three seasons now, and the former is the one who's held the spot better.

But Houck has some longevity issues. He wasn't able to pitch far into games with consistency in 2023, and he struggled with consistency as a whole. His ERA shot up to 5.01, from 3.15 the previous year. His walks have slightly increase and his strikeouts have remained stagnant.

Whitlock hasn't spent as much time in the starting rotation as Houck, so his stats aren't exactly comparable. Whitlock made 10 starts to Houck's 21, and Whitlock was the only one of the two that made relief appearances in 2023. In his 71.2 innings pitched, the now-Lester-lookalike worked his way to a 5.15 ERA, allowing 13 homers in the process and striking out 72.

There are other relievers in the starting rotation conversation besides Houck and Whitlock. One of the Red Sox's offseason acquisitions, Cooper Criswell, informed reporters that he was told he would be preparing as a starter during Spring Training this year. Josh Winckowski will be preparing to throw starter-level innings. Nick Pivetta was slotted in as a starter in McCaffrey's predictions despite performing far better out of the bullpen last season.

Rather than hunting for a sure-fire ace this offseason, the Red Sox are more uncertain than ever in constructing a capable rotation. McCaffrey's predictions aren't set in stone, but they suggest we could be in for a back-and-forth as it pertains to the pitching staff.

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