40-Man Roster Pitcher Musings
No in-depth analysis here, just some thoughts on each of the pitchers currently on the Red Sox 40-man roster.
Rich Hill – Borderline peripherals with skills that limit hard hit rate, BABIP and post high Left on Base percentages. An exceptional 2022 outcome would be 125 IP with a 4.20 ERA; though at some point the time bomb is going to go off and there will be a bunch of home runs and quick career end, but hopefully that is many starts away for the soon-to-be 42-year-old.
Ryan Brasier – After a brutal season personally, he came back, got hot for the final month, and entered the playoffs as an important guy. He had a rough 2019, hasn’t pitched a lot the last two years, and is 34-years-old. He’s nice to have, but as of now he’s penciled in for a bigger role than he probably should have.
Hirokazu Sawamura – Walks and home runs were a major problem in his first year in America, though good strikeout and ground ball rates, along with very favorable BABIP numbers with men on base and in scoring position, limited overall damage. He has the stuff to make a leap forward, but control has never been his strong suit, and I’m not sure if he will survive a shaky stretch in 2022.
James Paxton – Was throwing hard and pitching well in spring 2021 before his early Tommy John surgery, which was at least a good sign his neck issue with the Yankees was no longer an issue. Obviously an injury risk that you can’t count on for 2022, but he could be a helpful bonus in the second half. A nifty contract could be a steal if his surgery can keep him healthy for the next couple of years.
Chris Sale – I thought he showed enough after his return to be pretty confident about the rest of his contract, even though he ran out of steam the last few weeks. Fastball and slider combination were very good, though not back to elite of elite levels. His changeup – thrown strictly to RHH – was a mess, hitters went 16 for 36 with a .667 SLG against it causing a lot of problems, and while the expected numbers were not that bad, they were not good either. Can’t envision the team letting him run free, and even if he’s not one of the handful of the best pitchers in baseball anymore, his numbers should be very good.
Nathan Eovaldi – Heading into a contract year after a 180 IP, 3.75 ERA, 2.79 FIP gem of a season. Can he – and all other Red Sox pitchers – get a little defensive help? Not sure if he will be able to keep the ball in the park as much as he did this year (1.5 HR/9 2018-20, 0.7 HR/9 2021), but with his stuff and control, only injury should stand in the way of another excellent year. Hard to imagine wanting anyone in baseball besides him on the mound for a playoff start.
Matt Barnes – Through the middle of May Barnes was unbelievable; 13 shutdowns, 1 meltdown, 33-3 K-BB in 19 innings. Then it all started to fall apart, accompanied by a disturbing steady velocity drop in June through September. In October, pitching coach Dave Bush placed the blame on fatigue after the short 2020 season and heavy early use in 2021, while also mentioning his mechanics getting out of sync and dealing with Covid. A theme of bullpen question marks is developing, and Barnes is at the top of the list. Even with a return to form, the Sox desperately need to avoid overuse in the first half, which will be nearly impossible battling against the AL East.
Michael Wacha – Though his peripherals stats pages read like Martin Perez’s, there is more upside here. His good health and end of the season repertoire tweaks give hope, but there were still plenty of hard hit balls turned into outs by Tampa’s excellent outfield that give caution. Much like with Hill, we’re really looking for competitive innings here, and Wacha will be part of Frankensteining them together in the rotation.
Phillips Valdez – With one more option year remaining, it seems likely that we’ll see Valdez up and down with the team throughout 2022. He sprinkles in enough outings where his pitches are moving like wiffle balls to keep you interested, but every time it’s felt like he deserved a bigger role, disaster seemed soon to follow.
Austin Davis – Came over in trade and pitched well, especially dominating LHH. Struggles with righties need to be improved. Four years of cheap control remain, so he will get every shot to earn a spot in the pen.
Nick Pivetta – Ideally he would be an innings eating, league average pitcher throwing out of the #5 slot. With the departure of Eduardo Rodriguez and the additions of Hill and Wacha does that bump Pivetta up in the rotation while still hoping for only solid innings? A little better control would do wonders, but his extreme fly ball tendencies and home runs seem like they will always be looming. I suppose there is a path that possibly leads to Pivetta pitching at the back of the bullpen, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Josh Taylor – After a rocky first three appearances, Taylor was unbelievable for the rest of April through June and then good, not great, in July through September. LHH had a miniscule .381 OPS against him last season, while RHH were much better at .884. He should be a fine late inning option, with his numbers getting a bit worse against LHH and a bit better against RHH.
Eduard Bazardo – Got hurt after making his MLB debut and looking like he was going to be a real option. His breaking ball is real nasty, but the initial look at his public pitch data didn’t show much explosiveness to his fastball. It will be interesting to see how he performs this spring.
Connor Seabold – Looked electric in spring training, throwing mid-90s with his devastating changeup. Then he got hurt leading into the AAA season and wasn’t seen again until the end of July. With Worcester, he mixed excellent starts with clunkers, but his stuff wasn’t close to the same. He was throwing 88-93 with a slider as his main second pitch after losing feel for his changeup. I was surprised the Sox sent him to Arizona given the way he was pitching, and SoxProspects noted that scouting reports from the Arizona Fall League were not good, with continued diminished stuff and inability to locate his pitches. This is one of the major questions in my mind heading into spring training, hopefully this is a case of dead arm or something and he reports to Fort Myers recharged.
Kutter Crawford – Awesome minor league and winter league showings this year sandwiched around a rough 1-game MLB debut. Rehabbed Tommy John during 2020 and this year his strikeouts and control took big steps forward. Seems like he will lead the Worcester rotation to start 2022, but could be an intriguing bullpen bridge guy. Did give up a concerning level of air contact after his promotion to AAA so that will be worth following.
Garrett Whitlock – Not much needs to be said here, he was amazing. Not sure what the plan is for him, but no matter as a bridge guy, closer, or in the rotation, he will be throwing important innings when the Sox need them. My plan would be to try to get quality early innings out of Hill and Wacha in the rotation, with Whitlock in the pen, and then as the year evolves so will Whitlock’s role. That should be a good way to make sure he’s throwing high leverage situations in the spring and will help buffer against a major innings load jump.
Tanner Houck – Much of the same thinking for Whitlock can be applied to Houck. Yes, both have major starting pitching upside, but that doesn’t mean they have to be in the rotation on opening day, by the end of the year they will be slotted where they need to be. Early on, I kind of like the idea of Houck piggybacking on one of the Sox starters and having the team going into those games hoping to only use the starter and Houck. It should be noted that Houck only has 100 days of service time and is incredibly valuable to either the Sox or on the trade market if Bloom wants to go big game hunting.
Darwinzon Hernandez – His stuff was still good, but down a tick or two this year, and with his brutal control that is not good. He throws the ball with no idea where it’s going, and even with him being able to post a solid ERA this year, it’s an unsettling feeling when he comes into any sort of high leverage situation. He’s probably going to be in the bullpen, but I would have no issue having him in Worcester, forcing him to earn his way to Boston. I’m not usually too worried about walks out of the pen when hunting for strikeouts, but this is a different animal, walking 7 or 8 batters per 9 with zero command.
Josh Winckowski – Very interesting guy, seemed like he had no problem chugging along, pitching to contact, and getting tons of ground balls in front of the atrocious Portland defense this year while having a fine 21% strikeout rate and 3:1 K:BB. In the Arizona Fall League, he threw 11 IP in a multi-inning relief role and was sitting 98-99 mph, which weirdly only led to 3 strikeouts. He took a big jump up into Baseball America’s Red Sox Top 10 this winter, and his arm is likely to be in the majors in some capacity in the second half of 2022.
Jay Groome – Above all else, a healthy 2021 was the most important thing. Though his deadly curveball didn’t really return after Tommy John, Groome had a very good year using a solid four pitch mix. His ceiling has seemingly come down, but he was incredible in a three start showcase in Double-A to end the year. Anxious to see how he follows this up.
Bryan Mata – Currently 8 months removed from Tommy John. Hopefully we see him pitching some time this summer. Without the injury, it’s easy to imagine Mata having been called up for the stretch run in 2021, injecting a lot of electricity into the pitching staff.
Brayan Bello – The 2020 instructional league reports on him were very exciting, and did he ever back them up this year. Unhittable in High-A and then a good showing in Double-A as a 22-year-old. Some of the video clips of him I posted this summer were downright electric. The new top pitching prospect in the organization, he’s ranked #5 by Baseball America. He’ll head back to Portland to start the year, but you have to imagine he will be quickly pushing for a jump to Worcester.