John Tomase

How Craig Breslow can clean up mess of Red Sox pitching staff

John Tomase has a plan to improve what was Boston's biggest weakness last season.

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Baseball's offseason doesn't begin until the day after the World Series, which makes the next few days critical for new Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow as he evaluates his roster.

He should start by sorting his pitchers.

The Red Sox are blessed, if that's the right word, with an abundance of swingmen. Defining roles would streamline the construction of the staff.

In Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, Nick Pivetta, and Kutter Crawford, the Red Sox feature four right-handers capable of either starting or relieving. It's time to pick a side.

Based on the way Pivetta pitched in the second half, first in relief and then after returning to the rotation, I'm penciling him in as a back-end starter, where his durability and reliability play. As long as the club doesn't once again ask him to slot somewhere atop the rotation, he has value.

He adopted an attacking mentality after losing his rotation spot in late May, posting a 3.16 ERA thereafter. His 183 strikeouts ranked 13th in the American League, an impressive feat since no one else in the top 15 made even a single relief appearance, let alone 22 of them like Pivetta.

I'm also reserving a lower spot in the rotation for Crawford, who doesn't exhibit extreme platoon splits, strikes out over a batter an inning, and actually pitched better in the second half than the first. His deceptive four-seamer is one of the best pitches on the team, and that's a solid building block for any starter. He delivered his best results in September.

That leaves Houck and Whitlock, and I'm ending any experimentation and ticketing both for the bullpen, where they've already proven they can be weapons. Houck's deficiencies as a starter are now well-established: lefties pound him, and he's miserable after turning over the lineup. Last year, for instance, he posted a 2.71 ERA in the first three innings, and 8.16 thereafter.

He's a right-on-right specialist, with his stuff naturally sweeping away from the hitter. He still has the ability to pitch multiple innings, especially if he's only facing the lineup once. Let him excel there, rather than grading as no better than average in the rotation.

The same goes for Whitlock, though for different reasons. His problem is durability. A bad hip ended his 2022 before requiring offseason surgery, and elbow inflammation cost him two months last year.

Whitlock has yet to throw 80 innings in a season and shouldn't be counted on to start now. What he can do is pump up the velocity in short bursts and lock down a late inning. ERA may be an old-school stat, but in this case it tells the story: Whitlock is at 4.76 lifetime in 90.2 innings as a starter, and 2.65 in 132.2 innings of relief, where his strikeout rate also improves. Stop trying to make him something he's not and just accept that he can be part of a dominant bullpen.

If Breslow takes these concrete steps, the Red Sox can plan their offseason with a better idea of what they need. Brayan Bello, Crawford, and Pivetta take three rotation spots, you count on nothing from Chris Sale, and you scour the market for one top-end and one mid-tier starter. The Red Sox will doubtlessly be linked to Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, for instance.

You then build a legit bullpen around closer Kenley Jansen, setup man Chris Martin, Whitlock, and Houck, with Josh Winckowski, John Schreiber, and Brennan Bernardino in the mix.

That's the start of a decent staff, and then it's Breslow's job to find the missing pieces.

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