In my column last week, I focused on Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez as the primary offensive disappointments for the 2022 Boston Red Sox. The blame pie for the pitching side of things is a lot more complicated, so we’ll need to go with more of a list format for this week’s depressing disappointment analysis.
Nick Pivetta – Personally, I have found Nick to be the most disappointing Sox pitcher this season. I loved the development we saw from Pivetta as 2021 went on, particularly in some sensational relief appearances at the very end of the season and the playoffs. His stuff and intensity are exactly the kind of combination you want to see in the ace of your staff. But a horrid start to 2022 was followed by much of the same up and down pattern that we saw from him during the regular season last year. Pat even predicted that he’d win the AL Cy Young this year, and I was eager to jump aboard that train as well. Alas, Joey L. Jackson was right. Nick Pivetta is still a work in progress, and I’m begging for him to make that much-anticipated leap to dominant front-line starter in 2023.
Nathan Eovaldi – Last year’s ace and 2018 playoff hero, a lot of people were expecting big things from Nasty Nate this season. I had my trepidations, as Eovaldi has historically never been able to put together consecutive successful campaigns. This is the first time I remember him suffering from back issues, a dicey condition that nobody ever wants to battle in a contract year. Beyond the injuries, historically awful performances in June against the Astros and in July against the Blue Jays, both coming at times when the Red Sox truly needed their “ace” to be the fulcrum that guided them in the right direction, helped seal Eovaldi’s fate as a soon-to-be ex Red Sox.
Garrett Whitlock – Make no mistake, I loved what we saw from Garrett Whitlock on the mound this season. He was only a disappointment because of the way he was used. One of the mistakes Chaim Bloom made this season, one that even I won’t hesitate to criticize, is the misguided effort to convert Whitlock into a starting pitcher. He was an electric closer last year, and electric closers seem almost impossible to find. He did fine in the nine starts he made this season, and he also succeeded in the piggyback long-relief role he was slotted into early on. But when you have someone that can nail down the toughest three outs of a close victory the way he can, you should NOT mess with his role unless he is a sure bet to become the next Pedro Martinez. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, Chaim. Decent starting pitchers are easier to find than lock-down closers. Continue searching for the latter while praising God that you were blessed enough to find the former.
Hansel Robles – It’s hard for me to count Robles as a disappointment, because I never expected much from him to begin with. He was helpful last September (0.00 ERA, .122 OBA in 12.2 innings) when the Red Sox were incredibly short in the bullpen, and for some reason that made Sox fans forget about his atrocious first month with the team (7.03 ERA, .302 OBA in 12.1 innings in August). 2022 gave us proof positive that Robles is just another dime a dozen hard-throwing reliever that is capable of stretches of dominance, but is too scared of his fastball to sustain any long-term success. I’ve never seen a pitcher so in love with such a mediocre slider.
Hirokazu Sawamura – News of Sawamura being designated for assignment took me back to early 2021, when I first saw him and predicted that he would become the primary setup man for a then-dominant Matt Barnes. His 98 mph fastball and hard splitter combination was incredibly seductive, as it is a practically unhittable tandem when executed well. Unfortunately, Sawamura never mastered the execution. While his numbers were not horrible this season, he was abysmal at stranding inherited runners and, by the end of his tenure, could not be relied on while starting clean innings either. This throw to third also made him the poster boy of Boston’s early-season bullpen woes, which did not help his standing in the Hub either.
Ryan Brasier – It’s hard to remember this head-tilting jag ever being good. He and Barnes are the final holdovers from the 2018 bullpen that Dave Dombrowski created, as usual, by throwing darts at a giant poster of cheap relievers that throw mid-90s fastballs and average curveballs. Other than cussing at Gary Sanchez once in the playoffs, Brasier’s only impressive trait has been the way that he has somehow convinced Alex Cora that he has something positive to offer the team. Like Whitlock, this is a disappointment that is more the fault of management than the the player. Sooner or later, you need to cut bait and get the guy out of high-leverage situations (not that the alternatives were much better). Terry Francona had Kevin Millar, John Farrell had Junichi Tazawa, and Alex Cora has Ryan Brasier.
Jake Diekman – Boy was I wrong about this guy. Judging by his previous decade of being a decent lefty MLB reliever, I figured he’d be a pretty good lefty fireman/setup man that could use his gas to rack up some punch outs and get out of jams. I even thought he had a ceiling as the closer once the dust settled and this closer-by-committee nonsense fell by the wayside. But Diekman’s lack of control was downright Darwinzon-ian. He never knows where the ball is headed once he releases it, and he became the second Red Sox reliever in as many years to have his career murdered by George Springer. I despise giving credit to Doug, but he had this one nailed from the beginning.
As much as some shortsighted people want to blame Chaim Bloom, and some downright whacky people want to blame Alex Cora (I’m looking at you, Alvaro), injuries were the real killer this year for the Boston Red Sox.
Michael Wacha was the most consistent starting pitcher on the team, and even a decent All-Star candidate until his “heavy arm” issue sidelined him for six weeks.
Eovaldi’s back issue has essentially cut his season in half.
In addition to Trevor Story, the Klubola virus inflicted dependable lefty reliever Matt Strahm as well as ace-turned-payroll-leech Chris Sale with the types of injuries that authors of the past liked to inflict on archetypal representations of Jesus.
If stigmata wasn’t bad enough, the baseball gods, apparently deciding that Boston’s pitching staff had caught too many breaks this season, struck down closer Tanner Houck with lower back inflammation.
And does anybody remember when Josh Taylor was a thing?
And that brings me to the biggest disappointment of the season. You can’t talk about pitching staff disappointments for the 2022 Red Sox without calling out Chaim Bloom.
When you build a starting pitching staff with pitchers that have injury histories like Eovaldi, Wacha, and Rich Hill, you can’t act completely shocked when they go down with arm, back, and knee injuries.
The bullpen decisions are even more concerning. Dicking around with Whitlock, keeping Braiser on the team for this long, and having nothing more than Hansel Robles as a fallback plan when Diekman and Sawamura were not getting it done are all baseball ops failures. This bullpen has been a disaster all season long.
We all know that the performance of relief pitchers waffles back and forth from year to year. Quite often, a bullpen can appear to be stacked on paper and then perform terribly on the field, while other bullpens may look like crap on paper and perform admirably. But when a bullpen looks unimpressive on paper to begin the year, performs dreadfully throughout the year, and is never repaired during the year, the fault has to begin and end with Bloom.
I love Bloom’s plan for the next decade, and I love even more that ownership appears to be behind it. John Tomase, Lou Merloni, and all those other actors need clicks and ratings, so we can’t blame them for siding with the shortsighted masses and pretending that ownership was using the team’s 2022 on-field performance as some kind of measuring stick for Bloom’s capabilities.
The second this season ends, we can truly begin to view the Boston Red Sox as a product of Chaim Bloom’s vision and hold him singularly accountable for what takes place between the lines. This was his last season of being hamstrung by the bumbling idiocy of his predecessor.
However, payroll jam aside, Bloom had no shortage of his own disappointments in assembling this season ‘s pitching staff. He now wears the mark of a baseball chief who cannot build a dependable squad of relievers, and his low-risk, high-reward rotation has served as the cautionary risk companion piece to the 2021 reward fable.
The disappointment can’t be restricted to Bloom though. Major League players need to be held to Major League expectations, and the select few who did perform at or beyond expectations could not stay on the field. You can only blame the short spring training for so much. The conditioning and consistency of the pitchers that return next year will be under the microscope, and 2023 is set to be a watershed moment in the history of Boston Red Sox baseball.
It’s not just time to turn the page on 2022. It’s time to tear the page out, crumple it up, and toss it into the furnace.