Where the heck is Houck?
Following a 10–0 Memorial Day loss to the Baltimore Orioles, questions remain unanswered regarding the Boston Red Sox pitching staff.
Tanner Houck, Boston’s soon-to-be 26-year-old right-hander, has been relegated to the bullpen to assume something of the Garrett Whitlock role of early April. After a few bumps in the road, the former first-rounder rebounded. Houck has nine scoreless innings of relief in his last three outings, racking up nine strikeouts and three walks. In 22 batted ball events, opponents have a -0.2 degree launch angle.
Unfortunately, he’s on a starter’s schedule in a reliever’s role. As a result, his usage is independent of leverage and completely handicaps Boston on days not started by Garrett Whitlock or Rich Hill –– when Houck is typically available.
The right-hander is one of Boston’s best pitchers and more than worthy of being used in a more prominent role. Keeping him ‘stretched out’ as a piggybacking reliever once every five days is beneficial when four workhorses are in the starting rotation. However, Boston’s rotation features three starters that are wild cards after the fourth inning –– Whitlock, Hill and Michael Wacha.
There’s too much uncertainty in the Red Sox rotation to get away with keeping Tanner Houck in the bullpen on a starting pitcher’s schedule. They should either use him as a multi-inning reliever –– a la Whitlock in 2021 –– or put him back in the rotation. Using him for two innings in a blowout, as they did in a 12–2 win on Sunday afternoon, does nothing to help the Red Sox in the short or Houck in the long.
Being long-term conscious is a good trait for every organization to have. However, the Red Sox should also focus on what’s happening in the present. Being too long-term-oriented does nothing but hurt the product right now.
Right now, the Red Sox are 23–26 and lack stability in the bullpen. While their numbers are solid overall, they’re riding the arms of Matt Strahm, John Schreiber and Tyler Danish to get high leverage outs. Tanner Houck should be in that group, or keeping him in the bullpen is a waste.
The role he has right now bears nearly zero impact on the outcome of the ballgame. He’s faced 77 batters as a reliever in 2022, only seven in high leverage (44 in low leverage). Only one of his last four outings came in a game decided by fewer than six runs.
The Red Sox aren’t only hurting themselves by keeping Tanner Houck in his current role; they’re also hurting the player. If they view the right-hander as a future mainstay in their rotation, why are they messing around by having him in the bullpen? With all due respect to Wacha and Hill, Houck has better stuff and misses more bats than them. And Houck’s stuff doesn’t worsen when used in the rotation(3.22 ERA, 28.5% strikeout rate in 92.1 career innings as a starter).
For guys like Wacha and Hill, might their stuff improve in the bullpen? That remains to be seen. But the fact of the matter is the Red Sox need to do a better job setting up their bullpen for success, rather than praying they get the job done.
Houck is one of the best pitchers on the active roster for the Red Sox, but he sure isn’t treated like it.