Preparing for an ambiguous 2021 season, the Red Sox’ rotation plans for the upcoming season are still yet to be set in stone. The rotation set-up for the year will likely be malleable throughout the whole season, as Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale both have rehabilitation plans to follow and will likely be added back to the roster later in the season. This gives an early opportunity for both Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta to prove their worth in a rotation spot.
This is particularly intriguing for Pivetta, who was acquired by the Red Sox and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom at the 2020 trade deadline in hopes of gaining a new rotation piece for the present and future. At 28 years old, Pivetta struggled with the Phillies before being shipped to Boston, posting a 5.39 ERA over three years and 390.2 IP. Up until 2019, Pivetta was used almost exclusively as a starter, until he began to struggle and Philadelphia designated him to mostly relief appearances following that. But still, Red Sox executives specifically acquired him with the intent to further develop Pivetta as a starting rotation piece.
While Pivetta struggled throughout his starts in Philly, his first two appearances out of a starting spot with Boston resulted in an impressive line— resulting in only two runs, and one home run, over ten innings while he struck out 13 while walking five. Fans can hope that this is a glimpse of Pivetta’s future in Beantown. Throughout the 2020 season, Pivetta significantly increased the usage of his slider and changeup. With a slider that ranks in the top percent of baseball velocity-wise, Pivetta pivoted to using this as one of his main weapons, rather than relying on his average, non-out producing four-seamer. This increased usage led to a skyrocket of Pivetta’s K% on this pitch, almost doubling from 18.4% in 2019 to 36.4% in 2020, the highest mark of any of his pitches. This also led to an increase in his other pitches’ K%, as Pivetta seemed to learn to mix and match his pitches in a more efficient way that increased his strikeouts across the board.
What it Means for 2021 and Beyond
Pivetta hopes to build on these changes, while also finding the control to effectively command all four of his pitches. Though the change in his pitch type frequency led to an improvement in his performance, Pivetta’s top form will yet to be unlocked until he finds a way to consistently perform well with each of his pitches. The Red Sox returning pitching coach Dave Bush, along with most Boston executives, seems to trust in Pivetta’s ability to achieve this, and Bush has already connected with the young righty. Even with Pivetta’s fastball velocity being only at the 46th percentile when he is able to gain consistent control of pitch he has seen relative success with the slow-paced four-seamer.
Although Pivetta has a minimal sample size of starts in Boston, the beginning of his time with the Sox showed promise, and the Pivetta that fans saw is the pitcher Chaim Bloom and others are expecting to maintain for weekly starts in Beantown. In 2021, Pivetta will definitely be squeezed into the starting rotation and experimented with, and if his potential pans out as planned, he could even earn a regular spot in the rotation for the season. With the signing of Garrett Richards, Pivetta may have more competition for filling in the rotation in 2021, but if Pivetta is able to win that battle, it may designate Richards to the pen, which may also be beneficial to the Sox, considering his much-improved statistics as a reliever compared to starting games. Still, though, Richards seems to be a rather lock for the rotation, or is at least projected to be at the beginning of Spring Training. At the same time, a combination of Pivetta, Richards, Houck, and possibly Kyle Hart will all be competing for rotation spots, as Sale’s timetable for a return is still rather undermined.
Though Pivetta’s 2021 projections are still to be determined, Boston clearly hopes to capitalize on the young hopeful’s abilities in the hope to designate him to a clear rotation spot. This may be prompt to change in the upcoming season, but 2021 is a mere stepping stone in Pivetta’s future with the club— hopefully, a long and bright future in an attempt to lead the team back to last decade’s greatness.
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