It’s rare that teams make trades within their own division. Even though it’s not a zero-sum game to enter the playoffs anymore, old habits die hard, and the public relations battle of sending a good player to a division rival makes front office executives hesitant to pull-the-trigger even when a divisional foe may be able to offer-up the best return for a player. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Yankees landed Mookie Betts in a trade? Even if the Red Sox had gotten a much better return than what the Dodgers sent to Boston, that situation is basically unimaginable.
Through the Rule 5 draft however, players change teams in the division fairly regularly. More often than not, those players yield minimal on-field results, and those transactions largely go under-the-radar. That’s not the case this year with Red Sox reliever Garrett Whitlock, who until last Sunday, had yet to give up a run in 13+ innings.
The Yankees drafted Whitlock in the 18th round of the 2017 draft. A late-round lottery pick who was not selected at all as a High School Prep pitcher. New York selected and signed the righty pitcher after his junior year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That year he made his professional baseball debut with the Gulf Coast League Yankees where he pitched well enough to earn an in-season promotion.
He didn’t pitch particularly well at the next level, but across two teams in 2018, he started 21 games (of 23 appearances) and posted a 1.86 ERA. Unfortunately in 2019, he underwent Tommy John Surgery, slamming the brakes on the start of a promising young career.
Last December, the Yankees decided not to protect Whitlock in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Red Sox selected him. He ended up making the 2021 roster, and he made his MLB debut a few weeks ago against the Orioles. It was an impressive outing for the near-25-year-old — a 3 ⅓ innings, three hit, five strikeout, zero run performance.
In his first six outings, Whitlock looked totally dominant. Last Sunday he gave up his first run of the year, a solo home run against the Rangers’ infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Whitlock was credited with the Hold, as that home run cut the Sox 3-1 lead by one run. It’s the first time all year that Whitlock didn’t look totally sharp and in-control.
Over the course of seven appearances and 14 ⅓ innings, Whitlock has given up only one run on eight hits. He’s struck out 19 and walked only two, good for a 9.5 K:BB ratio. His 15 ERA- and 46 FIP- are exceptional, and he’s been one of the most reliable arms in Boston’s pen.
He has never thrown more than 70 innings in a season, but for a guy with a near 40-percent strikeout rate, and a walk rate below four percent, he’s well-positioned to continue as a strong reliever for the Red Sox.
The reliever market is a carousel of highs-and-lows. Consistency in the bullpen ranks is hard to find, and hard to capture, but Whitlock’s been fantastic for Boston so far. Although he’s an under-the-radar player, I’m sure the Yankees’ front office is wondering why they let him go...especially since they’re going to face Boston 19 times between June and September.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano