Tanner Houck resigned to 2021 minor league purgatory?

(Photo: The Athletic)

Eric D. Schabell

Contributing Writer

There has been a lot of noise around Tanner Houck this week when he was sent back down to the alternate training site, or the minor leagues as it's often referred to, after another sparkling start for the Red Sox.

Alex Speier of the Boston Globe stated it quite eloquently, "Through no fault of his own, Houck now resides in the borderland of the Red Sox alternate site in Worcester, biding his time while awaiting his next big league opportunity."

How is it possible when a pitcher is able to make five starts for the Red Sox and compile a 1.17 ERA, 31 strikeouts over 23 innings pitched, and 10 walks?

Who wouldn't like to see that every five days on the mound for the Red Sox?

The Red Sox are unable to keep Houck on the roster, for reasons we'll discuss below, but they spend a lot of time talking about how he needs to work on another pitch before he'll be ready.

There is a word for this. 


Yes, it's just nonsense.

We all know if any one of the current starting rotation goes down, your first call is going to be for Houck. It's not fair that he is pitching better than most of the current, let's be honest, and expensive starters signed for the 2021 season. Let's take a look, with a warning label for small sample size attached so early in the 2021 season:

  1. Nathan Eovaldi: 12.1 IP, 4 BB, 11 SO, 2 ER, 1.46 ERA
  2. Eduardo Rodriquez: 5 IP, 0 BB, 7 SO, 3 ER, 5.40 ERA
  3. Garrett Richards: 2 IP, 2 BB, 2 SO, 9 ER, 27.00 ERA   
  4. Martin Perez: 5 IP, 2 BB, 6 SO, 3 ER, 5.40 ERA
  5. Nick Pivetta: 5 IP, 4 BB, 4 SO 0 ER, 0.00 ERA
Then there is Houck: 6 IP, 1 BB, 10 SO, 2 ER, 3.00 ERA.

The first two in the rotation are given starters, nothing to discuss there. 

Then there is the third spot in the rotation. Richards was a very expensive one year deal that guarantees $8.5MM, but has been pretty unconvincing through Spring Training and laid an egg for his first start lasting just two innings. Without a doubt he could use some time at the alternate training site, or the minor leagues as it's often referred to, but he's out of options.

In the fourth spot we have Perez who's made some changes he discussed with viewer of this weeks Youtube streaming game, and seems to have that third pitch he needed to stick in the Red Sox rotation. He's going to get you around five inning pitching every start and yields both hits and runs, but nothing the Red Sox offence should not be able to overcome. Perez signed a one year deal with the Red Sox for $4.5MM and as he's also out of options meaning he's here to stay.

In the fifth spot we have Pivetta. So far he's been the most impressive upstart that broke into the rotation from out of Spring Training. He's an effective pitcher so far and to have him in the fifth spot is really a luxury for the little over league minimum the Red Sox locked him in for. Pivetta is also out of options and needs to either be on the roster or let go, which won't happen anytime soon if he continues in his current form.

Without a doubt in my mind, if Richards had options and wasn't the fourth highest paid player on the roster, Houck is in the Red Sox rotation right now.

What's so tantalising is when you see something like the following video where they took Chris Sale's delivery and then flipped Houck's around to make him a left handed pitcher.

Who does not want to see the rotation with Sale, ERod, Eovaldi, Houck, Perez?

Until the options run out, until someone gets hurt, until Sale returns from the injury list later this year and probably pushes out Pivetta, Houck is going to have to continue to work on control and adding a new pitch to his fastball / slider combination. In 2020 Houck worked on a splitter, but threw it just three percent of the time.

“We talked a lot about trying to develop a splitter and having it function as a third pitch. For the time being, it’s not a good enough pitch to force it,” said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. “The fastball and breaking ball are just significantly better at this point in time, so he’s still going to overload those pitches.”

They continue to tell us that Houck is a work in progress and that he's not major league ready yet.

“We’re still trying to develop what pitch qualities he has and what he ends up being. I don’t know what it’s going to look like right now,” said Bush. “He’s not a finished product.”

To that I say, poppycock.

 Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.