Kutter Crawford capping a year where he clearly put his name in the Red Sox mix

Red Sox

Crawford’s name might not be top of mind when it comes to young Red Sox pitchers with potential, but it should be.

Kutter Crawford fires toward the camera with a blurred hitter, umpire and catcher in the foreground.
Kutter Crawford got 17 swings and misses in Sunday’s abbreviated start against the White Sox. Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

Not that many people noticed, content to watch the Patriots offense try to hand another game to someone else, but the Red Sox soldiered on Sunday. Well, for six innings anyway, rain cutting short the finale between a couple of losers.

What? The White Sox had lost 12 straight series before getting right at Fenway Park, leaving the Red Sox on a run of six straight before they help decide the AL East with their last two. Two games with pursuing Tampa beginning Tuesday, then four at Baltimore to end this cortege.

Fittingly, Sunday’s pitching duty went to the arm that’s just been there on the periphery all season. Kutter Crawford’s 22 starts will finish the year second to Brayan Bello’s 27. His 1.249 WHIP is second to Chris Sale’s. His 7.73 hits allowed per nine innings are second to Nick Pivetta’s.

When you think of young arms with the potential to be a part of a quality Red Sox rotation, I suspect your mind goes first to either Garrett Whitlock or Tanner Houck. Crawford truly put himself in that conversation this season, albeit with plenty of room to grow.

He averaged slightly below 4 2/3 innings across those 22 starts, and nine of the Sox 13 losses in Crawford starts came when he failed to complete the fifth. Bello, Houck, Sale, Pivetta (if we include four middle relief appearances), even James Paxton had more success going five innings on a nightly basis.

Fortunately, Crawford’s most active major league season yet is one where moral victories are very much in play. Sunday’s game counts as one, and a lesson in attacking hitters, as his two walks in the fifth inning ended up costing Boston its last lead of the day.

“I’ve got to attack the strike zone in those situations, and it came back to bite me,” the 27-year-old told reporters. “The two-out walk. The leadoff walk, that’s kind of a cardinal sin as a pitcher, but that two-out walk in that situation, I’ve got to go right after him and get him out. I can’t let him get by on a free pass.”

Beyond that, though? Seventeen swings and misses, roughly one on every three hacks against him, with those coming across five pitches — four-seamer, cutter, slider, sweeper, splitter. That’s a deeper mix than Houck, Whitlock, and plenty of others.

And it’s added up to, according to Baseball Savant, an expected batting average against of .212. Second lowest on the Sox (to Sale’s .210), and in the top fifth of pitchers league-wide.

“Stuff-wise he’s one of the best that we have,” manager Alex Cora told reporters Sunday. “Physically, he’s in a good spot. I think a lot of people, including me, have been surprised at the fact that he’s been able to post this season, especially when he started as a reliever then we built him up.

“Although his starts haven’t been seven innings, he’s been able to pitch every five days, which is important. The quality strike-throwing is the next step.”

Feels like these Red Sox in a nutshell, doesn’t it? A basket full of interesting building blocks, seeking a new architect to do something with them. A 2024 rotation with Houck, Whitlock, and Crawford all in it likely means the Red Sox again didn’t do enough over the winter, but they’ve all made various arguments for a place somwhere on the staff.

It’s a fool’s errand to think too deeply about it all until the team makes clearer its intentions for next season with a hire. But within that mix sits a litany of options, able to fill out a group that will need its boss — and those holding the pursestrings — to make the sort of big commitment that was too often lacking during the Chaim Bloom years.

The supplementation from within is here. The churn of a system producing some flavor of major-league talent. It has been all year.

It needs more from outside. Largely ignored days like Sunday are certainly the proof of that.


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