Baseball

We’re rounding out the White Sox 2020 previews with the bullpen…in the middle of a global pandemic!

The Sox pen was a middle of the league unit in 2019, with some very solid returns on a few previously relative unknowns (Aaron Bummer(at least to the national stage), Evan Marshall), a stinker from at least one big signing (Kelvin Herrera) and a tale of two halves from the incumbent closer Alex Colome. Along the way we also got acclimated with storylines about Jimmy Cordero‘s guns and the Ballads of Carson Fulmer and Jace Fry.

So what should/could be expected from a 2020 bullpen that saw very little turnover, a single addition in Steve Cishek, new paper for few of the higher leverage fellas…and a potential 80 game season/29 or 30 man roster? TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP!

2019 Stats

536 appearances over 574 innings

24-21 W-L 33/49 Save/Opp 73 Holds

4.33 ERA  4.69 FIP

8.48 K/9   4.25 BB/9  1.40 WHIP

48.1% GB-rate  73.0 LOB%  15.3% HR/FB

96 ERA-  2.7 WAR

Last Week on Nitro: Bummer rode his nasty sinker to a very respectable 1.7 WAR, on par with the top RP in the league. If he had a K/9 over 11 instead of under 8 he’d probably have added another .5-1 WAR and been discussed as an elite RP, easily usurping Colome on his way to a nice raise and term. He settled for simply obtaining a new 5-year, $16M extension and I have to believe he’s fine with it. Marshall wasn’t quite as electric or outstanding on the eye test, but he was used in bigger and bigger spots as the season wore on and earned his spot in the 2020 discussion. Colome was a force in the first half saving 20 games before the ASB, albeit with some alarming underlying stats that would catch up to him for a much more average 10 save second half.

2019 was not all sunshine and rainbows for the relief corps on the South Side. Fry had a great SO rate of over 11/9IP, but couldn’t keep the ball in the yard enough (22% HR/FB). Herrera and Fulmer were flat out bad, with the former posting a 1.40 HR/9 rate and the latter just atrocious in every facet…yet again. Juan Minaya was fine? Jose Ruiz was solid? Really everyone needs to thank Bummer for buoying the RPs GB rate as no one else broke 60% (Bummer was nearly 73%).

TOO SWEET (WHOOP! WHOOP!): Things are different now than they were a month ago. This post would have hit in late March, and the best case scenario would have involved a four-headed monster closing out White Sox wins with Colome/Bummer/Herrera/Cishek operating as the go to bridge/closer committee and Marshall coming in to keep the other fresh. Fulmer/Cordero/Fry…and Minaya or Ruiz or Ian Hamilton or any number of solid minor league arms would have made up the remaining four spots, in what would be seen as how many contending, successful teams run a bullpen:an innings eater or two and then best arm up with a short leash for awfulness. But what does this look like in our new world post-virus…

The same four make up the go-to options for Rick Renteria to close out games, but the roster behind them is one with a lot more strength. All of the sudden he’s going to have Carlos Rodon and Gio Gonzalez as options, and likely an 11th RP option in the event that rosters expand to near 3o for a shortened season, and especially if we see 7 inning double headers as part of this season. Bummer/Colome are a nasty tandem depending on how the handedness of batters shake out in the 8th/9th, and Cishek, Herrera and Co. build the bridge without issue on most days. Rodon and Gonzalez become serious game changers for the shortened outings/double headers and the White Sox pen is as formidable as any in the AL despite the lack of a true strikeout RP.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The shortened season could work against the bullpen just as easily, seeing a plethora of options for Ricky to go to but none with enough trust or ability to translate leads into wins. Bummer sees a slight regression, but so does Colome. Herrera does not bounce back in year two, Fulmer/Fry/Ruiz/Cordero stall in place and Gio and Rodon translate terribly to shorter outings. An arm or two from the minors show out, maybe 1-2 of Zack Burdi, Tyler Johnson, Matt Foster or Codi Heuer to be precise, but that’s the silver lining in a frustrating, disjointed campaign out of mostly underperforming pen.

Colome hits FA on a sour note, Bummer makes people (stupidly) question his extension and the 2020 offseason becomes a quest to fix the relief problem. The biggest talking point out of the pen remains Jimmy Cordero’s arms vs. his jersey sleeves.

BAH GAWD, THAT’S (THE BULLPEN)’S MUSIC: The 2020 season will be a success if it’s simply played at this point, IMHO. The White Sox 2020 bullpen will be a success if the BIG FOUR can be passable to above average on a nightly basis, Rodon comes back firing in small sample sizes and at least one of the bottom four/minor league four turn in a 0.1 WAR or above season.

IF we have baseball in 2020, pitching is going to be paramount to success. There will be a ton of variables and I think many can agree that pitching is going to be harder to re-ramp up and succeed at than hitting. A solid Sox pen could be the real difference to a positive springboard off a short season into the 2021 and beyond contention era.

Baseball

Now we come to (at least statistically speaking) the #3 spot in the Sox rotation and the 4th most exciting off-season signing: Gio Gonzalez. Part of me wonders whether he will ever actually take the mound for the Sox, considering this is technically his 3rd go around with the team and he’s yet to throw a single pitch for them.

The Sox drafted Gonzalez 38th overall in the 2004 draft with a supplemental pick from the Yankees. He lasted in the system a whole year before the Sox sent him to the Phillies for Jim Thome, then got him back from the Phillies with Gavin Floyd in 2006 when they sent the corpse of Freddy Garcia out East. He made it to the AAA level before Kenny Williams in his infinite wisdom sent Gonzalez out to Oakland for the human knock knock joke known as Nick Swisher (vomit emoji). Once he finally made the bigs he carved out a nice career for himself as the 3rd starter for both Oakland and the Nats, averaging around 165 innings a year and about 180ish strikeouts. He ended up with the Brewers in 2018 and spent the better part of 2 seasons there as their 4th-ish starter.

Gonzalez has always been a very solid strike thrower in his career, but recently he’s had some trouble staying on the mound. Last season Craig Counsell and the Brew Crew were able to manage his innings pretty well (mostly because their bullpen was fucking nails), but will the Sox have the same luck? Let’s dive in.

 

2019 Stats

Games Started: 17

Record: 3-2

3.50 ERA 1.29 WHIP

78 K  37 BB  9 HR

8.04 K/9  4.04 FIP

 

Last Week On Nitro: The first thing that jumps out at you looking at Gonzalez’ stat line from last season is…there’s not much of it. 17 starts? 3 Wins? Only 78 Ks? What did the Sox pay for? Well (at least this time) the stats don’t tell the whole story. Gio didn’t start a game for the Brewers until the last week of April (which if that happened this year it would be a blessing, but I digress), and then missed pretty much all of June and July with a dead arm. He came back off the DL on the 20th of July, and surprisingly rounded back into formpretty

When he was on the mound last year he very rarely pitched more than 5 innings, with his longest outing coming on July 26th against the Cubs (a whopping 6.1 innings). Most of this is due to what was mentioned above, namely the fact that he wasn’t needed after the 5th inning thanks to the Brewers bullpen being such an unholy terror. Combine that with Craig Counsell’s (correct) thinking that the best way to get the most out of Gonzalez was to manage his innings, especially coming off something called “dead arm” and you can see why his numbers are so far off his career averages.

When he was on the mound, Gio was pretty effective. His 4 seamer could still occasionally touch 92, combined with the movement on his 2 seam fastball and curveball still got the swinging strikes. Oh, and his changeup against righties wasn’t too shabby either.

I don’t care what anyone says, those Brewers unis are hot fire.

The knock on Gonzalez has always been his occasional bouts of wildness, which last year’s 3.81 BB/9 stat showed pretty clearly. He also saw a jump in his HR/9 which was the 2nd highest in his career in 2019. All told, however, he was a pretty valuable piece to the puzzle for the Brewers last year and by then end of the 2020 season he should hopefully be slotted where he belongs in the Sox rotation at #5.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case for Gio Gonzalez in a Sox uniform is he dials the clock back a few years to when he was averaging around 170 strikouts per year with an ERA in the mid 3’s and a FIP to match. If this version of Gonzalez shows up, the $5 million the Sox committed to him this year will look like a steal. Doubly so if Michael Kopech comes back hurling holy fire upon his enemies and Rick Renteria can manage his (Gio’s) innings appropriately.

If the season doesn’t start until mid June (which right now is looking hopeful at best), Gonzalez can come out firing his best bullets since his workload will have been managed indirectly by the Pandemic. A 3.50 ERA and 99 Ks in half a season from the Sox 5.5th starter will be nothing short of a win for Rick Hahn and have the Sox in the position they need to be rotation-wise to contend for the AL Central.

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Worst case scenario here is one of two things: Gonzalez can’t stay healthy, forcing the Sox back into a “5th starter by committee” role resulting in a loss every 5th day, or his tendency for wildness and change in parks does him in with the long ball.

Playing in Miller Park isn’t exactly like Pac Bell (or whatever the hell it’s called now) in San Fran, but as far as suppressing home runs it’s a darn sight better than The Down Arrow can be on a hot, windy summer day. If Gonzalez can’t find the strike zone and becomes predictable (and the ball is still made with a yellow cake uranium core) you better hold tight to your helmet nachos on the Fan Deck.

In this scenario you’re looking at a 5+ ERA, and most likely getting waived by the short season equivalent of the all star break. Or even worse, the Sox just say fuck it and roll with that sadness in the rotation, figuring Outbreak 2020 isn’t their year.

Bah Gawd That’s Gio’s Music!: What do I think will really happen with his stats this year? I think his FIP for last season (4.04) is a nice clue. Gio pitching with the Brew Crew’s defense behind him and backed up by that bullpen helped him suppress some of his worse tendencies. The Sox D isn’t going to be so kind, and the Sox bullpen probably won’t be that level of awesome (though I am excited to see what they can do, as I’m calling a big bounce back year for Kelvin Herrera).

I think a 4.15 ERA with 97 strikeouts, 33 walks and a 8-8 record would be completely acceptable for the White Sox, and would be right in line with what they’re looking for out of the 5th starter’s role. If they can get 5 innings out of him each start like the Brewers were able to, I think Rick Renteria and Don Cooper will be pretty satisfied.

All’s I know is I won’t believe he’s actually on the team until I see him throw out that first pitch, otherwise I’ll just be waiting for the notification on my phone that they traded him to Philly again.

 

 

 

Baseball

Now we come to the bundle of pitchers who were asked to work far more and far harder then they probably should have due to the Black Hole of Sadness that was the #5 starter for the White Sox this season. In reality, the Sox should have sucked it up and used an opener for the 5th spot and it took them all the way until September after Carlos Rodon and Lucas Giolito had been shelved for the season. Yet they’ll tell you the front office is always at the forefront of new stats and ideas in MLB.

At any rate, the Sox bullpen over all was pretty solid all things considered. They ranked 15th out of 30 in the entirety of MLB, and were worth 2.7 WAR total. This is a drop from 2018 when they were 8th best in the league with 5.2 WAR, but some of that can be attributed to the 45 extra innings they were forced to throw this season.

There were a few breakouts in the pen this year, most notably Aaron Bummer and Evan Marshall. Both took large steps forward in both their individual performance and solidifying the future of the Sox bullpen overall. Also Carson Fulmer was here.

Much like the rest of the Sox position players, I’m going to pick and choose who we discuss here mostly because nobody wants to read 15,000 words about the Sox bullpen which is what this would turn into if I did a rundown of each person who pitched out of the pen this season (AJ Reed would be here too, and that ain’t happenin).

THE BULLPEN

Alex Colome

4-5 Record/30 Saves/3 BS

2.80 ERA/1.06 WHIP/67.6% Strand Rate

55K/25BB/7 HR

0.6 WAR/4.08 FIP

Tell Me A Story: When Rick Hahn shipped Omar Narvaez to Seattle in exchange for Colome back in November, my eyebrows raised up a little bit. The Sox were definitely in need of a closer after sending Joakim Soria to the Brewers at the trade deadline in 2018 and Colome certainly fit the bill. With an additional 2 years of team control remaining, and a few catching prospects in the minors in addition to Wellington Castillo it seemed to be one of those trades that fit perfectly for both teams.

Colome rewarded the Sox for the trade by not blowing his first save until June 26th against the Red Sox, a game he eventually got a win for when the Sox came back in the 10th inning. He was nothing if not consistent, throwing his cut fastball 70% of the time regardless of hitter handedness. When it was on, it spun away from righties, and burned into the hands of lefties alike. He didn’t get a lot of strikeouts, averaging less than 1 per inning, but he induced a lot of weak contact and ground balls. With a 4.08 FIP and a 67.6% strand rate it would seem that Colome is living on the edge of falling apart completely, and while some of us were expecting it, the explosion never truly came.

Contract: Colome is in his final year of arbitration in 2020, and is projected to come in at about $10.3 million.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: It seems this will be a welcome back for Colome, as the Sox had a few chances to move him at the deadline to a contender and chose instead to stand pat. There is a possibility he’s moved during the winter meetings, but I don’t see the market for closers being anything different in December than it was in July. $10 million is a pretty high price for a closer who’s peripherals say he’s close to imploding, but with not much other than Kelvin Herrera with experience shutting down games the Sox are probably gonna ride it out with Colome.

 

Aaron Bummer

0-0 Record/1 Save

2.13 ERA/0.99 WHIP/82.3% Strand Rate

60K/20BB/4 HR

1.3 WAR/3.14 FIP

Tell Me A Story: Here we come to the first success story out of the Sox bullpen, Aaron Bummer. This was his 3rd year with the big club since being drafted by the Sox in 2014 after holding out on the Yankees by returning to college. Bummer seemed to be a known quantity in his first two seasons, posting 4.5ish ERAs with similar walk and strikeout numbers. He started the season down in Charlotte and didn’t see his first action until the end of April. He never looked back, as he posted career high numbers in innings pitched and strikeouts.

He also became the most reliable lefty out of the Sox bullpen since Matt Thornton departed for the greener pastures of Boston. Lefties only hit .178 against him, and righties didn’t fare much better at .188. He credited his success this season to an increase in velocity of about 2 mph. This extra heat has helped his fastball move a little more, and added some drop on his cutter. He also ditched throwing the slider, only tossing it 6.6% of the time in 2019 down from 37% in 2016.

The last month of the season was the least successful for him, but it’s understandable as he almost doubled the innings he threw from 2018 so some of that can be attributed to wear and tear. Despite the rough September, this season is nothing short of a success for Bummer, and the Sox may have found themselves another piece of The Future™

Contract: Bummer earned $550,000 last season and is under team control until 2025. He doesn’t hit arbitration until 2022.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: There was some scattered talk about the Sox selling high on Bummer and moving him at the trade deadline, but that seemed more like wishful thinking from opposing GMs than actual heat. Bummer’s career year in 2019 has earned him a high leverage spot out of the pen to start 2020 and I expect him to stay there for awhile.

 

Evan Marshall

4-2 Record

2.49 ERA/1.30 WHIP/84.8% Strand Rate

41K/24BB/5 HR

0.5 WAR/4.30 FIP

Tell Me A Story: Evan Marshall had a very solid year out of the bullpen for the White Sox this year, giving up 14 earned runs in 50.2 innings. While not quite the innings eater that Aaron Bummer was (or nearly as flashy), Marshall was there in a pinch, and with an almost 85% strand rate he ended up being the righty go-to guy that Kelvin Herrera was acquired to be.

Marshall’s 4.30 FIP somewhat suggests that his stats this season were somewhat due to batted ball luck, and his 2.66 BABIP lends a lot of credence to that. The 1.30 WHIP is a little up there for a high leverage reliever, but certainly not to the point where the Sox would be looking to cut bait on him.

Contract: Marshall will enter his first year of arbitration with the Sox in 2020, and he’s projected to earn $1.3 million.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Marshall has certainly earned himself another shot at middle relief in 2020 with his performance this season. That being said, Kelvin Herrera looked pretty good down the stretch and there are a bunch of prospects in AAA with hotter arms than Marshall so he doesn’t exactly have a firm grip on the 7th or 8th inning job. What he does have going for him is a cheap, team-controlled contract so he’s going to be given every opportunity to succeed in 2002.

 

Kelvin Herrera

3-3 Record/1 Save

6.14 ERA/1.61 WHIP/65.9% Strand Rate

53K/23BB/8HR

0.4 WAR/4.58 FIP

Tell Me A Story: Kelvin Herrera was signed in the off-season to a 2 year, $17 million dollar deal by the White Sox. This was seen as the atypical “buy-low” type of move for Rick Hahn, as he was getting a former closer with 3 very good years of production on a shitty KC team who happened to have an issue with the lisfranc ligament in his left foot. This kept his activity in the off-season at the same level as MY off-season activity, namely drinking beer and reading comic books. When the season started up, Herrera was noticeably favoring his foot in his delivery though he said that the foot itself felt “fine” it very clearly was not.

During his best years with KC, Herrera was known for pinpoint control with very high velocity locking down the 9th inning. Through the month of June he was anything but that, logging a 7.63 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP with batters hitting .368 against him.With the lisfranc injury still fucking with his delivery, it was no surpirse when he hit the IL in the middle of July with an oblique strain as pitchers who overcompensate for an injury usually create another one.

The time off did him well apparently, as when he returned from the strain in August he hit the ground running. The entire month of August Herrera only gave up 5 ER and all of those came in a single blowup against the stupid ass Twins. If you take that game out of the equation he finished the season with a 1.76 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP with an 11.9 K/9. That’s more like what Rick Hahn was looking for when he signed Herrera to the deal which initially looked like a horrible overpay.

Contract: Herrera signed a 2 year deal at $8.5 million per, with a team option for $10 million in 2022 with a $1 million dollar buyout.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Not much choice here but to welcome him back and hope that the version of Herrera that showed up after the IL stint is the one the Sox get for the duration of the contract. If so, the 8.5 million will be very worth the price even to the point of potentially picking up his $10 million option in 2022 if Colome stumbles and Herrera charges in. If he doesn’t look like that, then expect him to spend a lot of time in the bullpen playing candy crush on his phone.

 

Jimmy Cordero

1-1 Record

2.89 ERA/0.97 WHIP/79.9% Strand Rate

31 K/11 BB/3 HR

0.4 WAR/3.78 FIP

Tell Me A Story: After Carlos Rodon’s elbow vaporized like the Death Star in June the Sox found themselves with an extra spot on the 40-man roster and a need for pitching. Enter: Jimmy Cordero, fresh of his release by the Seattle Mariners. Rick Hahn scooped him up and sent him to Charlotte to get some work in with the Sox minor league pitching coaches. He responded well, pitching 16 innings and giving up one measly run. Considering the fact that balls were leaving the yard in Charlotte like Twins fans avoiding a shower that’s no mean feat.

He was called up to the big club in July after Kelvin Herrera went on the IL with an oblique strain and picked up right where he left off in Charlotte. He ended the season with a 2.89 ERA and a sub 1 WHIP. His 79.9% strand rate was 3rd best on the team, and he pitched 38 innings in 2 months showing that Ricky Renteria had no issue throwing him out there whatever the situation. Not too shabby for a guy on his 3rd major league team in less than 6 months.

Contract: Cordero is still under team control through 2024 and he’s not arbitration eligible until 2022, He’ll make $550,000 next season.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Based on what we saw during his limited audition this season combined with the fact that he makes the league minimum makes me think Cordero is going to receive every chance to make the team outta spring training. The kid definitely pitched like he had a chip on his shoulder, and you can do a lot worse in MLB with $550,000.

Josh Osich and Jace Fry

Tell Me A Story: Osich and Fry were basically two sides of the same coin for Ricky Renteria this season. Two left handed pitchers with pretty electric stuff but not nearly enough control and too many damn walks. They ate a lot of innings this season thanks to the #5 starter being made of straw and edible paste, but their WHIP and ERA left something to be desired.

Contract: Osich is arbitration eligible this season and estimated to make $1 million. Fry is still under team control and will make the league minimum.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Fry will be back next season if the Sox don’t sign any relief depth in the off-season (which better not fucking happen), so odds are he’s back in Charlotte. Osich will most likely be let go

 

THE REST

The rest of the Sox bullpen was filled with “some guys” that should not be back on the major league roster next season unless things go horribly wrong. The exception to this might be Ryan Burr, as his stuff is pretty impressive if he can keep it under control. He’s also very, very cheap which we all know is how Jerry Reinsdorf loves his pitchers.

 

 

Well, that’s about it for me this season. I’ve really enjoyed covering this team in what was an exciting but ultimately disappointing season. That being said, the future is very bright and I hope to see you all back here soon as we discuss the myriad (hopefully) of signings Rick Hahn has made during the winter meetings. Thanks again to Sam for giving me a shot here in the baseball universe, it was a fucking blast.

 

Cheers all,

 

AJ