We, and I do mean the collective WE, have just closed out a 7th straight losing White Sox season. This upcoming off-season you will be inundated with people’s various thoughts on how the White Sox can go from a meh team with a bunch of young stars to an actual good team. You’ll see plans about how the White Sox should make this trade or they should spend on this free agent. You will also see anguish from people about who the White Sox won’t acquire in the off-season. I think part of the fun of baseball, any sport, life, is the inherent luck in such ventures.
WHAT IF THE WHITE SOX JUST GOT LUCKY??
That’s right, this might be one of the few spots on the internet that suggests, how about the White Sox just get lucky.
The 2019 White Sox scored 708 runs and allowed 832 runs, which is a deficit of 124 runs on the season. From what I can tell on the interwebs, most critically (and non-critically) thinking fans are shooting for a .500 or slightly better prognostication in 2020. In order for that to take place, the team needs to even up that 124 run deficit. What if, as part of it they just got lucky, that’s right, just dumb fucking variance. I bring you.
In 2019, for as much ballyhoo as the Alex Colome save rate in the early season received and for the perceived unsustainability of the Evan Marshall Plan, the White Sox ended up with a regular ass bullpen by most measures. 4.33 ERA (7th in AL) with 4.69 FIP (9th in AL) & xFIP (10th in AL).
What if that bullpen got mysteriously better in 2020?
See below, a quick table using bullpen data from the 2 Wild Card era (starting in 2012). The table shows Runs Allowed per 9 Innings by Relievers. I used raw Runs Allowed because I wanted to get the full effect of the run differential and I didn’t want the effect of the underlying performance making a mess of this. Since 2014, 5 teams bullpens have improved by 1 Run Allowed per 9 Innings or more over the previous year. A 1 Run Allowed per 9 innings improvement for the White Sox relievers (based on 2019 reliever innings pitched) would be worth ~64 runs, basically HALF of their 2019 run differential deficit.
Let’s take a look at them to see if my thesis is correct that positive variance aka dumb luck is a potential weapon in the 2020 White Sox tool box.
This squad got 314 IP of 2.55 RA9 from the delicious quartet of Tom Wilhelmsen, Dominic Leone, Joe Beimel, Danny Farquhar (HI OLD FRIEND!) and Yoervis Medina. It might not shock you to know that none of these guys were at any time considered ELITE relievers. The high priced arm on this staff, Fernando Rodney gave one of his few decent RA9 seasons of his career at 3.27. This glorious fucking squad improved by over 2 RA9 from the prior year and then regressed right back in 2015.
Getting 186 IP of 2.66 RA9 from Will Harris, Tony Sipp and Luke Gregerson (on their 3rd, 4th and 4th teams respectively) certainly lead the charge on this squad. It also didn’t hurt to get regular ass non-blown to bits bullpen seasons from Josh Fields, Pat Neshek and Chad Qualls. This bullpen was different than the 2014 Mariners in that it was a bunch of lower end veteran acquisitions that locked it in nicely for a season. Where as the Mariners were working with a bunch of pre-arb arms.
This team wasn’t even really that good at 4.85 RA9 in the current year, which placed them 13th in the AL, they just got out from behind being dead last in 2017 by a country mile. This was addition by subtraction, not letting the likes of Bruce Rondon (hey, that name looks familiar) and Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) throw any innings and allowing Chad Bell only 7 1/3 IP. This team got improvements from young arms like Alex Wilson and Joe Jimenez along with cutting bait on lol-bad relievers as the aforementioned folks.
Ole boy threw 80 innings and gave up 7 runs. SEVEN.
This looks like the Astros being smart, but then again, this bullpen regressed by almost 1 RA9 in 2019, so I don’t think they went back to being dumb. Tony Sipp was still here being awesome, while they also (smartly) acquired Ryan Pressly and watched him give up 2 runs in 23 IP and (grossly) acquired Roberto Osuna and saw him do much the same. The awesome bulk innings were picked up by Collin McHugh, who spent 2017 as a part time starter. I’m pretty sure the Astros aren’t just SMART, I also think they get LUCKY too (and probably cheat with illicit substances on the baseball, but that’s neither here nor there).
So there you see, there are 5 totally random ass looking 1 year bullpen improvements that could happen to our White Sox as well. I wouldn’t count on it, but just to improve our odds, maybe we get these two guys to come in and give the 2020 bullpen a little pep talk