The White Sox went barreling into the trade deadline of the 2021 season like a team prepping for a FINAL EXAM. They pulled out all the stops in acquiring things they needed. Cesar Hernandez, a trusty hand at the keystone and Ryan Tepera, a veteran middle reliever to temper the youth movement the White Sox had been using in that spot. They also went out and acquired something that most wouldn’t consider a NEED, but a WEAPON in Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs closer and (potential) future Hall of Famer. With that kinda deadline what could stop the White Sox???
Well, it’s not going THAT GREAT! Since Kimbrel got here he’s got bumps like acne (6.08 ERA since joining the White Sox) and Liam Hendriks, the incumbent leader of the “SUPER BULLPEN” has been plagued by his proclivity to give up the long-ball. The tandem have been so volatile that twitter squabbles and local sports talk can’t stop with the back and forth about who should take which spot, as THAT would deter these short term mishaps.
Never mind that discussion. Hendriks has been a top closer for more than a minute and Kimbrel repaired his short-term brokenness with the Cubs last year in mainly NON-SAVE situations. So let’s pump the jets (who I’ll likely bet on this weekend) on that discussion. I think these two are the least of our concerns heading into the October. But there is a bullpen concern on my mind and it’s mainly based on how the playoffs tend to work these days.
The Playoffs are Different
Most of yous know that playoff baseball is managed a bit differently than the regular season. Managers are much quicker to pull their starters than they are in the regular season, as playing 162 games vs first to 3, or first to 4, perfectly encapsulates the “Marathon vs Sprint” analogy. Not only that, you get a more truncated use of specific players. Over the course of 136 games so far, we’ve seen Jose Ruiz pitch 49 times. In a first to 3 wins, series, he might get as much action as you and me. Kapisch?
It’s not only the urgency that exacerbates the point. It’s also the quality of team. See the simple chart below that shows the amount of games the White Sox have played versus the other projected AL Playoff teams and how their projected playoff starting pitchers have fared.
Two notes from the chart. ONE – Rodon has been dominant against EVERYONE!! TWO – This is just what happens versus quality opponents. Think about what our White Sox do to other pitchers when the offense is clicking. Yea, the Rays, Yanks, Astros and Red Sox do the same thing. So there in lies the problem. We are going to need a lot more outs than normal from the White Sox bullpen. More than we are used to.
In that vain, I took a look at the 2018 and 2019 contestants in the ALCS (American League Championship Series) to get a flavor for what pitcher usage looks like in the modern American League playoffs. I left out 2020, because it was kinda goofy from the short regular season and the basically everyday-ness of the play. Below is a quick chart that shows each team from those seasons that made it to the ALCS and their usages through that round. It’s…..something.
The DREAM is that you are the 2019 Astros and can have two future HOF pitchers go 7 innings basically each of their starts in the playoffs. As noted previously in this blog, we’ll assume that’s probably not going to happen. A few notes about the rest of the data set.
The Red Sox….
……….had 3 of their 4 starters throw in relief in 2018. Porcello made multiple appearances in relief and starting. Sale and Eovaldi also made appearances and since this data set is only through the ALCS, you don’t even get to see Eovaldi’s epic World Series relief performance that I kept falling asleep during.
They also ran Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes ragged. Them dudes only had 2 games each that they didn’t pitch in. Joe Kelly also got a fair amount of work. The Red Sox were about 50 / 50 on short starts, including an inning and 2/3rds from David Price on one occasion. What was consistent with all of these teams, is they rode the closers pretty hard. Craig Kimbrel was no exception. He pitched a lot for only 9 games.
Got world class starting pitching in both of their playoff runs. In 2019 Cole got 3 starts and all were of the old school ace variety, where he went at least 7 innings. They got short starts though too from Verlander and Greinke along the way. The Astros pressed starters or quasi starters into relief roles more often. Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers carrying a bunch of weight. Once again, the closer was pushed hard.
They threw Adam Ottavino every day even though he couldn’t get anyone out. They pitched Tommy Kahnle into an injury, and although Zack Britton didn’t get hurt they road him hard and put him away wet like Chicago Party Aunt. They used JA Happ and CC Sabathia out of the pen for some unknown reason and then started Chad Green in an elimination game (they got eliminated). Very funky all around.
One thing that should’ve saved them, but didn’t at all was that they had Masahiro Tanaka who is pretty economical with his pitches and can move innings along fast. The Sox don’t really have a guy like that. Still didn’t help. Despite whooping the Twins easily in 3 games, the Yanks got worn down by the Astros and ended up asking their relievers to throw a whopping 53% of the innings in the playoffs.
So What’s the Problem??
My problem is that while I don’t see the White Sox rotation doing a total Yankees, I also can’t envision them being like the Astros of the last decade. I know I trust Liam Hendriks to be ready to log a billion pitches, and Craig Kimbrel too, but who are my mans that are going to pitch the 6th inning every day?
Can Kopech or Crochet handle that? They have barely been used in back to back games, let alone back to back days? Maybe Ryan Tepera can handle that kind of usage, but who else? Maybe that’s why Reynaldo Lopez starting throwing out of the bullpen for the White Sox back in mid July when his ERA at Charlotte was higher than my cholesterol???
What about Aaron Bummer‘s 13.5% BB rate? Can we find a usage for that in October? Also, who is the starting pitcher that will come out of the pen on their throw day or that will eschew starting all together to come out of that bullpen and be a weapon. I don’t trust Dallas Keuchel to do that, do you? I think Ricky Renteria was fired because Carlos Rodon can’t be asked to come out of the bullpen, so who’s next?…..FUCK!
The artist formerly known as THE SUPER BULLPEN and currently knows as the WHITE SOX BULLPEN has a lot of questions going into October. It works okay for 162, but on October 7th, I’m not sure it’s built to last.