Mazara’s heroics lead the White Sox to a thrilling win in simulation

Coming through in the clutch: So far, Nomar Mazara’s come-from-behind three-run homer is the biggest White Sox hit in the young season. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)

Tuesday evening’s game in Cleveland came down to the wire, but the Good Guys came out on top in a 5-4 thriller.

Yasmani Grandal walked in the second inning, and he later came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Nomar Mazara (much more on him later). Grandal is off to a slow start offensively (.158/.238/.211), but it is still very early. While Grandal went hitless, he went on to draw another walk later on to reach base safely twice in four plate appearances.

Mazara’s sacrifice fly put the White Sox on the board with a 1-0 lead, and the score remained the same until the top of the fifth. That was when leadoff hitter Tim Anderson smashed a homer off Cleveland’s rookie southpaw Scott Moss. Moss was excellent in this game, only allowing those two runs (both earned) on three hits in eight innings, striking out eight. Moss appears very much ready for the show, but Anderson took advantage of one of his few mistakes and drove it out for his first homer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, starter Gio González, making his White Sox debut (he finally pitched for the White Sox!), was on top of his game. González lasted five and two-thirds innings, which isn’t outstanding by any means, but he kept Cleveland off the board. González struck out four Cleveland hitters, walked three, and he allowed four hits. Reliever Steve Cishek had another great performance, retiring all four batters he faced, striking out one of them. Cishek, who recently came over from the other side of Chicago, has now thrown three and two-thirds scoreless innings for the White Sox, and his WHIP is an excellent 0.273.

Offense came at a premium in this matchup, so the score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the eighth, when the wheels fell off. Alex Colomé took over on the mound for Cishek, and he had a nightmarish evening. Of the five batters Colomé faced, three of them went yard. Francisco Lindor led off the inning with a homer, his third of the year. Two batters later, Franmil Reyes launched his fourth dinger, and two batters after Reyes, Domingo Santana launched his second. Then, with a 3-2 deficit, the bases empty, and two outs, Rick Rentería pulled Colomé for Evan Marshall. Carlos Santana reached on an error, and he came around to score an unearned run when Jordan Luplow drove him in with a double.

All of a sudden, entering the ninth, the White Sox trailed by a score of 4-2, and they desperately needed baserunners. The White Sox had struggled to get baserunners all evening. However, they managed to get on base when they needed to. With two on and one out, Nomar Mazara stepped up to the plate against Nick Wittgren. Wittgren missed his spot, but Mazara did not miss the ball. Mazara launched his second home run of the season, and this one silenced the Cleveland crowd.

In the blink of an eye, the White Sox were back on top, with a 5-4 lead. The White Sox did not tack on any insurance runs, so the bottom of the ninth was stressful. Rentería turned to Aaron Bummer, who the White Sox recently gave a contract extension to. Uncharacteristically, Bummer faced all sorts of problems finding the strike zone, walking two of the three batters he faced. Bummer also allowed a single, though he did record an out when Adam Engel gunned down Óscar Mercado trying to advance to third on said single. When Bummer departed, there were runners on first and second, one out, and the White Sox were clinging to a 5-4 lead.

In stepped Jace Fry, perhaps the best story from the 2018 season, in a huge spot. The batter was Franmil Reyes, who had just homered the previous inning. On the second pitch, Reyes beat a curveball (this is an educated guess; Baseball-Reference does not disclose pitch types) into the ground, and the White Sox turned a double play to end the threat and seal a thrilling victory.

And so, despite only getting five hits, the White Sox got a hard-earned victory at Progressive Field. After tonight’s victory, the White Sox’s record sits at 3-2, which is now the same as Cleveland’s record. The White Sox will wrap up this three-game in Cleveland tomorrow, and they will look to complete a sweep. Let’s get it done, but first, let’s take a look at a couple of trivia questions related to tonight:

  1. In this simulation, Nomar Mazara just became the third member of the White Sox to hit his second home run. Last season, who were the first three White Sox players to reach two homers?
  2. The White Sox drafted Jace Fry, who earned his first save since August 29, 2018, out of the same school as Nick Madrigal. Which school is this?

Answers

  1. José Abreu, Yoán Moncada, and Tim Anderson.
  2. Oregon State University.

Minor key: The last bullpen spot

Eighth spot to lose: Improbably, a combination of factors give Carson Fulmer the inside track on the final White Sox bullpen spot. (@Carson_Fulmer)


For some pitchers, a relief role is the path to glory and riches. For others, it’s a last stand, a last-ditch attempt to cling to the majors. The Chicago White Sox feature both extremes in their Cactus League bullpen at present, and all manner of pitchers in-between.

The former was taken care of this past weekend. Aaron Bummer’s job security wasn’t in question this spring, but the organization assured so in a big way after announcing a long-term pact with the lefty reliever on Saturday.

The White Sox are loathe to go through the arbitration process with their players, but this contract is a big win for the team beyond dodging that process with Bummer. The 26-year-old was selected in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of Nebraska and underwent Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer. After posting a 2.13 ERA with a 72% ground ball rate in 67 ⅔ innings in 2019, boasting a 1.3 fWAR powered by an elite sinker, Bummer has arrived as a fixture in the Pale Hose bullpen going forward.

Bullpens are fickle, and deals like this one are uncommon as a result. But the deal guarantees a payout of only $16 million, and the decision-makers likely see that as a pittance in the face of four years of arbitration under super two status for a pitcher like Bummer, who’s seen as a major spoke in the wheel. Regression could obviously occur, but Bummer’s current status and future promise is a massive scouting win for the organization, which should rightfully celebrate his arrival as a dependable big league reliever.


Judgment Day: Carson Fulmer

Carson Fulmer was the third-ranked player in the 2015  draft according to MLB Pipeline. In Doug Laumann’s final year at the helm, the White Sox used the eighth overall pick in an otherwise poor class on the righthander from Vanderbilt. Many observers praised the organization for selecting another quick-moving pitcher and nabbing the “best college starter” in the class.

Pipeline lauded Fulmer for his competitiveness and placed a 70-grade on his fastball with a 60-grade curveball. The 6´0´´ righty threw his fastball in the 93-97 mph range and had been named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Fulmer displayed an electric arm, with a power breaking ball. Carson lacked prototypical size and possessed a tough-to-repeat, highly unorthodox delivery. Many evaluators questioned his command and control, wondering if he would end up in the bullpen down the road.

Fulmer didn’t throw enough strikes in college, and he hasn’t thrown enough strikes as a professional, either. Now hanging onto a roster spot tenuously, at risk of changing organizations, Fulmer’s future hinges on his ability to throw strikes this spring. The 26-year-old posted a 6.26 ERA in 27 big league innings last year, and that was after reworking his delivery in the offseason. He did average 13.5 K/9 with the Charlotte Knights with a 3.24 FIP — but also walked more than five hitters per nine as well.

Fulmer is the likely favorite to earn the eighth and final spot in the White Sox’s bullpen this spring. He’s out of options, and while losing him wouldn’t seem drastic, his draft status likely affords him one last shot in Chicago. He had a horrendous debut (two walks, two Ks, HBP, getting yanked mid-inning) in Sunday’s White Sox spring training opener, but Cactus League stats are a poor way to determine roster decisions; paying attention to how Fulmer looks and feels may end up being more appropriate. Fulmer’s cloudy future should be an interesting storyline to monitor, though, on a pitching staff lacking drama.


Easy decisions

With a 26-man roster taking effect in 2020, the White Sox will begin the season with eight relievers. Roster churn will bring a lot of new faces through Chicago during the course of the years, but the group likely to open the season won’t feature many surprises. The southpaw-hungry pen gives 26-year-old Jace Fry an easy spot, along with Bummer. Fry is a former third-rounder looking to bounce back in 2020, and controlling his walks will play a significant part in that quest.

Alex Colomé and Kelvin Herrera are back for another spin at the back end of the 2020 bullpen. They are both slated to make real money this year and will likely see high-leverage innings early in the season. Colomé is looking to keep thwarting his ugly peripherals, while Herrera just needs to remain healthy. Steve Cishek was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he should serve as quite an insurance policy for Rick Renteria.

Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will likely receive spots as well. Marshall threw 50 ⅓ innings in 2019 and posted a 2.49 ERA. His walk rate increased, but he didn’t allow homers and kept the ball on the ground for the most part. The organization will pay the 29-year-old $1.1 million in 2020. Cordero was claimed off of waivers during the 2019 campaign and threw 37 ⅓ innings for the White Sox in 2019. The 6´4´´, 220-pounder throws very hard but doesn’t strike out many hitters. The sleeveless man posted a 2.89 ERA and is also out of minor league options, giving him an edge for  the big league roster.


Competition at camp

The White Sox released an extensive list of non-roster invites to spring training that included veteran journeymen along with pitching prospects from their own system. Zack Burdi, Matt Foster, Ian Hamilton and José Ruiz are members of the 40-man roster and the likeliest competition for the final spot on the big league roster. Ruiz has big-time power stuff, and threw 40 innings in Chicago in 2019. He’s not the front-runner for a spot breaking camp, but he’s definitely an option. The 25-year-old posted a 5.36 ERA in the majors.

Burdi was a first round pick in 2016 and is looking to finally crack into the bigs. The fireballer is healthy for the first time in awhile and could join the White Sox at some point during the 2020 season. Hamilton looked like a serious option at this time last year, but battled a facial fracture and injuries sustained in a car collision in 2019. Foster was a 20th round pick in 2016 and was added to the 40-man this offseason after posting a 3.76 ERA in Charlotte last year.

Kodi Medeiros, Drew Anderson, Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Caleb Frare, Brady Lail and Tayron Guerrero are some other arms who have an outside shot at a roster spot. Southpaws Medeiros, Lindgren and Frare have the benefit of being lefties, in somewhat high demand in the White Sox system. Mitchell, Anderson and Lail all have big league experience, and while they are more likely to pitch for the Knights than the White Sox, they still qualify as options. Guerrero throws extremely hard, but his peripherals leave much to be desired and is no longer a member of the 40-man.


Outside help?

Fulmer has the inside track at a roster spot due to his draft pedigree and option status, but he’s far from a lock. An outside addition via trade or waiver claim should also be considered a possibility in filling that final spot. The White Sox have added non-roster players to the roster prior to Opening Day in the past, and while it could happen again, its unlikely due to the names currently in the mix.

Fulmer’s grip on the final spot is shaky, and there’s a solid chance that his next big league game will be thrown in a different uniform. The ideal situation for the franchise would be someone like Hamilton or Burdi taking the reins and claiming a major league spot.

Who will be the eighth member of the White Sox’s bullpen to start the year? Internally, Ruiz appears to have the best shot at filling that role. From outside the organization, it’s anyone’s guess. The front office has an entire month to sort it out, and this whole exercise may seem futile once we get to March 26.

The biggest surprise would be to have a spring devoid of bullpen surprises.

 

Jace Fry, bullpen man of mystery

Jace Fry caption: 


Jace Fry has a high ceiling, but he hasn’t met those expectations yet.

Fry is supposed to be a candidate for high-leverage outs in important games, and his 2018 season showed he could fill that role. The ERA was not necessarily fantastic at 4.38, but Fry’s peripherals pulled the ERA up: He had a K-rate (32.7%) in the top 6% of baseball, to go along with a 2.67 FIP. Fry’s walks were not a concern, but a 9.3% BB rate was a flag for the future. No matter, a .194 batting average against helped mitigate most potential rallies. Like most left-handed pitchers, Fry was much better against lefty bats: In 2018, he had a phenomenal .408 OPS against lefties and a worse (but not awful) OPS against righties at .690. He could get both sides of the plate out and made people look silly.

Then came 2019, and though Fry’s ERA was not far off from his 2018 mark, everything else got worse. His FIP skyrocketed up to 4.90 and his strikeouts were more pedestrian (though not a bad number) — but what really bit him were walks. In just one season, Fry’s BB rate rose about 8%, to 17.1%. That walk rate was the third-worst among relievers with 30 innings pitched (out of 249 pitchers). In plain words, Fry should have been sent down to Charlotte to fix control woes.

For Fry, though his strikeout numbers did fall, an 11.13 K/9 is still very good, and he was still fantastic against lefties. He had a .193 batting average against lefties to go along with a 3.34 FIP, and none of the seven home runs he allowed came from that side of the plate. He also still had that one elite pitch, his cutter/hard slider (whatever you want to call it, even websites disagree) and that’s almost all you really need to be a good reliever. Fry’s cutter in 2019 had a .176 batting average against, 16th-best in baseball for a cutter (minimum 25 batters faced). With a minimum of 100 batters faced, Fry’s cutter showed the 15th-most average RPMs; though that is not indicative of success (Carson Fulmer was 13th), some household names with great cutters are at the top of the list, including Yu Darvish, Adam Ottavino, and Walker Buehler.

And as you can see below, Fry’s cutter is just nasty.

First let’s look macro, and then go down the ladder.

Jace Fry had a large increase in walks. His walk rate rose almost 8% in a single season, and that is really bad. Four of the five pitches Fry uses were called balls more often in 2019 than 2018. The cutter’s ball rate went up 12.8%, the curve increased by 16.7%, the four-seamer’s ball rate elevated by 4.3%, and the change was called a ball 10.9% more often than in 2018. Of those four pitches, three of them were thrown outside of the zone in 2019 more than the previous season, the cutter (4.6%), curveball (8.8%), and four-seamer (6.3%). One reason there were more balls called was because opposing hitters just stopped swinging as much outside the zone. The total chase rate against Fry fell about 6% from 2018.

However, oddly enough, of the five pitches Fry uses, only two of them saw a decrease in chase miss rate, the cutter and change, arguably his two most effective pitches. Now, the fewer swings and misses from the cutter outside the zone is big for the walk rate because 61.1% of the cutters he threw were outside of the zone. The curve, sinker, and four-seamer all had their chase miss rate increase — and sometimes it was a huge increase — so batters were not necessarily swinging less because Fry’s pitches were worse or less deceiving. In fact, overall, Fry had more swing-and-misses outside the zone in 2019 than in 2018, but his walks still increased an almost unbelievable amount. So Fry’s problem wasn’t necessarily how good his stuff was. It was his command.

savant
Baseball Savant, attack zones 1-39.

For the following stats, refer to the heat map outline above for a better picture of Fry’s pitch placement. From 2018 to 2019, Fry had an increase in pitches that are categorized as solely waste pitches, as well as chase and waste pitches. He had a .6% increase in waste pitches and an increase of 3.4% in chase and waste pitches; so Fry was just missing his sweet zone for strikes more often in 2019. While there was an increase in pitches further away from the strike zone, there were also fewer strikes. On waste pitches, Fry’s strike rate fell about 1%. On waste and chase pitches, that strike rate fell about 3%, so he was throwing more pitches that looked like ball and getting fewer strikes on them.

So it was a command problem, although, Fry’s curve and sinker also did not help much when contact was made.

Overall, batters hit .529 against Fry’s curve and .367 against his sinker. The problem with relievers though, is that even entire season’s worth of data is a small sample. Batters had a .313 BABIP against Fry’s curve in 2018, which skyrocketed up to .583 in 2019. That sounds a little lucky, until you look at the batted-ball data. Per FanGraphs, batters had a 42.9% line drive rate against the curve, a 30% increase from 2018, and just a 35.7% ground ball rate, a 30% decrease. So sure, the BABIP was high, but the quality of contact against Fry was very good.

For the sinker, it is even more befuddling. The BABIP against Fry’s sinker increased from .217 in 2018 to .393 in 2019; at first glance it looks like Fry just got very unlucky, and this time, the batted-ball data seems to reveal the same thing. The ground ball rate increased 39.6% in 2019 to a whopping 71.4%, so the sinker was doing its job in getting ground balls. They just did not turn into outs at the same rate as Fry’s 2018 sinker, even though a far higher percentage were in the air.

What this basically comes down to for Fry is that he has a career 4.94 ERA and has shown great potential. His cutter is elite, and he has good enough secondary pitches to get batters out on both sides of the plate. This was all a roundabout way of saying, yeah, Fry seems like he should be a really good reliever. He has the ability to use five pitches and has that one pitch great relievers always seem to have — but he hasn’t put it together. In 2019, Fry’s curve and sinker went wrong, and his command faltered. Maybe he should continue to utilize less of his curve and sinker, but 2019 could have been a statistical anomaly as well with opposing hitter success against those two pitches because when those pitches are on, they’re on.

Thus, Jace Fry is still a man of mystery.

But while all that’s well and good, 2018 was pretty tight and 2019 war rough, it’s now or never for Fry because with the White Sox are turning the page toward contention without Fry actually producing a truly sound season (just a peripherally good one). Will Fry take the next step or build the consistency it seemed he was on track for after 2018, or was 2019 Fry the real one, the one that threw more pitches way outside the zone and was almost a detriment to the club when he faced right-handed hitters?

We are going to find out quickly, because a team in contention cannot deploy an unsteady pitcher in critical situations.

South Side Hit Pen Podcast No. 6: Luis Robert, welcome to the South Side!

James Fox, South Side Hit Pen managing editor who broke the Luis Robert extension story 10 days ago and confirmed the extension today, jumps on the Emergency Pantera Network podcast to talk Robert, the no-risk nature of the extension, and bullpen help going forward. No animals were harmed in the recording of this podcast.

Photo: Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen

Twins use the long ball to top White Sox, 8-2

Breaking the ice: José Abreu drove in the first run of the game with a double in the first inning. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)


Chicago fell behind in the second inning and could not claw their way back in a tough, 8-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

However, the White Sox’s offense got off to a strong start tonight against Twins starter Jake Odorizzi. Leury García and José Abreu both hit doubles in the first inning, as the White Sox got on the board first. Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived, as the Twins responded in the top of the second.

After a Kansas City Special by Eddie Rosario and a sharply-hit single by Ehire Adrianza, the Twins had two on with two away. Jonathan Schoop got a 1-1 cutter to his liking, and he launched it 403 feet to give the Twins a 3-1 lead. As bad as that inning was, though, it could have been worse without this excellent catch by García.

The Twins tacked on a couple more in the third inning. Still leading 3-1, they loaded the bases with nobody out after a hit by pitch, a double, and an intentional walk (come on, Ricky). After an RBI force out off the bat of Eddie Rosario, the Twins expanded their lead to three. The next hitter, Miguel Sanó, reached base on a fielding error by Tim Anderson, his MLB-leading 24th error of the season. Due to the error, the Twins led, 5-1.

In the fourth, the White Sox had a great scoring opportunity. After Yoán Moncada and Anderson singled, Eloy Jiménez drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with only one out. However, the White Sox could only push one across, as Matt Skole grounded into a force out to drive in Moncada, but Welington Castillo struck out to end the inning.

The score remained 5-2 until the top of the eighth, when Schoop went deep off reliever Jace Fry for his second homer of the day. Schoop made a 10-foot improvement on his first home run, this time smashing a 413-footer. Fry’s day only got worse, as the next batter, Jake Cave, doubled. Then, Mitch Garver hit a two-run homer to put the game out of hand. After Garver’s 443-footer, the Twins led by a score of 8-2. The runs that scored on the Garver home run were the last two that scored for either side.

The Twins improved to 81-51, while the White Sox fell to 60-72. The White Sox will wrap up this three-game series against the Twins tomorrow afternoon. That game will start at 1:10 CST, NBC Sports Chicago will televise it and WGN 720 will have your radio coverage. Dylan Cease is the White Sox’s probable starter, and Lenny Gore will have your coverage here on SSHP. Let’s end the series on a high note.