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.

 

Four under-the-radar, early-season storylines

Where the magic happens: Our newest writer will be covering March 2’s White Sox action from this vantage point, so if you’re at Camelback, say hi! (Chicago White Sox)


I just had wrist surgery and am typing with one hand, so I don’t really feel like writing out a long intro, but the title is pretty self-explanatory. Here are four things I will be watching during Spring Training and the early months of the season.


Reynaldo López’s offseason adjustments

This is the least “under-the-radar” storyline of the four, but that is because it’s also probably the most important to the White Sox’s success.

López has been a very polarizing player for the White Sox. In 2018 he showed a lot of promise, finishing with a 3.91 ERA in his first full season in the bigs. However, his advanced stats showed that these results may have been smoke and mirrors.

Reynaldo has always been an extreme fly-ball pitcher. In 2018, López benefited from the ninth lowest rate of home runs to fly balls of all qualified starters, a number that tends to regress to the mean over time. His xFIP (expected ERA assuming average outcomes on balls in play and an average HR/Fly Ball ratio) was 5.22 in comparison to his previously-mentioned 3.91 ERA, the largest gap in baseball. Additionally, the spin rates on both his fastball and breaking pitches were near the bottom of the league. Sure enough, all of this caught up to López in 2019. Despite some encouraging outings, the season as a whole was a major step back, as he had one of the worst ERAs in baseball.

In 2019, López was trying to work his breaking pitches off of a high fastball, the “hot new trend” in the juiced-ball 2019 season. For guys like Lucas Giolito, who have a fastball with above average carry and a high-spin breaking ball, this philosophy is great. However, López has a low-spin fastball with a great deal of horizontal movement.

To become a solid major league pitcher, significant changes will be needed to either López’s mechanics or pitching approach. López and Don Cooper have talked about getting less rotational and more linear in order to drive the ball to the plate, generating carry rather than horizontal run. If López was able to accomplish this in the offseason, he may be able to survive as a high-fastball guy. If not, however, he may need to embrace the low-spin fastball rather than fighting it, and work on sinking and cutting the ball.

Ultimately, López may end up as an impact bullpen arm, where his stuff will play up and he will likely be able to work in the 98-100 mph range rather than the 95-98 range. However, he will be given every chance to prove that he belongs in the rotation. One thing that will be helpful for a fly ball pitcher like Lopez is the rumors of a more “normal” baseball for 2020. I have no doubt that López, an outstanding competitor, went back to the drawing board this offseason. I am interested to see his outings this spring to get a look at what that offseason work entailed.


Right field: Nomar Mazara, or platoon?

Rick Hahn and Ricky Renteria have already said they see Nomar Mazara as more than a platoon player and plan to use him as the everyday right fielder. A breakout definitely could be on the horizon, as a change of scenery could be exactly what the 24-year-old former top prospect needs to unlock his massive potential. However, over the course of his career, Mazara’s numbers against left-handed pitching have been subpar. Barring a breakout, the better option may be to keep Mazara as the strong half of a platoon, sitting him vs LHP in favor of Adam Engel or Leury García (likely pushing Luis Robert over to right field). Based off of 2019 statistics, both Engel and García had much more success versus LHP than RHP. As Mazara is still so young, the potential for a breakout is definitely there. I am as hopeful as anyone, but at worst, this route would set everyone up for success.

Not only would Engel be a huge upgrade to our outfield defense on days he plays, but based on 2019 numbers, this platoon would generate a .820 OPS overall (Mazara .821 vs. RH starters, Engel .819 [109 ABs] vs LH starters). Keep in mind, these splits are for the entire game when the starter was right or left-handed, so they don’t take into account opportunities to pinch-hit based on reliever match-ups. The .820 OPS estimate for the platoon would have ranked in the top 30 among all MLB outfielders, ahead of many of the offseason possibilities White Sox fans were mad about missing out on (Marcel Ozuna, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Benintendi). When the Mazara/Steele Walker trade happened, the majority of the reaction was negative. However, in 2019 Mazara had a .786 OPS at age 24 in his fourth MLB season, whereas Steele Walker had a .771 OPS at age 23 in Single-A. The trade was a low-risk, high-reward move. If this platoon is the worst case scenario, I will take it every time.


James McCann Framing Improvements

James Fegan came out with a great article a few weeks ago on the offseason work that James McCann has done with highly-regarded catching coach Jerry Narron to improve his framing skills. While White Sox pitchers have lauded McCann for his ability to handle a staff, scout opposing hitters, and control the game behind the plate, they are also losing quite a few strikes per game because of his terrible pitch framing numbers, specifically side-to-side and low in the zone. Now, the White Sox have Yasmani Grandal, who graded out third of 64 qualified catchers in Statcast’s catcher framing metric in 2019 (this same metric ranked McCann dead last).

We should be able to gauge relatively quickly if McCann’s offseason work has paid off. Spring training will give us a glimpse, and we should have enough data to see where his metrics are after a few months of the regular season. This could be the difference between being a backup catcher who only generates a spot start here or there vs. being the weaker half of dynamic catching duo. I, for one, don’t think Giolito needs McCann as his “personal catcher,” but it would definitely be easier to work a defensively improved McCann in for Giolito’s starts. An improvement would also allow Renteria a much greater deal of lineup flexibility to keep veterans fresh for the entire season. For example, he could give José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, and Grandal a day off every 10 games or so, leaving McCann to catch roughly two or three of every 10. When EE sits, Grandal (or McCann) could DH, and when Abreu sits, EE could play first and Grandal would slide to DH.


Can Kelvin Herrera Rebound?

I know what most of you are probably thinking: Kelvin Herrera is WASHED UP. I was as frustrated as anyone that our proven, lockdown free agent bullpen signing was unusable in close games for the majority of the season. Herrera posted the third-worst ERA (6.14) of all MLB bullpen pitchers with more than 50 IP.

Doesn’t sound like the stat line of a guy you want to be counting on in 2020, right?

Not so fast. There is still reason for optimism. 

Herrera’s massive struggles in 2019 can really be attributed to two issues.

The first was injury, as Renteria and Cooper were quick to blame foot and back injuries for a portion of Herrera’s 2019 struggles. Because Herrera never spent an extended period of time on the IL and consistently made appearances throughout the season, it was tough to buy that from the outside looking in. However, both the stats and the data seem to bear out the fact that Herrera may have actually been significantly affected by the Lisfranc and back injury for the majority of the season.

Here are Herrera’s numbers prior to May 5, when the back injury occurred: 16 games, 16 ⅓ IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16 K

Here are his numbers after August 22: 15 games, 15 ⅓ IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19 K

These numbers seem to support the theory that Herrera may have dealt with lingering injuries for the majority of the season and finally started to get healthy late. When I looked at Statcast data to see if anything supported this, one thing jumped off the page at me.

So, the No. 2 with Herrera was release point inconsistency. Baseball Savant has a really cool visual that outlines the various release points for all pitches thrown. The smaller the spread of release points, the more similar all pitches look when coming out of the pitcher’s hand. This makes it easier for the pitcher to create a “tunneling” effect with the pitch and keep the hitter from identifying what’s coming and squaring it up.

Looking at the best pitchers in the game, such as Gerrit Cole or Kirby Yates, their release point chart is a tight circle. In 2019, Herrera’s was ALL over the place. Baseball Savant even noted it was “very erratic,” a characteristic I didn’t see noted for any other pitcher. Here are the visuals for Herrera and Yates for comparison:

If a pitcher is favoring certain parts of his body or trying to compensate for injury, his mechanics will undoubtedly be affected. There is no way that a healthy pitcher’s release points would be this erratic. A healthy Herrera in 2020 should be able to tighten this up.

Herrera also started to use a Don Cooper special, the cutter, a lot more effectively towards the end of the season. He gained three inches of movement on his cutter in September compared to the rest of the season. If that continues, it could be an effective way to combat his slight velocity decrease. Herrera’s average exit velocity against was actually in the 93rd percentile in all of baseball in 2019, which is shocking considering his results.

Bold prediction for the 2020 White Sox season: Herrera will post an ERA of less than 3.00 and be a useful piece in the late innings.

————–

I’d love to hear your opinions on these four storylines, and any more that you will be following.

I’ll be attending the Sox/Padres game in Glendale on March 2. The header photo for this article was taken from my seat for the game. If you are down there and see a 24-year-old kid with a black cast on his arm, say hi.

Lastly, here is the link to a 2020 White Sox hype video I made a few weeks ago, in case you weren’t excited enough about the season. Thanks for reading, and go Sox!

2020 White Sox Hype Video


This article was originally a Fanpost on South Side Sox.

 

Penned in: A look at the 2020 bullpen options on the South Side

Top target: Will Harris is on the short list for several teams, as a veteran, trusted bullpen hand. (@Astros)


Ken Williams and Rick Hahn have been lauded of late for their successful offseason shopping spree in an attempt to turn the Chicago White Sox into a contender in 2020. They’ve accomplished their stated goals in acquiring two starting pitchers, a designated hitter, help in right field and one of the best catchers in baseball.

While there’s been some chatter about the need to further upgrade their outfield mix, it seems as if the bullpen might be the next area of focus.

Possible targets

The best remaining relief option on the free agent market currently is Houston Astros righthander Will Harris. The 35-year-old Harris posted a 1.50 ERA in Houston last year despite a FIP of 3.15. In 60 innings pitched, the 6´4´´, 240-pounder averaged 9.30 K/9 and 2.10 BB/9. Harris is likely looking for a multi-year commitment, and his Baseball Savant page really tells the story of his success.

Harris only falls in the 25th percentile in terms of fastball velocity. He doesn’t throw that hard, but he is impeccable in every other way. His fastball spin rate falls in the 96th percentile in baseball and the curveball spin rate is in the 86th percentile. The righty ranks highly in xWOBA (89th percentile), xSLG (81st percentile) and hard-hit rate (84th percentile). Harris hasn’t been linked to any particular teams yet in free agency.

Steve Cishek is another veteran right hander whose fastball velocity is only in the 18th percentile range. He doesn’t possess a high-octane fastball but he’s in the 77th percentile in fastball spin rate. The 33-year-old sidearmer pitched 64 innings with the Cubs last year and posted a 2.95 ERA. His FIP wasn’t as good (4.54), but he held righties to a .583 OPS on the season. The 6´6´´, 215-pounder averaged just more than 8 K/9 and falls in the 99th percentile in both hard hit rate and exit velocity.

Cishek knows how to get people out, and he’s made a career of doing so. Similarly to Harris, Cishek is likely holding out for a multiyear pact from a club. He hasn’t been linked to any team specifically, but he would fit nicely as a piece in the White Sox’s evolving bullpen.

Two other names on the market who could be potential options are Daniel Hudson and Craig Stammen.

Hudson was a fifth round pick of the White Sox way back in 2008, and made his major league debut with the club before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The righthander has had an extensive history of arm troubles but is still just 32. The 6´3´´, 225-pounder posted a 2.47 ERA with a FIP of 3.97 last year. He pitched 73 innings with the Blue Jays and Nationals and completed high-leverage stints on a World Series winner. Hudson has some familiarity with catcher Yasmani Grandal from their days in Los Angeles together with the Dodgers.

According to Jon Morosi of the MLB network, the White Sox have shown interest in righthander Craig Stammen. The 35-year-old was a bit overused in the first half of last year, and some of his numbers reflect that. The 6´4´´, 230-pound reliever posted a 3.29 ERA with a 4.12 FIP, but pitched the majority of his games at the arm-friendly PETCO Park in San Diego. He averaged around 8 K/9 and 1.65 BB/9 over 82 innings last season. Stammen has great command, and surrenders lots of soft contact. In 2018, the big righty posted a 2.73 ERA and accumulated 2.2 fWAR in 79 innings.

The White Sox could also look to the trade market to acquire relief help if necessary. Three of the bigger names out there are Ken Giles of the Blue Jays, Mychal Givens of the Orioles and Ian Kennedy of the Royals. But Giles and Kennedy both have just one season of team control remaining — and Kennedy comes with a significant salary cost of $16.5 million.

Kansas City’s closer was superb in relief last season, though. In 63 ⅓ innings, Kennedy posted a 3.41 ERA with a 2.99 FIP. The converted starter has found a role in relief that works for him and while he’s expensive, he could really help a contender. Kennedy also averaged 10.37 K/9 and just 2.42 BB/9 on the season as well.

Giles, on the other hand, should cost a pretty significant prospect return, and it’s unclear whether Toronto is still open to making a deal before the season. The 29-year-old posted a 1.87 ERA with a 2.27 FIP for the Blue Jays last season. The 6´3´´, 210-pound righty averaged a whopping 14 K/9 with 2.89 BB/9 as well. He threw 53 innings and would be a huge upgrade for the White Sox. Givens is in a similar spot on a bad AL East club, but the Orioles would definitely trade him under the right circumstances. The 29-year-old posted a 4.57 ERA with a 3.62 xFIP in 63 innings for the Orioles in 2019. He also averaged 12.3 K/9 on the year and his stuff is still a factor.

Current Mix

The White Sox bullpen fared decently in 2019 and finished the season in the middle of the pack of the American League in most statistical categories. Arb-eligible Alex Colomé and Evan Marshall don’t have their 2020 salary figures yet, but they seem likely to return to the club. They’ll be joined by righthander Kelvin Herrera and southpaws Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry.

Colomé is expected to earn around $10 million in his final season of arbitration. The 30-year-old righty posted a 2.80 ERA last year, but his peripherals weren’t kind and he’s likely in for some regression. Colomé’s strikeout rate was down as he averaged 8.11 K/9 and 3.39 BB/9. In 61 innings, he posted a 4.08 FIP with a 45% ground ball rate, and his stuff deteriorated some over the course of the season; his Baseball Savant page illustrates that some trouble could be on the horizon.

Given his overall performance in 2019 Colomé will return as the closer in 2020, but his numbers indicate that an upgrade might be essential. He finished in the 30th percentile in fastball velocity and 23rd percentile in fastball spin rate. Colomé’s strikeout rate falls in the 45th percentile, while his hard-hit rate was in the 12th percentile range. He still gets outs, but he was also in the 2nd percentile in exit velocity last year — a huge concern going forward.

Under contract for $8.5 million next year is 29-year-old righthander Kelvin Herrera, and he’ll be counted on in some capacity as well. The 5´10´´, 200-pounder struggled last year working his way back from a lower leg injury, posting an ERA of 6.14 with a 4.58 FIP. He did throw 51 ⅓ innings and averaged 9.29 K/9, but also 4.03 BB/9. Herrera has a long track record of success, and was clearly battling last year. He should be better in 2020 based on his late season results, but counting on him as an integral part of the bullpen mix might be foolish.

Former 19th-rounder Aaron Bummer had his breakout campaign in 2019 with the White Sox. The 26-year-old southpaw posted a 2.13 ERA with a 3.41 FIP and compiled 1.3 fWAR on the season. The 6´3´´, 200-pound lefty averaged 8 K/9 while displaying a stellar 72.1% ground ball rate in almost 68 innings pitched. Bummer was very good vs righties last year, but was death on lefthanders (.178/.213/.233).

Jace Fry was a third round pick of the White Sox out of Oregon State in 2016. He’s strictly a reliever now after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries, and he struggled in 2019 after a breakout season the year prior. The 26-year-old has elite spin on his fastball but posted a 4.75 ERA with a 4.41 xFIP in 2019. The southpaw averaged 11.13 K/9 but also 7.04 BB/9 in 55 innings with the Sox last year. Left-handed pitching is an organizational weakness at the moment, and Fry should lock up a spot on the 2020 squad fairly easily.

Evan Marshall was a bit of a revelation last season. The 29-year-old righthander posted just a 4.30 FIP but his statcast data was very positive as well. The 6´2´´, 225-pounder posted a 2.49 ERA and averaged 7.28 K/9 in 2019. Marshall threw 50 ⅔ innings and should be a lock to return once pitchers and catchers report. Marshall is projected to earn just more than $1 million in arbitration. Marshall falls in the 81st percentile in curveball spin, 78th percentile in fastball spin, 90th percentile in exit velocity and 89th percentile in hard-hit rate.

Internal Options

Non-roster invitees to spring training haven’t been announced yet, but the organization has gotten lucky finding contributors from that pile in recent years. Looking at the 40-man roster, Zack Burdi, Jimmy Cordero, Dylan Covey, Matt Foster, Carson Fulmer, Tayron Guerrero, Ian Hamilton, Kodi Medeiros, and José Ruiz will be given an opportunity to make the 2020 club.

Cordero pitched well last year after being claimed on waivers in June. The 28-year-old righty throws really hard (95th percentile in fastball velocity). The 6´4´´, 222-pounder posted a 2.89 ERA with a 3.69 xFIP in 2019. Cordero was very solid to close out the year and he threw almost 38 innings down the stretch. He has a solid shot to pitch for the 2020 club, but he’s out of options at present.

Another hard thrower and recent addition that is also out of options is former Marlins flamethrower Guerrero. Guerrero was claimed off of waivers earlier this offseason, and he’ll have an opportunity this spring as well. The 28-year-old falls in the 100th percentile in fastball velocity but he posted a 6.26 ERA last year. He was hit hard and often, and averaged 7.04 BB/9 with Miami.

Fulmer was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Things haven’t gone well since for the former Commodore. The 26-year-old righthander posted a 6.26 ERA with a 6.29 FIP with the White Sox last year. He averaged 8.23 K/9, but 6.59 BB/9 as well. Carson threw 34 innings with the Charlotte Knights as well and averaged 13.5 K/9, 5.5 BB/9 and a 3.24 FIP. Fulmer’s spin rates are elite (88th percentile in curveball spin and 91st percentile in fastball spin) but his command is too erratic to put them to use consistently. Fulmer is also out of options, and could find himself on another team soon.

Covey, like Fulmer, has gotten lots of chances and the White Sox just can’t decide what role is best for him. He could be outrighted off of the roster once further additions are made and offer depth in Triple-A. Kodi Medeiros is a young lefty who will be given an opportunity in spring training. The first-rounder has failed as a starter, but met some success after transitioning to the bullpen last season.

Ruiz is another young, hard thrower who is short on experience but long on stuff. He was given a pretty decent-sized leash last year and likely gets an opportunity again. Ruiz possesses minor league options and could help to fill out the Knights bullpen to start the season. Foster was protected in advance of December’s Rule 5 draft, and he’ll be in the mix as well. The 24-year-old threw 55 innings for the Knights and posted a 3.76 ERA while averaging more than 10 K/9.

There will be many options for the 2020 Chicago White Sox to use out of the bullpen. Any of Reynaldo López, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón could pitch some meaningful relief innings at some point, however unlikely that seems. Chances are, the South Side decision makers will make a couple of additions to the bullpen before the start of the season to enhance their chances of holding leads and winning games. Some prospects could shine and force their way into the mix as well.

The higher-leverage options in the bullpen appear to be set until upgrades can be made, possibly not until the summer. The best outcome for this club, though, would be getting serious help from within. Burdi and Hamilton are hard-throwing righties coming back from injuries in 2018. If either pitcher can round themselves into form, they could be mainstays in Chicago for a long time. After them, Tyler Johnson and Codi Heuer are fairly recent draft picks who could be knocking on the door to a bullpen audition as well.

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 2: The Bad)

Part of the ‘3.9 crew’: Jay warms up before one of the few games he actually played in during 2019. (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Though the 2019 White Sox season had some good, there was also plenty of bad to talk about.

In Year 3 of the rebuild, in what was undoubtedly the worst division in baseball, the White Sox only managed 72 wins. The AL Central had one of the worst teams in the history of baseball, the 114-loss Tigers, and a terrible, 103-loss Royals team. Cleveland finished with 93 wins, but they were wounded this year, and feasted on Detroit and Kansas City. The Twins were legitimate, but how much of their success was real, and how much was weak competition?

The fact is, the White Sox should’ve been better in 2019, especially with the performances the top half of this roster provided. But as the case has been for quite a while now, the front office just can’t seem to stop tripping over itself. Here’s how.


2019 ‘additions’

Notable offseason additions for the Sox included trading for Manny Bañuelos, Yonder Alonso, Alex Colomé, and Iván Nova, and signing Jon Jay, James McCann, and Kelvin Herrera. Last but not least, the White Sox picked up A.J Reed over the All Star break.

The combined bWAR of those eight players was 3.9. It bears repeating: The combined bWAR of those eight players was 3.9!!!!!

To have eight players added to a team only produce 3.9 WAR is an unmitigated disaster! Sure, McCann was a pretty nice find. He had a career year in 2019, but basically disappeared in the second half of the season. I’d bet on him returning to his career norms. Colomé had a pretty good year, but seems to have had some good luck contribute to his results. Nova was average to slightly-above average, but was a disaster early in the season.

The rest of the additions were hot garbage, and there’s really no way to argue otherwise. The White Sox spent approximately $40 million on those eight players in 2019.

Manny Machado had a 3.3 bWAR by himself, and signed for $30 million per year. Bryce Harper was a 4.2 bWAR player in 2019, and signed for about $25 million per season. The position Harper plays is a black hole for the Sox, and now they’re in desperate need for someone exactly like him.

For the fans that want to argue that it’s still early in the rebuild, and the White Sox weren’t supposed to win yet, fine. So they are still in building mode? If they are, shouldn’t their pro scouting be able to net them better major league players, so they can trade them midseason for minor league depth, or become long term contributors to the big league club? The minor league system is very top-heavy right now, and better offseason additions would’ve been helpful to help supplant that talent.

The truth is, this issue is nothing new. The Sox have had a terrible time identifying even average major league talent in trades and free agency going on a decade now. It’s fiscally responsible to shop for the best players when they’re available, as opposed to shopping for quantity in the bargain bin. There’s a reason the lower-end players are available, and in terms of value and sunk cost, they end up costing a team more in the long run. Collectively, they contribute less positive results on the field than the more expensive players do. Even with some of the high-end talent the Sox have in house, it will be very difficult building a perennial contender if they don’t fix these scouting problems, and the 2020 offseason is quickly approaching. Remember, “the money will be spent.”

Offensive shortcomings

The White Sox are a team that has been plagued by a lack of on-base prowess for quite a while now. Most of the players on the team have an overly-aggressive approach at the plate that repeatedly gets exploited by opposing pitchers, leading to high strikeout rates, a lack of power, a lack of walks, and fewer runs scored overall. Opposing pitchers aren’t forced to throw strikes against the Sox, and the fewer strikes they have to throw, the less they have to use the middle of the plate, where hitters do most of their damage.

This is why the Sox parted ways with former hitting coach Todd Steverson, and hired Frank Menechino in his place. The on-base problems may be coaching issues, scouting issues, or a combination of the two. Consider that the White Sox were 23rd in the baseball with a .314 OBP (13th in the AL), 24th in OPS at .728 (12th), 24th in runs scored with 708 (13th), 25th in dingers with 182 (13th), 30th in walks with 378 (15th) … you get the idea. Only Arizona, Boston, Miami, and the Mets hit more ground balls than the White Sox. They were also 29th in baseball with 462 extra base hits.

It’s important to do as much damage at the plate as possible in today’s game, but when you are constantly giving up outs by bunting, runs become even more scarce. The Sox had three players in the top six in sacrifice bunts in 2019: Leury García led the A.L with 11, Yolmer Sánchez was tied for third with 7, and part-time player Ryan Cordell was tied for sixth with 6.

This is too much bunting. If the team is to get into the upper echelon of the league in scoring runs, the bunting has to stop, period. What plagued the 2019 White Sox on offense is equal parts philosophy, scouting/talent evaluation, and approach from the individual players.

Make no mistake; This isn’t an easy problem to fix. It’s not as simple as adding Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. The front office has to find better players in free agency, trades, and the players that are already here have to improve.

Starting pitching

Obviously, injuries really hurt the White Sox starting pitching depth. Losing Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning, and Jimmy Lambert to Tommy John surgery were big blows to the staff and its depth. There was a dose of bad luck that struck the White Sox in 2019, but good teams largely have the depth to survive the bad luck (and only Rodón’s midseason injury should have thrown the major league rotation into a lurch).

The problem with the rotation is that other than Lucas Giolito, nobody else on the staff really shined. Nova had some good moments, as did Reynaldo López,, but both were inconsistent throughout the year. They each had disastrous stretches of the season, with Reylo’s being more concerning.

Reylo certainly looked like a pretty good prospect with a live arm, but he hasn’t established any above average secondary pitches. His pitches have good velocity, but hitters can catch up to that velocity when they know they can just spit on the secondary offerings. There’s too much hard contact, too many walks, too many fly balls, and not enough missed bats (5.38 ERA, 184 innings, 169 strikeouts, 203 hits, 35 dingers allowed, and 65 walks). At times, Reylo battled with his command and seemed to lose his focus. Time is running out for him to be a success as a starting pitcher, and the Sox aren’t in development mode any longer. It’s either Reylo steps up his game in 2020, or it’s time for a change either to the bullpen or into trade bait.

Dylan Cease deserves time to develop and has good stuff, but why oh why can’t any White Sox prospects come up and light the world on fire immediately? Walks plagued Cease in his rookie campaign, but he has great breaking stuff, and a very good fastball. Can he develop a changeup and improve his command in his sophomore season? Only time will tell.

What there’s no excuse for, is the ridiculous lack of options the Sox had in terms of starting pitching depth in 2019. They literally ran out of major league-capable starting pitching. Bad player evaluation is what nets you Erving Santana (9.45 ERA), Bañuelos (6.93 ERA), Odrisamer Despaigne (9.45 ERA), Dylan Covey (7.98 ERA), Ross Detwiler (6.59 ERA), Carson Fulmer (2015 8th pick, 6.26 ERA), and Hector Santiago (6.66 ERA). Maybe a couple of those guys deserved a look and a chance in 2019, but what in the hell did anyone learn from starting Santana, Santiago, Despaigne, Detwiler, and Covey 32 times? This is completely inexcusable from a front office that has to find a way to scramble for better back-up plans.

Diamonds in the rough are essential for successful rebuilds. So far it’s just been charlatans.