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Hold On, I'm Coming

by Tom Barnicle, White Sox Insider for In My Opinion

How ya doing everybody! As promised, (threatened), I’m back with a discussion of the projected White Sox bullpen for 2020, and frankly, I’m kind of excited about this part of the team. I think they are a bit underrated. They have an established closer, and some solid set-up men.

The question will be: How many pitchers will teams keep this year? It could be twelve or thirteen. With a newly added roster spot, some teams will use it for the bat, some for an additional arm. The new rule this year requires pitchers to face at least 3 batters. So fewer pitchers may be needed since there won’t be the ability to change pitchers so many times late in the game for the lefty/righty matchups. We will see how this plays out. I believe it’s all going to depend on the manager. It may not be until we are a month into the season before we get a feel on how Rick Renteria and Don Cooper will handle the staff.

The closer will be Alex Colome`. He’s not spectacular, in a Mariano Rivera sense, but steady and reliable, like a Bobby Thigpen kind of steady. Last year he was 30 out of 33 in save opportunities. He had a WHIP of 1.07 and opposing hitters only hit .191 against him. At 31 he’s in his prime. I’m glad the Sox decided against trading him last July.

The set-up men are unheralded but strong. Aaron Bummer, who may be the best kept secret in the league, really came into his own last year. The left hander had a WHIP of 0.99 and hitters were held to .218 against him and his strikeouts to walks ratio was 2.5 to 1. The Sox like him enough to have just signed him to a 5-year, $16 million extension with two option years. He’s 26 and that could be a bargain in the next few years. Also, another late-inning guy will be Steve Cishek. He was a workhorse with the Cubs over the last couple of years, appearing in 150 games in 2018 and 2019, although he’s now 35, so I guess the Cubs were worried about his durability in the future.

The rest of the bullpen also looks solid and promising. Most times last year, Kelvin Herrera, Jace Fry, Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero looked good. They all are probably locks to make the team, especially Fry who would be the only other left-hander besides Bummer. If they decide to keep 13 pitchers, that last spot will be up for grabs, based on what happens in spring training. The other possibilities are among Zack Burdi, Carson Fulmer, Jose Ruiz, Adalberto Mejia, Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr. Mejia is the only left-hander among them.

Just for my own benefit, I would like to see both Hamilton and Burr be on the team at the same time, like last year. It’s just nice to see those two names on the back of their jerseys sitting next to each other in the bullpen. It just shows we all can learn to get along.

To finish out games, it looks like it will be a combination of Fry, Marshall, Bummer and Cishek for the seventh and eighth innings and Colome` for the ninth. That is assuming the starters make it that far.

A few of these bullpen guys may be called upon for spot starts. Last year, the Sox used 14 different starting pitchers. Hopefully, things will be more stable this year. But, as become the norm in baseball, a “bullpen game” may be used from time to time, with each pitcher throwing two to three innings or less.

In the last few years, bullpen depth has become increasingly important. With most starters only going five to six innings, a lot more arms are used. In 2019, there were only 32 complete games pitched in the majors. Lucas Giolito of the Sox tied for the lead with a grand total of 3. There has been a steady decline in complete games since the mid 80’s. Since 1985 when Bert Blyleven threw 24 complete games, there hasn’t been anyone over 20. In this century, there has only been one pitcher to reach double figures, and that was James Shields in 2011 with 11.

But I digress. Getting back to the point, I believe the White Sox bullpen looks to be strong. If they really can make a run at the post-season, it will be on the backs of the bullpen. In the words of Sam & Dave, aka, “The Sultans of Sweat”, the bullpen says:

Don't you ever be sad Lean on me, when the times are bad When the day comes and you're down In a river of trouble and about to drown

Just hold on, I'm comin'

Next up: Catchers

And now back to the action.

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