White Sox

Who should be the White Sox closer?

robin ventura white sox manager

The White Sox bullpen has been so bad this year, some fans simply can’t watch the end of games anymore.

Yet, at the end of the day, someone needs to be relied upon to take the ball in the ninth inning with a close lead.  To begin the season that player was veteran Matt Lindstrom.  Lindstrom was the safe and easy choice for manager Robin Ventura, as he was “the guy who had done the job before.”  Albeit, not very successfully or for any extended period of time.  Predictably, he failed miserably at the start of the season and just when he was starting to gain some momentum, he injured his ankle and will not be back until September.

The job was then handed over to Ronald Belisario.  Unfortunately he also failed, going 8 for 12 in his save opportunities and the Sox are currently left with the dreaded closer by committee.

While teams will say they’re using a “closer by committee” approach, no one actually wants to do that.  A manager wants to have a natural order to how his bullpen is employed and players enjoy knowing their roles entering a ballgame.  It appeared for a short time that possibly Zach Putnam was emerging as Ventura’s new choice at closer as he came in for back to back save opportunities in late June and early July, however he allowed 6 hits and 2 earned runs in those opportunities to go along with a blown save.

On the whole of the season though, Putnam’s numbers do stand out above the rest of the member’s of the White Sox bullpen as he has thrown 36 innings with a 2.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 29 strikeouts.  The one number that could be improved on is Putnam’s K/BB ratio which at 2.23 looks decent when compared to his pen-mates, but in reality is below average.

The one member of the bullpen who has a K/BB rate better than Putnam is the reliever who just lost the job as closer, Ronald Belisario.  With a K/BB of 3.20, one would expect Belisario to have an ERA much better than his current 5.16 through 45.1 innings, but he has allowed 49 hits and the opposition has done a nice job of stringing them together as Belisario’s Strand rate (or Left On Base %) is at just 58.5 percent.  When compared to the typical league average rate of 72 percent, Belisario has allowed many more base runners to score than should be expected moving forward.

While Belisario may have gotten a raw deal in his short stint as closer, one player who some believed should receive a shot at the job before the season started is Daniel Webb.  Unfortunately for Webb, he has done nothing to endear himself to the coaching staff due to his difficulty in finding the strike zone.  Webb has a fastball that has averaged 95 mph so far this season, in addition to a slider and a change up that both come in around 85, so the stuff is there for Webb to succeed.  However, with a walk rate of 5.8 BB/9 and a WHIP higher than his K/BB, Webb should not see the closer’s role any time soon.

Going strictly by results, the closer’s role should currently belong to Jake Petricka who owns a 2.17 ERA.  A deeper look though, reveals a player who is due for some serious regression as his 6.70 K/9 and 4.73 BB/9 go from less than inspiring to bad, while his HR/9 of just 0.18 and BABIP against of just .259 reveal how good fortune has positively inflated his numbers.

By default, former closers are always among the first to be considered for new closer openings, which put Javy Guerra‘s name on the map as a potential ninth inning savior.  However, Guerra has added two blown saves and two losses to his record in his past three outings and has shown poor control all season long.

While this is likely one of the worst White Sox bullpens in recent memory, amazingly there is one thing that every member of the pen does well and that is induce a high rate of ground balls.  This is also not by accident.  When playing half your games in one of the most homer-friendly ballparks in the league, home run prevention should be one of your biggest priorities and GM Rick Hahn is proving this to be the case.

As Hahn has targeted a certain type of pitcher to construct his bullpen, he is left with a lot of guys who are all collectively pretty similar, which makes it difficult for one to rise above the rest.  Daniel Webb has the best stuff of the bunch, but he has also struggled the most with walks allowed.  If Don Cooper can get him to drastically change his approach, he may be the best option as the White Sox closer of the future.

As far as the closer of right now though, Zach Putnam should be given the job with Ronald Belisario waiting to reclaim it if Putnam struggles.  Despite his recent struggles in save situations, Zach Putnam gives the White Sox the best opportunity to win at the end of the game.  He has both the ability to strike batters out (7.25 K/9) as well as a near-elite ground ball rate (58 percent) and these two numbers have helped Putnam to allow just 0.50 HR/9 this season.  While ideally he should lower his walk rate from 3.25 BB/9, his control remains among the best in the pen and his ground ball tenancies fit in perfectly at U.S. Cellular Field.


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