Bit of a high-effort delivery, but he's a 34 year-old reliever, just let him be crazy. // Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Exit Interviews: Matt Lindstrom


These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.

The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.

Matt Lindstrom - Right-handed groundball machine out of the bullpen. Middle relief stuff, late-inning results. 

Age by 2014 Opening Day: 34

Contract: $4 million club option for 2014.

Relevant stats: 76 games (all relief), 60.2 IP, 64 H, 3.12 ERA, 2 HR, 46 K, 23 BB, 2.00 K/BB, 138 ERA+

Interpretation: His miscasting as a fireman bad memories, but his approach is built for U.S. Cellular Field and it showed.

Emblematic split: Of all AL relievers who logged over 50 innings, Lindstrom had the fifth-highest groundball rate (a good thing).

Pre-season expectations: Citing his groundball rate, success in other home run launching pads and the Sox great love for power arms, I was as close as one comes to doing handstands for a mid-tier reliever signing.

“Lindstrom is unlikely to become a player that White Sox fans grow to love and adore, and in the examination of the off-season at large, he does nothing to stanch the flow of discontent about the inaction or lack of a direction. But there’s a role for him, it’s a small one–retire right-handed batters in the 7th and 8th inning–and he’s not bad for it at all.”

Quote of the year: “Everybody’s goal is to get better every day throughout their career,” Lindstrom said. “I feel like I’m getting a better idea of how to pitch and how to face big league hitters.”

Matt’s story: Lindstrom started the year possibly as the third right-handed setup man behind Jesse Crain and Nate Jones. The White Sox bullpen is pretty good, but that low level of seniority combined with a team that stumbled out of the gate to a 10-15 record resulted in some odd situations for a free agent relief acquisition. Lindstrom pitched at the end of a lot of losses, and established a season-wide trend of making appearances shorter than a single inning.

39 of Lindstrom’s 76 appearances were less than an inning in length, and while it offered Robin Ventura an easy way to give him work and take advantage of his platoon splits in lieu of actually taking away innings carved out for Crain, Jones and Thornton, it didn’t quite play to his strengths completely. Lindstrom has never been able to rack up strikeout numbers his high-90′s velocity would normally promise, but since he began to embrace his identity and reform his fastball into a sinker, that’s become even more true.

The emphasis on generating groundballs is a smart adaptation, but Lindstrom only striking 17.7% of opposing hitters makes him less ideal to enter into situations with runners on. His primary ability is avoiding punishment over the long haul, but is likely to allow the ball put in play. He can minimize jams, but he lacks the tools to escape them. Lindstrom allowed 19 of his 50 inherited runners to score, while an average reliever would have stranded four more.

Unlike others, Lindstrom responded well to the work increase that came with the trade deadline. Despite winding up third in the AL in appearances, he posted a 1.83 ERA from Aug. 1 through the close of the season in a tremendous display of his approach. He struck out 17 while only walking three in 19.2 innings and pounded the zone with his sinker to keep nearly 60% of balls hit off him on the ground. It generated a lot of hits (22), but only a .383 opposing slugging percentage. Lindstrom’s mistakes weren’t punished, and he was uniquely good at erasing him. The 15 double plays he generated were second to Jim Johnson among AL relievers, and Johnson pitched over 10 more innings than Lindstrom.

A veteran of multiple wars fought alongside unfit armies, Lindstrom never made much of a peep throughout the year even as it dove into hell, and maintained the same curious stance of really wanting to stay with the organization after the end of the season. There is a raise in it for him, after all.

Assessment: The White Sox set themselves up very nicely with Lindstrom’s club option. For $4 million they can secure an above-average relief performer for a reasonable price, while avoiding the longer commitment that Lindstrom’s most healthy campaign since 2007 might command.

With the way Lindstrom anonymously slid through free agency last year, it’s likely he could have been had for one year, $4 million on the open market. But a fair price is a fair price, especially for someone’s whose approach of keeping the ball out of the air makes him a good bet to remain at least somewhat successful at U.S. Cellular Field.

Like every year, the White Sox will need a successful influx of youth to assemble the 2014 bullpen, but nailing down one slot makes it less of a tightrope walk, especially if seniority allows Lindstrom to start more of his own innings.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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