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.
Jake Petricka - Big, right-handed power arm that the White Sox finally gave up on as a starter
Age by 2014 Opening Day: 25
Contract: Less than a year of service time acquired.
Relevant stats: MLB: 16 games (all relief), 19.1 IP, 20 H, 3.26 ERA, 0 HR, 10 K, 10 BB, 1.00 K/BB, 134 ERA+.
AA-AAA: 31 games (one start, and even then, it was more that he pitched first than that he started), 54.2 IP, 45 H, 1.81 ERA, 1 HR, 58 K, 25 BB, 2.32 K/BB.
Interpretation: Predictably mixed results at the major league level from a reliever who started the season in Double-A
Emblematic split: 5.2 innings, six walks, two strikeouts, nine hits, five earned runs and a .917 OPS against in his final five appearances. Fatigue can really make a debut stat line look putrid.
Pre-season expectations: Petricka had spent all of 2012 starting and mostly getting obliterated at both High-A and Double-A, so he was not exactly the safest pick to make his major league debut. It was always thought that he wouldn’t need much time once he was converted to relief, but how quickly that would happen and how many openings would be made for in the major league pen were a bit surprising.
Quote of the year: Petricka, right before he ended the season falling down the stairs:
“There definitely was a learning curve,” he said. “They definitely hit mistakes a lot harder [in the big leagues]. It’s just a matter of limiting those mistakes. You’ve just got to keep your same approach and if you make your pitch, you can get hitters out. You can’t let them dictate what you do.”
Jake’s story: Petricka always had a big fastball with plenty of downward angle for groundballs, but never managed to master a full complement of pitches necessary for starting. Relief work allowed him to simplify to almost nothing beyond a fastball/hard slider combination., and reduced the importance of the big man repeating his mechanics for long stretches.
It paid off. Petricka went back to striking out a batter per inning, kept his ERA low with prodigious groundball rates; all enough to cover up his fairly terrible control. His adjustment to Triple-A pitching was so smooth and flawless that the Sox didn’t blink in promoting after barely a month in the International League to fill the spot vacated by an ailing Ramon Troncoso.
Upon arriving in Chicago, Petricka had to sit for over a week before manager Robin Ventura could find a situation where he trusted the rookie not to ruin things for a last-place team, and for a while, struggled to find a spot in a relief rotation. Petricka’s breakout came at the end of a miserable 9-1 defeat in Yankee Stadium in August, where he faced nine hitters, struck out two and induced grounders from all of the others. From that point on, Petricka was staked to a more stable role as one of the Sox primary right-handed setup man, which unfortunately lined up with his control falling apart down the stretch and him playing a central role in a couple of the ugliest bullpen meltdowns near the end of the year.
Petricka’s strikeout-to-walk ration ended up portending grisly future results, but his overall ERA looks nice thanks to his ability to keep his problems grounded. He would end the year having allowed just one home run across three levels, and allowed just three extra-base hits (for a pathetic .041 ISO against) in the majors. Being dependent on ground balls isn’t the best way to diffuse jams, however, and Petricka allowed half of his 14 inherited runners to score
Assessment: There’s not much consistent snap from Petricka’s slider, and for a guy who rides his fastball as much as he does, it’s scary how much he can struggle to throw it for a strike sometimes. That makes it more than understandable for Matt Lindstrom and Nate Jones to be ahead, and needed to be ahead, of Petricka in the right-handed reliever hierarchy. Yet his style is such an asset in U.S. Cellular Field, and will allow him to control damage in ways so many other pitchers cannot, that it won’t be painful to have Petricka continue to work through his growing pains on the major league level.
He won’t get through the entire season only allowing a single home run again, but another 60+% groundball rate should be enough to keep his ERA respectable while he tries to take the next step toward becoming a dynamite setup man. The Sox could pair Petricka with Daniel Webb and bank on at least one becoming a true asset by the end of the year.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan