The White Sox have named Matt Lindstrom their closer to begin the 2014 season. Does this mean Lindstrom will hold down the role all season and be the club’s most effective reliever? Let’s examine the options Robin Ventura and Don Cooper will have at the end of close games.
Nate Jones is the best relief pitcher on the team. In 78 innings pitched last season, the hard-throwing righty struck out 89 batters against 27 walks. He also allowed 69 hits for a tidy 1.22 WHIP. Jones’ 2.64 FIP and 2.77 xFIP suggest that his 4.15 ERA was a bit inflated. This could be explained by an abnormally low strand rate of 62.9%, which came in 10 percent lower than both his career average and the 2013 league average. With some regression in that area and further development of his off-speed stuff to complement a blazing fastball, Jones could dominate this season.
Lindstrom is a less exciting option, but the one apparently chosen to start the year. He had a decent season in 2013, but lacks the elite stuff and potential of Jones. Lindstrom may be considered the “closer,” used in traditional save situations, but Jones should be leaned on for the toughest outs, even if they happen to come in the 7th inning. Manager Robin Ventura has shown a predilection for using Jones in this manner, but that was with Addison Reed established as the ninth-inning man. Will he show the same ingenuity without a “proven closer” available?
Additional arrows in Ventura’s quiver include two young flamethrowers in newcomers Daniel Webb and Maikel Cleto, along with Javy Guerra. Guerra was recently claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers and will start the year at Triple-A Charlotte, but he has experience in the closer’s role. Webb, a promising young arm with closer potential, was acquired by the Sox in return for Jason Frasor on January 1, 2012 from the Toronto Blue Jays. He mixes a high 90s fastball with an above-average slider and changeup to comprise a good mix of pitches for a late-inning reliever.
Similarly, Cleto, whom the Sox claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals, throws a wicked high 90’s fastball. The difference between Webb, who is touted as a future closer, and Cleto, who has bounced around over the last few seasons, seems to be their secondary offerings, as Cleto has yet to develop his slider into a reliable out pitch.