A pen greater than the sum of its parts, because there are so many parts


It’s September, which means that all major league rosters are horribly bloated colossuses that allow for nearly limitless substitution and thus, irritatingly longer games.  Robin Ventura feels no shame in this.  It’s been rather easy to catch him enjoying the expansive and doughy extra real estate, especially when it comes to the bullpen.

After Hector Santiago walked the first two batters of the 6th inning Monday night, Ventura needed to seek relief help, and opted for Nate Jones–a fine choice.  Jones was looking to add to a streak of 10 straight scoreless appearances, and was sporting an ERA that had recently slid to under 3.00 on the year.  He’s easily the best reliever on the team seated outside the regular selection of setup men.

Jones rewarded Ventura’s faith.  He was the beneficiary of a caught stealing, but also used some of his upper-90’s heat to induce a pop-up from Josh Willingham that kept a runner at 3rd.  At which point he was pulled before he could face Justin Morneau, in favor of lefty Donnie Veal.

It’s not the greatest example of Ventura’s new tinkering spirit with the bullpen, since Justin Morneau has the most intense platoon splits known to man and neglecting to use a lefty against him whenever possible would just be bad management.  But Ventura showed no hesitance to conserve resources as early as the 6th inning in a series opener against the Twins, and didn’t stop there.

Over the next two innings, he alternated between Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, and Brett Myers for reasons of handedness (though not enough to avoid having Myers pitch to Morneau), because it was a very close game, and because he could, dammit.

The new expanded roster setup gives Ventura three lefties to work with: Thornton, Veal, and Leyson Septimo.  Now, the White Sox had three lefty relievers last year: Chris Sale, Thornton, and Will Ohman, but two of those guys served as top set-up men, expected to retire batters of either hand in crucial situations.

That’s….not really the case with this group.  Veal and Septimo are pure LOOGY’s, and Thornton’s increasing vulnerability versus righties are apparent.

It’s a setup that invites a lot of tinkering:

That list even excludes Hector Santiago and Dylan Axelrod because they’ve been starters, and Philip Humber because bleeaggh! 

But even if this list is all there is, and Jhan Marinez doesn’t get added after the AAA playoffs, that’s a lot of tools to play matchups with–Addison Reed’s over-arcing mediocrity and the neutrality of Nate Jones aside.  Three lefties specialists is a lot to work with, and takes a lot of pressure of fJesse Crain and Brett Myers, who lack the tools to be left in against top lefties…especially if it can be avoided.

And if Monday night was any indication, they won’t be.  Robin has not been afraid to aggressively dip into his recently expanded pen, and there’s a reason for that–they’re all tested.  The utility of having a bullpen full of rookies gets oversold during every White Sox broadcast, but there’s some advantage to be had when the typical five live bullpen arms foisted upon the manager during the heat of a playoff race are actually players their manager is familiar with, and acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The Sox have a one game lead on September 6th, they need whatever advantage they can get their claws on.

Here’s one.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @ JRFegan.  Also check out his full-time, daily blog, White Sox Observer