Transforming Weakness Into Strength
Apr 1, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Matt Albers (37) pitches during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The right-handed Albers has a repertoire which has evolved over time. CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz reports that “Albers, if he comes back healthy, features a low-90’s fastball, a hard slider and a changeup.”
That was definitely true in 2014, but not always the case. Last season was the first season Albers threw his changeup more than 6 percent of the time, utilizing the pitch at a 12.4 percent rate. With a fastball averaging 93.8 mph and his slider averaging 86.6 mph in 2014, it’s easy to see why he had so much success with a changeup averaging 82.5 mph.
Albers did a great job keeping hitters off-balance. Of course, Albers only pitched in 10 innings last season, so it’s fair to assume his 0.90 ERA would not have held up over the course of an entire season. His 2.56 ERA since 2012 is comforting nonetheless.
Below are highlights from one of his outings in April, 2014 against the Angels. He struck out one batter with his changeup, and induced a couple weak ground balls with his sinker and fastball.
Not only do Crain and Albers add quality competition for coveted bullpen slots during spring training, but if they prove to be healthy, the duo adds depth and insurance in case the injury bug bites the White Sox again in 2015.
The offseason acquisitions also bring with them the confidence and experience to excel in high leverage pitching situations. In 2014, the White Sox bullpen stranded only 70.9% of the runners they inherited, ranking 27th out of 30 teams in that category.
The last season Crain pitched, in 2013, he was voted to the All-Star game, and moments like the one below, where Crain struck out Yoenis Cespedes to end an A’s scoring threat in a tie game, were a regular occurrence.
The Sox can also look forward to the return of Nate Jones during the middle of the season, and the likely emergence of Carlos Rodon, who may be utilized as a reliever to begin his major league career. Other offseason acquisitions, such as Onelki García, will throw their hats in the ring for a chance to contribute to what now looks like the best bullpen in the American League Central Division.
I can’t remember a time when the White Sox have had so many legitimate bullpen options in their organization at one time. Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Javy Guerra, and Daniel Webb all made significant contributions to their teams in 2014, but all of them will face stiff competition for their jobs in 2015.
I don’t envy Don Cooper and Robin Ventura‘s task of sorting out who stays and who goes after Spring Training wraps up April 2nd. I’m happy to see the White Sox have to face that sort of dilemma, though.
It means a high quality bullpen will break camp and enter the season ready to compete with the league’s best. It also means if things don’t go the White Sox way, whether it be the result of injury or surprisingly poor performance, they will have no reservations about deploying another option in their arsenal.
Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams knew, just like everyone else, they couldn’t allow the bullpen to sabotage this squad like it did in 2014. As a result, they went out and added as many quality arms to the bullpen as possible.
When the phrase “Next man up” is uttered referring to the White Sox bullpen in 2015, the mantra will inspire confidence rather than trepidation.