White Sox First Half Player Grades: Bullpen
The White Sox bullpen has seen plenty of work through the first half of the 2016 season but a successful second half may require an even more intense workload.
One of the things that sets a great baseball team apart from a good team is a bullpen that can hold down games. Unfortunately, it has been a while since the White Sox had a bullpen fans could be confident in. Of course names like Cliff Politte, Bobby Jenks, Shingo Takatsu, and Neal Cotts come to mind quickly, but since that 2005 team, the White Sox have only had a couple of players who have been able to put up good numbers over their time with the team. The 2016 iteration of the bullpen is one of the best the White Sox have had in recent years, and that trend should continue on into the second half.
David Robertson (23 saves in 25 opportunities, 3.22 ERA, 36 1/3 IP)
When the White Sox brought on David Robertson two seasons ago, a relaxed feeling came over the fanbase. Having an established closer (one who learned under Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera) rather than trying to teach a reliever to close makes a huge difference when it comes to the final outs of a ballgame. Robertson is on pace to have his best season since becoming a full-time closer. Forty saves and an ERA below three is definitely within the realm of possibility. Even though the season is early, Robertson’s walk percentage (12.7%) is the second highest of his career, but as the season progresses that number should drop. The stats are there, Robertson continues to be as good as advertised and one of the best at closing out a game. Final Grade: A
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Nate Jones (4-2, 2.45 ERA, 40 1/3 IP)
Nate Jones has been one of the most underrated and overlooked relievers in the game this year. You rarely hear his name brought up in conversation among other relievers, and taking a look at his stats will leave you wondering why. Jones has already appeared in 41 games for the White Sox, just under half of their total games played at this point in the season (87). Through those 41 games, Jones has a WHIP of 0.868 and a K/BB ratio of 5.25, showing that when Jones comes into the game he is pretty good at getting through his inning without much damage. He has blown four saves in seven opportunities but closing is not his job. It would not be a surprise to see Nate Jones closing games for a team in the future but for now he is doing quite well in his role as a bridge to closer David Robertson. Final Grade: A-
Dan Jennings (3-1, 1.64 ERA, 38 1/3 IP)
The White Sox struck a seemingly lopsided deal with the Miami Marlins in December of 2014. They sent struggling spot starter Andre Rienzo to Miami in exchange for left-hander Dan Jennings. Jennings had just come off a season with the Marlins in which he posted a 1.34 ERA over 40.1 innings in 47 games. Meanwhile Rienzo went 4-5 with a 6.82 ERA in 12 starts for the White Sox. Jennings’ 2015 season with the White Sox wasn’t too memorable. Although none of his stats are particularly eye-catching through 2016, he is simply getting the job done when called upon. A pleasant surprise considering generally below-average expectations from him going into the season. Jennings has struggled with allowing inherited runners to score. He’s allowed 46.7% (11/24) of inherited runners to cross the plate. If he can get a handle on that aspect of the game, then his second half will look even better than the first. Final Grade: A-
Matt Albers (2-4. 5.06 ERA, 32 IP)
The first fifteen appearances of the season for Albers were lights-out. Through fifteen games and 15 2/3 innings pitched, Albers’ ERA was just 0.57, with only ten hits allowed in that period. He was easily the best pitcher out of the bullpen until the midway point of May where things took a steep decline. His splits are not too telling, though he is a much better pitcher at U.S. Cellular field than he is at any other ballpark in the league. Batters are hitting just .228 against Albers at home compared to .333 on the road. Fortunately his last five appearances have been similar to what was seen at the beginning of the year, an indicator that maybe he is turning things around right as the White Sox go full-force towards the division title. Hopefully the improvements will continue well into the second half. Final Grade: C+
Zach Duke (2-0, 2.59 ERA, 31 1/3 IP)
Zach Duke is yet another pleasant surprise in the White Sox bullpen this season. Duke, who broke into baseball with the Houston Astros in 2004, has bounced around from team to team and has only spent more than two seasons with a ballclub once (Baltimore from 2008 to 2010). Through 31 1/3 innings, Duke is holding opposing batters to a .231 average, and righties to just .154. Where Albers struggles on the road, Duke seems to step his game up a little when pitching away from Chicago. Duke’s ERA is 2.75 at home compared to 2.31 on the road and hitters are batting just .205 against him on the road. In five appearances so far in July, Duke has been absolutely flawless, allowing zero runs on five hits through five innings. If Duke can continue his hot July then the White Sox will be in a good position when he takes the mound. Final Grade: B+
In addition to the staples of the bullpen the White Sox have seen many other pitchers come and go so far through 2016. Tommy Kahnle (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 4 1/3 IP) and Michael Ynoa (0-0. 4.32, 8 1/3 IP) currently round out the remainder of the bullpen ,but Zach Putnam (15-day disabled list), Matt Purke, Jake Petricka (60-day DL), Chris Beck, Scott Carroll, Tyler Danish, Daniel Webb (60-day DL), and even J.B. Shuck have all made appearances for the White Sox this year.
Next: White Sox First Half Player Grades:Outfielders
The starting pitching staff has done a good job of eating up innings so far this season which has somewhat limited the need for the bullpen. During the tough middle of May and well into June, the bullpen saw a lot of work but managed to hold their own and keep games within reach. Seeing those guys out of the bullpen was the lone bright spot among an otherwise messy White Sox team in that period of time. That kind of performance from the bullpen will have to continue into the second half for the White Sox to make a run at the American League Central division crown.
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