What was supposed to be a strength of the Chicago White Sox in 2022 turned out to be a liability.
The bullpen was seen to be a strength of the team as it looked to further its playoff chances heading into the season.
The bridge from the starters to closer Liam Hendriks was to be led by Kendall Graveman who came to the team from the Houston Astros on a three-year, $24 million dollar deal.
Graveman, along with Garrett Crochet, Reynoldo Lopez, Jimmy Lambert, Aaron Bummer and free agent acquisition Joe Kelly made up what should have been one of the best bullpens in all of baseball.
Problem was, Crochet missed the season due to Tommy John surgery; Bummer was out most of the year with a lat strain, and Kelly was ineffective when he wasn't dealing with injury issues of his own.
To try and help the pen during the year, general manager Rick Hahn went out and got Jake Diekman at the trade deadline. That move proved inconsequential for the team as Diekman did little to help by posting a 6.25 earned run average, giving up 25 hits and 18 runs in 19.1 innings of work.
Despite the problems, Hahn thought the bullpen actually performed well and had this to say about it:
""Certainly, Liam performed at his excellent All-Star level. Graveman served the role that he was brought in to serve. And Reynaldo López made a nice step forward. Jimmy Lambert acquainted himself well to the big leagues in a reliever role, which was new to him.”"
The bullpen ranked toward the bottom third of the Major Leagues in wins in relief but gave up only 22 losses on the year, which was eighth best in baseball.
The White Sox ranked third in the American League in save opportunities with 71 and were tied with the San Diego Padres for fifth overall in saves with 48.
What may come as a surprise is the relief corps was tied with the Houston Astros for fifth-best in all of baseball in holds with 102. While that stat is pretty good, it was offset by the Sox being the third-worst team in the majors in the percentage of inherited runners scoring at 39 percent.
The Chicago White Sox need their bullpen to improve ahead of 2023.
As it stands right now, the bullpen still has much to prove after a disappointing 2021. Liam Hendrik's status is up in the air as he is the only real commodity the team has if they want to make a major trade to fill in holes in the roster at second base, right field, or catcher. If Hendriks is moved, either Lopez or Graveman could slide into the closer role.
Crochet's progress will be interesting to keep an eye on. The team has envisioned him as being a starter one day but due to the injury, the team will heavily monitor his innings worked and could put him into a hybrid type of role.
When Hahn met with reporters at the general managers' meetings back in November, he said Crochet was on target with his rehab and could make a few starts before heading to the bullpen.
One pitcher who could be a big help to the bullpen if he can gain any sort of consistency is Jose Ruiz. The talent is there as evidenced by his recording 68 strikeouts in 60.2 innings but he had difficulty keeping runs off the board by virtue of his 4.60 ERA and WHIP of 1.418.
The White Sox added another arm when they acquired right-hander Gregory Santos in a trade with the San Francisco Giants. The 23-year-old Santos is being viewed as a coming-in for short-stint type work.
Like a number of players on the team, the White Sox are hoping for bounce back performances to get them back to their playoff form of 2021. That is asking a lot and the bullpen has to step up and be as good as advertised last year.