Addition of Hendricks on back end to group of young power arms raises bar for Sox relievers
The bar has been raised for the White Sox bullpen
And it’s up there.
Just how high up there?
Somewhere between very good and great, at least on paper. Last season, it was very good.
This year? It could be great.
Health is an obvious key, and knowing the variance relievers are prone to from year to year is a potential stick in the eye, but to look at the arms in the White Sox bullpen is supremely fascinating.
It starts at the end, with newly signed closer Liam Hendriks, the American League Reliever of the Year.
It continues with eighth-and seventh-inning setup men Aaron Bummer, one of the best lefty relievers in baseball, veteran righty Evan Marshall, and 26-year old upper 90s righty Codi Heuer, who earned “potential closer” stripes with a 1.52 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings.
Throw in command-maven and multi-innings option Matt Foster, 26, who was 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings in his first season last year and you have the guts of a pen that generally ranked in the top fourth of baseball’s bullpens in 2020, with Hendriks replacing Alex Colome this season as the closer. Granted, a 60-game season against a Central division schedule doesn’t build a case-closed projection base, but it’s substantial enough.
And when the Sox throw 21-year-old left-hander Garrett Crochet, the 2020 first-rounder who looked unhittable over five late September appearances, and right-hander Michael Kopech, 24, another young, electric arm with huge upside into the group, whoa. Both are projected as long-term starters, the Sox say, but will find their way in the bullpen in 2020, perhaps as soon as Opening Day in Anaheim.
Crochet featured 101-102 mph velocity, averaging 101.2, and a nasty slider. Kopech, who hasn’t pitched in two seasons because of Tommy John surgery and then opting out of 2019, has 100-mph and a hard slider in his holster, too.
Can you say double barrel shotgun action warming up in the White Sox bullpen?
Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy certainly had those two in mind when he called the staff a “Lamborghini pitching staff.”
If Carlos Rodon beats out Reynaldo Lopez for the fifth-starter spot, Lopez would transition to a long-relief, multi-inning role. Another power arm who, for stretches, was the Sox’ best starter in recent years.
Throw it all together and the Sox have what FanGraphs ranks as second (tied with the Mets) only to the Yankees in the majors.
If starters Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease get into the sixth or seventh inning, the Sox should be in good shape.
“For a bullpen to really excel they should be really working off a starting rotation that consistently gets into the last part of the game because it’s a long season,” manager Tony La Russa said. “If you have that as a given, there are a lot of weapons. And I’ll just jump ahead … there are a lot of really impressive arms here beyond the guys who are getting a lot of attention. The answer is we have the chance to have an outstanding bullpen.”
Waiting in the wings, for depth, are 2017 first-rounder Zack Burdi, Jimmy Lambert and Tyler Johnson, all power armed prospects, as well as Jimmy Cordero. There’s also experienced lefty Jace Fry, due back in May after recovering from a microdisectomy procedure in his back.
So there is some depth.
“I look out from eight [pitchers] down in our bullpen, and I fully believe that all eight of us will be able to give high leverage innings whether or not we need a break or somebody needs a day off,” Bummer said. “We won’t be taking our foot off the gas by using someone else.”
“Garrett had never pitched in the bullpen before and he goes out and he was able to dominate,” Bummer said. “And so I fully expect Michael and Garrett to continue doing those things. Just continue to give us leverage innings.”
And hold the bar up high.