Showing posts with label Ronald Belisario. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ronald Belisario. Show all posts

Friday, February 19, 2016

White Sox closer David Robertson says his 2015 performance was 'terrible'

David Robertson
White Sox closer David Robertson reported to spring training Friday and opened camp with some interesting remarks about his 2015 performance.

“Last season is gone,” Robertson told the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane. “I felt like last season I pitched terrible. I had a lot of horrible outings. I let some situations slide by and made some mental errors out there and threw some pitches that I should not have thrown and I cost us a lot of games.

“I look around and come in and see the starters’ faces when they have thrown eight innings and I blew it there in the ninth. I hope this year I’m on top of my game and get the job done for these guys.”

Robertson was 34 for 41 in save opportunities last year, finishing with a 3.41 ERA. He posted 86 strikeouts against 13 walks.

I would not characterize his performance last year as "terrible," especially since he had a career-best 6.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a career-best 0.932 WHIP. His 2.52 FIP was the third-best of his eight-year career.

Moreover, nine of the 27 runs Robertson gave up last season came in a "terrible" stretch of three outings between Sept. 14 and 19, when the Sox had long since been eliminated from pennant contention. Those were poor performances, but they weren't exactly crushing to the team's hopes.

One thing I will criticize Robertson for: He gave up too many home runs last year -- seven of them in 63.1 IP. That's a high rate for a closer and a high total for a pitcher with Robertson's swing-and-miss stuff. Every pitcher gives up home runs sometimes, but Robertson needs to find a way to give up fewer.

I do give Robertson full credit for looking at himself and saying "I need to be better" with the Sox coming off a disappointing 76-86 season. Every player can and should do that, but I think he's being a little too hard on himself with the "terrible" comment.

If I were trying to come up with an example of terrible relief pitching, I think I would cite Ronald Belisario's 2014 campaign with the Sox well before I'd point to anything Robertson has ever done.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matt Lindstrom provides no relief in return from DL

Matt Lindstrom has been a league-average reliever during his time with the White Sox.

He posted a respectable 3.12 ERA in 2013, while leading Chicago with 76 appearances and ranking third among Sox relievers with 60.2 innings pitched. Before injuring his ankle on May 19 of this season he had a 3.32 ERA with six saves in 19 games.

While these numbers are not lights out, they are far from terrible. You could accurately describe Lindstrom as a "consistently OK" member of the White Sox bullpen.

And that's what makes his performance since his Aug. 12 return from the disabled list so troubling. Lindstrom has uncharacteristically committed Ronald Belisario-like arsons in two of the past three games. The latest meltdown occurred Monday night in Baltimore's 8-2 win over the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Lindstrom entered in the top of eighth inning with two men on and two men out. The Sox were trailing 3-2 and still had an opportunity to win against the American League East's best team. Alas, Lindstrom walked the first hitter he faced to load the bases, then gave up a three-run double to Jonathan Schoop, a two-run homer to Sox killer Nick Markakis and a double to Steve Pearce. In the blink of an eye, Baltimore had five runs. The game was basically decided at that point.

This bad outing came on the heels of a previous poor performance from Lindstrom on Saturday. In that game, he entered a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning and promptly surrendered three runs to the Toronto Blue Jays before retiring a single batter. He took the loss in the Sox' 6-3 defeat.

That means Lindstrom has allowed six runs on seven hits with one walk over his last inning of work. His ERA has ballooned to a Belisario-like 5.57.

We should have seen this coming. Lindstrom's performance on his rehab assignment at Charlotte was erratic at best. He allowed runs in three of his five appearances, and he absorbed a four-run shellacking against Pawtucket on Aug. 7.

When a player returns quicker than expected from injury, there's always a lot of discussion about whether that player was "rushed" back. More often than not, those worries are needless. However, you see some red flags with Lindstrom in this particular case.

First, the Sox bullpen has been abysmal in recent weeks. A competent relief pitcher has been hard to find, and I'm sure the Sox were eager for the "consistently OK" Lindstrom to rejoin the mix. Perhaps too eager.

Second, Lindstrom's contract is up at the end of the season. There's no question this is a player who would be motivated to get back on the mound, prove himself healthy and put himself in position to get a nice deal in the offseason -- either in Chicago or somewhere else.

The team and the player both had reasons to "rush" back, and you can't help but wonder if that's what we're seeing here. One thing is for certain: Lindstrom is helping neither his own cause nor the Sox' cause with his recent performance.

He might have been better served throwing on the side for a couple more weeks, rehabbing the final two weeks of August in Charlotte and rejoining the team at the Sept. 1 roster expansion.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Putting some numbers to the White Sox' bullpen dumpster fire

It's hard to believe right now, but things were looking up on the South Side of Chicago as recently as a week ago. The White Sox had just taken two out of three from the first-place Detroit Tigers. They had won six out of eight games and were threatening to reach the .500 mark for the first time since the second week of June.

Alas, Chicago's bullpen is still terrible. Every time the Sox have threatened to go on a winning streak, the relief corps has done something horrible to prevent that from happening.

In a season full of bullpen blowups, this week has taken the cake. The Sox have dropped five of their last six games, and they've been outscored by a ghastly 59-18 margin during that stretch. We all know the primary culprit is a bullpen that cannot get anybody out, but in case you were wondering just how bad it has gotten, let's put some numbers to the horror show.

Here are the August statistics for the eight relief pitchers the Sox have used so far this month. All numbers are through Aug. 7:

Jake Petricka: 3.38 ERA (1 ER in 2.2 IP), 1.500 WHIP
Maikel Cleto: 9.00 ERA (3 ER in 3 IP), 1.000 WHIP
Daniel Webb: 9.82 ERA (4 ER in 3.2 IP), 2.455 WHIP
Javy Guerra: 10.13 ERA (3 ER, 2.2 IP), 2.250 WHIP
Eric Surkamp: 13.50 ERA (4 ER, 2.2 IP), 3.000 WHIP
Taylor Thompson: 27.00 ERA (3 ER, 1 IP), 4.000 WHIP
Andre Rienzo: 34.71 ERA (9 ER, 2.1 IP), 6.429 WHIP
Ronald Belisario: 189.00 ERA (7 ER, .1 IP), 18.000 WHIP

You add all that up, and the bullpen has a collective 16.69 ERA for the month.

I've often been critical of Sox manager Robin Ventura for leaving his starting pitchers in too long. A couple times this week, I've thought to myself, "Ventura is leaving this guy in too long." But then I catch myself and realize he has nobody in bullpen who can make a key pitch, so it's hard to blame the manager for staying with a tiring or struggling starter at this stage of the game.

I don't think Petricka is throwing his best right now, but he's the only guy among this group pitching like a major leaguer. Everyone else in the bullpen is committing arson every single time they step on the mound. Fans should remember that if they are tempted to call for Ventura's head during this stretch of bad ball. A manager who has no options is going to come off looking like an idiot no matter what he does.

Right now, the only thing Ventura can do is pray his starter goes eight innings, and bring in Petricka for the ninth. Anything other than that seems like it won't end well for the White Sox.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Doubleheader loss highlights White Sox' pitching holes, questionable management

From 2009 to 2012, there were many times I heard White Sox fans wish for the front office to "blow up" the team's veteran core and start a rebuilding process. My response to those comments was often along the lines of "Be careful what you wish for."

Rebuilding is a hard and oftentimes frustrating process, and Sox fans are learning that this season. It's difficult, because even in a year where you know your team is not going to make the playoffs, you'd like to at least have hope that your team can win the next game on its schedule. But during a rebuilding year, that hope is not always present. There are certain days where you just know your team has little or no chance at victory.

For me, Tuesday was one of those days. The White Sox were scheduled to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field. Normally, a fan gets excited about 18 innings of baseball in a day, but one look at the pitching matchups for this twinbill was enough to make a Sox fan hold his head in despair.

The Angels, who currently lead the wild card standings in the American League, were throwing their top two pitchers -- Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver. The Sox were countering with their No. 4 and No. 5 starters, two guys who are lucky to be in the big leagues in Hector Noesi and Scott Carroll.

It was impossible to escape the nagging feeling that the Sox were destined to absorb a pounding in this doubleheader. And, indeed, both Noesi and Carroll pitched poorly. The Angels swept the twinbill by 8-4 and 7-5 scores.

Noesi was handed a 3-0 lead in the first inning after Jose Abreu connected for his 26th home run of the season, but he couldn't hold it. In fact, Noesi embarrassed himself and the team by walking seven men in 5-plus innings. He allowed five earned runs. Meanwhile, Richards settled in and gave his team eight quality innings, and the Sox never had much of a prayer -- despite the promising start.

The good news for the Sox was they only had to use two relief pitchers -- Ronald Belisario and Daniel Webb -- to eat up the last four innings of the game. Given the circumstances, it could have been worse, and the Sox' bullpen was still in relatively good shape going into the nightcap.

As expected, Carroll struggled in Game 2. He gave up three runs in the second inning to put the Sox in an early hole, and by the sixth inning, the Angels were out to a seemingly comfortable 6-2 lead. However, the Sox fought back with three runs in the bottom half of that inning. Dayan Viciedo's two-run homer cut the deficit to 6-5. The Sox had the potential tying run on third base and the potential go-ahead run on first before the Angels escaped the inning.

Weaver had entered Tuesday's contest with an 8-2 record and a lifetime 1.70 ERA against Chicago. On this day, the Sox touched him up for five runs over 5.2 innings. That's good offensive production against a quality, top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Going into the seventh inning, the Sox trailed by just one run, and I figured they would take Carroll out of the game. None of their three best relievers -- Jake Petricka, Javy Guerra or Zach Putnam -- had pitched in Game 1. All were rested and ready.

Alas, Carroll was inexplicably allowed to start the seventh inning. No, his pitch count wasn't high. He hadn't reached 80 pitches yet. But, he hadn't been effective, and the top of the Los Angeles batting order was due up.

Naturally, Carroll walked Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout back-to-back to start the inning. Finally, Petricka was summoned from the bullpen. He allowed one inherited runner to score before extricating the Sox from a bases-loaded mess, and the damage was done. The Angels had scored an insurance run, and the good vibes from the three-run rally the Sox had the previous inning were snuffed. Los Angeles had little difficulty closing out the win from there.

You see, it's hard enough to win when you only have three legitimate major league starting pitchers on your roster. The Sox came into Tuesday on a three-game winning streak, because Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks had all won their most recent starts against the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend.

But when Noesi, or Carroll, or Andre Rienzo take the mound, this team is asking way too much of its offense. You can't expect to be consistently competitive when you send bums like these to the mound.

The problem is made even worse when the manager and the pitching coach continually push their luck, trying to coax one more inning out of a struggling starting pitcher who hasn't earned the right to be out there. Would the Sox have won Game 2 had Carroll been pulled after six innings? Probably not, but it doesn't take a genius to see they would have had a better chance had Petricka been allowed to start his own inning in the seventh.

That's what being a manager is all about -- giving your team the best chance to win. Robin Ventura and Don Cooper should have been happy Carroll got through six innings, given the subpar stuff he was featuring. Instead, they got greedy and asked him to try to get through seven. It wasn't happening, and as a fan, bad management only adds to the frustration of having to watch a pitching staff full of gaping holes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Home Run Derby: Jose Abreu says no

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu ranks third in the American League with 22 home runs, and he'll likely be selected for the All-Star Game. So, it stands to reason he's a prime candidate to participate in this year's Home Run Derby.

Abreu, however, says he's not interested.

"Home Run Derby is not something I’m too crazy about," Abreu told the Sun-Times on Tuesday through a translator. "It’s a good thing, but I’m not really interested or looking forward to. I really wouldn’t want to do it. I did it in Cuba several times, and I wasn’t much into it.’’

That probably won't make a lot of fans happy. Most would want to see Abreu's prodigious power on display in the home run contest, but the slugger is worried participating in the event would screw up his approach.

"The first thing it does is affect you mentally," he said. "You go out and try to hit home runs. I'm not a guy who tries to hit home runs. I let them come whenever they come. And sometimes it messes with your mechanics."

I don't blame Abreu for not wanting to do something he isn't comfortable with, especially since this is his first season in the United States and he's still working to establish himself as a big-league hitter.

We could debate whether participating in the Home Run Derby screws up a hitter's swing, but what's the point? I can find examples of guys who declined in the second half after the derby, and I can find examples of guys who were unaffected.

Abreu knows himself better than any fan or anyone in the media, so if he says he's better off not competing in the derby, then he's right to sit this one out.

Sox make rotation change, stick with Belisario as closer

The Sox made one change in roles with their pitching staff on Tuesday, but it wasn't the one people might have expected.

Scott Carroll will replace Andre Rienzo in the starting rotation and pitch Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rienzo (4-5) has lost his last five starts and has allowed 22 runs in 22.1 innings over that span.

Carroll (2-3) made five starts earlier this season, going 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA. Since moving to the bullpen, he has thrived in a long relief role, posting a 1.83 ERA over six appearances.

More than likely, this move won't make much of an impact. Neither Carroll nor Rienzo is a long-term solution as a starting pitcher. But, Carroll has started throwing a cutter during his time in the bullpen. He now has one more pitch in his arsenal than he did during his previous stint in the rotation. We'll see if that makes any difference in results.

Meanwhile, the team stuck with Ronald Belisario as its closer, and he earned a shaky save in the Sox' 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night. The tying runs were on base before Belisario induced a double-play grounder that allowed Chicago to snap its five-game losing streak.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ronald Belisario's cold streak coincides with his promotion to closer

Remember back on June 12 when the White Sox were only 2.5 games out of the AL Central lead? Some were talking about this team potentially making a surprise run at the division title. Yeah, that was fun while it lasted. Since then, the bottom has fallen out.

The South Siders have now dropped nine out of 11 and have fallen a season-worst seven games (35-42) below .500. They trail the Detroit Tigers by 7.5 games in the division, and they have lost five consecutive games after Monday's 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

This latest defeat should not have happened. Ace Chris Sale was in line for the win after allowing just two runs over six innings. He pitched out of a pair of bases-loaded jams to give the Sox a chance at victory. Jose Abreu hit his 22nd home run of the season and drove in three runs, and things were looking good with the Sox up 4-2 in the eighth inning.

Then, the wheels came off. The Orioles got a solo home run from catcher Caleb Joseph off Zach Putnam to tighten the score to 4-3 heading to the ninth. Sox "closer" Ronald Belisario then presided over a spectacular meltdown.

After jumping ahead of Steve Pearce 1-2 in the count, Belisario served up a fat pitch that Pearce hit for a leadoff single. Adam Jones was next hit by a pitch to move the tying run into scoring position and put the winning run on base with nobody out. After Nelson Cruz struck out, Belisario hung a 3-2 slider to Chris Davis, who hit a three-run home run to lift the Orioles to a come-from-behind win.

It's pretty hard to miss the fact that Belisario has been awful since being named closer following an injury to Matt Lindstrom on May 20. Since that date, Belisario has appeared in 13 games, going 7 for 10 in save opportunities. He's allowed 11 earned runs in 11 innings pitched during that stretch. That's easy math: a brutal 9.00 ERA.

Thing is, you can't fault Sox manager Robin Ventura for going to Belisario, because he was the hot hand at the time of Lindstrom's injury. Prior to May 20. Belisario had gone 12 consecutive appearances without surrendering an earned run.

But as soon as he was named closer, Belisario's effectiveness disappeared. Coincidence? I don't believe so. I think Belisario is one of those guys who is just more comfortable pitching the seventh or eighth inning. That's what he's done for most of his career, and he doesn't seem able to handle the responsibility of pitching in the ninth inning.

The closing situation has not gone well for the Sox this year. Lindstrom and Nate Jones, the two top candidates for the job coming into the season, are both on the disabled list. Daniel Webb was mentioned as a potential candidate by pitching coach Don Cooper in the spring, but he has been too wild (25 walks in 35.1 IP) to be trusted in any high-leverage situation - let alone closing.

Belisario is essentially the Sox' fourth option as a closer. It looks like they'll have to find a fifth option, because Belisario is not getting it done.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Chris Sale dominates Yankees in return from disabled list

Under normal circumstances, you get excited when a pitcher from your hometown team is throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter.

That wasn't the case for me Thursday night as I watched Chris Sale retire the first 17 men he faced, including nine strikeouts, in his return from the disabled list against the New York Yankees.

Sale was on a strict pitch count, although Sox manager Robin Ventura refused to say what it was. But you knew Sale was approaching that predetermined figure when Sox reliever Zach Putnam was warming up in the bullpen with the Yankees batting in the top of the sixth inning and nobody on base.

I knew if Sale made it through six innings without allowing a baserunner, Ventura would remove him from the game and then we'd have the meatheads lighting up the phone lines and rioting in the streets, screaming about a missed opportunity at a perfect game. The meatheads wouldn't understand that Sale hadn't pitched a game in over a month, and it's incumbent on the Sox to be careful with their ace -- who is still without question the most valuable player the team has in its organization. No way you're going to leave a pitcher who is just back from the DL out there for 100-plus pitches in pursuit of a no-hitter. No way.

I wanted to avoid listening to that moronic debate, so I was actually relieved when New York left fielder Zoilo Almonte singled sharply to center field with two outs in the sixth inning, ending Sale's run at perfection. The Sox lefty finished off the inning with a strikeout of Jacoby Ellsbury, and that cleared the way for Ventura to go to the bullpen without any controversy about pulling a pitcher who had a perfect game going.

Putnam, Daniel Webb and Ronald Belisario combined to cover the final nine outs. The Sox beat the Yankees, 3-2, and Sale improved his season record to 4-0.

Sale's final line: Six innings pitched, 10 strikeouts, no runs, one hit, no walks, 86 pitches, 54 of them for strikes. Sale threw first-pitch strike to 13 of the 19 men he faced. He had command of all of his pitches, and New York had little chance to score while he was on the mound. Aside from Almonte's single, there was maybe one other ball hit hard against Sale the whole night.

Best of all, Sale left the mound healthy and feeling good, which is the most important thing for the Sox moving forward.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Random White Sox thoughts for this week

Unfortunately, there haven't been too many spring training games on TV yet, so it's hard to get a good feel for how players have looked so far.

But, in looking over the box scores from this week, the White Sox player who has stood out the most has been center fielder Adam Eaton.

We said earlier this week that spring training numbers mean nothing, and they don't. But it's worth noting Eaton has played well thus far, reaching base in 10 of his first 14 plate appearances. He's 6 for 10 and has also drawn two walks and been hit by a pitch twice in five spring games.

Barring injury, Eaton will be leading off and playing center field when the Sox open March 31. Both the leadoff spot and center field have been a revolving door for the Sox over the past several seasons, so it would be huge if Eaton plays well enough to lock down those two roles.

De Aza on the block?

There's been some talk this spring about the Sox possibly trading second baseman Gordon Beckham. I doubt that will happen. If there's a trade to be made before the team breaks camp, it might involve outfielder Alejandro De Aza.

De Aza has been the Sox' leadoff hitter and center fielder the past couple years, but he's going to be supplanted by Eaton. The question is whether the Sox want to hold on to De Aza and platoon him in left field with Dayan Viciedo, or ship him elsewhere.

Rumor has it the Twins might be interested in De Aza, who will make $4.25 million this season and has a movable contract. The Sox would probably rather not pay De Aza that money to be a part-time player, especially when Jordan Danks can serve as a fourth outfielder for cheaper.

Some of this depends on how much the Sox still believe in Viciedo, who has been a disappointment both with the bat and in the field. However, Viciedo is still only 24, so there may be some untapped upside. De Aza, on the other hand, is what he is -- an league average 29-year-old outfielder.

For a rebuilding team like the Sox, it makes more sense to hang on to the younger guy with upside and see what happens.

Bad fundamentals

The White Sox beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 in a spring game Friday, but there was a brutal defensive play that drew the ire of manager Robin Ventura and his staff.

Catcher Tyler Flowers was charged with an error when he threw to second base to try to cut down a steal attempt by Cincinnati's Brayan Pena. Neither Beckham nor shortstop Alexei Ramirez covered the bag. The ball sailed into center field, and Pena easily advanced to third.

This is the kind of garbage we saw way too much of last season. Poor defense was huge factor in the Sox' 99-loss disaster in 2013. Ventura says he addressed this mistake immediately. Good, because these kind of errors are inexcusable for veteran players.

It's about time

Reports indicate reliever Ronald Belisario has finally cleared up his visa problems and is scheduled to report to Sox camp. It's about time, now that Opening Day is just over three weeks away.

The Sox bullpen depth could be tested early in the season. Both Nate Jones (glute) and Matt Lindstrom (oblique) have yet to pitch in a spring game due to nagging injuries, and obviously, Belisario hasn't been around. In addition, reliever Daniel Webb has been away from the team due to a death in the family.

The battle for the closer's job has yet to materialize, because the none of the players involved in the competition have been on the mound.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

White Sox infielders, get ready to catch some grounders

We've talked previously on this blog about how White Sox GM Rick Hahn has been targeting groundball specialists to restock his pitching staff.

Here's a good article from Yahoo Sports that discusses his strategy.

The article notes that newly acquired relief pitcher Ronald Belisario has a 60.8 percent groundball rate for his career. That means six out of every 10 balls put in play against Belisario are hit on the ground.

Just in case you were wondering, the league average in 2013 was 44.5 percent. It would be an understatement to say Belisario is an extreme groundball pitcher. Here's how the other pitchers Hahn has acquired this offseason stack up in this category:

Scott Downs: 58.0 percent
Mitchell Boggs: 52.6 percent
Felipe Paulino: 45.6 percent

So, all four of Hahn's major pitching acquisitions this offseason produce groundballs at a higher rate than league average. For the record, traded closer Addison Reed's groundball rate was the worst on the team in 2013 and well below league average at 33 percent.

Yeah, we can see a trend here. Hahn wants pitchers who keep the ball on the ground at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. That means the White Sox infielders had better improve their defense this season.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the 2013 campaign was the poor defense the White Sox played. They had the lowest fielding percentage in the league (.980) and had the second-most errors (121). They allowed 80 unearned runs to score, and that no doubt played a role in their pathetic 24-36 record in one-run games.

By way of comparison, the 2012 Sox committed the fewest errors in the league (70) and had the highest fielding percentage (.988). They allowed only 30 unearned runs to score the entire season. Not coincidentally, the Sox won 22 more games in 2012 than they did in 2013.

What was baffling about the 2013 defensive slump was that presumably good fielders were major contributors to the malaise. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez saw his error total jump from 12 to 22. Second baseman Gordon Beckham committed 12 errors in 103 games after committing just 7 miscues in 149 games the previous season.

There's been a lot of talk about whether Beckham and Ramirez will produce enough offense from the middle infield positions. Personally, I'm more concerned about whether they'll bounce back defensively. For Hahn's plan with the pitching staff to work, they better.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sports Illustrated gives White Sox, Royals high marks for offseason moves

It isn't too often the White Sox earn praise from the national media, so I found it interesting Sports Illustrated gave GM Rick Hahn an A- for his offseason moves.

The Kansas City Royals were the only other American League club to earn an A- from the publication.

This offseason, the Sox signed free agent first baseman Jose Abreu, acquired center fielder Adam Eaton from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that sent pitcher Hector Santiago to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and picked up third baseman Matt Davidson from the Diamondbacks in exchange for closer Addison Reed.

The Sox also added free agent pitcher Felipe Paulino and fortified their bullpen by signing veterans Ronald Belisario, Scott Downs and Mitchell Boggs.

"Chicago still has questions about how much offense it will get at catcher and in the middle infield, but there’s no doubting that general manager Rick Hahn has had a very good winter," wrote Joe Lemire of SI.

The Royals drew praise for fixing their two major positional weaknesses -- right field and second base. Right fielder Norichika Aoki was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, and veteran Omar Infante was signed to address the issue at second base.

Kansas City signed left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas to take the spot in the rotation vacated by free agent Ervin Santana and also retained starting pitcher Bruce Chen. The Royals also picked up former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, who could form a platoon with Mike Moustakas, who has had his troubles hitting left-handed pitching in the past.

"Coming off their first winning season since 2003, the Royals effectively targeted their needs," Lemire said.  

On the National League side, the Cubs received a C after a mostly quiet offseason in terms of roster moves. The North Siders added starting pitcher Jason Hammel, relievers Wesley Wright and Jose Veras and backup catcher George Kottaras. They also acquired outfielder Justin Ruggiano from the Miami Marlins in exchange for outfielder Brian Bogusevic.

The main offseason news for the Cubs was the hiring of manager Rick Renteria, whom they hope will do a better job of mentoring young players than the fired Dale Sveum.

SI's Cliff Corcoran wrote Renteria's hiring is "a move [the Cubs] hope will prove to be their most significant of the offseason."

Who won the offseason in the National League? SI says it was the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending league champions.

The Cardinals earned an A+ after remaking their infield. St. Louis signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta and traded third baseman David Freese in order to move Matt Carpenter from second base over to the hot corner. They also added veteran Mark Ellis, who gives them insurance in the event Kolten Wong fails to earn the second base job. They also upgraded their outfield defense with the addition of Peter Bourjos, who was acquired from the Angels in the Freese deal.

"Thanks to their strong farm system, the Cardinals were able to have a practically perfect offseason," Corcoran wrote.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

White Sox bullpen roles still to be determined

Nate Jones
I don't expect the White Sox to make a big playoff push in 2014, but I've still been telling friends that I'm excited for the season. There has been quite a bit of roster turnover in the last 6 to 8 months, and even if the Sox don't do a lot of winning, I'm looking forward to seeing how GM Rick Hahn's offseason moves work out.

The changes go well beyond the everyday lineup. Another area of the Sox roster that enters spring training with a new look is the bullpen. Going into 2013, Addison Reed was the incumbent closer, and veterans Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain were entrenched as the primary setup men. All three of those players have since been traded -- Thornton and Crain left as part of midseason deals last summer, and Reed was moved during the offseason.

Holdovers Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom will again be a part of the Sox bullpen in 2014. The team also has added free-agent relievers Ronald Belisario and Scott Downs. We can't say with certainty which seven pitchers will make up the Sox bullpen on Opening Day, but barring injury, we can expect those four guys to be there. The question is, who will pitch in what role?

I've been asked my opinion on the closer situation a few times now. The general feeling is Jones and Lindstrom will compete for the job in spring, and I've been saying I think Lindstrom should get the nod. First off, the 33-year-old veteran has been in that role before. He saved 23 games for the Houston Astros in 2010. Secondly, Lindstrom is more of a groundball pitcher than a big strikeout guy. Lindstrom had only 46 strikeouts in 60.2 IP last year.

Why does that matter? Well, in general I'd rather have a groundball pitcher like Lindstrom start his own inning when he enters the game. If Lindstrom comes in with runners on second and third with one out in the seventh inning, he's probably not going to get you that strikeout you need to get out of the inning with no runs scored. In fact, there's a better chance he'll induce a grounder that leaks through the infield for a two-run single.

In those kind of situations, I prefer bringing a strikeout pitcher out of the bullpen. For the White Sox, that guy is Jones, who had 89 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched in 2013. When you need that big punchout with a runner on third and less than two outs, Jones is the best bet the Sox have.

So, if you agree with this line of thinking, you want Jones to "pitch in traffic" when the situation calls for it in the seventh and eighth innings. Then, you go with Lindstrom in the ninth to start his own inning.

At least I thought this logic was good, until I looked at the numbers.

Unfortunately, Jones has not pitched well with runners in scoring position in his career. Opposing hitters have put up a robust .311/.382/.494 slash line against Jones in those situations. So, even though he's a strikeout pitcher, maybe he's not so adept at getting that big K when you really need one. These numbers suggest Jones is actually better off starting his own inning.

Opposing hitters put up a .286/.340/.352 slash line against Lindstrom with RISP last year, which was not too far off from his career norm of .264/.350/.365. All in all, Lindstrom is an OK option for entering the game with men on base. Being a groundball pitcher, he is capable of inducing a key double play from time to time.

Belisario, another groundball pitcher, has the best track record of the group with RISP. Opponents have posted a .235/.363/.324 slash line against Belisario in those situations. The high OBP is indicative of Belisario's propensity to walk batters, but the .324 slugging percentage shows he's pretty good at keeping the ball not only in the park, but in the infield as well. Even though he doesn't strike out a lot of guys (49Ks in 68 IP in 2013), he's a reasonable option as far as cleaning up someone else's mess. He'll certainly have a seventh or eighth-inning role with the Sox this season.

Downs, in case you were wondering, has given up a .255/.363/.362 slash line with RISP in his career. As the only left-hander among this group of four, I'm sure we'll see him in the seventh and eighth innings against select left-handed hitters.

So, the closer question remains, Lindstrom or Jones? Numbers aside, I'm still leaning toward Lindstrom for the ninth. If for no other reason, if he racks up 15 to 20 saves by the All-Star break, maybe Hahn will have a better chance of flipping him for a reasonable prospect in July.

Right now, here's my educated guess on what the Sox 12-man pitching staff will look like:
SP: Chris Sale
SP: Jose Quintana
SP: John Danks
SP: Felipe Paulino
SP: Erik Johnson
RP: Matt Lindstrom
RP: Nate Jones
RP: Ronald Belisario
RP: Scott Downs
RP: Daniel Webb
RP: Jake Petricka
RP: Eric Surkamp

Here are a few other names in the mix for a roster spot:
SP: Andre Rienzo
RP: Donnie Veal
SP: Charlie Leesman

I figure Webb, Petricka, Surkamp, Rienzo, Veal and Leesman are competing for three open spots. Now you know which three I'm expecting to win the jobs. We'll see if I'm right in about two months.

In the meantime, who do you think should be the White Sox closer this year? 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Sox, Cubs add relievers

Content to fill out the back of their rosters -- perhaps because neither team anticipates any other major roster-reshaping moves -- the White Sox and Cubs have both added relievers on one-year contracts.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal. He was non-tendered by the Dodgers earlier this week. Because he has so little service time, the 30-year-old right-hander will be under Sox control beyond this season if they want to take him to arbitration.

Belisario brings speed (not that kind) with his mid-90s stuff, but the Sox probably most value his ability to keep the ball in the park. In his MLB career spanning 265 innings, all with the Dodgers, he's given up only 16 home runs. Without eye-popping strikeout numbers (6.5 K/9 last year) or exceptional control (3.7 BB/9), it will be critical he keeps getting the ground balls. His 1.57 GB/FB ratio is what drives his 3.29 career ERA.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.45 million contract. Another non-tendered player, the Cubs will control him next offseason if he meets expectations as a lefty-beating reliever. The 28-year-old has a career 4.37 ERA. While he does rack up the strikeouts (9.2 K/9 last year), he's often been beaten by the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in his career).

Wright just completed a season split between the Rays and Astros with a 3.69 ERA over 53 1/3 innings. The lefty reliever role seems to suit him as he's held same-handed hitters to a .231/.313/.342 line, compared to the .266/.356/.500 line right-handed batters have tagged him for in his career.

While neither of these moves seems terribly exciting, both the Sox and Cubs probably both got marginally better by aggressively courting players non-tendered by their former teams. In the case of Belisario, the Sox agreed to pay more than what MLB Trade Rumors estimated the player probably would have made in arbitration had the Dodgers decided to go that route to retain his services.

Now it remains to be seen if either player can be part of a surprising season for either team, or at least become and asset worth retaining or flipping at next year's trade deadline.