Chicago White Sox: Sergio Santos
The biggest addition was made in the bullpen’s highest profile role as closer David Robertson was signed as a free agent for four years and $46 million. The signing bucked somewhat of a trend for the club, which has been able to develop its own closers for the past decade, from Bobby Jenks to Sergio Santos to Addison Reed.
Following Reed’s departure after the 2013 season, though, there was no longer a clear-cut successor for the job, which prompted the front office to chase the biggest closer prize on the open market.
Make no mistake, though, spending big on a reliever is always risky, even with somebody who has proven himself like Robertson did in New York last season. Bullpens are typically the most volatile areas of the roster, and even if Robertson pitches well for the next four seasons, he still will need help from other members of the relief corps.
While Robertson’s presence crystallizes the decision-making process for manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper, the team’s brain trust still must decide who will be called on to pitch the innings leading to Robertson’s final act.
Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam clearly were being asked to do more than they were ready for last season, but both right-handers accounted for themselves nicely in the closer’s hot seat. Petricka finished the season with a team-high 14 saves. Putnam had six.
That points both toward the setup role, along with newcomer Zach Duke, but there remains the possibility that all three would be miscast in that role, too. After the White Sox's shaky season from the left side last season, Duke came aboard for three years and $15 million, while Dan Jennings was obtained in a trade with the Miami Marlins.
Holdovers from last season include Javy Guerra, Maikel Cleto and Daniel Webb.
There are other intriguing options, including former White Sox reliever Jesse Crain, who is a year and a half removed from biceps surgery. He signed in January on a minor league deal. Another reliever returning from injury is right-hander Matt Albers, whom the White Sox brought aboard with another minor league deal.
And then there is Nate Jones, who could be back by July after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season.
While the White Sox clearly have shuffled the bullpen deck, the only question that remains is whether they added enough, or if their recovering relievers will be ready to help in time.
Outlook: The White Sox’s bullpen will be better in 2015, but that’s a given since the 2014 version was so bad. The bullpen’s 4.38 ERA only topped the Astros (4.80) in the AL. Petricka looks to be the leading candidate for the setup role, with Duke reprising the old Matt Thornton role as the late-inning lefty. Robertson has only one season of experience in the closer’s seat, but the fact that he saved 39 games last season as Mariano Rivera’s replacement in the Bronx would show what he’s made of. The White Sox won’t rush Albers, who is coming off shoulders issues, but as a ground-ball pitcher, the club will be curious to see how his stuff plays at U.S. Cellular Field. Carlos Rodon will be considered for a bullpen role, but because he’s so close to being major league ready as a starter, there is a better chance the club leaves the left-hander stretched out as a starter at Triple-A.
"I was talking to [Blue Jays president] Paul Beeston," Reinsdorf said, "and I told him, 'It seems every time I like a player, he gets traded.' "
One day later, Reinsdorf and the Sox said goodbye to a cornerstone of the franchise when pitcher Mark Buehrle agreed to a four-year, $58 million deal with the Miami Marlins.
"He gave us a chance to keep him and I'm sure he would've taken less money to come back," Reinsdorf said of Buehrle. "He just didn't fit into our plans. That's the thing. You can't let personal feelings for players stand in the way of letting the general manager do what he feels is right for the team."
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DALLAS – Exactly one year ago, as the winter meetings headed toward a close, the White Sox basked in the glow of re-signing Paul Konerko.
Flash forward one year and the White Sox are set to limp out of this year's meetings having lost one of the most memorable pitchers in franchise history in Mark Buehrle.
What a difference a year makes, indeed.
Seemingly out of steam Wednesday evening, Kenny Williams said he didn’t expect any more movement in the near future which, at the very least, would stop the bleeding.
Williams thought he was coming to Dallas with some quality goods with which to barter. Instead he loses two high profile pitchers and gets back a young pitcher that not many people know much about, including Williams himself.
On Tuesday after Nestor Molina was acquired from the Blue Jays, Williams said the right-hander was pitching well in winter ball. Later it was discovered that Molina hadn’t thrown an inning this winter as the Blue Jays shut him down to prevent him from accumulating innings.
To say these winter meetings didn’t go the way the White Sox expected is an understatement. Williams was asked if there was less activity than expected.
“Yeah, but not just from us,” he said. “I had gone into these meetings thinking these would be more trade meetings than free-agent meetings. I think it’s turned out to be quite the opposite.”
The Florida Marlins have stolen the show, including one of the White Sox’s most popular players.
“I’m always disappointed that we don’t get more done,” Williams said. “Even when we do get something done it always seems like it’s not enough. It’s just the nature of the business.”
As he sees it now, Williams says he doesn’t expect to trade any more of his pitching. But that could change if somebody wows him with an offer for Danks or Floyd.
“The price is high,” Williams said. “They’re pretty good pitchers, pretty good players and I’m not so sure people want me to set the price low. I don’t know that that would be too smart.”
With just one day to go in these meetings a report surfaced that the most popular White Sox player being asked for by rival general managers was Brent Lillibridge. That couldn’t have been what the White Sox expected.
“I think I stood in front of you guys when the offseason began and said we would explore all opportunities but not attempt to do anything unless it could bring a potential impact player back – or players,” Williams said. “That hasn’t come about and we are where we are.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world to go into the season with pitching that you like and position players that you like and you just hope a few of them will rebound. If we can do a little bit of both, rebuilding of the minor-league system and compete at the major-league level, that’s not the worst thing in the world. We’ll try to evolve from there.”
Asked Tuesday if Chris Sale would be considered to close out victories, manager Robin Ventura said the young left-hander will be given every opportunity to earn his way on the starting rotation.
In trading Santos to the Blue Jays for minor-league starting pitcher Nestor Molina, general manager Kenny Williams said the club was dealing from an area of strength.
That might be, but the White Sox aren’t necessarily swimming in closer candidates, especially when taking Sale out of the mix.
Matt Thornton got the job initially last season and struggled, although he wasn’t helped by some horrible defense and a startling number of broken-bat bloop hits. Crain was brilliant in a set-up role early, but wasn’t as effective down the stretch.
Addison Reed was impressive after being recalled late in the season, but he has just two seasons of professional experience and is conserved more of the closer for the future instead of the present.
Reed, though, appears to be in the same shows Santos was in last season. When the 2011 season started, Santos was asked to show what he could do in middle relief and his success propelled him to the closer role by May.
Reed is expected to start the 2012 season in the bullpen knowing that some impressive outings could quickly lead to more responsibility.
“You're looking at some young kids that will be able to have a shot to do it and try and make it work,” Ventura said when specifically asked about Reed. “ You feel like you have the talent there to do it and fill that slot.”
But even before spring training begins, Crain looks like the best bet to wind up with the closer’s job, although Thornton will be given every opportunity to earn back that role provided he isn’t traded as well this winter.
“I still think he's a great pitcher and he'll be able to handle that,” Ventura said. “Year to year to me isn't what they did last year, is really last year. So I'm going to give them a clean slate to be able to obviously show that they can handle different things and have another shot at it.”
Two days after his ninth-inning meltdown that allowed the Detroit Tigers to complete a rally from a seven-run deficit, manager Ozzie Guillen gave Santos another save chance Monday.
Asked to get two outs for a save in the first game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins, Santos walked the first batter he faced and gave up a single to put runners on the corners. When Luke Hughes hit a line-drive sacrifice fly to cut the White Sox’s lead to a run, Guillen went to Sale.
“When games are close, no matter who the pitcher is, if you walk guys you are going to be in trouble. But it was more a gut feeling than anything else,” Guillen said. “I wanted the matchup, I knew (Jason) Repko would be the hitter.”
“I would like to have stayed in and kind of cleaned up my own mess, but luckily Sale came in and shut it down,” Santos said.
Guillen is aware that moves like that can have a negative effect on a pitcher, but he had bigger issues to consider.
“I don’t take anybody out if they do their job, but if I leave Santos in and we get beat, then I got 25, 35 guys down,” Guillen said. “I have to worry about that, too. I have to go with my best guy and today to close the game that was Sale. I liked the matchup, that’s why I did it.”
Yet if a save opportunity arises in Game 2, Guillen said he would consider Santos if the matchup fits.
“It’s a tough game mentally if you let it mess you up, so I’m staying positive, believe in my stuff and looking forward to being out there again," Santos said. "I’m ready from eighth inning on. So it’s a matter of him making a phone call and putting me in the game.”
If Saturday evening’s ninth-inning meltdown nearly provoked you to throw a golf ball through your television, like it did to one Twitter follower, then you’re not going want to take in the next few paragraphs.
The ESPN Stats & Information department has put together some numbers that show how truly unlikely Ryan Raburn's game-tying home run for the Tigers was Saturday, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how hard it is to hit a home run, or how Raburn was an improbable co-hero for his team.
Of course, we all know by now that White Sox reliever Sergio Santos had not given up a run in 25 prior road outings this year (30 going back to last season) before Raburn’s home run. The 25-game streak is the longest to open a season in baseball history, as Santos passed Mariano Rivera's record.
It was noted here in early July that Santos’ slider was the top out pitch in the major leagues. When Santos threw a two-strike slider, he was pretty much invincible.
Well, Raburn’s game-tying blast Saturday came on a two-strike slider from Santos. It preceded a game-winning home run from Miguel Cabrera on a first-pitch slider that Santos hoped to use to get ahead in the count.
Before Raburn’s home run, right-handed hitters were 0-for-48 against Santos’ slider with two outs. Of those 48 outs, 43 were by strikeouts. Santos had allowed one walk on a 3-2 slider.
Opponents had swung at 58 two-strike sliders against Santos, missing completely on 39 of them. They had hit 14 foul balls off the pitch. Only five balls had been put into play by right-handed hitters on a two-strike slider from Santos and all of them were turned into outs.
Sure all good things come to an end, but this wasn’t just your garden-variety hit off a pitch that had been previously unhittable. This was a home run that tied a game. And it was a game that the White Sox desperately needed as they made a last-ditch effort to close in on their division rivals in the standings.
Of all the unexpected things that have happened to the White Sox, from Adam Dunn's struggles, to Alex Rios' uninspiring play, to Jake Peavy's rocky road back from injury, to Gordon Beckham's own offensive issues, the Raburn homer off Santos might have been the most unpredictable.
Maybe this was always the White Sox’s destiny, or call it the Tigers’ fate. Whatever it is, if you made it this far, now you know.
Santos gave up ninth-inning home runs to Ryan Raburn and Miguel Cabrera in a 9-8 defeat to the Detroit Tigers, and the slim hopes the White Sox had at catching the division leaders were all but crushed.
Ozzie Guillen had hoped to ease Santos into the closer role this season by delaying the steps in the process as much as possible.
When Santos started finishing off games in the first half, Guillen avoided dropping the closer tag on his right-hander.
It didn’t thrill Santos that Guillen allowed somebody to infringe on his turf, but it was the manager’s way of reducing expectations for somebody that was just in his third season as a pitcher after transitioning over from being an infielder.
Not that Guillen ever wanted to have an I-told-you-so moment, but on Saturday he did and it was clearly what he had hoped to avoid.
“It was just bad location,” Guillen said. “He just threw two bad sliders around the plate.”
When Santos struggles, it’s typically because his slider has failed him. It’s one of the most devastating out pitches in baseball. Without it, Santos can look handcuffed. He tried to find it, but the drives from Raburn and Cabrera showed that he couldn’t. Austin Jackson also had a triple in the inning.
“The one to Raburn I was trying to get in the dirt and get him swinging, but it stayed up and in and he hit it out. And Miggie just, I wanted to get a first-pitch slider over, and he hit it out.”
And that was that.
“I’ll re-evaluate the whole inning, go back to the at-bat with Raburn and maybe I go heater there or something,” Santos said. “Maybe it goes back to not letting guys on base. Going 3-1 to Austin wasn’t ideal. You want to get an out, especially against a team as hot as they are. They just seem to put things together out of nowhere and they’re just playing good baseball.”
There was never really a moment this season when the White Sox could say the same thing. Despite it, they hung around, until the Tigers took charge Saturday.
“I thought we played very well tonight,” Santos said. “Our bullpen kind of let the team down (and) being the ninth-inning guy, I let them down and it’s tough. The good news we put up eight runs and played well, so hopefully we continue that.”
How it happened: The Tigers finished off the White Sox’s slim playoff hopes in dramatic fashion with a two-run home run from Ryan Raburn to tie it and a walk-off home run from Miguel Cabrera to end it. The three runs Sergio Santos game up in the ninth inning were the first runs he allowed on the road this season in 26 games. Not even a 36-minute rain delay could slow the Tigers from a comeback after they trailed 8-1.
What it means: The White Sox might have four games remaining with the Tigers, but their 7 ½-game deficit is probably too much to overcome. The White Sox had this one in their grasp after early defensive miscues by the Tigers, but the usually trustworthy bullpen fell apart. Will Ohman, Chris Sale and Santos all gave up runs in the Tigers’ rally.
Outside the box: The White Sox fell to 2-3 to start their string of 28 consecutive games against American League Central opponents.
What's next: White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle (11-6, 3.05 ERA) will take the mound in the finale of the three-game series. He will be opposed by Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer (13-8, 4.52) in the 7:09 p.m. start from Comerica Park that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
The bullpen took over on Tuesday against the Twins in the midst of a three-run deficit. An inning later, the White Sox were leading by two runs and suddenly their preservations tactics were in demand.
When it was over, four White Sox relievers had fired 4 1/3 hitless innings as a potential defeat was transformed into the latest triumph in a five-game win streak, this one an 8-6 victory over the Twins.
Sergio Santos got his 28th save by pitching the ninth, while Chris Sale added two dominating innings. Even newcomer Jason Frasor pitched a scoreless inning. The victory, though, went to Will Ohman, who retired the only batter he faced after rookie starter Zach Stewart was knocked out of the game.
“I think our bullpen is one of the stronger things we have all year long, at least the most consistent,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “You talk about, in general, what they’ve been doing all year long. That’s a big part of American League baseball. You know you have a good bullpen, you always have a pretty good chance to be close to the game and win some games. A good percent of the time they do what they’re supposed to do.”
Santos has received the most chances to finish off victories, but he hears footsteps behind him.
“Everyone in our bullpen can be a closer and throw the ninth,” Santos said. “Sale’s done a great job, (Matt) Thornton, Frasor, (Jesse) Crain, Will and even (Josh) Kinney when he comes in. We feel that’s our strong point. We take pride in our bullpen, we take pride in holding leads and sustaining leads and we’re kind of going on all cylinders now.”
It didn’t start out as promising when victories were sliding away in the late innings of April. But all of that has resolved itself to the point that the White Sox can boast one of the better relief corps in the game.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Santos said. “We’re doing all the little things we need to do for guys to get into position to score and we’re bringing them in. Our bullpen and pitching are doing what we felt like we could do all season which is hold the lead and get some runs.”
When the White Sox right-hander closed out the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday for his 26th save he ran his streak to 25 consecutive scoreless outings on the road to start the season. That broke a tie with Rivera for the best ever.
Going back to last season, Santos has delivered 30 consecutive scoreless outings on the road.
A White Sox official waited until after the game to inform Santos about the accomplishment.
“I didn’t know there was a record,” Santos confessed. “I knew I hadn’t given up a run at all on the road. But it’s one of those things that just kind of happened. It just so happens I was pitching pretty good and it just so happened on the road.”
What might have gotten Santos to the record was advice he received from Rivera himself. Like he was at high-school homecoming and figuring out a way to ask the prettiest girl in school to dance, Santos wanted to pick Rivera’s brain when the team was in New York earlier this year but didn’t know how to break the ice.
On the last day of the series Santos finally approached his hero and the two chatted in the outfield during batting practice for over a half hour.
Most important among the questions Santos asked that day was how to deal with the pressure of the late innings with the game on the line. For the most part this year, Santos has looked like a cool customer with the game on the line.
“I’m lucky and fortunate it’s coming together,” Santos said. “I’m throwing strikes, which is my main goal and I can live with what happens if I’m throwing strikes.”
BALTIMORE – The way Sergio Santos sees it, the White Sox’s bullpen is like a boxer sensing the fight could be coming to a close.
“We can go left-right-left-right-left-right all day,” Santos said. “We have so much confidence in all of our guys that they can all throw in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth inning. There’s not one specific guy who is just good for [a set spot]. We can all mix and match and go out and get the job done when we have to.”
Handed a one-run lead in the seventh inning, the bullpen did indeed go left (Will Ohman), right (Jason Frasor), left (Chris Sale) and right (Santos) to finish off the 4-3 victory that was the White Sox’s fifth consecutive that came on the heels of six consecutive victories.
Only one Orioles batter reached base in that stretch when Frasor allowed an eighth-inning walk.
Sale finished off the eighth, getting the right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds to strike out looking on a slider that started so far out of the strike zone that players on the Orioles bench probably leaned back to let it pass.
“It’s a pitch I’ve been throwing to lefties a lot,” Sale said. “[Catcher] A.J. [Pierzynski] says it looks so far out of the strike zone and breaks back in. It’s been working and feeling good and I’ve been able to throw it for strikes. I have to keep figuring out how to throw it.”
Sale has been dominating of late, posting a 0.97 ERA over his last 27 games. In that stretch he has lowered his overall ERA from 6.48 to 2.75.
After getting his four outs, he turned the ball over to Santos who made it official with the one-out save on a strikeout of Robert Andino. So what was the bullpen’ inspiration Tuesday?
“I think we are feeding off our offense,” Santos said. “Our team just kind of seems like we are finally playing baseball the way everybody thought we would play coming out of spring. It’s just nice.”
And for that growing sentiment that Guillen is about to alienate his relievers by taking victories down to the end only to let Santos get the glory with a one-out save, nobody seems to be complaining about it.
“Everybody down there throwing the ball real well and you get to Sergio at the end of the game, and it’s game over,” Sale said.
Santos not only has a streak of 11 consecutive scoreless outings, Sale has a streak of eight. Santos also has 24 consecutive scoreless outings on the road this season and 29 dating back to last season.
“Our bullpen came out and shut it down,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I think that’s a big key in the American League in close games. Whoever has the best bullpen will be out there.”
This shows where Sergio Santos most frequently locates his slider when he has a right-handed batter in a two-strike count, an area in which hitters have minimal, if any, success.
One of the pitches for Thursday's "Baseball Tonight" is a segment on the best strikeout pitches in baseball, and Chicago White Sox reliever Sergio Santos' slider rates the best of the best.
ESPN's Stats & Information Group broke down its pitch performance data and looked at strikeouts by pitch type, compared to the number of two-strike pitches thrown with that particular pitch. A good "putaway rate" with a pitch is upwards of 30 percent. The major league average for all pitches is just below 20 percent.
In Santos' case, he's thrown the slider 101 times with two strikes this season and netted 47 strikeouts, most recently whiffing Royals rookie Mike Moustakas in the ninth inning on Monday. Santos' "putaway rate" with the slider is 47 percent (47 divided by 101). No pitcher in baseball has a better putaway rate with any pitch than that. The next closest is Braves reliever Jonny Venters, whose slider putaway rate is 44 percent.
The image above shows where Santos most-frequently locates his two-strike slider to right-handed hitters. Basically it's an untouchable pitch when he's in a favorable situation. Opposing right-handed hitters are 0-for-36 with 32 strikeouts when in a two-strike situation against Santos this season.
Lefties have a better chance to get a two-strike hit against the slider, but not much. They have three two-strike hits against the slider, but also have 15 strikeouts. In fact, though he doesn't throw the pitch anywhere near as frequently to lefties with two strikes, Santos' putaway rate with the slider is actually better against lefties (54 percent) than righties (44 percent).