By Andrew Welebir
Nobody would blame Matt Thornton for feeling like he just had bad luck last season. If not for two very early blown saves to start the season maybe things work a little differently for the flame throwing lefty. Maybe his confidence is running sky high and he goes on to have a tremendous season. That could have sparked Adam Dunn’s bat, right?
But what really happened is Juan Pierre dropped two fly balls in left field costing Thornton two early season saves. In return, this put more pressure on Thornton who saw his dreams of being a big league closer slip away. The White Sox would continue to struggle and were forced to adapt to the dreaded closer by committee. Players like Jesse Crain, Chris Sale, and Sergio Santos would take their turn and falter under the pressure. This group, along with the rest of the bullpen, ended the season with 20 blown saves which was thirteenth worst in the Major leagues. Not what former manager Ozzie Guillen or pitching coach Don Cooper had envisioned to start the season.
One White Sox closer stood out though during the 2011 season. Sergio Santos, a converted shortstop, found the most success in the White Sox bullpen. Santos finished the season with 30 saves in 36 chances and had a 3.55 era with 93 strikeouts in 63.1 innings pitched. Santos established himself as one of the top closers during the 2011 season. He was even touted by ESPN to have the top curve ball in all of baseball. His strikeouts per nine innings (13.1) placed him second among closers.
Santos was thought to be a staple in the Sox bullpen for at least the next five years. Santos had a team friendly contract and was quickly becoming a fan favorite in the city. Many general managers will argue that closers are a dime a dozen. This feeling is shared by one of the most respected GMs Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics. Beane’s strategy was to develop average pitchers into closers and quickly sell them off for prospects. So with a disappointing season and a need to cut payroll, Kenny Williams did just that and shipped the talented right hander to the Toronto Blue Jays. Leaving the Sox once again wondering, who will be the 2012 closer?
New White Sox manager Robin Ventura was asked who he thought should start the season as the White Sox closer, “Obviously right now where we’re at, were looking at Matt (Thornton) to do that(1).” But the comment made by Ventura caught returning pitching coach Don Cooper by surprise, “Who said that? Listen you’re giving me news. This is news to me(2)” Cooper continued to say, “I’m a believer they (bullpen) will show you who needs to be in there at that time(3).” It would seem the aforementioned need to communicate a bit more.
So what’s left is a big question mark, one that will need to work itself out in spring training. Ventura and Cooper have a list of veterans and young rookies who would love to break camp as the closer of a major league baseball team. Jesse Crain was asked if he would like a shot to close this season. “It’s something I always wanted to do. Something I pretty much did my entire life before I was in the big leagues(4).” Could this be the break Crain’s been looking for since his days with the Minnesota Twins?
Matt Thornton: This would be the obvious choice since he has been one of the premier set up men in the game. However, this really works against the White Sox since the only other lefty in the bullpen is Will Ohman who struggled to retire left handed hitters. Thornton deserves another opportunity and it would seem to be his to lose.
Jesse Crain: Crain had his best season to date in 2011, posting a 2.62 era with 70 strikeouts in 65.1 innings pitched. Crain had a little taste of pitching in the ninth inning last year, recording one save. He has the ability to close out games and would allow the sox to keep Thornton in his 8th inning role.
Waiting in the Wing
Addison Reed: Reed a 3rd round draft pick in the 2010 amateur draft pitched the majority of the 2011 campaign throughout the White sox farm system. Reed made stops at every level until finally making his major league debut on September 4, 2011. In 78.1 innings in the minors last season, Reed finished with a 1.26 era with 111 strike outs. Reed most likely will find himself easing into the majors as a middle reliever, but could fast track to the setup role if Crain wins the job. If both Thornton and Crain struggle Reed likely would be next in line.
If all goes wrong
Chris Sale: Sale was fast tracked to majors in 2010 making only 11 appearances in the minor leagues. Sale has 12 saves in 14 chances and has an average of 10 strike outs per 9 innings. Sale has a mid 90’s fast ball and also features a breaking ball and changeup. In order to stick in the White Sox rotation, Sale will need to battle the fatigue issues of moving from the bullpen to starting every five days. If Sale can’t fulfill that role he would be a perfect solution to the White Sox problems. But all signs point to Sale having every opportunity to start in the 2012 campaign.
“Mully and Hanley hour 4.” Mully and Hanley Show. Dustin Rhodes (Executive producer), Dez Gambino(Associate Producer), Craig Miller(Associate Producer),Mike Mulligan(Host), Brian Hanley(Host), Robin Ventura(Interview). 670 The Score, Chicago, IL. 27 January 2012.
2&3.“Mully and Hanley hour 4.” Mully and Hanley Show. Dustin Rhodes (Executive producer), Dez Gambino(Associate Producer), Craig Miller(Associate Producer),Mike Mulligan(Host), Brian Hanley(Host), Don Cooper(Interview). 670 The Score, Chicago, IL. 27 January 2012.
4. “Mully and Hanley hour 4.” Mully and Hanley Show. Dustin Rhodes (Executive producer), Dez Gambino(Associate Producer), Craig Miller(Associate Producer),Mike Mulligan(Host), Brian Hanley(Host), Jessie Crain(Interview). 670 The Score, Chicago, IL. 27 January 2012.