Taking a look at the White Sox Bullpen

By Luke Stanczyk

Over the holiday season, the White Sox left a lot of presents under the Christmas trees of fans across Chicagoland. Since I last wrote on WCC, we’ve seen Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Kuechel and Edwin Encarnacion agree to contracts with the team. We also saw Luis Robert inked to a long-term contract, all but guaranteeing his spot to be in center field on Opening Day.

Now that the holiday season is behind us, you’ll see our White Sox content start to churn out again here at WCC. Thankfully, Rick Hahn continues to give us talking points, with the Sox inking Steve Cishek on Tuesday to a one-year, $6 million deal with an option for 2021.

Chicagoans know Cishek well as Joe Maddon’s trusty relief option over the last two seasons with the Cubs. He’s a guy who has been around for a long time and gotten outs wherever he’s been: recording a 2.69 ERA over 10 seasons, five teams and 562 appearances.

When you look at the metrics and advanced stats for Cishek, some regression is expected in 2020. He has always been a guy who outpitches his FIP, but last year’s difference between his FIP and ERA was astronomical (4.54 to 2.95). He also saw the worst WHIP and lowest strikeout rate since early in his career.

When I mentioned those things above on Twitter, Cubs fans were quick to point out that Maddon completely overused him, and if Rick Renteria doesn’t pitch him every darn day, he’ll be just fine. While that may be true, I also don’t find that to be comforting. Those innings were still pitched and have still counted up in Cishek’s arm. Also, with Alex Colome and a struggling Kelvin Herrera existing as the only two veteran bullpen options currently in the bullpen, what’s to say Renteria doesn’t overuse Cishek like Maddon did? We’ve never seen him manage a playoff contender like the Sox expect to be this season, so honestly, we have no idea what we’ll see from him in this regard.

Even with those questions, this is still a solid move. There’s no real risk attached here given the short-term agreement and the attached option. He’s a guy who has been there and done that from closer all the way back to the fifth inning. That cannot be disregarded as a true need for a bullpen lacking proven options.

With that in mind, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what the White Sox bullpen will look like on March 26:

Lefty: Aaron Bummer, Jace Fry
Righty: Alex Colome (closer), Steve Cishek, Kelvin Herrera, Evan Marshall

It’s not a group that’s going to scare anyone, but it is one that presents some modest upside. Bummer, in my opinion, is the best guy in this group and has a chance to be one of the better southpaw bullpen options this season in the game if he can continue to refine his command. Jace Fry also is young and looks to bounce back from a sophomore slump after a great debut campaign in 2018.

The right side is filled with veterans, none of which I’m terribly excited about. Colome had a great first half in 2019, but the regression many expected began to show down the stretch. Herrera was awful pretty much all season and the Sox are really just banking on hope he reverts to form at this point. Marshall was good in his first season with the club a year ago, but can he repeat it given his less-than-impressive track record at the MLB level.

I’d expect one or two guys from a group that includes Jimmy Cordero, Carson Fulmer, Dylan Covey, Zach Burdi, Jose Ruiz, Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr to round out the bullpen – all of whom are right-handed. Of all of those guys, Cordero is the guy I’m by far the most enamored with given this bullpen’s obvious need for a power arm. If he can wrangle that elite fastball he has (he touched triple-digits a few times last season), I honestly think he can be better than any righty I’ve mentioned in this story. Spring Training, though, will sort this group out as well as let us know if any Non-Roster Invitees enter themselves into the mix (a la Nate Jones in 2012). We also can’t put anything past Rick Hahn at this point, as he may not be done shaping this group.

Regardless, I doubt how the bullpen looks on Opening Day will be how it looks in September if the Sox are in contention. Remember, the Sox get Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon back later this season, which gives the team seven starters for five rotation spots. Some of those names will have to head to the pen, which will definitely strengthen that group. Also, you know Hahn’s going to try to bring in some more dominant relief options come the deadline if the standings warrant such a move.

So, while this group doesn’t jump off the page at you to start the season, I’d express faith they’ll work to get it right if they need to. I also fully expect that the hypothetical need will become reality at some point, as this team is ready to compete everywhere else. Buckle up Sox fans, it’s going to be a fun 2020. Let’s hope the bullpen is strapped in as well.

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