White Sox: 2017 Bullpen Preview

In recent years, the issue for the White Sox has been their hitting, while their starting rotation has been their strong suit. But what about that other group? Yes, that one-the underrated unit that often can make or break a team, the bullpen.

Possibly not talked about as much because it’s been so average, it’s time to talk about the 2017 White Sox bullpen.

It’s hard to judge a bullpen as a whole, so I’ll leave it at this: the White Sox bullpen finished 17th in the majors in 2016, so they’re average. They have some great hurlers, and some not so great ones.

What it might look like: 

RHP Nate Jones

LHP Dan Jennings

RHP Zach Putnam

RHP Michael Ynoa

RHP Chris Beck

RHP Tommy Kahnle

RHP Tyler Danish

RHP David Robertson  (closer)

 

DAVID ROBERTSON (CLOSER)

Overall, it appears that David Robertson has been a decent closer since the White Sox inked him in late 2014,  with ERA’s of 3.41 and 3.47 in his two years on the south side. However, his high blown saves total has often frustrated Sox fans, which is why many won’t be depressed if Robertson is traded soon.

Regardless, Robertson is still firmly in place as the White Sox closer. With the White Sox, Robertson allowed seven blown saves in his two years. Compared to another closer with an ERA in the mid-3s, Craig Kimbrel, Robertson’s save percentage is signifcantly worse at 84 percent in comparison to Kimbrel’s 94 percent.  This could be a result of Kimbrel having slightly better cushions, but still, that’s something Robertson has to work on.

On top of that, Robertson has seen his outputs worsen in his two years. From 2015 to 2016, despite similar ERA’s, Robertson has seen his WHIP, K/9, BB/9, and H/9 all take a significant dip. I am taking this decline into account in my predictions for him this year:

3.88 ERA, 1.389 WHIP, 60.1 IP, 3.21 K/BB, 35 saves

NATE JONES (SETUP MAN)

There’s no question that Nate Jones is the gem of the White Sox bullpen. He’s in his prime, controlled for two more seasons, and posted a 2.29 ERA to go along with a WHIP under 0.9 in 2016. If David Robertson is traded, like some rumors have proposed, Jones is the likely heir to the closer spot.

However, like Robertson, he is a candidate to be traded to a contender for prospects, so it’s possible he could be dealt at some point in 2017. Until that day comes however, he’s still a solid arm in the pen to analyze. The main concern with Jones is his arm health, since in 2014 he underwent Tommy John surgery, and could not return until later in the 2015 campaign. Since then, he’s been lights out.

His ERA is very impressive, even for a reliever, but what’s most striking is his 0.892 WHIP from 2016. That’s comparable to star closer Aroldis Chapman‘s numbers the past few years. So although Jones isn’t in the tier of Chapman or Andrew Miller, he’s not too far away. I don’t see any reason to expect vastly different numbers for Jones, so here’s what I predict for him in 2017:

2.24 ERA, 0.910 WHIP, 72 IP, 5.38 K/BB , 29 holds

DAN JENNINGS

If Nate Jones is the diamond of the bullpen, then Dan Jennings is alexandrite, the closest gemstone of value to the diamond, according to Forbes. One could easily argue the opposite, since Jennings claims better 2016 and career ERA’s than Jones. However, Jones’s K, BB, and WHIP numbers are much better, so I’ll give him the edge.

Lieutenant Dan definitely deserves more attention, as although those secondary numbers are actually quite poor (1.429 career WHIP), he gets the job done with his stunning 2016 ERA of 2.08. While I’m tempted to project that those secondary numbers will finally drag down his ERA, his consistency reassures me that Dan just has a knack for keeping runners from crossing the plate. So here’s my 2017 outlook for the 29 year-old:

2.01 ERA, 1.381 WHIP, 60.2 IP, 1.82 K/BB

ZACH PUTNAM

Putnam is a bit of a conundrum. He posted a dazzling 1.98 ERA for the White Sox in 2014, only to see that drop to the ugly figure of 4.07 in 2015, and then back down to a solid 2.30 in 2016. Still odder, is that with his decline in 2015, he significantly improved his strikeout numbers, which doesn’t often correlate to a dramatic ERA deterioration.

Either way, his 2016 was encouraging until he was sidetracked by an elbow injury for much of the second half. So while it’s hard to predict the Michigan graduate’s stats, I think he’ll even out to somewhere close to his decent career numbers in 2017, like so:

3.04 ERA, 1.320 WHIP, 55.1 IP, 2.73 K/BB

MICHAEL YNOA

Michael is a very interesting case, Ynoa I mean (pun obviously intended). In the minors, the right-hander definitely improved, but still posted a career 4.33 ERA and a 3.90 in 2016. But when Michael the Minor League pitcher picked up the telephone and was directed to depart Charlotte for the big leagues in 2016, he transformed into Michael: Quality Relief Pitcher.

In 30 IP with the White Sox, Ynoa posted a 3.00 ERA to go along with a 1.233 WHIP.  Unfortunately, I don’t see him being as good as he was, given his far worse minor league numbers, but I do think he can be a viable option out of the pen. Here’s what I predict for the young Dominican native in 2017:

3.87 ERA, 1.392 WHIP, 53.8 IP,  1.95 K/BB

CHRIS BECK

Chris Beck is somewhat the opposite of Michael Ynoa. Average in the minors, Beck has failed to get it done in Chicago, as he owns a major league career ERA of 6.32. It’s hard to determine whether the White Sox will have room for him with young guns Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, and more waiting in the ranks, but for now he’s on the 25-man roster. I think Beck will develop, and near his minor league numbers, but won’t quite get that far in 2017. Here’s what that will look like:

4. 64 ERA, 1.519 WHIP, 48.8 IP, 1.60 K/BB

TOMMY KAHNLE

Poor Tommy Kahnle. He may forever be known as the one who gave up the winning run in the dreaded May 28, 2016 game in which the Royals scored seven in the 9th inning to defeat the White Sox in Kansas City. Lucky for him, the rest of his 2016 was pretty darn good,  and he might have erased the horrible memory attached to his name.

The right-hander earned a 2.63  ERA in 27.1 innings in 2016. Conversely, he also produced an ugly 1.5 WHIP, which was mainly the result of his insanely ugly 20 walks, as compared to 21 hits. While that ratio is worse than his minor league ratio, it’s still concerning. I think his more important numbers will move closer to his minor league averages, but I can’t see that walk number not improving at least a bit. The result:

3.21 ERA, 1.342 WHIP, 49.7 IP, 1.65 K/BB

TYLER DANISH

If we were judging just on MLB performances, Tyler would have received an F-. Fortunately for him, we are factoring in more than just his 10.80 ERA in 1.2 IP.  Drafted in 2013, Danish shined in Single-A ball, but struggled once he moved up the ranks. In 217.1 IP playing at the Double-A level, Danish has put up a 4.47 ERA and a 1.482 WHIP.

However, his Single-A numbers were so astonishingly good, that in factoring in those 42 IP, his overall minor league numbers are pretty good: a 3.57 ERA and a 1.331 WHIP. Unfortunately, the far greater workload at the Double-A level seems most representative of his capabilities. In turn, I think in the big leagues in 2017, Danish will put up slightly worse numbers than his Birmingham (AA) ones:

4.63 ERA, 1.4 WHIP, 44.1 IP, 2.31 K/BB

CARSON FULMER??

In limited action in 2016, Fulmer pitched dismally. As a result, I think the organization realized the 2015 first round pick needs more time in the minors. So while he may break spring training with the White Sox, for now he is still a prospect. Don’t panic, however, because in our upcoming prospect analysis we will definitely be covering Fulmer and the other pitchers who could join the White Sox bullpen in 2017.

 

 

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