Three lefties is a crowd in bullpen

Interlopers like Gordon Beckham may try to steal thunder, but Thursday was all about the battery, as White Sox pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch. Although it's mostly a ceremonial affair a la the first day of school, Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams made their first attempt at figuring out who might be the fifth starter in April.

The one guy it isn't: Chris Sale. Obviously this is less than optimal from a standpoint of value, and not just because a starter throws far more innings.

Evidently, the signing of Will Ohman was never intended as Sale insurance. And Sale wasn't preparing as a starter because he might have to fill in for Jake Peavy in April. It was all a tease:

"The reason I had Chris Sale prepare as a starter is because that's what he has done his whole life.

"So if you now tell him to prepare differently, might you not see the guy you last saw in September? We want him to prepare as he did so we can expect the same guy to show up. That means using all of his pitches and building him up as a starter.

"He has shown he can transfer that to a relief role," Williams said. "Had we said he's going to be a reliever from Day 1, might he prepare as a reliever and not build his arm up and legs up? We want him to be the best guy we just saw."

And as far as Ohman goes, Williams wanted three lefties in his pen:

"I think many people may have thought the Will Ohman acquisition was to have a second lefty to then allow Sale to move into the (rotation)," Williams said. "But no, I wanted three lefties because there are a few players in the division that really get on my nerves and I'm tired of watching them run around the bases. We're going to give our guys the best opportunity to get them out starting early in the game."

Let me just start by saying ... this ain't efficient.

I can understand the reasoning somewhat. Back in the first series of the season against Cleveland, Ozzie Guillen used Matt Thornton in all three games. He went three-up, three down in the first two games, but the Indians tied the game off Thornton in the finale. He faced Grady Sizemore in all three games, and Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner saw him twice.

Thornton has faced those guys plenty in his career, and they all hit him relatively well. In fact, if you look at the top six AL Central hitters Thornton will be deployed against in 2011, he only has a track record of disabling one of them:

  • Joe Mauer: .381/.381/.381 in 21 PA
  • Travis Hafner: .222/.300/.333 in 20 PA
  • Grady Sizemore: .333/.450/.533 in 20 PA
  • Shin-Soo Choo: .316/.316/.526 in 19 PA
  • Victor Martinez: .313/.421/.500 in 19 PA
  • Justin Morneau: .111/.111/.111 in 18 PA

Of course, the common thread is that they are (or were, in a couple cases) very good hitters. These guys can hit just about any pitcher, and since Thornton throws fastballs 90 percent of the time, they know what's coming, and can lock in on one speed.

That's why it was such a big deal when Chris Sale made Joe Mauer look feeble, and that's why I figured Sale would find himself in the bullpen. Thornton is great, but he's very well known among his divisional foes. Sale is still a stranger, and with two off-speed pitches, it should take more time for hitters to figure him out. Having both of them in a bullpen should prevent situations like that Cleveland series arising.

Ohman, on the other hand, isn't going to scare anybody.

He spent the first half of 2010 in Baltimore, and that was only American League tour of duty before joining the Sox. Take a look at his splits and see if hitters were starting to figure him out by the time he was traded to Florida:

 

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS HBP SH SF IBB BAbip
April/March 12 30 24 5 2 0 0 0 1 5 5 1.00 .208 .333 .292 .625 0 0 1 2 .250
May 14 37 34 7 0 0 2 0 0 3 13 4.33 .206 .270 .382 .653 0 0 0 0 .263
June 13 39 30 10 2 0 0 2 0 6 7 1.17 .333 .447 .400 .847 1 1 1 1 .417
July 12 29 23 8 1 0 1 0 0 4 4 1.00 .348 .429 .522 .950 0 1 1 1 .368

 

As you might expect, righties bludgeoned him over June and July (.417/.516/.500), which makes those lines a little bit misleading when considering what the Sox want Ohman to do. Problem was, he was pretty poor against lefties, too at the end of his Baltimore career. By month:

  • April: .214/.333/.286 in 18 PA.
  • May: .158/.238/.158 in 21 PA.
  • June: .250/.357/.250 in 14 PA.
  • July: .294/.381/.529 in 21 PA.

As far as we know, American League lefties had no issues in facing Ohman. There are small sample size issues, but Ohman's career doesn't do much to offset them. There's a reason the Sox are his sixth team in five years, and unlike Thornton, he doesn't have awesome stuff that just needs to be tamed. He throws in the low 90s and has a frisbee-type slider. He will not make Mauer quake in his spikes.

Back when the Sox signed Ohman, I said that we'd need to figure out what they planned to do with Chris Sale before coming to a conclusion. Now that we know, it's hard to figure out what Ohman can actually contribute. Look at Randy Williams last year. Even though he was the only non-Thornton lefty in the bullpen, he still went 13 games without pitching at one point.

If the second lefty can remain seated for an entire fortnight, it stands to reason that there will be even less use for a third lefty. And if Sergio Santos maintains his significant reverse splits, Ohman would actually be the fourth guy you'd want to see against a lefty.

That's not a great use of a roster spot, and an even worse use of $4 million over two years. Maybe it will make more sense in 2012.

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In other pitcher news...

*Jake Peavy called his 40-pitch bullpen session "a good side session," building on the encouraging news of a clean MRI taken the week before. Williams said it isn't unthinkable that Peavy could be with the team in six weeks, but he's expecting a "blip" in his progress.

*Mark Buehrle did not back down from his comments about Michael Vick, saying, "Said it, meant it, it's over, and we'll move on." Kenny Williams didn't get involved, putting Buehrle's response in "the 'no drama for Kenny zone.'"

*John Danks has no issues with his open-ended contract status.

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Christian Marrero Reading Room

*Chuck Garfien says that A.J. Pierzynski wants Gordon Beckham to say "no" to more people. It's a good look at how Pierzynski balances his heel act while accommodating the media fairly well.

*Speaking of Pierzynski, he's trying to tone down the hype around Sale, based on Beckham's sophomore struggles.

*Still speaking of Pierzynski, Gavin Floyd is glad he's back. That's notable to me, if only because Pierzynski is probably hardest on Floyd in terms of his behind-the-plate mannerisms, but Floyd responds to it.

*Edwin Jackson wants to get No. 36 back, but Juan Nieves will need to be bribed.

*J.J. tries to figure out how the back of the bullpen and emergency starters will shake out.

*Guillen "can't remember the names" discussed as potential guest stars in Peavy's spot, but Scot Gregor's likely list includes Philip Humber, Charlie Leesman and Lucas Harrell

*James warns against extracting too much meaning from spring training performances.

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