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Closerless bullpen great for everybody - except the closer

Ozzie Guillen used Sergio Santos as the closer, but he never officially named him the closer. Now, Santos is finding out why:

Guillen wants to manage his bullpen.

This shouldn't be as unusual as it is across baseball, but it certainly caught Santos by surprise. He expressed confusion to Doug Padilla -- because he's not getting all the save opportunities -- and he did it in the way that really grinds my gears. And it makes me wonder why closers don't annoy their teammates more often.

Boilerplate quotes include:

  • "You would like a defined role and know when you're going to pitch and everything."
  • "It's not ideal but we have that luxury of having that."
  • "Once you have one set guy it's usually just defined there. Now it's: 'Is it you? Is it me?' That kind of thing."

Yes, Santos doesn't know exactly when he's going to pitch. Which means he's battling the problems that 85 percent of relievers have to deal with -- and Santos dealt with it last year. Everybody seems to survive.


Below is a chart featuring the six members of the White Sox bullpen, and the situation they entered over their last five appearances (beginning with most recent).

Pitcher 1 2 3 4 5
Jesse Crain 7th, down 1 7th, tie 7th, ahead 2 7th, down 2 8th, down 10
Jason Frasor 7th, up 4 8th, down 2 9th, tie 8th, up 1 8th, up 1
Will Ohman 3rd, down 7 7th, up 1 9th, tie 7th, down 2 9th, up 4
Chris Sale 8th, down 1 9th, up 2 7th, up 1 8th, up 1 9th, up 1
Matt Thornton 8th, up 4 8th, down 2 8th, up 1 9th, up 7 8th, down 3
Sergio Santos 9th, up 3 9th, up 1 9th, up 1 9th, up 5 9th, down 11


Santos might not have his paint-by-numbers role, but he has the roliest role of anybody: If he's going to pitch, it's almost always going to be in the ninth, and with a lead. He just doesn't get every lead yet, which leads to "confusion," which leads to me being confused as to why only one pitcher in a bullpen is enabled to expect that kind of comfort.

But hey -- expecting saves is part of being a closer, and Santos is new to the game. He idolizes Mariano Rivera, and it's going to be a lot harder to get to 600 saves when Chris Sale takes half of them.

That said, I'd rather focus on how Guillen responded to Santos' inquiry:

"I kind of let them know if it's a situation that goes by lefty hitters it's not because I worry or am afraid about what Santos can do," Guillen said. "It's just I feel more comfortable with that. We've been doing that for the last two weeks and it's worked out pretty good for us -- maybe even more than that."

This is terrific, and not just because Guillen isn't kowtowing to the save stat. Padilla deserves some credit for talking about multiple ninth-inning relievers without using the word "committee," which quickly turns into the Scarlet C.

Since the All-Star break, White Sox pitchers have recorded 10 saves (nine actual saves, plus one that Guillen made ineligible with a two-out pitching change). Here's what they've done in the ninth inning:

            10 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K

That's mostly the work of Santos and Sale, with a dash of Thornton in the mix. Does it matter if one pitcher is getting the results versus three? I certainly don't think so.

Everybody is doing what they are paid to do. The relievers are expected to record important outs -- whether they're the last three or in the sixth inning -- and Guillen is expected to use his intuition to deploy his pitchers accordingly. It's going swimmingly for everybody Santos, but the only sure way he'll grab a greater share of the glory is if his teammates start botching games. That's not a scenario that reflects well on anybody.

This one is much, much better, because everybody is maxing out their talents, and it's leading to wins. Hopefully Santos will realize that he's a contributor to a unique and successful situation, and not a victim of it.