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Walks working against the White Sox' plans for the bullpen

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Tom Pennington

The White Sox bullpen has been obviously been struggling so far this season. The bullpen has an ERA of 5.13 so far this season, although, to be honest, the starters' combined ERA of 5.07 isn't that much better. Looking at March and April over the past few seasons, there are a few things to be happy about, and one big, giant, bad thing to be very unhappy about.

Year BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
2012 1.95 9.27 1.46 39.4 % 14.1 % 2.93 3.85 3.44
2013 4.13 7.78 0.59 40.9 % 5.7 % 3.66 3.70 4.43
2014 5.75 5.75 0.38 55.0 % 4.8 % 5.13 4.37 5.00

We have noted the Sox' moves to bring more groundball pitchers into the bullpen over this past offseason.  This seems to be showing up in the 14.1 % increase in groundballs induced by our bullpen so far this season.  That groundball pitching is also probably is having an effect on the decreased HR/9 rate and the HR/FB percentage.

The decrease in strikeouts is a combination of factors.  First, getting groundball pitchers usually means you want the pitchers to pitch to contact and let your infielders do the work.  Second, the Sox' bullpen had been built around strikeout pitchers.  Getting rid of Addison Reed, Jesse Crain, and Matt Thornton and having Nate Jones on the DL is having the expected effects on strikeouts.

If you've been following the games so far this season, you probably don't need to look at the table above to know that the Sox bullpen has been giving up walks like crazy.  The 5.75 BB/9 rate is more than quadruples the rate of 2012.  Surprisingly, it's only 1.62 more than last season, but we know what happened last season.  The Sox have four relievers (and Leury Garcia) with a BB/9 of 9.0 or greater while Maikel Cleto is just a bit better at 8.22.

The White Sox bullpen's problems with the walk has been improving over the past few games.  Zach Putnam has been doing well, and Ronald Belisario seems to be out of his early season funk.  Scott Downs even got a lefty out last night.  If the bullpen can continue to work on the walks while getting batters to beat the ball into the turf, this crazy experiment just might work.  If not, look for the dumpster diving for relievers to continue at AAA Charlotte while the timelines to see MATC-Madison's Cody Winiarski or Kevin Vance in Chicago might be bumped up slightly.