clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 2014 White Sox's arguments against an eight-man bullpen

It's hard enough to find regular work for seven relief pitchers

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Enough with spring training optimism. Let's start with some premature panic.

Manager Robin Ventura stated during his media session on Monday at Camelback Ranch that the White Sox are considering taking eight relievers and one fewer position player when they break camp in early April.

"Yeah, we could," Ventura said. "We are pretty open to it right now."

Hey, if the game is a battle of the bullpens, then why shouldn't the White Sox carry eight relievers?

And while we're at it, how come they don't just make the whole plane out of the black box?

Both ideas suffer from the same logical flaw, and the line of thought presented in this Scott Merkin article isn't nearly enough to counteract it.

That extra arm at the start of the season could help starters from getting their pitch count up too high early and work toward keeping them fresh all season. In order for that plan to manifest, either Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez would have to win the second-base job.

Pitch counts and overuse are the last things the White Sox have to worry about in April, because they have three off days in the first two weeks. Assuming the schedule holds, Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana will probably make their first three starts on extra rest, and Hector Noesi and John Danks will have two of 'em. And that doesn't factor in the chance of postponements due to typically crappy April weather in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit.

I wouldn't commence the wailing and gnashing of teeth right now, because I'm guessing that creating this kind of uncertainty is just a way to make competition on the edges of the roster more lively. There's really no good reason to ever carry eight relievers. When there are that many off days, it's difficult to find regular work for seven guys in the bullpen.

In the event we do need to lobby against it, a case in point:

Gtm Date Inngs DR IP H R ER BB SO ERA BF Pit
80 Jun 26 7-GF(8) 4 1.2 3 1 1 1 1 5.85 9 44
July Inngs DR IP H R ER BB SO ERA BF Pit
94 Jul 11 5-7 14 1.1 2 1 1 2 0 5.87 7 25
108 Jul 30 8-GF(8) 6*
1.0 0 0 0 1 1 5.78 4 17
August Inngs DR IP H R ER BB SO ERA BF Pit
112 Aug 3 9-GF 3 1.0 5 3 3 1 3 6.11 9 42

That there is the game log of Andre Rienzo's July. Entering that month, the Sox had just demoted him from the rotation. Like clockwork, he made his first relief appearance on what would've been his starting day on June 26.

Then Ventura avoided using him for a full fortnight. It was easy to forget Rienzo existed during that stretch, except for the occasional game where his non-usage was conspicuous -- for instance, the 14-inning affair against Seattle that ended with Ronald Belisario throwing the last three inninings and 57 pitches.

The Sox sent Rienzo to Charlotte as the All-Star break approached, but recalled him when Zach Putnam went on the DL 12 days later. He was on regular rest when he arrived in Chicago, but Ventura didn't call his number for six more days after that.

In this particular instance, maybe you could say that Ventura just couldn't find low-leverage opportunities for a guy who was new to relief work. Or maybe he just didn't like Rienzo's stuff, but he just happened to be the seventh-best option regardless.

But this isn't an isolated occurrence, because several other Sox relievers went through their own dry spells last year.

*Daniel Webb went eight days without pitching in early June. While that was his longest period of inactivity, he also appeared in just two games from June 21 through July 9. Note the overlap with the Rienzo outage, which means that Ventura only felt comfortable using five relievers during a time where the Sox still had .500 in their sights.

*Javy Guerra also didn't pitch for eight days. That stretch came in August, even though he was unscored upon in 11 of his 12 previous games (OK, he allowed eight of 12 inherited runners to score, but still).

*Zach Putnam went seven days without pitching in late May/early June, and pitched just 3⅓ innings between May 27 and June 16.

*Maikel Cleto had two separate seven-day rests in mid-August, totaling just 3⅓ (terrific) innings between Aug. 8 and Aug. 27.

Ventura had trust issues to varying degrees with all these guys, but it's not like the eighth reliever is going to be any better.

We're all too aware of what it looks like when Ventura uses an extra iffy reliever at his disposal, and maybe that ugly finish to 2012 caused him to steer clear of the lowest-leverage guys since. Whatever the case, I'd rather see what he can do with a full complement of reserve position players. I'm sure that a three-man bench looks like an orgy of excess when compared to the one-man bench the Sox supplied their skipper with last year, but after two years of dealing with declines and dregs, Ventura deserves to be overstimulated.