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White Sox relievers auditioning, but not landing roles

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Increasing amount of candidates and blowouts makes it difficult to assess hierarchy

After months of getting thrashed around as Robin Ventura’s go-to mid-leverage righty, Matt Albers has only pitched once in September. His surprisingly eventful and unfortunately bipolar White Sox career is on track for a quiet conclusion.

He didn’t leave large shoes to fill, but it’s hard to tell whether any of the other White Sox relievers are capable of stepping into them.

Ventura is working with two bullpens right now. There’s a three-man unit with David Robertson, Nate Jones and Dan Jennings, the guys who are entrusted with close games in late innings. Then there are the other six arms, and that's pretty much a free-for all.

Part of that’s for a good reason — the Sox finally started providing some low-leverage situations for their less qualified relievers. They’re scoring 5.3 runs per game in September, which is considerably higher than any other monthly average (runner-up: 4.4 in May). Chris Sale has chosen to do away with the idea of setup men over his last six starts, while duds from James Shields and Jose Quintana aligned themselves with unimpressive days at the plate. The Sox could’ve used these more often over the first four months.

The other part is less encouraging: Robin Ventura doesn’t seem to like any of his options after Jennings, maybe because the two guys he primed to take over Albers’ role — Jacob Turner, then Chris Beck -- failed to seize the day.

When you look at what the pool has done, it’s hard to blame Ventura for not being attached. It also seems that, should the White Sox attempt to contend in 2017, they’re going to need at least one setup-type guy from the outside, even if you’re bullish on Zack Burdi and/or Carson Fulmer.

Let’s survey the field.

Chris Beck

As reliever: 2-2, 6.97 ERA, 5.85 FIP 21 G, 20.2 IP, 26 H, 16 R, 16 ER, 3 HR, 14 BB, 14 K

Last three situations:

  • Sept. 18: Fifth inning, down four
  • Sept. 15: Seventh inning, tie
  • Sept. 13: Ninth inning, ahead seven

Beck leads White Sox relievers in September appearances with nine, even beating out the lone lefty Jennings (eight) and Jones (six), who is their best reliever. His leverage index (1.04) is representative of Albers’ role, but he took the loss in two of three appearances in one-run or tie games, and wobbled in the other.

The weird thing is that Ventura started the month using him in close-ish games, but he’s made appearances in blowouts, too. Apparently the Sox just want to see him.

Tommy Kahnle

As reliever: 0-1, 3.27 ERA, 4.87 FIP 23 G, 22 IP, 18 H, 8 R, ER, 2 HR, 18 BB, 21 K

Last three situations:

  • Sept. 12: Ninth inning, ahead seven
  • Sept. 9: Ninth inning, ahead five
  • Sept. 4: 12th inning, ahead two

Latham’s Kahnle is in the opposite situation. Ten of his last 11 appearances have been scoreless and he’s stranded four of five inherited runners, but Ventura’s not in any rush to use  him. He’s pitched just five times in September, once because it was the 12th inning and Ventura had already used six other relievers (Kahnle recorded the save). By track record and recent performance, he should be the first option behind Jennings, but he’s largely an afterthought.

Jacob Turner

As reliever: 1-1, 3.95 ERA, 6.80 FIP, 14 G, 13.2 IP, 20 H, 16 R, 6 ER, 3 HR, 8 BB, 8 K

Last three situations:

  • Sept. 18: Seventh inning, down six
  • Sept. 3: Third inning, down three
  • Aug. 30: Sixth inning, down one

Turner’s appearance against Kansas City on Sunday was his first in more than a fortnight, which is a pretty abrupt shift in usage considering he threw 11 times in August. The Sox were probably intrigued because his fastball jumped two ticks after moving to the bullpen, but the swinging strikes are lacking. The number of unearned runs shows defense hasn’t exactly been his friend, but the FIP shows that his lack of swinging strikes is the bigger problem.

Michael Ynoa

As reliever: 1-0, 3.24 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 19 G, 25 IP, 18 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 0 HR, 15 BB, 24 K, 5 HBP

Last three situations:

  • Sept. 14: Seventh inning, down five
  • Sept. 3: Third inning, down nine
  • Sept. 2: Ninth inning, ahead seven

Before Kahnle started finding some success, Ynoa was the guy with the most substantial claim to a heavier workload based on results. He’s also the wildest guy in the bullpen with significant splits to left-handed hitters, which isn’t the recipe for continued success in tight situations. Another factor — the oft-injured Ynoa has already set a career high with 40 appearances this season (previous high 31), so the Sox might be easing him across the finish line.

Juan Minaya

As reliever: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 5 G, 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Last three situations:

  • Sept. 14: Ninth inning, down five
  • Sept. 10: Eighth inning, down two
  • Sept. 4: 11th inning, tie

Minaya joined the club on Sept. 1 and made his first three MLB appearances over the course of the his first four days on the roster. The last of those was on Sept. 4, when he threw a 31-pitch scoreless inning around a hit and two walks. Ventura has since eased off, although it’s not Minaya’s fault. He’s retired all five batters faced over the last 10 days, and on just 18 pitches.

Blake Smith

As reliever: 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 7.47 FIP, 3 G, 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR 0 BB, 0 K

Only three situations:

  • Sept. 14: Sixth inning, down five
  • Sept. 12: Eighth inning, ahead six
  • Sept. 10: Ninth inning, down two

Between Minaya and Smith, you can see why guys like Ynoa and Kahnle aren’t getting the innings falling to them, and why Turner can disappear for two weeks. Ventura seems to want to give the rookies early exposure, which is fine, even if it adds to the mystery.

Anthony Ranaudo

As reliever: Hasn’t pitched

Last outing: 4.2 ugly innings on Sept. 4, which the Sox won.

The Sox are apparently keeping him available for a spot start, in the event of a late scratch or a rainout.

It’s a largely unimpressive field, and one that can be rearranged based on the day’s priority — winning a game, or testing the player. The usage pattern says the Sox want to make a man out of Beck. I’m not seeing the upside with him that I see with Ynoa, Kahnle or Minaya, even if that upside is more just a recent lack of smoldering meltdowns. Either way, outside help will be needed if outside help is worth pursuing.