Tyler Clippard’s White Sox tenure was amusingly brief, and yet I find myself a little sad to see him go.
I’d enjoyed watching him pitch, because I’d never seen somebody get away with such questionable changeup location. At first it seemed as though he was throwing hangers, but the more I saw him, the more his changeup looked like a knuckleball. He’d float them up and away to left-handed hitters, who had to know it was coming since he threw it more than any other pitch, but it didn’t seem to matter.
This is what counted for fun watching the White Sox bullpen before The Purge claimed Clippard while he was watching Game of Thrones. When it comes to White Sox relievers, Valar Morghulis, am I right, folks?
(No, seriously, am I right? It sounds like my last name and Ommegang used it for a beer, and that’s pretty much all I know about your little dragon show.)
Now that Clippard has gone the way of Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings, the bullpen stands a good chance of being an unregulated mess the rest of the way. Jake Petricka is the only White Sox reliever with a save to his name, but his last one was two years ago. Maybe another triumph emerges from the wreckage, but between Kahnle and Swarzak, it seems like the White Sox exhausted their allowance of pleasant surprises for the season.
Assessing the field, there are three relievers who I’ll be watching more closely than the rest, although the reasons have changed.
He’s getting all the jokes out of the way by taking three losses over his first eight MLB appearances, although none were particularly gutting. The hard-luck start only reinforces that the White Sox like him more than his draft status (19th round) or minor-league record would suggest. They invited him to major league camp before the season, they promoted him three times over the course of the season, and now Rick Renteria is deploying him aggressively -- three appearances in four games, followed by back-to-back appearances starting with a two-inning outing.
I’m trying to figure out why the White Sox are so enamored. I can see why they might be — 94 from the left side with sink and control is a good foundation — and so he’s worth the investment of attention by the organization. I’m just not sure why it’s coming in Chicago at this point in his career, but my mind is open.
He’s the last remaining White Sox reliever with an eye-catching strikeout rate. He’s fanned 31.9 batters he faced, with an acceptable 10.6 percent walk rate and .220 average against. And yet for the success in this arena, he has a 4.61 ERA, mainly because he’s allowed five homers in 27 innings.
It’s a performance reminiscent of Zach Putnam’s 2015 season. The strikeouts came out of nowhere, but it didn’t show up in run prevention, making it a novelty. Eventually Putnam found a middle ground and stopped giving up gopher balls to regain his high-leverage cred, although just in time for injuries to ravage his career. Minaya seems like he’s trying to navigate the same problem as he shifts from a fastball-slider approach to fastball-curve. The strikeouts will make his struggles more tolerable than the rest.
Given that Petricka is the only one with any kind of experience in high-leverage roles, he’d be the natural successor to save situations. Given his struggles this season, he’s probably the least equipped for them, because he’s worked just one clean inning in 17 appearances.
His defining characteristic used to be ground balls, but he’s only getting them on 45 percent of batted balls this season, which is nearly a 20-percent drop from his previous form. The strikeouts are up, but in large part because balls in play aren’t turning into outs. That’s reflected in the .373 BABIP, which is reflected by career-high line drive and hard contact rates.
Given the array of injuries he’s battled over the last two years -- hip surgery, strained lat, back -- he’s not short on reasons for a downturn in performance, but it seems like something that would ideally be explored and conquered in Charlotte, if it’s possible for him to do so. Instead, he might be working through the same issues in increasingly tough situations, which seems like a recipe for disaster. I’m hoping for a reversal, because he’s been through a lot and the White Sox could use the old Petricka, but given that he got by on brute sinker force before, it’s harder to see a second act.