Let me start off by saying this: I absolutely love the trade of Omar Narvaez for Alex Colomé.
Narvaez had a good season as a hitter. He showed about average power (good for a catcher) with a .154 ISO, and he was still able to reach base at a nice clip. That all led to a 122 wRC+.
However, according to Baseball Prospectus, he was about the worst defensive catcher in MLB, and terrible at framing. That is not good for a young pitching staff.
But what Rick Hahn and the gang got in return was an absolute steal.
Meet your new closer
After failing as a starter with Tampa Bay, Colomé quickly found himself as the ninth inning guy for the Rays. Starting in 2016, Colomé became the Rays closer, and was just about as good as a closer should be.
In that role in Tampa (2016 until he was traded to the Seattle Mariners on May 24, 2018), Colomé had a 3.10 FIP to couple with a 2.86 ERA. Over Colomé’s stretch as closer, he was tied with Brad Hand with the 26th-best FIP among relievers in baseball. (Over the past three seasons, including his time as a setup man in Seattle last season, Colomé had the 37th-best FIP in baseball.)
Colomé had 95 saves as a closer, and only blew 11 of them. He has the fifth-most saves in baseball since 2016 — and that includes 2018m when he spent more than half of the year as Seattle’s setup man. Just to put that amount of saves in perspective, Colomé, in less than two-and-a-half years as a closer, would have the sixth most saves, ever, in White Sox history, just behind Hoyt Wilhelm’s 98. In fact, the only other White Sox reliever with more saves in about two-and-a-half years as a closer, was ...
Now, Colomé is not an elite bullpen arm, but he clearly is a great addition for the White Sox pen. If he’s not elite, then why is he so good? Well, he does not allow a lot of homers, at fewer than one per nine innings each of the last three years. His K/9 has fluctuated a lot the last three years topping out at 11.28 K/9 in 2016 and falling to 7.83 K/9 in 2017. However, Colomé was able to tick it back up to 9.53 K/9 in 2018, a respectable mark. His BB/9 last season at 2.78, is also a respectable number compared to the rest of the relievers in baseball. Where Colomé stands out is the contact he gives up.
According to Baseball Savant, Colomé’s expected battting average, expected slugging, and expected WOBA were much better than MLB average last season. In total, Colomé gave up just nine barrels last season — good for 46th in barrels per plate appearance among all pitchers (starters and relievers). That really helps keep people on base. Colomé had a 77.9% LOB last season — not elite, but still above average, and something the Sox sorely lack in their bullpen.
Colomé uses only two pitches, a fastball and a cutter, and the latter is much better than the former. The fastball runs at about 95 mph and it has not dipped, even by .1 MPH, each year since 2016. Meanwhile, his cutter has sped up to 91 mph this past season, from 89.9 mph in 2017. Per 100 pitches, Colomé’s fastball was valued at -.29, a huge improvement from 2017, and his cutter fell from 2.05 value to 1.42, which is still pretty good.
The White Sox new closer is absolutely filthy.— Mike (@ChiSoxFanMike) November 30, 2018
Welcome to the South Side, Alex Colomé!pic.twitter.com/nZ6o4hoWRQ
Yeah, pretty good.
Movement like that helped Colomé have the 39th-best swinging strike rate among relievers (13.7%) and 29th-best outside-the-zone swing rate (34.%) last year, mostly thanks to the 13th-best cutter among relievers.
That cutter is just something else from Colomé. Last year was actually a down year for his cutter, compared to 2016 and 2017, with a .216/.264/.321 slash line. The 21.6% of the time the cutter was thrown, it led to a swinging strike, and batters chased it almost half of the occasions Colomé threw it. That cutter action helped Colomé to a wRC+ of 72 against his cutter last year. That means — well, isn’t this exciting — that every hitter looked like Adam Engel (68 wRC+) when Colomé throws his cutter.
That heat map sums up how dominant that cutter can be.
What does this mean for the Sox bullpen?
Colomé is the closer now, and probably will be in 2020 as well. However, GM Rick Hahn is apparently not finished, when it comes to the bullpen.
Hahn: "We don't think we are finished in terms of addressing the bullpen."— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) November 30, 2018
As it stands right now, that means Nate Jones and Jace Fry will solidly fill into set-up roles. The chronically injured Jones is not coming off of a great year, as he had his lowest K/9 since his rookie year. Also, his walk struggles continued, with a 4.50 BB/9 last season. Since Jones was the probably the default closer heading into 2019, his 4.56 FIP in 2018 probably helped sway Hahn to find a better option.
Fry should be the setup man, or the high leverage non-closer. Though his ERA did not look great, Fry had the 15th-best K/9 and 19th-best strikeout minus walk rate among relievers. He has had a tough time keeping guys on base from scoring, at just 57.3%, but FIP thinks it is more bad luck than bad pitching, as he has a 2.67 FIP, good for 20th among relievers.
Juan Minaya, though he probably will not be a setup option, is really the only other safe reliever in the current White Sox pen. He has become a reliable arm, with a 3.57 FIP last season and 11.19 K/9. Minaya still walks way too many batters, at 5.59 BB/9, but he has proven himself to be effective when his command is strong.
What the Colomé trade also signals is that Zack Burdi’s stock might be falling in the eyes of the White Sox. There were reports out of the AFL that he was still throwing mid- to low-90s. That’s the same speed as when he returned from Tommy John surgery toward the end of the 2018 regular season. The Sox even had to shut down Burdi halfway through the AFL campaign. It now seems that Burdi seeing action on the South Side in 2019 is not a foregone conclusion any longer.
If the White Sox continue to add MLB-worthy bullpen arms, expect some of the young guys with multiple options to start the year in Charlotte. Jose Ruiz and Ryan Burr seemed to be outside-looking-in guys even before the Colomé acquisition. Ruiz has two options, and Burr three. Ian Hamilton, though highly rated among scouts and fans, has three options left, and would probably be the next reliever sent down to AAA with further outside acquisitions.
Caleb Frare and Aaron Bummer are other borderline pitchers, but the White Sox would probably need to add a lefty bullpen arm to justify sending those guys back to Charlotte. Bummer has two options left, while Frare has three. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, the worst reliever among the borderline guys is Thyago Vieira, but he only has one option left and thus is probably safe on the 25-man roster even if the Sox add one more good reliever.
Whatever really happens this next month, especially during the Winter Meetings, acquiring Colomé kicks ass — do not let anybody tell you differently. The White Sox made a move to better themselves in 2019 already, be happy!
Also, hell yeah, Eloy!
Man, November 30th was a great day!
Now, go sign Yasmani Grandal.