COMMENTARY| The thing I love about you Chicago White Sox fans is your passion. I grew up mainly on the West Coast, and those fans lack the unbridled love that Sox fans show 365 days of the year. At the gym the other day I listened to two guys talk Sox baseball, and I could hear their burning desire to see their boys win another World Series title.
With the baseball landscape changing in 2013, that'll be a tough, uphill climb. But it's not impossible with their bullpen. If, and I hate using that word, they take the next step in maturation, the Sox pen has a chance to be one of the strongest in baseball.
I am not going to go into the prospective careers of Donnie Veal or Leyson Septimo, who last year were used mainly as situational lefties. I'm gonna focus on the other 5 guys: Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Hector Santiago.
Addison Reed is the closer, at least he'll be at the start of spring training. 29 saves in 33 chances isn't bad for a veteran, much less a rookie. His 4.75 ERA is bit of a red flag, but let's put that into perspective. Reed pitched 55 innings, but 13 of them were against the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins. His ERA in those innings was a whopping 12.46. In the other 42 innings, his ERA dropped to a nifty 2.35. His end of the season struggles could be a concern, as he did allow runs in eight of his final 14 appearances. But I think he just ran out of gas. The one thing I like about Reed is that he's low key. Talking with him a few times last spring, his demeanor never changes. If he is able to keep that composure as a closer, the Sox have a keeper.
Reed will be challenged this spring by Nate Jones. Like Jose Quintana, Jones came out of nowhere. We interview anyone and everyone in the clubhouse during February and March, and not until the end of spring did Jones come into focus as a guy to keep an eye on. All eyes were on him during the season and he didn't disappoint, striking out 65 in just over 71 innings. His season ERA was 2.39, but from August till the end of the season it was 0.92. Plus, his ERA against Central Division opponents was 1.11. Of course pitching set-up innings is great, closing is a different story. I'm not saying Jones can't handle the job, but if Ventura deems the closer position up for grabs, it should be an interesting competition.
Talking about closing being a different animal, look at Matt Thornton's success as the closer. In Ozzie Guillen's final year and Robin Ventura's first, Thornton has proven to be fine in any other inning other than the ninth. Thornton still throws in the mid-90s, so his career should last into his forties. But I don't think he'll stay in a Sox uniform. There were many times when Thornton came into the game and I was nervous. The left-hander's stats are going in the wrong direction. His ERA has gone up every year since 2010, while his strikeouts have gone down. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Thornton is moved in either March or July, depending on where the Sox are in the standings.
This is the final year of Jesse Crain's contract. In his two years in Chicago, Crain has been as solid in the Sox pen as anyone. He visited the DL twice last year, but the time in April didn't surprise me as his oblique strain was an injury he battled during the spring. Crain understands his role, doesn't complain, and gets the job done. What else can you ask for?
The last name guy in the pen could be Hector Santiago, but his status might change depending on injuries or trades within the rotation. Santiago was Mr. Everything last year--going from closer to middle innings guy to starter at the end of the year. He even spent a bit of time in Charlotte. Santiago's advantage is that he is the only pitcher who throws a knuckle ball. If that knuckler is working, watch out. When it is not, it is bombs away as shown by the five home runs he allowed in his first ten innings of 2012. For those of you who are pining for Santiago to be part of the rotation, let me warn you not to buy into spring stats or end of the year stats against teams going nowhere.
One last thing about the Sox is that they are not afraid to mix things up. Like Nate Jones last year or Boone Logan a few years ago, if someone stands out during the spring, the Sox will find a way to get them on the team.
Maybe this season it'll be Nestor Molina, Brian Omogrosso or Simon Castro. Either way, the Sox bullpen looks pretty solid.
Bill Mahoney is a freelance sports producer who has worked with the Chicago White Sox for the past 10 years.