Doug Padilla recaps the White Sox and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.
The roller-coaster bullpen got off to a slow start, improved in midseason and then limped to the finish in 2013. The late-season decline can be attributed to the departures of Matt Thornton (traded to the Red Sox) and Jesse Crain (injured and then traded to the Rays), but closer Addison Reed also appeared to run out of gas at the finish. It was no coincidence that the bullpen improved this season when Nate Jones started to dominate after early struggles.
The good: Forget about Reed’s late-inning struggles for a minute and realize that the right-hander saved 40 games at the tender age of 24. Reed’s save total tied Bobby Jenks for fourth best in a single season in team history. Reed amazingly saved each game of the White Sox’s six-game winning streak in August, but that heavy workload appeared to catch up with him in September. Jones bounced back to show closer’s stuff at times. Free-agent addition Matt Lindstrom led the pitchers with 76 appearances.
The bad: Once Thornton and Crain left, the White Sox had their issues with a patchwork bullpen. Donnie Veal, Ramon Troncoso and David Purcey had to pick up a significant amount of innings. In fact, out of the 472 1/3 innings pitched by the bullpen this season 157 1/3 of them were pitched by relievers not on the Opening Day roster. Opposing hitters had a .254 batting average against the White Sox’s bullpen, with only one team, the Houston Astros, worse in that category in the American League. The White Sox also had the unfortunate juxtaposition of being in the bottom five of relief innings pitched, but the top five of earned runs allowed (210).
Who’s next?: The White Sox will chalk up Reed’s shaky September to a young closer feeling his way through his first full season in that role, but Reed did have plenty of time as a closer in 2012. It isn’t out of the question that Reed could be used as trade bait, with Jones getting first crack at the role if a deal goes down, but with so many things to accomplish this offseason, the front office might be reluctant to add a newly remodeled bullpen to the to-do list. Expect the White Sox to pursue a late-inning left-hander on the free-agent market to fill Thornton’s old role.
2014 outlook: Although Reed would beg to differ, the White Sox bullpen wasn’t as taxed as most in the American League thanks to a solid rotation that was able to absorb innings. Another year of experience should only help the late-inning duo of Jones and Reed. Filling the Thornton and Crain roles won’t be easy, though. September call-up Daniel Webb, who closed out the season with four consecutive scoreless outings that were all at least 1 1/3 innings long, is a favorite to grab a 2014 Opening Day roster spot.