Bullpen sorrows start on South Side

Thorn in Chicago’s Side

The White Sox finished 14 games over .500 last season thanks in part to a strong bullpen. Chicago relievers combined for a 3.73 ERA in 2010, which ranked fifth in the AL. The squad also blew only 14 saves, third fewest in the American League. But manager Ozzie Guillen’s all-too-public rant this week on the state of his bullpen has made it clear that this year has already gone very differently. Through 12 team games Chicago’s save percentage is a scant 14.3, worst in baseball. The six blown saves are already nearly half of the team’s total last year.

White Sox Bullpen
Past 2 Seasons

Which man is the biggest culprit? Closer Matt Thornton, who has four blown saves in as many opportunities. Thornton’s strength in 2010 has become his weakness in 2011, and that is eliminating batters with two strikes against them. Last year, the lefty converted 79 percent of two-strike at-bats into outs, six percent above the average player according to Inside Edge. So far in 2011 that number is hovering around 53 percent.

Of the seven hits Thornton has allowed in two-strike counts this season, six have come off of his fastball. It’s not certain who is the closer moving forward, but Sergio Santos is a likely candidate.

Other Staff Shining in Philly

Jose Contreras

ContrerasThe offseason was full of talk over the Phillies dominant starting staff. While that aspect is starting to come around this season, the bullpen has quietly posted the lowest ERA in baseball (1.93). Hitters have amassed just a .214 batting average and a miniscule .541 OPS, second lowest in MLB this season. The Philadelphia bullpen has kept at-bats economical as well (averaging 3.83 pitches per plate appearance which ranks among the top 10 in baseball). Jose Contreras has performed admirably as interim closer for Brad Lidge; he’s yet to allow a run in three appearances while collecting two saves.

He's Back

Brian Wilson has made a nice return this season. In a four-day span between April 12-15, Wilson earned three saves in as many appearances. He allowed no runs or walks, just a single hit and struck out four in those games. Wilson also utilized his fastball nearly 60 percent of the time and did not allow a hit off of that pitch. His velocity is a bit down, as in that stretch his fastball averaged 94.3 miles per hour (fastball averaged 95.7 miles per hour last season), but it hasn't seemed to hurt him.