Could Saves in the White Sox’s Bullpen Be Up for Grabs?

Alex Colomé was solid as the White Sox’s closer in 2019, going wire-to-wire in that role. He blew only three of his 33 save opportunities, but because he was short on strikeouts (55 in 61 innings) and had a merely good ERA (2.80) and WHIP (1.07), Colomé finished just 17th among relievers in 5×5 Roto value. Based on ADPs in NFBC drafts so far, that seems to be roughly where fantasy owners expect him to slot in among relievers in 2020. Colomé’s ADP of 160.0 places him 14th among relievers, so if anything, his 2019 performance has fantasy owners expecting a slightly better standing this season.

Many of us are likely to have some trepidation about any closer outside of the top six or so, meaning that Colomé’s ADP is not a sign of fantasy owners’ overwhelming confidence in him. Nonetheless, he is typically getting drafted ahead of Emilio Pagán, Brandon Workman, Hansel Robles, José Leclerc and Archie Bradley, so he is getting some respect. Also, no other White Sox reliever is getting drafted within the top 500 picks overall, as Aaron Bummer’s 586.6 ADP is the next closest. Colomé has engendered enough confidence that he is not viewed like Pagán, whose ADP is only 100 points higher than that of teammate Nick Anderson, or Mark Melancon, who is getting drafted 92 picks on average later than Will Smith, even though he is slated to be the Braves’ closer.

Could there be a reason to treat the White Sox’s situation more like that of the Rays? Should owners who are drafting Colomé be thinking about adding a handcuff option as well? What makes the Rays’ situation particularly volatile is that Anderson, while recording only one save in his 2019 rookie season (spent mostly with the Marlins), was one of the better relievers in the majors a year ago. So was Pagán, but he improved so vastly over his first two seasons that he could be at risk of regression. Also, Kevin Cash has shown he is open to being fluid with his relievers’ roles.

We haven’t seen that same managerial tendency to the same degree with Rick Renteria, but between the potential for Colomé to be worse than he was in 2019 and for him to have competition from his teammates, there could be some role uncertainty. As noted previously, strikeouts were not a major part of Colomé’s success. A .184 batting average allowed on ground balls and a .215 BABIP overall went a long way towards slimming down his ERA and WHIP, yet he had not been particularly good at limiting hard contact on ground balls (87.4 mph average exit velocity). What did help to lower Colomé’s BABIP was a stinginess with line drives (17.9 percent rate) and an ability to get hitters to pull grounders. Among pitchers who induced at least 75 ground balls last season, only Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas had a higher pull rate on grounders than Colomé’s 68.4 percent.

It seems questionable to expect Colomé to repeat either of these feats, as both his line drive rate and ground ball pull rate were far better than his career norms. However, if getting pulled grounders is indeed a skill for Colomé, that in particular could be key to his continued success. Last season, major league hitters batted .180 on pull grounders, as opposed to the .306 Avg they compiled on all other grounders. Let’s assume, though, that Colomé regresses towards the 59.9 percent pull rate on grounders he compiled over his career prior to last season. With a higher BABIP, and in turn, a higher ERA and a higher WHIP, Colomé will not only accrue less fantasy value, but he could also be more likely to blow saves.

If Renteria were to try a different closer, Steve Cishek and Bummer would be the most obvious candidates. Cishek already has 132 career saves, seven of which came last season with the Cubs, and he has a long track record of preventing ground ball base hits. Since 2015, Cishek’s opponents have batted .179 on grounders, and while few have been pulled (48.1 percent), not many have been hit hard. Over that span, he has the 18th-lowest average exit velocity allowed on ground balls (81.8 mph) of the 313 pitchers who have induced at least 300 grounders. With a 91.2 mph EV FB/LD over that same period, Cishek has been tough on flies and liners, too. By keeping the ball in the park and preventing hits on balls in play, Cishek has posted four straight sub-3.00 ERAs, so he would likely be solid as a closer if he got another chance to fill that role.

Bummer is even more reliant on ground balls than either Colomé or Cishek. In 2019, his 72.1 percent ground ball rate was second-best to Zack Britton’s among qualified relievers, and he gave up only four home runs in 67.2 innings — and three of those were at homer-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field. Bummer’s 2019 results, including a 2.13 ERA and an 0.99 WHIP, could be misleading, though. He, too, was a BABIP master with a .228 rate, but he allowed a lot of hard ground ball contact (88.1 mph EV GB) and didn’t get many pulled grounders (46.0 percent rate). Since Bummer has been pedestrian as a strikeout pitcher, with career and 2019 rates just below 23 percent, he absolutely needs to induce weak contact in order to be better than ordinary.

With Bummer and Cishek virtually off the radar in mixed leagues, there is little risk in drafting them late in deeper leagues. One more name worth tucking away is Jimmy Cordero. Like Bummer, he throws a sinker, but his is a little harder, occasionally reaching 100 mph. Over his 36 innings with the White Sox last season, Cordero led the team in SwStr% (14.8 percent) and O-Swing% (41.3 percent). In addition to being proficient at getting whiffs and chases, Cordero was also good at inducing soft contact, both in the air (90.4 mph EV FB/LD) and on the ground (82.8 mph EV GB). The well-rounded skill set he displayed during the second half of last season makes him a potential FAAB target during the 2020 season if Colomé hits a rough stretch.

As we approach spring training, though, there is little reason to doubt that Colomé will be the White Sox’s closer on opening day. If you do wind up drafting him, you will still need to monitor Cishek, Bummer and Cordero as well.

We hoped you liked reading Could Saves in the White Sox’s Bullpen Be Up for Grabs? by Al Melchior!

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Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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Good article.