The end of April and beginning of May were none too kind to the White Sox. After climbing a game above .500 and taking 3-of-4 from the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, the White Sox promptly dropped four straight to division rivals Detroit and Cleveland before ending their week with a bang, thanks to Dayan Viciedo.
The hot starts of some of the team's offensive pieces has been the talk of the early part of the season and was discussed at length in this space last week. The rub of those conversations is that they always end with a caveat. It's still early, small sample size, etc. We get it. There's still a long way to go yet, and April numbers are looked at more closely because they happen at the beginning of the season.
So while we await the eventual decline of the likes of Viciedo and Tyler Flowers, regression works both ways. The White Sox's bullpen started the season as an unmitigated disaster. Fifteen games into the season, the group sported a collective ERA of 6.38 and had the most walks of any bullpen in baseball.
A small sample size plays as much into the numbers of the bullpen as it does the hitters, and maybe more so considering the small amount of innings some of the relievers have pitched. Entering Sunday's game, the White Sox's bullpen had thrown the fifth most innings in baseball at 102.2. Those 15-game numbers were in less than half of those innings, so you can see where it would have been premature to freak out when they were talking everybody in sight.
In recent weeks, the bullpen has come back to earth and currently sport a 4.30 ERA as a unit, meaning they've shaved more than two full runs in 17 games. This past week, the bullpen threw 20.2 IP and allowed two earned runs while striking out 17. The week before, they allowed eight ER and struck out 19 in 25 IP. Surprisingly, FanGraphs says the White Sox's bullpen has actually been worth 0.4 WAR this season, which puts them right in the middle of the pack.
While run prevention has trended downward after a miserable start, the numbers that has yet to come back to earth are walks and strikeouts. The White Sox are still last in all of baseball in both BB/9 and K/9. Not a good combination. Going back to those last two week examples, the White Sox's bullpen walked eight in 20.2 IP last week (OK) and 15 in 25 IP two weeks ago (Yeesh).
Currently, three regular members of the staff's bullpen have as many walks as strikeouts on the season or worse. But while Matt Lindstrom (9:9) and Scott Downs (8:8) have looked better of late, the staff's most culpable offender is Maikel Cleto, who has walked 11 batters and struck out just six in 11 innings pitched. Cleto has been unbelievably lucky this year and still sports a 2.45 ERA despite those hideous numbers.
Other noteworthy tidbits from the past week:
- When a 29-year-old rookie is your rotation's most reliable starter, that's probably not a good sign. OK, so Scott Carroll isn't THAT good, but watching him perform well in back-to-back starts has been fun nonetheless. He has just three strikeouts in 13.1 innings pitched, so I'm not quite ready to anoint him the next Esteban Loaiza, but it's been nice for a spot starter to not suck once in a while.
- Speaking of sucking, is it time to start worrying about John Danks? Maybe that's an overreaction, but watching him walk batter after batter after batter over the course of his six starts thus far is getting more and more infuriating. Even his "good" outings, such as the back-to-back starts against Boston and Detroit where he allowed two earned runs total, saw him walk a combined seven hitters in 12.1 innings. He's up to 20 walks and just 21 strikeouts on the season in 36 innings pitched.
- Jeff Keppinger — remember him? — is currently on a rehab assignment and it sounds like he could be ready to join the big club before too long. Adding Keppinger will likely mean Leury Garcia is destined for the minors.
This week: 2 games @ Cubs; 2 games vs. Cubs; 3 games vs. Arizona.
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