I'm firmly of the belief that Hawk Harrelson is mostly harmless, probably helpful and informative more often than not. The misinformation and confusing tangents are distracting and certainly coming at a higher percentage than most, but what's the point of taking time out to cover his every offense when everyone else is already offering theirs?
But his now years old campaign of trying to convince the world that relievers are actually the most valuable players in the sport is striking a particularly pernicious note with a White Sox fanbase that's already at its wits end with this pack of failed starters. The top two relievers at the beginning of the season (Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom) are both on the shelf, the mid-year sensation who claims the closer job after a wave of dominance (Ronald Belisario) has already lost the closer job. The young gun with potential to make a leap (Daniel Webb) couldn't hit a dead deer with a cow catcher, and the later innings are a lawless land ruled by potentially promising Jake Petricka, and Zach Putnam, who is likely still somewhat anonymous.
They stink and the walk the park around, but thinking of them as anything more than bad optics is misrepresenting where this team is at. The Sox are currently 43-47 after winning four out of five, and can credit their bullpen with 11 blown saves in 30 opportunities. That 63% rate is fourth-worst in the AL. The league-average is just 68%. Just two more converted saves would give the Sox an above-average success rate, and make them .500. Woo.
Give them the league-best 77% rate the Royals have, and the Sox would become...the Royals. The Sox would be 47-43, tied for second-place in the AL Central,and still needing to find another area to improve--even if they had the best bullpen conversion in the league--to find the back of the playoffs.
If we take it from a runs perspective...well, the 29% of inherited runners the bullpen has allowed to score is league-average, so not much to find there. The 150 runners they have inherited is the third-highest in the league, so that might be a clue of a better place to look. And while the relievers look extraordinarily bad and have the second-worst FIP as a group, they've actually been pretty fair as a group in terms of actual results.
The Sox bullpen as a group has a 3.78 ERA in 276.1 innings compared to a 3.72 league-average. They've allowed 4.10 total runs per nine innings compared to 4.04 total for the league, so they haven't been falling apart after errors. If we perform the same goofy trick where we give them the runs allowed rate of the best bullpen in the league, which isn't as good because there's ballpark considerations to be made, especially since the best team is the Mariners, we shave off 44 runs allowed from the Sox total.
The Sox currently have a -26 run differential. The change to the best bullpen would give them a +18, same as...oh boy...the Royals.
"It wouldn't fix everything" might be my single most hated line of defeatist, anti-progress reasoning, most often employed as a lazy excuse to avoid needed, but feared change like jettisoning under-performing players, delaying call-ups, and keeping on incompetent coaching, but when the argument is literally that the AL Central is a battle of bullpens, or that the Sox torpedoed their season by cheaping out--albeit strategic cheaping out!--on their bullpen, the answer is pretty clear.
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