The bullpen failed; did the theory that birthed it fail too?

The White Sox bullpen numbers certainly look like someone was applying a theory and wondering where it might take them.

They are best in the majors with a 52.3% groundball rate in a ballpark that heavily punishes fly balls. But they are also have the highest walk-rate in the AL (11.2%) paired with a strikeout rate (17.7%) that is only superior to that of the Twins, which barely counts. It's the lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio of any bullpen in the sport.

This was sort of by design. The White Sox had neither the reason nor the motivation to get into bidding wars over universally beloved high-strikeout guys, and instead stacked the deck with guys with plenty of stuff but scant strikeout numbers like Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom. 

The notion would be that in the relative bandbox of U.S. Cellular, these guys would quickly make up for all the extra contact by having nowhere near as much of it leave the yard. The Sox bullpen has the fifth-lowest homer rate in the league, which is very commendable given their ballpark, but again, not an extreme advantage that makes up for being BASICALLY THE WORST IN THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORIES.

First and foremost, this does not represent the design of Hahn's bullpen. He recruited guys who might otherwise seem unremarkable if not for their groundball rate, not terrible. If anything the walks have destabilized everything. The ideal pitcher for this system is Zach Putnam, who floats around average in every respect except a high groundball rate. Last year's shining example was Matt Lindstrom, who has struggled while his already paltry strikeout rate further collapsed, which has set the precedent of getting less stabilization than they hoped for.

Nate Jones--the firebreather who was counted on to try to make up for everyone else's strikeout issues all by himself--didn't pitch a healthy inning all season. Daniel Webb immolated minor leaguers with shaky control, and came up to the majors only boasting the latter issue. He has three pitches that flash plus, but can almost never throw more than one in the general vicinity of the zone at the same time. Any hope that Ronald Belisario, Maikel Cleto or Javy Guerra would unlock the secret to getting whiffs with high-90's heat has been similarly cast asunder.

In 2013, Lindstrom was successful but also provided a warning about building a full staff with his ilk. He could provide a clean inning, but inherited runners scored 10% above league-average on him because batters put balls in play off him and moved runners over. Having one guy who's best off starting with a clean inning is a foible you can mange around. A whole staff of them is a legitimate hindrance. The White Sox lead the league in double plays turned, but also have the fifth-worst runners stranded rate in the AL. There are other contributing factors to both, but neither seem like a coincidence.

The clog in the machine here is walks. Basically, no groundball-heavy approach is going to be able to sustain extra baserunners when it will already be giving up so many singles. Not only are the Sox not control artists, but they are the most gifted self-saboteurs in the league. There seems to some mild success going on with Cleto recently, but Webb's failure to develop and Petricka's wildness are an odd sight on a Don Cooper-helmed ship.

This may be the least talented pitching staff he's been handed in a while, and the Sox seem to have finally found the breaking point where they can still expect miracles to manifest from thin air. The best walk rate in the bullpen belongs to Ronald Belisario, if you were waiting on your cue of when to start crying.


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