Guillen flirting with new kind of bullpen

With Bobby Jenks on the shelf, Ozzie Guillen has eschewed convention in the ninth inning. It's working now, but could this carry over into 2011?

Bobby Jenks has likely thrown his last pitch with the White Sox, and Ozzie Guillen might be showing us how he plans to proceed without an incumbent closer for the first time in his managerial career.
Matt Thornton closed out Wednesday’s 5-2 victory over Boston by retiring the last four Boston hitters. If you haven’t counted, Thornton has retired four or more batters in his last five outings, with two saves, two victories, and three straight games finished to show for it.
(Also to show for it — 7 2/3 innings, one hit, no walks, 10 strikeouts. He’s been awesome.)
Thornton isn’t the only guy who has been extended in Jenks’ absence, either, as Chris Sale worked a two-inning save on Tuesday.
For all I know, this might be borne out of sloth or apathy. With nothing to play for, Guillen just might not care to visit the mound that much. He’s basically the anti-Tony La Russa in this mode.
I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously down with it.
Most of Guillen’s brilliance with his 2005 bullpen was based off his usage of Neal Cotts, the lefty who was slightly better against righties, but could get either side out. Guillen took advantage of it. Before rosters expanded in September and Guillen had a third lefty to play with, Cotts worked at least a full inning in 31 of his 55 appearances.
With Cotts able to handle one batter or five of them, Guillen could pick his spots to deploy Cliff Politte and Dustin Hermanson — and later Jenks — and ride the hot hand as much as he could.
After deals with the devil expired and claimed the careers of Cotts and Politte, Guillen has struggled to find that same touch. I don’t think he’s a fan of specialists, but feels the need to carry them on the roster after some high profile failures.
Over the second half of September, armed with the two-headed left-handed monster of Thornton and Sale, and freed from reserving the ninth inning out of respect to a role, Guillen looks like he’s having fun exploring the studio space.
So much fun, in fact, that I wonder if the Sox will have to abort their plan to develop Sale as a starter. He has the stuff to start, because his changeup looks like it can be an asset, and he’s been tougher on righties without using it much, anyway. And while his delivery looks like it’s maximum-effort, the science of predicting mechanics-caused injuries is basically phrenology at this point.
But when you look at the shape of the 2011 bullpen without Sale, there’s a definite void. Thornton and Sergio Santos are fine and cheap. Scott Linebrink and Tony Pena are not. And that’s everybody under club control. Knowing that Sale is capable of working the ninth inning, transforming the bullpen and knocking all riskier relievers down a peg, and all for the league minimum, it’s going to be awfully tempting to keep him where he is.
With Thornton and Sale, all you need is a right-handed reliever along the lines of what J.J. Putz brought to the table this season, just in case Santos isn’t ready to take the next step. Three (or four) late-inning options and no deemed closer is a fascinating prospect to think about.
Guillen has already taken baby steps to take the mystique out of the ninth inning. Thornton has quieted doubters by going  8-for-8 in real save opportunities this season. His two “blown saves” were regular setup jobs for Bobby Jenks that technically qualified as save situations, making that stat as flawed as the save itself. Meanwhile, Sale went from starting games in college to finishing them in the pros, all in the same year.
It could be the recipe for a bullpen that could maximize a deep rotation. With (theoretically) few disaster starts, Guillen shouldn’t be at risk of overworking anybody. And a lot of people would see Guillen as a hero of sorts — somebody who isn’t a slave to paint-by-numbers methods. That kind of ingenuity would make him more of an asset to the Sox, or employable if the Sox go in a different direction after 2011.
It could also be the recipe for a media spectacle if it gets off to a slow start, which is the risk. “Closer by committee” has the same connotation as “quarterback controversy,” and while a lot of people criticize reflexive closer use, a lot of those same people will panic if the ninth inning is in flux. It’s similar to the way much of the media reacts to personality. Players are too programmed, too conditioned, too bland — until they’re too candid.
That makes Guillen the perfect guy to turn the traditional bullpen on its ear with some seat-of-the-pants, hot-hand managing. Guillen doesn’t have to try to hem and haw around “closer by committee,” just say “(forget) it — we’re all firemen.” Goodbye, 40-save guy; hello, three 12-save guys. I think the strategy would work, and while it might lower Sale’s ceiling, it elevates the chances of a team that fancies itself as a contender.
If it doesn’t? I’d applaud Guillen anyway, for playing strengths and trying to reshape what seems like a very silly, superficial method of distributing innings and money. But if others didn’t feel the same way, at least he would be dismissed for what he’s doing on the field.
*****************************
Speaking of closers, if Freddy Garcia’s White Sox career is over, he certainly ended it on a fine note. After seven innings of two-run ball, here’s a brief summary of what he gave the White Sox:

  • 55-31, 4.33 ERA in the regular season
  • 3-0, 2.14 ERA in the playoffs
  • Gavin Floyd

That’s four valuable years by Garcia, and two great trades and one great signing by Kenny Williams. More of these, please.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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onlysoxfaninboston

nice summary jim, ozzie’s handling of the starting staff and bullpen is his primary strength IMO. my preference would be for sale to start 2011 is the minors as a starter, but with no viable bp replacement in the minors, it’s going to cost more $$ that probably allocated to shoring other positions. what are the other free agent relief options that are similar to putz available this offseason?

onlysoxfaninboston

one last thing, does freddy deserve another eulogy?

pander

Did Bartolo get two?
(trick question I guess, I don’t think Jim was doing em the first time the fat one retired. I don’t think Freddy needs a eulogy so much as an exorcism, given the fact the first eulogy denoted ‘death’ in some respect)

fustercluck

He only eulogizes the Sox with rings.

dalton

What will it take to bring Putz back?

striker

I would actually consider Pena for a rotation spot. His best outings where when he pitched 3+ innings. This would also make Danks, Floyd or Jackson available for a bat.
I’d keep Sale in the bullpen another year.
If we non-tender Jenks, I wonder what the odds are of us extending Thornton.

knoxfire30

Thornton is a lock type A right now, so after 2011 he will probably be a type A again unless he bombs that gives us some protection against him leaving as a free agent, so the rush to extend him isnt huge, lets see how he responds to a closing roll first if thats what ozzie uses him as next year.

dalton

Hats off to Freddy. I was looking at his career stats yesterday at baseball-reference.com. He was, as I rightly recall, quite the postseason pitcher for the Sox.
“Ah, but his ERA this year was over 4.5. He’s garbage!”
He was an instrumental part of Chicago’s championship season and I have been blown away by his resilience in coming back from injury to reinvent himself as a pitcher and to have the success he’s had. I know W-L record doesn’t necessarily tell you provide a clear picture of a pitcher’s worth (hello, CC Sabathia), but I would hazard a guess the White Sox fared well in ballgames he pitched this year – far better than a lot of other teams did when their fifth starter took the mound.
Thanks, Freddy. And if we see you back here in 2011, you’ve earned it.

knoxfire30

This is why its still so amusing to me (and rediculous) that joe crede got a “day” for himself during his return to the cell with the twins. Garcia’s contrabutions DWARF anything crede did, so not only should he get a day but he should also have a statue put up!
Serious note, I love going with the hot hand in the pen, if you throw to 1 guy 2 guys or need to throw to 5 guys, lets do it. I see boston going to Papelbon in the 8th inning all the time. Get your best pitchers in the game for the longest amount of time.

bigfun

I’d like to see Sale in both roles next year, starting two-thirds of his games (either in the majors or minors depending on his development and Peavy’s status) and maybe relieving in the other third to control his innings and take advantage of his immediate usefulness if the team is contending.

David

I wouldn’t mind seeing Sale in the bullpen for another year… ie the Johan Santana approach. (I know the Twins didn’t invent it)
Keith Law has maintained Sale projects as a reliever due to the lack of a 3rd pitch. Perhaps another year in the pen allows for development time of a 3rd usuable pitch.
However, I have advocated shopping Edwin in the offseason with the hopes of selling high on his strong performance to close 2010. Too many holes on this team to spend $8 million on our 5th starter.
Moving Edwin, though, would force Sale into the rotation unless they wanted to give Freddy another spin. I’d be content to let someone else pay him.

knoxfire30

Sale has an outstanding Fastball, Slider, and Changeup, did Keith Law forget how to count?

alwayssox

in this brief posting, a scout compares him to Randy Johnson
http://blogs.dailyherald.com/node/4716

soxfan1

I’d like to see Freddy come back for another year. We could then trade another starter for a bat as was suggested above. Definitely leave Sale in the pen. He’s a perfect fit. If we can’t afford Freddy then trying out Pena as a 5th starter makes sense to me and, by all means, please dump Jenks!!!

pmj3358

If the Sox go the route of “closer by committee”, they should “manage by committee”. I have always thought Ozzie’s biggest strength was the managing of the pitchers, starters and relievers both. He clearly struggles with lineup construction (see: Kotsay, Mark; Erstad, Darren; Mackowiak, Rob). We should have two managers. Ozzie to manage the pitchers and some other guy to pencil in the lineup card. Ozzie loves him some NL ball to the detriment of the AL club. Let him make the lineup during interleague play, though. Play to the strengths.

striker

I like the closer by committee too. I don’t know why more managers don’t use pitchers for two innings in one game and the next game off. They’ll pitch them two nights in a row for one inning.

As Cirensica

I am not too fond of the doing it by committee approach. It usually translates into “we have a lot of so-so guys, so rather than having one solid guy, let’s have 3 so-so….for example, rather than having one Mo Rivera, let’s have three Tony Penas. Look at the “DH by committee” idea this year. Rather than having a solid DH (Jim Thome) we decided to have three so-so (I want to avoid the word mediocre) DH guys: A. Jones, M. Kotsay, and [insert] whoever you want (Teahen, Vizquel, Lilibridge, Viciedo, etc)…. so we end up having a so-so DH. I prefer an established closer (Whose name is not Bobby Jenks).

knoxfire30

well thats not the case at all, we have three studs right now in thornton, santos, and sale that will be available to us in 2011, throw in that jj putz could defintiely be signed back and it seems like we would have multiple good guys to rotate around

As Cirensica

I agree with you…well…sorta. I am still not sold with Santos as a “stud”. He has pitched little, and his last outings has been very shaky, and very wild for me to call him a stud. If we sign JJ Putz, I kinda feel comfortable without an established closer, but without Putz, then the need for a proven arm is genuine. Remember, Jenks is practically out (Whether we sign him or not), so we need a pitcher to assign Jenks workload…some 50 or 60 innings.

bigfun

The difference is that DH is a real position, whereas the idea of the “closer” is just make-believe.
So while having good relievers in high-leverage situations is obviously important, going after an “established closer” is what leads teams to overpaying for guys like Kerry Wood.

Shinons

Don’t guys usually express preference for filling a certain role though? To have an idea on when they’re going to be called on?

bigfun

Probably, but I think most guys are always open to being “promoted.” So its better to acquire underrated veterans or unproven young players and promote them to “closer” once they’ve proven they’re OK with high-leverage work.
Buying low on guys like Thornton, Putz, and Santos is a better bet than buying high on “proven” relief talent like Linebrink.

As Cirensica

I wouldn’t be surprised if the retirement day of Jenks is closer than we think…..or….maybe he can be the next Armando Benitez. When the Mets discharged Benitez, Marlins took him, and against all odd he was one of the best closers that year (2004)…then he faded away with Giants after that. I frankly don’t see Jenks as an elite closer anymore. As a matter of fact I don’t see him as a closer at all….He has that what you call “adreline”, but I think it’s more gained by experience. He still can close games out of experience although sometimes he comes in with electric stuff….but no always.

bigfun

“what are the other free agent relief options that are similar to putz available this offseason?”
A little early to say who will actually be available (e.g., don’t expect Mo to hit the market), but this is the list up on Cot’s Baseball Contracts right now:
Jeremy Affeldt SF
Grant Balfour TB
Jesse Crain MIN
Octavio Dotel COL
Scott Downs TOR
Chad Durbin PHI
Kyle Farnsworth ATL
Pedro Feliciano NYM
Jason Frasor TOR
Brian Fuentes MIN *
Chad Gaudin NYY
Matt Guerrier MIN
Aaron Heilman ARZ
Mike Lincoln CIN
J.J. Putz CWS
Chad Qualls TB
Jon Rauch MIN
Arthur Rhodes CIN
David Riske FA
Mariano Rivera NYY
J.C. Romero PHI *
Bobby Seay DET
Scot Shields LAA
Brian Shouse TB
Rafael Soriano TB
Matt Thornton CWS *
Kerry Wood NYY *

bigfun

Asterisks have 2011 options.

arrow

I like Balfour off that list.

whitesoxnation

A “revolving” team of closers? Is that what’s he’s looking at?
The revolving DH failed miserably. Ozzie has a habit of using every player as often as possible, that’s why Ozzie has a different line-up for almost every game.
Sounds like Ozzie wants to keep the bullpen as busy as the hitters.
Being a closer is a mindset. Using a team of closers right up to the last out of the game doesn’t set well with me.
I want the Sox to win the division next year and done the right way. None of this unproven “Mad Scientist” stuff.

bigfun

I don’t know, riding the hot hand worked just fine in 2005. This isn’t that different.
More recently, Joe Maddon has done this extensively for the Rays. They obviously have a “proper” closer this year but they’re not afraid to use him in the eighth and let someone else get the completely meaningless stat.

soxexile

I’m OK with Sale in the bullpen on the “learning the big leagues” plan, but I’d still like to see him as a starter long-term. The advantage I see in sending him to the minors as a starter, though, is to have insurance if somebody in the rotation goes down. If he’s in the bullpen, you can’t convert him so quickly, but you can certainly buy him a fast plane ticket from Charlotte if needed.
Of course, if he’s at Charlotte, Kenny will trade him at the deadline for Torii Hunter, but only if Hunter’s underperforming.

alwayssox

Congrats to Freddy and kudos to Ozzie as his being related to Freddy helped his signing with the Sox – twice.