Garrett Crochet hits another speed bump on fast track

(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)

Matt Thornton is one of four pitchers to make at least 500 appearances for the White Sox. The others are guys that parents and grandparents told their kids about, whether in front Cooperstown plaques (Red Faber, 669; Ted Lyons, 595) or merely at home (Wilbur Wood, 578).

Thornton is fourth with 512, and he made it into the 500 Club via a simple path: 96-mph fastballs from the left side for an inning at a time, usually against Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. At his peak, the four-seamer accounted for 90 percent of his output, and while a decent breaking ball would’ve helped him miss more bats and avoid the Thornton Luck that often reared its head in save situations, his fastball generated plenty of value by itself over his eight years on the South Side.

Statcast only catches the last year of Thornton’s career in San Diego, so we don’t know if we would’ve been able to point to spin rate or ride for the secrets to his success during his prime, or whether that well-located Easy Heat was merely such a novelty from the left side during that decade. Would Thornton have a career of note if he emerged 15 years later? Or does Thornton hitting 98 then means he touches 102 now?

These questions came to mind while watching Garrett Crochet‘s 96-mph fastballs suffer rapid disrespect from a last-place Pirates team on Tuesday. He gave up four hits over the course of 10 pitches — two singles on his fastball, followed by a bunt single on his fastball.

Why didn’t Yasmani Grandal call more sliders? Well, that’s the pitch that the Astros shocked for a lineout, a single and double over the course of three batters in the ninth inning for their walk-off winner last Friday. Besides, when Grandal finally tried the breaking ball on Tuesday, it was pounded through the left side for a two-run single that gave Pittsburgh the lead.

After giving up just one earned run over his first 20⅓ innings for a 0.44 ERA, Crochet’s given up six runs over his last 2⅓ innings. Here’s where we note that his FIP was 2.62 during those first 18 appearances, and now his ERA is 2.78 three games later. Some level of regression is to be expected, banal as that explanation may be.

The tough thing about chalking it up to regression is that I still don’t exactly know what Crochet should regress to. He was 101-sitting phenomenon when the White Sox called him up last year, at least until his forearm cried for help during Game 3 of the Wild Card Series. When he returned to the mound hovering around 98 in the spring, it prompted some questions about his condition, but he also still had the stuff to succeed.

But his fastball on Tuesday needed rounding help to reach 96, and the Pirates made it look underpowered with their reactions. Tony La Russa needed is willing to consider it a blip for the time being…

… and maybe it is, because Crochet is still trying to figure it all out. He just turned 22 two days ago, and he has just 26 games of professional experience to fall back on, all of which took place at the MLB level.

The problem is that “figuring it out” is already an immense task. It’s also one that might’ve become even more complicated in the middle of the season as Major League Baseball issued its foreign-substance crackdown in early June.

One can’t look at Crochet’s Baseball Savant page and draw easy conclusions about what he may or may not have been doing. His spin rate plummeted from 2020 to 2021, but that’s because his velocity also dropped, and they go hand-in-hand (see Carlos Rodón’s page for the inverse). On top of that, Crochet’s heat has fluctuated outing to outing, his slider has taken different shapes, and he’s also missed time with a minor back issue.

His spin rate is down from May to June …

… but there’s also too much noise to know whether this is a cause of his struggles or a symptom of his inconsistency, because the spin rate started its slide in late May. That’s also the time he started appearing for more than one inning at a time, so this could all be a manifestation of fatigue management more than anything.

There’s too much we don’t know about Crochet, which is the reason why I’ve been generally bearish about his ability to contribute across a six-month season at this stage in his career. If it’s a specific critique of Crochet, it’s only because of the forearm issue that bubbled up last October. The other doubts stem from the difficulty of the fast track. Chris Sale made it look like nothing, but Rodón and Carson Fulmer will tell you that it’s really damned hard to figure out a final form on the fly. Now here’s Crochet on the fastest track of anybody, with little collegiate experience, no time in the minors, and suddenly a midseason rule change to complicate things further.

It’s a little unfair to single out Crochet when Aaron Bummer followed him with his own brand of inconsistency, Evan Marshall and Codi Heuer have both faltered on and off from the right side, Matt Foster can’t rediscover even his mid-innings usefulness from last year, and Michael Kopech is eligible for the White Sox’s class-action lawsuit against their hamstring manufacturer.

Crochet only draws attention because his final form remains undetermined. Four of the five pitchers in the above paragraph are relief-only. Crochet might be, too, but when the White Sox chose this fate this soon, it’s because they imagined that triple-digit sensation from 2020. In his current form, Baseball Savant’s automatically generated list of comparable players includes 2021 Ross Detwiler. Crochet’s limited sample makes it hard to take such a specific pull seriously, but if Crochet is now sitting 96 and failing to miss bats in the zone, it’s probably worth taking any and all cues to reevaluate whether this is the future everybody wants for him.

(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)

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karkovice squad

You covered all the bases here. The big problem for figuring out what to do with him is that the 2 reasons to send him down are to either stretch him out or open up a roster spot for someone who’ll be more effective. This season, tho, they probably have a bigger need for what he offered over the first couple weeks of June more. It’s not even obvious that they have a better use of the roster spot without a trade.

That’s also the time he started appearing for more than one inning at a time, so this could all be a manifestation of fatigue management more than anything.

This probably deserves more attention, tho. He started getting multi-inning outings again right after they said they were going to limit him to 1 inning. They did give him 2+ days of rest between outings. And the results were there for about 2 weeks.

It’s hard to call this mere regression though when he’s faced 7 batters and only gotten 1 out over his last 2 appearances. The 3.16 FIP/xFIP don’t really tell the story of all the hard contact he allowed.

mikeyb

I wonder if there would be any benefit to just having him and Jace Fry go up and down from AAA every 10 days, while basically doing no live throwing at AAA. Two guys who have had injuries that could maybe use some extra rest? I’m not sure if the pitchers themselves would be too pleased about this kind of game playing, but it could be beneficial to both of them in the long run if it helps keep them healthy and functioning at a high level this year.

karkovice squad

Let’s not encourage even more exploitation of team control and option years.

Trooper Galactus

Not even sure they can do that with Fry any more.

Flitcraft

With the mid-season holes the club is showing, and some of the target names that people have mooted, it’s an interesting question whether Crochet should figure in the pool (shallow now) of tradeable assets for a 2021 upgrade.

I’m not trying to fob off damaged goods in a fantasy swindle. Other clubs will have a decent idea of how to value Crochet even if they wind up with some ‘maybe this, but maybe that’ in their estimates, similar to what’s discussed above. He could be a monster for years to come …. maybe.

Speaking as a Sox fan, I think it would sting like crazy to give him up. That’s what I mean by not fobbing anything off. Sox need help right now and of a quality that, to get that kind of return, what they’ll have to give up in exchange will inevitably sting one way or another.

If I told you Crochet would be an elite reliever for the next five or six seasons, say, but not this one, would you offer that to bring back a meaningful upgrade somewhere in the roster for the next season and a half (tweak hypothetical, consider salary, as necessary)? I think both sides of a deal like that would take a good long look.

Tossing his name out with no firm plan in mind mostly because I haven’t seen him mentioned much as a trade candidate. He probably should be if the idea is to get better right away.

WHITESOX_RIGHT_SOX

My gosh the injuries ????. At this point, in my opinion, it seems kind of silly to get rid of any prospects we have to better this 2021 club. Our entire OF and the best backup solution are on the shelf and not to mention our starting 2B. Can’t plan for this many injuries. If they did decide to move prospects or young talent, I’m probably in the minority with you here to ship one of the untouchables in the form of Crochet as the headliner of a package for Ketel Marte, but alas, he’s on the shelf with a leg injury as well! He was my favorite target for improving 2021 and beyond.

Reasoning for Crochet:
What is Crochet without that triple digit heat? We caught a glimpse of that last night against a bottom feeder. Couldn’t record an out. Straight 95 MPH FB not located well and a 91 MPH changeup with no movement…umm uh oh. Isn’t the first sign of a red flag this season regarding the concern. I don’t see that formula fairing well as a starting pitcher, which is the FO’s plan for him. Didn’t get to watch him throw against HOU as the series was black-out on mlb.tv, but that was also a favorable matchup against lefties and they also got the best of him. Velo continuing to drop is a foreboding sign as to how effective of a starter he will be since he’ll likely sit in the mid 90’s stretching it out. Kopech can do it because of the life he has on his heater and can locate pretty well with all of his pitches.

Hopefully I am wrong in my assessment and he becomes an integral piece of their future. I just don’t see it.

Trooper Galactus

Bad as the injuries seem, literally every one of our Opening Day rotation members is healthy and dealing, and only one spent any time on the DL. Meanwhile, literally the entire Indians OD rotation is on the DL right now. Everybody has their own problems with injuries this year, it seems.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

If he needs to figure it out it shouldn’t be in high leverage situations. Over his last six batters faced he’s reduced the Sox’ WPA by a remarkable 0.991.