Grading the 2021 White Sox pitching staff

To complete the grading process, which started with the previously-published position-player review, here are assessments of the 2021 White Sox pitchers. To reiterate some context from that post, these grades are more art than science due to the subjective nature of how much expectations for a player should affect their grade. My goal is to balance actual player performance against their expectations and probable role (both short-term and long-term) entering the season. While I may mention postseason performance in a player review, the grades primarily reflect regular season performance.

Per usual, I consider an average grade to be someplace on the C/C+ borderline. An ‘A’ is the highest grade and an ‘F’ is the lowest grade.

In the past, I used 25 innings pitched as the cutoff, but doing so this season would result in excluding two prominent trade deadline acquisitions, so I’m cutting everyone from Mike Wright on down, even though Wright threw as many innings as our first man up below.

In ascending order of innings pitched….

Ryan Tepera (RP): 22 G, 18.0 IP, 32.0% K, 9.3% BB, 1 HR, 2.50 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR

Tepera had a rough introduction to the South Side, as he blew a lead in his first appearance and was booed off the field. After that, however, he was arguably the bullpen’s most reliable non-Hendriks reliever. He brought it in the postseason as well, providing much-needed pitching stability to the only game the White Sox won. Entering the trade deadline, I was concerned that Tepera would be the only move that the White Sox would make. If only that were the case. Grade: B+

Craig Kimbrel (RP): 24 G, 23.0 IP, 36.7% K, 10.2% BB, 5 HR, 5.09 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 0.0 fWAR, 0.0 bWAR

Kimbrel will somehow go down as only Rick Hahn’s third-biggest trade disaster to-date, though this one is eminently forgivable. This was the sort of big trade deadline play that the Sox needed to make, and there wasn’t anything to suggest a collapse was imminent. While a little wildness was expected from Kimbrel, it was tough to watch when paired with Seby Zavala‘s poor pitch blocking skills and Yasmani Grandal‘s hobbled knees. The truly unacceptable part of Kimbrel’s line, however, were the home runs, which came at damaging moments. The hard contact was too frequent to really trust him in the postseason. Tony La Russa did anyway. Grade: F

Evan Marshall (RP): 27 G, 27.1 IP, 23.0% K, 8.0% BB, 5 HR, 5.60 ERA, 4.63 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, -0.2 bWAR

You’d be forgiven if you forgot Marshall was part of the 2021 White Sox. Before succumbing to a UCL injury in late June, Marshall just wasn’t the same guy he was the past two seasons. In 2019 and 2020, he had fashioned his changeup into an elite pitch, but this season, opponents slugged .667 against it. There’s not much here if the changeup’s not working, and the White Sox will have a decision to make regarding bringing Marshall back next year. He figures to be a cheap sign in his third year of arbitration and the Sox will have to decide whether he’s likely to get his mojo back. Grade: D-

Ryan Burr (RP): 34 G, 36.2 IP, 21.9% K, 13.9% BB, 3 HR, 2.45 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 0.2 fWAR, 1.1 bWAR

Did Ryan Burr break out like he predicted he would? He was arguably a net positive in the Sox bullpen, and that makes for a pretty strong year for a fringe roster guy. Burr featured his usual combination of too many walks and an underwhelming number of strikeouts, but he had a new weapon at his disposal this season: the ground ball. Improbably, 65% of Burr’s four-seamers were beat into the ground this season, which actually exceeds the 50% mark posted by his diving cutter and slider. There’s worse ideas than seeing if those rates can stick. Grade: B-

Codi Heuer (RP): 40 G, 38.2 IP, 23.5% K, 6.0% BB, 5 HR, 5.12 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 0.0 bWAR

One of the bigger surprises I found looking into Heuer’s numbers was the +0.93 Win Probability Added, because my emotional gut-reaction to his season was that he disappointed. On April 12 against Cleveland, he threw 2⅓ one-hit, four-strikeout innings in a tie game to let the Sox win it in the bottom of the 9th. In a seven-inning May 29 game against Baltimore, Aaron Bummer loaded the bases in the sixth with no one out and the Sox up three. Heuer came in and held them to just one run to help the Sox seal the win.

What? His inconsistency is the Cubs’ problem now. We might as well remember the times that were good. Grade: C-

Matt Foster (RP): 37 G, 39.0 IP, 23.0% K, 7.5% BB, 9 HR, 6.00 ERA, 5.27 FIP, -0.1 fWAR, -0.4 bWAR

Oh, the fickle nature of middle relievers. The White Sox bullpen underperformed lead-holding expectations, and Foster was one of the chief culprits. He looked like an important cog in the relief corps in 2020, but got absolutely blasted in 2021. After dominating hitters with his changeup and slider last season, hitters slugged .705 and .636 (respectively) off of those pitches this year. Foster’s upside from 2020 probably gives him an inside track to be a roster yo-yo again next year, but that’s about it. Grade: F

Garrett Crochet (RP): 54 G, 54.1 IP, 28.3% K, 11.7% BB, 2 HR, 2.82 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.3 fWAR, 1.3 bWAR

Of all the pitchers on this list, Crochet probably possesses the greatest difference between perceived performance and aggregate metrics. Part of that has to do with his reduced velocity, which dropped his effectiveness to merely “pretty good” when he was basically a cheat code last season. Further tarnishing the perception is that his season was (essentially) bookended by a couple of 10th-inning breakdowns near the start of the season and failing in two postseason appearances at the end of it.

In between, the ride was weird for the former first-rounder. There was a stretch early in the year when La Russa relegated Crochet to mop-up duty for some reason, despite strong numbers. Crochet had multiple stretches of dominance, but struggled with control occasionally after not walking a single batter in his six innings last season. Another area of concern is that his 4.0% HR/FB rate does not seem sustainable. Heading into 2022, it’s a mystery who Crochet will be and how the White Sox will use him. However, it does unfortunately seem like the monster from 2020 is gone. Grade: B+

Aaron Bummer (RP): 62 G, 56.1 IP, 31.0% K, 12.0% BB, 3 HR, 3.51 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 1.2 fWAR, 0.5 bWAR

As Hawk Harrelson might have said, “If Bummer didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all.” The above stats, coupled with an absurd 76.1 percent ground ball rate (by far the best in baseball), resulted in a -0.68 Win Probability Added season. In 2021, Bummer induced just five ground ball double plays and allowed five singles on what I’ll call “dribblers” — ground balls under 65 mph that initially land within five feet of the plate. In 2019, Bummer got 15 double plays and yielded zero singles on dribblers. There wasn’t anything wrong with him this season, he was just unable to consistently get good results on his typically-excellent contact profile. The White Sox would do well to review whether infield positioning contributed to the lack of double plays. Grade: B

Reynaldo López (SP/RP): 20 G, 57.2 IP, 24.8% K, 5.9% BB, 10 HR, 3.43 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 0.7 fWAR, 0.9 bWAR

In the spring, López had surgery on his corneas to fix blurred vision. The “finally he could actually see the strike zone” jokes basically write themselves. López’ control was better than it’s ever been in 2021, and while homers still got to him, the reduced free passes helped him to limit the damage. What’s crazy about this strong performance was how it came from seemingly out of nowhere. López was actually quite bad for a month and a half after returning from the eye surgery, and there wasn’t much to suggest he’d be good upon getting promoted to the majors besides two good starts out of his final three at Charlotte. I guess the only thing predictable about baseball is that it will keep surprising you. Grade: B+

José Ruiz (RP): 59 G, 65.0 IP, 23.2% K, 9.2% BB, 8 HR, 3.05 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 1.1 bWAR

Those numbers for Ruiz look pretty darn good until you put some context in there.

Ruiz was as tough as they come with the game out of hand. That gave Tony La Russa some understandable temptation to try him out in situations that matter, but that did not go well, and Ruiz’ final Win Probability Added was -1.09. When assigned mop-up duty, Ruiz could be trusted to prevent additional pitchers from being necessary to finish a game. At least that’s more than he used to give us. Grade: C

Michael Kopech (SP/RP): 44 G, 69.1 IP, 36.1% K, 8.4% BB, 9 HR, 3.50 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 1.7 fWAR, 1.3 bWAR

Over half of Kopech’s earned runs came in just three appearances, none of which were starts. Those three blowups aside, Kopech’s first full season was characterized by spellbinding dominance. Folks with eyes on Kopech as a future starter will be encouraged that he allowed just three runs in 14 innings across four starts, and opposing hitters managed just a sickly .467 OPS against him in those outings. In a setup role, Kopech was arguably La Russa’s most reliable weapon to get the game to Liam Hendriks. Perhaps the best news from Kopech’s season is that he made it through without any arm trouble (though as a true member of the 2021 White Sox, he did miss time with the obligatory hamstring injury). That in of itself is a success as well. Grade: A-

Liam Hendriks (RP): 69 G, 71.0 IP, 42.3% K, 2.6% BB, 11 HR, 2.54 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 2.7 fWAR, 2.6 bWAR

Predictably, in swapping in Liam Hendriks for Alex Colome, the White Sox got a vastly better pitcher and a downturn in results. Colome’s save percentages in a White Sox uniform were unassailable, but also unsustainable (as the Minnesota Twins learned). We were likely going to have to get used to a save being blown here or there, and sure enough, Hendriks coughed up the lead six times and lost a few games when coming in with the score tied. As a result, he finished just 30th among relievers in Win Probability Added despite leading the American League in both saves and reliever fWAR (I mean, just LOOK at that K/BB ratio!). The main culprit was ill-timed home runs, which were not an issue for him in 2019 and 2020. Still, Hendriks is an extremely good relief pitcher, and the Sox largely got what they paid for. Grade: A-

Carlos Rodón (SP): 24 G, 132.2 IP, 34.6% K, 6.7% BB, 13 HR, 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 4.9 fWAR, 5.1 bWAR

Are you kidding me? Rodón entered the season as an uninspiring retread solution to the White Sox’ fifth starter problem. He ended it as a guy who could be in the Cy Young conversation had the White Sox not had good reason to manage his workload. Rodón finally displayed the upside befitting a number-three overall pick, and it helped greatly that his arm was finally up to full strength. Of the 24 hardest pitches that Carlos Rodón has thrown as a major leaguer, 18 of them happened during the 2021 season. The other six happened in 2016, and none of the top 113 took place between 2017 and 2020. Until this year, Rodon just hasn’t had the health to break out, and he proved the world wrong by showing what kind of pitcher he can be when his body cooperates. Grade: A

Lance Lynn (SP): 28 G, 157.0 IP, 27.5% K, 7.0% BB, 18 HR, 2.69 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 4.2 fWAR, 5.4 bWAR

Lynn didn’t give the White Sox all that close to 200 innings, but like Rodón, he’d be in the Cy Young discussion with more innings, and the Sox had no reason to push him down the stretch. Lynn paced the Sox in Win Probability Added at 3.00, which ranks eighth among starting pitchers leaguewide. He sputtered a bit toward the end of the season and drew a nightmare matchup in the postseason in the form of the fastball-crushing Astros, but Lynn spent most of the year neutering opposing offenses. He held opponents to one or zero earned runs in a staggering 19 of his 28 outings. Overall, the year was a great success. Grade: A

Dallas Keuchel (SP): 32 G, 162.0 IP, 13.2% K, 8.2% BB, 25 HR, 5.28 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 0.6 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR

Keuchel’s pitch-to-contact approach doesn’t work when the contact goes over the fence a lot. He yielded a staggering 50 barreled balls, 20 more than in any other season of his career. Keuchel was still good at getting ground balls, but the mistakes got hammered harder than ever before, making him the weak link in the White Sox rotation. We can give him credit for battling through 30 starts and throwing enough innings to prevent the Sox from counting on the Jimmy Lamberts of the world, but that’s about it. Grade: D

Dylan Cease (SP): 32 G, 165.2 IP, 31.9% K, 9.6% BB, 20 HR, 3.91 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 4.4 fWAR, 2.9 bWAR

I was really hard on Cease in last year’s installment because he was taking steps backwards and finished with the worst FIP in baseball in 2020. Given the starting point, my expectations for Cease were not high. However, like Carlos Rodón, he became one of the biggest reasons the White Sox were able to outperform their preseason outlook. Cease has always had obvious strikeout stuff, but in 2021, that finally came paired with actual strikeouts.

Lest you read the grade below and consider my range too lenient, consider the following. Before the season, PECOTA projected Cease’s 99th percentile FIP to be 3.48. He wound up beating that mark. This was an absurd amount of progress for one year, and what Cease did in 2021 was a huge boon to the organization. Grade: A

Lucas Giolito (SP): 31 G, 178.2 IP, 27.9% K, 7.2% BB, 27 HR, 3.53 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 4.0 fWAR, 4.3 bWAR

If Giolito’s season disappointed anyone, it’s because the expectations placed on him were very, very high. In fact, ZiPS projected him to be the best pitcher in all of baseball before the season. After a somewhat pedestrian first half, Giolito increased usage of his slider at the expense of his changeup and wound up drastically improving his results. Eventually, he got his ERA back down to familiar territory by season’s end. I won’t be giving him the top grade because of where expectations were entering the year, but it was still a very strong season for Giolito. Grade: A-

The Class Rank:

  1. Carlos Rodon: A
  2. Lance Lynn: A
  3. Dylan Cease: A
  4. Michael Kopech: A-
  5. Lucas Giolito: A-
  6. Liam Hendriks: A-
  7. Reynaldo Lopez: B+
  8. Ryan Tepera: B+
  9. Garrett Crochet: B+
  10. Aaron Bummer: B
  11. Ryan Burr: B-
  12. Jose Ruiz: C
  13. Codi Heuer: C-
  14. Dallas Keuchel: D-
  15. Evan Marshall: D-
  16. Craig Kimbrel: F
  17. Matt Foster: F

(Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
Articles: 91
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Their grade A pitchers were nowhere to be found in the playoffs.

As Cirensica

And they were managed by the end of the season to light workloads, and still, they weren’t fully healthy. I think the shortened season had a lot to do with this year’s pitcher’s health. Hopefully they will be back at full strength next year.


Rodon was their only pitcher whose issue in the playoffs was health. Their other starters just didn’t get it done.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I don’t think Lynn’s knee is right. Giolito and Cease just stunk.


It’ll remain to be seen how Houston fares against the Braves’ pitching, but they beat the hell out of the Red Sox pitching staff too.


Good stuff, every time I looked at Crochet’s numbers I felt they were definitely better then how I perceived him. It also felt like he gave up a ton of inherited runners.

Be interesting to see the shuffle…. do sox still feel he can be a starter or does he move up the relief pecking order with the expected trade of Kimbrel, the moving of Kopech to a likely rotation spot, and Tepera’s pending free agency….


Even with the loss of velocity he has 2 good to great pitches I think could sustain a starter. With modern day bullpens though he could be a valuable weapon for multiple innings like Kopech was this year

Trooper Galactus

If Crochet is ever going to be a starter, he needs to be sent to the minors. Unlike Sale and Kopech, this is not a case of an established collegiate or minor league starter getting acclimated to MLB in the bullpen.


Totally agree. They kind of screwed this up with Kopech (although an injury assisted), if they really want him to be a starter do it from day 1 2022. Then they’d have to spend another couple million on a reliever (that could be the problem).

Trooper Galactus

If there’s one thing the White Sox have proven adept at year to year, it’s getting serviceable relief arms from out of nowhere.


Relievers are volatile, and teams can get lucky now and again. Compared to other clubs, I wonder if the Sox experience is different or if it just perception.


I hope the Sox dangle the QO to Rodon. I keep a tube sock on hand specifically for the times I think about a Lynn/Giolito/Rodon/Cease/Kopech rotation in 2022


southpaw’s origin story is a mystery for good reason


Rodon might well accept the QO, or possibly a one-year deal here for a little more $ than the QO. He’s not unlike Gausman, who accepted the QO last offseason— longtime talented but frustrating pitchers who finally broke out in a dominant way in a contract year, but enough questions remain that they won’t get the full payday just yet. For Gausman, his breakout came in the shortened pandemic season in the best pitcher’s park in the majors; Rodon, as we know, has never shown this level of stuff, results, or even health in a season— his fading arm strength towards the end was inevitable for any pitcher who had thrown so few innings the past two years. If he settles now, I would guess he gets maybe $100M total. If he has another season like this one, he stands to make double or more of that.


George Steinbrenner is long gone, so I don’t think Rodon is gewtting close to $100M. Too much risk, not enough track record.

Trooper Galactus

Personally, I think Rodon will struggle to get $50 million guaranteed. I could see a pretty sizeable incentive-laden contract with lucrative options, but the idea that anybody’s prepared to throw a huge chunk of change at a guy with his health history I just find difficult to buy into. Then again, most offseasons some team gets a bit crazy, and the Angels are definitely in panic mode with their pitching situation.

As Cirensica

It might be on Rodon’s best interest to take a pillow contract like Semien. He needs to show he can pitch reliably for more than 150 innings. If he can do that, big bucks will come for sure. Right now, I don’t see teams signing him for 3 years. Just too much risk.

Trooper Galactus

I posited this as perhaps a decent offer from the White Sox:

2022: $10 million
2023: $14 million option, $8 million buyout, option vests at 100 IP
2024: $18 million option, $6 million buyout, option vests at 100 IP and 200 IP total in 2022-23

This is basically a 1-year, $18 million offer (equivalent to the QO), but with a good chunk of the money deferred to 2023 via the buyout. If the White Sox pick up the option (and for $6 million extra, they would have plenty of reason to), it’s functionally a 2-year, $30 million contract, which is pretty good, and it wouldn’t take much in the way of health for Rodon to guarantee the option. If he makes his benchmarks (or the White Sox elect to retain him), he’s looking at 3-years, $42 million. I think $14 million AAV is pretty fair given his health history.


maybe an opt-out

Trooper Galactus

In this case, probably a mutual option for the second and/or third year.

As Cirensica

That’s a good contract for the White Sox, Rodon won’t accept that (Boras). If he can pitch well again and for more than 150 innings in 2022, he will probably double that contract in the free agency.

Augusto Barojas

They were lucky to get 100 innings from him. He has not lasted a full season in 6 years, and could barely last 2 innings vs the Astros even with plenty of rest and without having gone more than 5 innings in a start in 3 months. His durability is a limitation for him, not something that is likely to change with time.

The chances of him being healthy enough to help win a playoff series are slim to none. Time to pass.


Certainly very risky. The upside, however, is the ceiling that he showed this year. Very, very few pitchers can even approach a ceiling of that kind of dominance. $100M for 6 years of Rodon is a gamble— it could be money down the drain, or you could get absolutely top of the line starter for essentially half off. Most likely, it would be on and off and about worth it over the length of the contract.

Trooper Galactus

NOBODY is going to offer him a six-year deal thinking they could be getting a steal. He went through the last six years, all in his twenties, pitching over 100 innings only three times and never more than 135 in the last five. What team is going to bet on him suddenly having a run of 120+ inning health into his thirties?


Your reasoning is right, but you never know if a team will be tempted to take a gamble because of how great he looked the first half.

He is a sprinter, not a marathon runner. If they gave some creative thought as to how best to utilize him, they might decide to do something radically different with him. Have the first half of the season devoted to conditioning and endurance, and simply start his season in July or something. It might sound crazy, but if they had the first half version of him, he could be a total difference maker in a playoff series. His talent is there, the durability isn’t and probably never will be.

If they accept his limitation and work with it, rather than hope his body dramatically changes, they might have an ace pitcher for the time of the year it actually matters. Otherwise what’s the point of having a guy who is a spectacular mirage of talent for part of the year but who can’t help in the playoffs? The solution would be to start him late in the season so the grind wouldn’t wear him down. He didn’t pitch enough to help much the last 2 months anyway, so why not just respect that he can only last 1/2 a season, and keep him shut down the first half. I’m not sure what kind of contract that would get him, but he’s only really valuable to a team aspiring for October success if he is healthy enough to pitch then. Which is exceedingly unlikely if his season starts in April. Just my two cents, unless they consider something like that I hope they part ways.

Root Cause

Great article. It seems like the grades were well deserved.

I remember when we were all surprised at the Kimbrell signing. It didn’t seem to mesh with having Hendricks. It still makes no sense but it sure cost a lot of dollars that could have been spent on RF.

Michael Kenny

Marshall is having Tommy John, so the decision on him is pretty much made.


Crotchet had such an odd season. Pnoles B+ rating seems appropriate. Then you go on Fangraphs and see he was 25th in Fwar among relievers, .1 Fwar behind Devin Williams.