Liam Hendriks named American League’s top reliever once again

Liam Hendriks won the American League Reliever of the Year Award in 2020, which is a big reason why the White Sox signed him for a three-to-four-year deal afterward.

At least indirectly. Rick Hahn didn’t see Hendriks receive the honor and say to his cohorts, “That award means he’s good! Let me at him!” The body of work reflected by winning Reliever of the Year is what probably drove the decision.

Still, even if the White Sox were that reductive in their thinking, it would’ve worked out just the same, for Hendriks won the same honor for a second consecutive year, and became the first reliever to successfully defend his title.

Hendriks led the American League with 38 saves saves, he led all relievers with 113 strikeouts, and he compiled all those K’s against just 71 innings and seven walks, which is how he ended up topping FanGraphs’ WAR list among bullpen types.

Suffice it to say the White Sox have never seen relief dominance quite like this. Hendriks’ staggering strikeout-to-walk ratio tops the White Sox’ previous high-water mark by nearly 10 strikeouts, at least among pitchers to throw 50 innings in a season.

  1. Liam Hendriks, 16.14 strikeouts per walk in 2021
  2. David Robertson, 6.62 in 2015
  3. Chris Sale, 6.52 in 2015

You have to lower it to 30 innings to get halfway to Hendriks’ 2021 ratio, when Tommy Kahnle struck out 60 against seven walks over 36 innings in 2017. That just meant that Kahnle would’ve had to strike out 54 batters without a walk for the remainder of the season.

Yet Hendriks’ season wasn’t entirely without scars. He blew six saves in large part because he yielded 11 homers, including four in his first month, then three over consecutive appearances to the Yankees in mid-August. By comparison, Hendriks had only allowed nine homers over the previous three seasons combined, which covers a span of 134 innings.

Because of this one flaw, Hendriks couldn’t quite maintain the high standards of the Alex Colomé era when it came to the closer’s chief task at hand. The Sox slipped a little bit despite the investment. The White Sox went 75-2 when leading after eight innings in 2021, which sounds great until realizing the White Sox went 92-1 in such games with Colomé shutting things down. Colomé converted 42 of 46 saves, while Hendriks lagged behind in that department as well.

Strange as it sounds, this margin for error is one of the reasons* the White Sox signed Hendriks to a top-of-market deal. Even though he was more vulnerable than previous seasons, Hendriks still had enough stuff to win Reliever of the Year and deserve it. Better yet, he seemed to resolve the issue well before the end of the season. He didn’t allow a homer over his final 19 regular-season appearances, and with that loophole closed, opponents couldn’t get to him any other way. He converted all 12 save opportunities, he struck out 31 batters against just one walk, and all 10 hits he allowed were singles.

(*I still have a sense that paying Hendriks top-of-market money also allows the White Sox to say they’ve paid for top-of-market free agents, even though the top of the relief market has a far lower ceiling than that of an everyday player.)

In the end, the only problem with Hendriks was that he couldn’t make a difference in the ALDS, because none of the games got to him. That was the biggest concern with devoting the biggest chunk of offseason budget for a closer — his job is wholly dependent on what his teammates do over the first seven innings, and so he didn’t factor into any postseason game.

That lesson still applies, but it’s softened by what’s taken place elsewhere in the bullpen. Since the White Sox signed Hendriks, two of his teammates are out of the picture (Codi Heuer, Evan Marshall), with Michael Kopech on track to slide into the rotation. Just like it’s anixiety-inducing to imagine the White Sox rotation without an extension for Lance Lynn, building a bullpen would require a lot more work had the White Sox set their sights lower last year.

This is the inverse of the situation in right field, where going from Jon Jay to Nomar Mazara to Adam Eaton cost the White Sox $18 million without anything to show for it. We’ve seen how the poor man always pays twice, which is why it’s nice to have Hendriks around to show an example of the pleasures of paying just once.

(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

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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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In the end, the only problem with Hendriks was that he couldn’t make a difference in the ALDS, because none of the games got to him TLR doesn’t know what to do with 2021 high-leverage relievers.
I doubt that he will know what to do with him (possibly them, hope not) in 2022.


I mean if you use Kimbrel as closer down the stretch; you could have gone to Hendriks as a 2+ inning reliever in any situation in the playoffs. Need to finish an early inning from a starter, go to Hendriks. AKA Game 4, Rodon walks 2 in a row and you bring in Hendriks to get out Correa. Let him get another inning. Then you could turn over to Lynn or have Kopech,Tepera, Crochet, Bummer to bridge to Kimbrel.


PS, I am the crazy one who want Hendriks to go crazy and pitch 100-120 innings as a high leverage reliever in any inning over the season. And never let him sit for more than 2 games in a row to keep active.

Trooper Galactus

Yes, that’s a good way to not only burn him out before the season is over, but turning him into a millstone for the remainder of his contract. Even “Everyday” Eddie Guardado never pitched that much.


Get him back to the 85 innings in 2019 would make sense. Brad Hand and Dellin Betances got to 90 IP as a reliever. Blake Treinen, Craig Stammen over 80 IP; Sam Gaviglio 95 IP.

Also, I only want him to get to that ~90 IP area safely. The White Sox were once on cutting edge of Biomechanics. They are hiring more fill time people on Biomechanics. Every pitcher (and player) should be monitored by the biomechanic experts. If they need to dial back; they should do it.

Trooper Galactus

Betances and Hand were both in their mid-late twenties when they did it. Hand was actually a starter who was converted to relief, so he was a lot more stretched out than a typical reliever, and he topped out at 89.1 innings in his first season as a full-time reliever and never topped 80 after that. Betances also only did it once (like Hand, at age-26) before returning to a sane workload the following seasons.

Also, Betances is a prime example of an elite, young reliever who got completely screwed by his team in arbitration while they destroyed his arm.

To Err is Herrmann

The poor man pays twice, but the cheap man pays thrice.


This is interesting.

Trooper Galactus

Unfortunately, I get the sense it is not “interesting” in any way that is relevant to how the White Sox do business.


I wonder if there is a scenario where the white sox trade Hendrix at the top of his market? Say Hendrix plus ?, for Bryce Harper.


He would command quite a price.


What shape could a Hendriks-Bellinger swap take?

Trooper Galactus

Probably us eating money and including another player, unless his injuries are of a more permanent sort than I’m aware.