White Sox bullpen will take different shape without Liam Hendriks

All of the talk of trading Liam Hendriks earlier this winter has been erased and replaced by concern, thoughts and prayers as he undergoes treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but those conversations did condition White Sox fans to the idea of building a bullpen without him.

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Arizona less than a month from now, that practice will have to be put to use. Rick Hahn said the White Sox wouldn’t issue an update on Hendriks’ potential 2023 timetable until Opening Day, which means that spring training usage patterns will be designed with a different closer in mind.

With Hendriks, the pecking order of the big-picture bullpen was pretty much set, because you don’t spend $40 million on a bullpen for uncertainty.

  • Closer: Liam Hendriks
  • High-leverage: Kendall Graveman, Reynaldo López
  • Medium-leverage: Aaron Bummer, Joe Kelly, Garrett Crochet
  • Low-leverage: Jake Diekman, José Ruiz

You can quibble with the labels a little bit. Bummer will probably be expected to retire lefties in important situations until Crochet gets up to speed, and maybe Crochet won’t even start the year in Chicago as he finishes his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but you get the point. Graveman and López gained some benefit of the doubt after their performances last season, while everybody one notch down needs to repair their track records for one reason or another.

At the bottom, if José Ruiz is the worst reliever around, you have a decent bullpen. If Diekman is the worst reliever in a bullpen, you have a questionable use of $4.5 million.

Now that Hendriks is out indefinitely, that big-picture bullpen is cloudier.

  • Closer: Kendall Graveman
  • High-leverage: Reynaldo López, Aaron Bummer
  • Medium-leverage: Joe Kelly, Garrett Crochet
  • Low-leverage: Jake Diekman, José Ruiz, ???

There is again room to shift some players between labels, but now there’s a real debate to be had at the top of that list, and an actual question mark at the end of it. These arguments aren’t going to be solved by vigorous discussion in January, but it’s good to establish parameters for the possibilities while waiting to see what their 2023 forms have to offer.

The back end of the bullpen

Before we get into the discussion about using guys without much closer experience in the ninth inning, allow me a small lecture, or just scroll past the gray box.


I’ve seen some dismissing Graveman as closer material because he went 6-for-12 in save situations last year. Here’s where you should disregard save percentage for non-closers, because setup men get charged with blown saves for games where they were never going to see the ninth inning.

In this case, five of Graveman’s six blown saves came in the seventh and eighth innings he was attempting to bridge for Hendriks. He did blow one traditional save opportunity on July 27 — the meltdown in Colorado — but he converted his five other traditional save opportunities without issue, along with a two-inning save that became his game to finish when the Sox pushed the lead out of Hendriks’ range in the top of the ninth.

Graveman’s 5-for-6 performance in normal save situations for the White Sox in 2022 matches what he did for Seattle in ninth/final innings in 2021 (10-for-12). That’s not great, but it’s also not abysmal. Basically, 83 percent gets the job done until somebody can do the job better.

(Besides, if you don’t like Graveman’s 6-for-12 performance in save situations, you’re going to hate López’s 0-for-5!)

There’s a reason to doubt Graveman that ignores save percentage and the “closer mentality” argument that goes along with it. He allows an above-average amount of balls in play for a closer, which sets the stage for an uncomfortable experiment when accounting for the crackdown on shifting.

López’s method of attacking hitters stands a better chance of holding up, at least in theory. He features a similarly shrugworthy strikeout rate as Graveman, but he generated twice as many popouts as Graveman, and those are just about as good as strikeouts. (You might flash back to Gordon Beckham hugging Conor Gillaspie’s calves, but catchers sometimes fail to block third strikes, right?)

But I’m not going to pound the table for López before the season simply because his stuff has fluctuated greatly, and closer conversations can be cruel. All it takes is a a blown first save opportunity to immediately sow doubt about whether a guy has the right mentality, and I’d rather spend López’s early outings confirming that he still possesses the bully fastball that worked so well for him in 2022 before burdening him with all the extra pressure closers face during and after games.

Ideally, either pitcher is fine until he isn’t, and maybe they’ll have to share the load regardless because of Graveman’s issues throwing back-to-back days. The hope is that they won’t have to exactly fill Hendriks’ shoes, because the combination of a more dynamic offense and a resurgent Kelly-Bummer-Crochet medium-leverage crews makes padding leads a far easier proposition for these White Sox. Hendriks’ absence couldn’t have been foreseeable in this specific manner, but the Sox should have been planning to make life a little easier for their high-leverage guys even if the entire Plan A bullpen remained intact.

The front end of the bullpen

If the noteworthy incumbents of the White Sox bullpen are all forced to take one step up the leverage ladder, it stands to reason that a vacancy would open at the bottom. The White Sox just selected Nick Avila in the Rule 5 draft and are forced to keep him on the 26-man roster, lest the Giants buy him back. Wouldn’t that give him an inside track to the White Sox bullpen, assuming he doesn’t look completely overmatched in the spring?

Maybe. There’s no point in losing Avila if he looks just as capable as a Matt Foster type. Foster has an option remaining, as does Jimmy Lambert and the recently added Gregory Santos. Tanner Banks has two, and Crochet has all three of his remaining, if the White Sox would prefer to let him work his way back into competitive pitching in the minors.

There are lots of different ways to play with a couple of bullpen spots during the first weeks of the season depending on how the Cactus League unfolds. Perhaps Avila looks every bit like Rule 5 material, and the White Sox return him to the Giants in the self-addressed stamped envelope without protest. Perhaps Avila is needed regardless of performance because the injury bug has eaten through the bullpen like an Emerald Arm Borer.

But in a world where all relievers in the non-Hendriks picture are present and accounted for, Lambert looks like the guy who could make best use of the roster spot. He handled medium-leverage work reasonably well last year if the options above him wobble, and should Kelly/Crochet/Bummer leave little real work to be done, Lambert can resume throwing multiple innings of garbage time, because the Sox lack a traditional long man.

In any scenario, so much of the bullpen’s integrity rests on that trio of Kelly, Crochet and Bummer, because closers only matter if leads get to them. Hendriks’ absence means they’re more important than they used to be, but they were always going to factor into the team’s success. The margin for error is merely narrower than it was a month ago, but at least that’s something all White Sox relievers should be used to.

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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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I recall some earlier in the offseason commentary from the Sox that Lopez had a closer mentality so now with Liam out my guess is that the Sox will want to see if Lopez can close.

That said, we still have holes at 2B and RF and apparently no plans to do anything at all except audition non roster invitees. With about $20MM less spend on the roster than 2022. Same old same old.


Andrew Chafin is probably the best reliever available. The Sox need to sign him to replace Hendriks, instead of just moving someone else in AAA into the 8th bullpen spot.


So grateful Rick built a deep squad, with a sturdy SR clearly built to go deep into games, and a balanced, powerhouse line-up. Otherwise, losing Hendricks, along with another of their 3 best pitches from last year, would’ve caused me to doubt their chances.

Last edited 2 months ago by PauliePaulie

At least TLR isnt there anymore to make this an even worse mess.


It’s pretty sad that the best move the Sox made this winter was to get rid of someone that they should never have hired in the first place.

As Cirensica

And they still have the possibility to make it even a better off season by getting rid of some others as well. Never addition by subtraction added more.

Last edited 2 months ago by As Cirensica

Yeah, LaRussa’s bullpen management was horrendous. The makeup of the bullpen, even without Hendriks, is fairly good if managed properly. While I would prefer Lopez in the closer role, I recognize that a credible case can be made for Graveman. Bummer ought to have closing opportunities depending on whether or not strong lefties are due up in the ninth. The question is how competent will Grifol be as a new manager in handling a bullpen. I don’t know how good Montoyo was as a manager in that regard, but I find myself pleased that he is the bench coach.


Does anyone know if medical insurance covers Liam’s salary this year? Wouldn’t that give the Sox extra money to apply toward strengthening the roster?

Augusto Barojas

They’ve got a $30M check from Disney, and as someone else pointed out the payroll is $20M lower than last year. They don’t need any “extra” money, they already have it!

Give Jerry another billion dollars and he would hoard it.


the emerald arm borer sounds more friendly than the emerald ass borer


It’ll be interesting to see if Parke works out as a long reliever in AAA as proselytized in todays article on pitching at AAA. The phrase about him dominating the first time through was intriguing to say the least.

Hopefully, the switch won’t make him susceptible to Dutch Arm Disease.

Last edited 2 months ago by chipporter

I’m nervous about Nick Avila’s addition— he might be carrying the Emerald Arm Borer and transmit it to teammates, given that he spent much of last year in its native range playing for the Eugene Emeralds.


Crochet returning to his former powers helps this whole thing work a lot better. Him and Lopez have the former-starter ability to work multiple innings if needed: I’d like to see them used as twin ‘stoppers’, usually called upon somewhere between the 6th and 8th either to shut down a dangerously developing situation, or vs the most dangerous part of opposing lineups. I don’t know if/when Crochet’s recovery will allow him to do this, of course.

They’d also be used as backup closers if Graveman is tired, which is clearly an issue for him. Not exactly closer by committee, but also doesn’t hurt to give those two some 9th inning experience.


It’s 14 months between surgery and taking the mound in a game, it works because they have a protocol in place that if followed works. There’s no cheating and that’s if everything goes well.

Carlos Rodon had surgery on May 14th, 2019. His first pitch in a game was July 28th, 2020. A little over 14 months. He finished with pitching 7.2 IP in 2020.

Crochet had surgery the first week in April last yr, that puts him best case first week of June and most likely after the AS break before he can pitch any kind of reliable workload. That’s again if everything goes well.

Any list or expectations with Crochet figuring in it prominently is not realistic, especially early on.

Augusto Barojas

Yep. And that is why there was no chance they were getting Torres for him in a trade. Only Hahn signs or trades for guys who are not fully healthy. To expect much of Crochet this year is not realistic, aside from toward the end. They are surely going to be very careful with him the way they were with Kopech.

I love his future after 2023 though, and would not look to trade him at all. I hope he works his way back to being a starter. Not a ton of guys have his blow-me-away stuff, if he can ever find his form from when he first came up. Not quite as tall but reminds me a bit of Big Unit.


Do you (or anyone else) know the likelihood of Crochet looking like his old self at 14 or 15 or 17 months out? How many guys are back to pitching but not back to being themselves in those first few months? How many don’t miss a beat?

Mentally, I’m counting on Crochet as just a guy in the pen in the second half. Anything better will be gravy as far as I’m concerned. But is there ample history that suggests I’m underselling his potential contributions?


Generally relievers get the green light to return to regular duties much sooner than starters. Building back up the stamina, arm/elbow and otherwise, to start takes months


Family experience and watching others, is that the first few months back can be rocky with command mostly due to fatigue issues. Some days the arm feels great, sometimes a noodle.

Velo is a different story. Some have it at the 14 month mark, some have to ramp up to it. It seems like the fireballers that were in good shape have to ramp up, while others, who didn’t necessarily have the same pre surgery work ethic, get back to their former velo and sometimes surpass it, right from jump.

Junior went through labrum surgery and beat the odds and came back with 100% velo and needed TJ 2 years later.


Thanks for this. Labrum and Tommy John is a bitter pill. I hope he’s OK.


His elbow went in the middle of his Jr. Year at Westpoint, and there’s no such thing as redshirting at a military academy. The Reds team Dr. did his TJ after he graduated, with hopes he could latch on somewhere, he knew plenty of scouting directors. Unfortunately, timing put him in Afghanistan when he was fully recovered and when he came back he didn’t feel like riding buses in the minors starting at 24.

Health wise he’s great, now a major with 11 years in the army and doing really well for himself. Thanks for asking.


Graveman will be fine, but I’m scared that the new coaching staff will fail to heed the lesson we all learned about pitching him on consecutive days.

Lopez has always been a little weak-minded. He relies more than most on a big brother like Abreu coming over and whispering encouragement in his ear. I’m sure he’s matured over time, but I just don’t see him having the mental fortitude to hold up in a closer’s role.

Crochet, as mentioned above, will probably miss the first half of the year and not yet be back at full strength in the second half.

Old Joe Kelly just published a book (which I’m assuming Jim will review/mock soon) stating that he was drawn to the White Sox last year because they suddenly showed a lot of interest (thanks Tony!) and weren’t concerned with a bunch of medical checks or other such nonsense.

Old Jake Diekman has never thrown strikes and isn’t likely to start now, but last year he suddenly stopped being decent even when he wasn’t walking people.

Jose Ruiz might be the best low-leverage pitcher in baseball, but I fully expect the new coaching staff to ignore the lessons of the last few years and try to use him where he doesn’t belong–namely, in any situation where he could affect the outcome of a game.

Boy, that’s a lot of question marks for a very expensive bullpen. The lone pitcher I still feel secure with is Aaron Bummer. He was still very good last year and just had fluky bad luck. Banning the shift might hurt a groundball pitcher, but the groundballs he generates are hit so softly that honestly I think it will just improve his luck to have guys standing all around the diamond.

Augusto Barojas

Good summary. I especially agree with your take on ReyLo. He’s a great story, and it’s great that he proved a lot of naysayers like myself wrong. But I do agree with you he’s a bit weak minded and would not be good even as primary setup man, much less closer. I share your doubt that he has the mental game, and I wouldn’t want to see them ruin a good thing with him. I hope they keep using him just like they did in situations where he can be effective but without the game being on the line in the 8th or 9th.

I think the pen is likely to be very average with some struggles. You can’t lose a guy like Liam and not miss a beat. Graveman allows a lot of baserunners, an awfully high WHIP for a closer (around 1.4 since his trade to the Astros in ’21 prior to the Sox getting him, and over 1.3 for his career). Their pen as a whole was 12th in the AL in ERA and WHIP last year, which isn’t the only metric but suggests that they certainly are not great, esp sans Liam.

Diekman along with Kelly is the stuff of complete morons. They’re paying 3.5M to Diekman plus 8.5 to Kelly, and don’t have a major league level 2b (or possibly RF, though I have hope for Colas) on the roster. Hahn’s ineptitude combined with Jerry’s cheapness is just a lethal combination.

Joliet Orange Sox

Is anyone else uncomfortable matter-of-factly calling a player weak-minded or is it just me?

Trooper Galactus

I think people are conflating “weak-minded” with “has trouble maintaining concentration.”


Yeah. It strikes me as a cheap shot with no credible evidence. His performance last year, after a number of people here had written him off, justifies gradually putting him in higher leverage situations to see how he responds, at the very least. Hid demeanor on the mound looked markedly different to me last year after he solved his vision issues.


I can remember ReyLo talking about his confidence going way up because he could actually see the signs and he felt more confident pitching.


“Weak-minded” does not seem particularly fair. Reynaldo’s struggles before last year’s bullpen breakout had to do with the fact that he wasn’t a viable SP bc as a starter his FB’s shape isn’t as good as its (only sometimes excellent) velo, and his breaking balls and command were never better than average. This all plays better out of the pen. That Reynaldo sought mentors while struggling on the field for several years seems unfair to demarcate as “weak-minded”.

That’s probably overly pessimistic about Crochet’s timeline, RPs return quicker than SPs.

Signing Kelly last year when he was still hurt was dumb. He’s still got absolutely electric stuff, and some moderately improved BABIP luck and control will have him a quality reliever again.

Trooper Galactus

I really hope they don’t jerk around trying to make Crochet a starter. That ship sailed over a year ago, and I’d prefer they just take a good shot at an impact reliever over a non-zero chance they get a brittle, ineffective starter.


Please elaborate.


Agreed. Kopech is a much better athlete (in terms of fluidity and repeating mechanics) than Crochet, has a deeper pitch mix, and was further removed from TJ, and his return to the rotation was pretty shaky, both in terms of durability and performance. It would be nonsense to try with Crochet.