Gregory Santos’ injury cuts short breakout season, closer experiment

White Sox reliever Gregory Santos
(Photo by Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)

If Gregory Santos’ elbow inflammation is minor, then you can look at the bright side: He didn’t need another game or inning to record a full season’s worth of work, and he didn’t need a hot last two weeks to salvage his stats. He was one of the few 2024 White Sox who could say he’d already done enough.

The White Sox cut Santos’ season short on Wednesday by placing him on the injured list with a sore elbow, reinstating Garrett Crochet to fill the vacancy in the bullpen. He’ll finish the year having thrown 66⅓ innings over 60 appearances, with a 3.39 ERA and 66 strikeouts against just 22 free bases (17 walks, five HBPs). He’d never thrown 50 innings in a season before, and he had fewer than six MLB innings to his name, so this season counts as an unqualified success, at least in terms of results.

The only potential qualifier is the elbow, and Pedro Grifol couldn’t offer many specifics on the severity of the injury.

“He’s had a good year. And he’s got a little bit of a right elbow inflammation,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “We’ll just err on the side of caution and shut him down for the rest of the year and let the doctors continue to evaluate him.

“The reports that I got is that there’s some discomfort in the right elbow, he’s going to get evaluated and we’ll take it from there.”

Any kind of lingering effects would deal a severe blow to the 2024 White Sox bullpen, because … well, what exactly is the 2024 White Sox bullpen? Based on the talent on hand, it looks something like:

  1. Gregory Santos
  2. Aaron Bummer (unless a team makes a compelling buy-low offer)
  3. Garrett Crochet (unless the White Sox try making him a starter)
  4. Michael Kopech (if he’s not completely lost)
  5. Long reliever
  6. Long reliever
  7. Long reliever
  8. Long reliever

The ramifications of a Santos-less stretch don’t require much elaboration, unless Brian Bannister really is some kind of sorcerer.

For the time being, Santos’ absence removes one of the few aspects that held my interest: Grifol’s deployment of him in high-leverage situations.

Grifol stopped short of committing to Santos as the closer after the Sox sent Kendall Graveman to Houston at the trade deadline, which was understandable even if he was the team’s best reliever remaining. Keeping the ninth inning a slightly open question prevented Santos from being irregularly used, or dealing with unnecessary pressure toward the end of his first-ever six-month season. Blown saves are sometimes automatically assigned as a “mentality” issue when, here, it could be more attributable to things like “fatigue” or “being a rookie.” Nobody should go out of their way to ruin a reputation on a failed venture like the 2023 White Sox.

But when Grifol used Santos to close out games, he didn’t use Santos like a typical closer.

Santos pitched in six save opportunities since the start of August, and a seventh game required a fireman effort of closing out an inning before it descended into savedom. In five of those games, Grifol called upon Santos in the eighth inning.

  • Aug. 9: An eighth-inning appearance became a two-inning save when the White Sox scored four in the top of the ninth.
  • Aug. 15: Santos entered with one out in the eighth and retired all five Cubs he faced on 16 pitches.
  • Aug. 20: Not a save, but Santos stranded two runners in the eighth to preserve the White Sox’s five-run margin, then finished the game.
  • Aug. 23: Santos entered with two outs in the eighth to strand a runner on first, then gave up three runs in the ninth to blow the save.
  • Sept. 12: Santos entered to strand inherited runners on the corners in the eighth, then preserved the four-run lead in the ninth.

That’s five long saves over the course of a month and a half. By comparison, Liam Hendriks pitched 10 outings longer than an inning in 2021, before arm issues/undiagnosed cancer affected his stamina.

It’s an unusual usage pattern for a closer, but typical for how Grifol had used Santos the whole season, so I was curious whether Grifol was trying to make a point with it. Was it to let Santos treat save situations as any other appearance, figuring he’d be back to that kind of work in 2024? Does he want to train a closer to record more than three outs, and wanted to see if Santos could be that guy?

Based on how Grifol used Reynaldo López in April, my guess is that he’s open to expanding the role. López recorded two four-out saves in April before it became clear that López wasn’t good enough to face the other team’s best hitters in the toughest situations every. single. outing. When Grifol started giving the ball to Graveman, he mostly adhered to strict one-inning appearances, in line with Graveman’s routine the year before.

It seems like if a pitcher is used to recording more than three outs, Grifol won’t let the closer role interfere with that ability. I don’t mind it, but the tradeoff here is that Santos’ first exposure to the closer role regularly involved situations that most established closers don’t face, which upped the degree of difficulty. I was hoping the last couple weeks would beef up the sample a little bit, but the injury might not have made much of a difference. Shortly before Santos was placed on the IL, Vinnie Duber said Grifol was going to back off Santos in hopes of easing him to the finish line.

“I’m not going to try to use him that much,” Grifol said over the weekend. “He says he feels good every day. ‘I want to pitch, I want to pitch.’ But he’s pitched a lot, and he’s pitched a lot well over what he’s pitched in the past and he’s done it at (the major league) level. We’re definitely going to protect him down the stretch here, for sure.”

Alas, now we’re left to see whether Santos’ injured list stint counts as protection, if the injury is a consequence of protecting him too late, or if it’s just bad luck.

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Not to be dour on someone deemed a bright spot in an extremely ugly season, but the 4.79 2nd half era (peripherals were a bit better then that) and a bad 5 of 11 saves…. stands out to me… shouldn’t be counting on santos being much more then a middle reliever set up guy. He definitely earned a spot in the 2024 bullpen but the closer anointment seems a combination of premature and simply more about necessity then actual accomplishment.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I don’t blame him at all. I’m not as productive when people take away my naps, either.


I think it’s based on pure stuff.


Based on pure stuff then I don’t see him as a closer, there was nothing about his stuff that screamed closer.
I agree with knoxfire30, he was ok as the next man up this year and could possibly fill that role again if needed down the road but he’s not or shouldn’t be option A for the back of the pen.


Just let us have this man.


That 2024 bullpen looks dire. Too bad we fired the guy who could rebuild it.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Bullpens should be easy (relatively).

As Cirensica

True. Also, as Jim has mentioned many times, the White Sox should focused on fixing the other aspects of the team that would make us think of the importance of a good bullpen (i.e. having a lead that needs protecting in the later innings)


All they need is like 4 starting pitchers, 6 bullpen arms, and 5 position players.

They may be a 40-50 win team heading into next year now, but I’m sure Getz will add nothing but the very best players to address all those needs.


thereby making the Sox a 60 to 66 win team. Sox Success!


That is pretty much the upside of this team next year, and that’s only if they make a few decent offseason moves.

As Cirensica

Looks dire mostly because of the guy we fired.


The 2024 bullpen is worth it just to see this comment!


Was pleasantly surprised seeing Santos was tied for 11th in reliever fWAR in all the MLB.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I would love to know what information and processes Greenberg brought over to the Blackhawks from baseball. According to Kyle Davidson, whatever it was that Greenberg has been doing for the past year will continue: “Off the ice, the processes and systems are in place to develop our team on the ice. I look forward to continuing that journey with our group.”

Would also be interesting to see if anything Greenberg learned in the NHL will translate to his job with the Tigers.

Right Size Wrong Shape

It brings to mind Paul DePodesta. He’s been with the Browns for a long time now. I don’t follow them very closely, but from the outside it doesn’t seem like they have done anything very successfully over the past 7 years.


Off topic, but I wonder if anything came to fruition about those “Jerry wants to speak to Dan Evans” tweets before Getz was hired. NGL, he would have been interesting addition in something like an advisor role. Knows Jerry, former GM, wrote for BP, on the board of SABR, and most importantly, connections in the NPB.


You gotta like that the team with the very least amount of rookie contributions in all of baseball (white Sox) just promoted the guy in charge of minor league player development to running the Major league team.


I do not gotta like that.

Trooper Galactus

If not for Santos and his 1.5 fWAR they’d be a helluva lot worse than that. Not a single rookie position player has provided positive fWAR and Lee, Sosa, and Colas combined for a whopping -2.5 fWAR.


Sosa and Colas were complete busts so far. Colas looked like there isn’t a prayer that he will be a major league level RF anytime soon, if ever. RF could be a hole for the rest of the decade.

Right Size Wrong Shape

No doubt they have both been major disappointments year. I haven’t given up hope on either of them, but if the Sox are serious about winning they shouldn’t be plan A or B going forward. I’m really frustrated with how they developed Sosa this year. It appeared that he was starting to gain some traction last month, then he had a couple of bad games and Pedro put him in the doghouse and has played Andrus more than him since then. As Jim has pointed out, Pedro has no problem acting like a tough guy with the players who don’t make any money.


They have no plan A, or B. Their offseason “plan” will no doubt be more wishing and hoping that cheap, mediocre or worse players they sign turn into good ones.


If only they could find 5 Andus’! That’d be the ticket.


I appreciate Santos doing what he did for most of the season, although I think guys like him are pretty inter changeable in bullpens. While depth and money may be the reason he is around next(also a lack of foresight from the org) he probably could be a decent pitcher swap candidate if the team does think this season was more flash in a pan than sustainable. After all, this team has taught me that Bullpens are volatile and could use a change up year to year with up and comers/flier guys and bounce back vet deals. Big money is a waste and rookies who only do that might be good or simply catch hitters off guard early and flame out quick.


Not looking forward to the news in March ’24 that Santos has undergone Tommy John surgery.