To complete the grading process, which started with the previously-published position-player review, here are assessments of the 2023 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.
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.
I typically use 25 innings pitched as the cutoff for this, but I don’t see much point in grading five unremarkable games started by José Ureña, so we’ll go with everyone with more volume than he had. In ascending order of innings pitched….
Joe Kelly (RP): 31 G, 29.0 IP, 32.0% K, 9.4% BB, 3 HR, 4.97 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR
It looked at one point this season that Joe Kelly had finally become who the White Sox thought he would be. Instead, Kelly stumbled badly in a May 27 outing against the Tigers and was fairly unreliable thereafter, racking up 5 blown leads and an additional loss in until he was eventually traded. That costly stretch resulted in Kelly finishing with the second-worst Win Probability Added on the team after Lance Lynn. Whether it was luck, injury, coaching, or some other factor, the White Sox couldn’t get the best out of Joe Kelly. Then he was dealt to the Dodgers, and they did (around an injury, of course). Grade: D+
Keynan Middleton (RP): 39 G, 36.1 IP, 30.1% K, 10.3% BB, 7 HR, 3.96 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 0.0 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR
Middleton’s White Sox tenure will long be remembered due to his exposure of the team’s dysfunction after leaving the team. His claims, corroborated by Lance Lynn, gave the public a window into the culture issues in the White Sox clubhouse and exposed the non-leadership of Pedro Grifol in addressing such problems.
However, he also made positive contributions with his pitching. Middleton signed a minor league deal and wound up being one of the most relied-upon relief pitchers in the first half of the season, making a mockery of the White Sox’s high-priced bullpen. He shifted to relying more on his changeup, which he threw with greater frequency than his fastball this season. The result was giving the hard-thrower a weapon against lefties that he never had before, and he held them to a .205/.241/.361 line in 2023. Somewhat surprisingly, Middleton finished around zero in Win Probability Added due to wobbling in July, so one gets the sense that despite his gains, the White Sox couldn’t get the best out of Middleton. Then he was dealt to the Yankees, and they did. Grade: B
Jimmy Lambert (RP): 35 G, 37.2 IP, 23.8% K, 11.6% BB, 10 HR, 5.26 ERA, 6.20 FIP, -0.5 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR
Ten homers pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? The difference between 2023 and 2022 for Lambert was 20 percent of his fly balls going over the fence rather than 7 percent, and these results are the risk you run when you don’t keep the ball on the ground and don’t have top-tier stuff. He’s still not arbitration-eligible, but he is out of options, so the White Sox will have to decide whether to carry Jimmy Ballgame in 2024. We’ll see whether the legend continues. Grade: F
Reynaldo Lopez (RP): 35 G, 37.2 IP, 29.2% K, 12.4% BB, 7 HR, 4.29 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, 0.7 bWAR
Lopez was handed the closer role to open the season in the absence of Liam Hendriks, and he failed spectacularly. By the time Grifol stopped asking him to hold down the ninth, Lopez had racked up -1.034 Win Probability Added while his ERA sat at 8.04. Yet, he rebounded tremendously, holding batters to a .163/.271/.228 line until he was eventually dealt as a piece of the deal that netted Edgar Quero and Ky Bush. The Sox couldn’t get the best out of Lopez in 2023, but then he was dealt to the Angels and then the Guardians, and they both did. Grade: C-
Kendall Graveman (RP): 45 G, 44.0 IP, 22.6% K, 10.8% BB, 6 HR, 3.48 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 0.0 fWAR, 0.9 bWAR
This one worked out okay. Graveman’s peripherals seriously lagged his run prevention in 2023, which you might expect from a groundball pitcher. However, Graveman doesn’t appear to be one anymore. Hitters got the ball in the air off of him like they haven’t done since 2018, which neutralized his superpower of preventing home runs. Still, The Undertaker was able to remain a reliable relief arm at the back of the bullpen and provided stability amidst the injuries and ineffectiveness around him. Grade: C+
Bryan Shaw (RP): 38 G, 45.2 IP, 21.1% K, 8.9% BB, 3 HR, 4.14 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 0.4 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR
Shaw’s the not-so-trivial answer to the question of which White Sox reliever led the bullpen in Win Probability Added. A rough start to his White Sox tenure meant his stats never looked all that rosy, but man, did he finish strong. He made a whopping 18 appearances between September 1 and October 1 and was absolutely lights-out, holding opposing hitters to a .127/.247/.191 line. See the kind of stuff you miss by not watching the season play out in garbage time? Grade: B
Aaron Bummer (RP): 61 G, 58.1 IP, 29.2% K, 13.5% BB, 4 HR, 6.79 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 0.8 fWAR, -1.0 bWAR
Advanced metrics will tell you that Bummer pitched pretty well in 2023, but anyone who watched him this season can tell you that the ERA was more reflective of the experience. In one of the most bizarre splits you’ll ever see, Bummer allowed a .275/.396/.463 line with zero outs in an inning, but an OPS below .615 with at least one out. That pretty much explained everything. If Bummer had it that day, he had it. If he didn’t, he really didn’t, and rallies mounted before he could get control over the situation. Bummer registered 16 meltdowns against 15 shutdowns (that’s real bad), so you could basically flip a coin to figure out which guy would show up. It’s wild that I’m giving this grade to a reliever with an fWAR of 0.8, but here we are. Grade: F
Tanner Banks (RP): 32 G, 61.0 IP, 20.0% K, 6.3% BB, 10 HR, 4.43 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, 0.8 bWAR
Last year, I noted that Banks had pitched pretty effectively in important spots when given the chance, but that the White Sox rarely tasked him with doing anything important. Once again, Banks punched above his weight in big situations and the Sox still didn’t trust him to do much. He finished second behind Shaw in Win Probability Added for White Sox relievers, so at the very least, you can say the 31-year-old isn’t afraid of the moment. This isn’t to lament that Banks wasn’t given more responsibility; he’s clearly not a relief ace of any kind. However, there’s worse guys to have around than a lefty who has shown some mental toughness. Grade: B-
Gregory Santos (RP): 60 G, 66.1 IP, 22.8% K, 5.9% BB, 2 HR, 3.39 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 1.6 fWAR, 1.2 bWAR
In a rare scouting win for the White Sox, Gregory Omar Santos was the biggest pleasant surprise in the 2023 White Sox bullpen. The Giants designated him for assignment last December and the White Sox swooped in to acquire him for Kade McClure, which looks like a steal to this point. Santos showed promise early in the season and he gradually worked his way up to the closer’s role via performance and trades of established veterans. His slider has become a legitimate weapon, he allowed the lowest barrel rate in MLB, and he seems poised to handle the 9th inning in 2024.
Santos wore down late in the season and if there’s a complaint, it’s that his worst stretch of the season was when he was tasked with being *the* guy in the bullpen. His Win Probability Added on the season was surprisingly negative. However, given that the Sox finished 26 games out of first rather than just one or two, we’ll give him a pass for that and be happy with the developmental success. Grade: A-
Touki Toussaint (SP): 19 G, 83.1 IP, 22.7% K, 14.2% BB, 10 HR, 4.97 ERA, 4.95 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, 1.0 bWAR
Toussaint and his wild ways came over from Cleveland in mid-June when the White Sox needed arms. He walked too many hitters all season long, but for a month and a half, he showed that you can overcome that with luck and keeping the ball on the ground. With an extremely fortunate .207 BABIP, Touissant had a 3.34 ERA through the end of July. With an extremely normal .302 BABIP, he had a 6.00 ERA during August and September.
Toussaint established in 2023 that his curveball can be a nasty pitch, but he doesn’t throw nearly enough strikes to set it up consistently. As an emergency fill-in, he performed admirably and gave the Sox the innings they needed just to get through the season. However, there’s nothing to suggest the Sox have suddenly found a diamond in the rough. Grade: C
Jesse Scholtens (SP): 26 G, 85.0 IP, 15.4% K, 8.0% BB, 15 HR, 5.29 ERA, 5.31 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR
I play fantasy baseball and observe transaction trends. There was a point during the season where people were honest-to-goodness rushing to pick up Scholtens and his then-3.20 ERA to try to steal wins against Colorado and Oakland, only for his Scholtensness to rear its ugly head. Both bottom-feeders smacked around the 29-year-old, and that was the end of the pleasant surprise. Scholtens’ lack of strikeouts makes him cannon fodder, but like with Toussaint, you could do a lot worse than he did as an emergency fill-in. Grade: C-
Lance Lynn (SP): 21 G, 119.2 IP, 26.9% K, 8.4% BB, 28 HR, 6.47 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 0.7 fWAR, -1.1 bWAR
Lynn struck out double-digit hitters on four occasions and the Sox lost all four games. That’s a decent representation of Lynn’s White Sox season: plenty of strikeouts, not much else to hang his hat on. Regardless of how things were going, Pedro Grifol seemed intent on getting Jerry Reinsdorf’s money’s worth out of Lynn, because he only threw fewer than 96 pitches in one White Sox start (he mercifully lifted Lynn after 89 pitches and eight runs against the Angels on May 31). That didn’t help the numbers you see here, as hitters slugged .559 off of Lynn the third time through. Grade: F
Lucas Giolito (SP): 21 G, 121.0 IP, 25.8% K, 8.3% BB, 20 HR, 3.79 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 1.6 fWAR, 2.8 bWAR
It’s easy to forget that Giolito pitched pretty well for the 2023 White Sox, and that could be because he didn’t seem all that different than the disappointing 2022 version. Giolito threw a shade harder and upped his slider usage, but nearly all of his peripherals were the same, suggesting the main difference was allowing a BABIP of .279 rather than .340. Giolito perfomed well enough to headline the Edgar Quero trade, and while it’s too early to tell whether it’s a win for the White Sox, let’s just say they’re dramatically unlikely to lose the deal as hard as the Angels did. Grade: B
Michael Kopech (SP): 30 G, 129.1 IP, 22.7% K, 15.4% BB, 29 HR, 5.43 ERA, 6.46 FIP, -0.9 fWAR, 0.7 bWAR
Kopech’s season can be divided up into three sections:
- Early-season struggles, partially due to pitch tipping (April)
- High-upside dominance to dream on (May through mid-June)
- Predictable wear-down (mid-June through September)
2023 shone a spotlight on the questions surrounding Kopech’s durability. The Sox put him in the bullpen for September, either acknowledging the high strain on his arm, the futility of the starter experiment, or both. In any event, Kopech finished in the bottom 1 percent in MLB in limiting both walks and barrels, which is simply not tenable. His future role is firmly in jeopardy. Grade: F
Mike Clevinger (SP): 24 G, 131.1 IP, 20.0% K, 7.3% BB, 16 HR, 3.77 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 2.2 fWAR, 3.3 bWAR
Clevinger pitched to a 3.88 ERA through mid-June, but it felt more like a late-stage Mat Latos tightrope walk than an impressive pitching performance. He then went on the shelf with biceps inflammation, and when he returned in July, he looked like a different pitcher. Clevinger’s velocity jumped up a couple ticks, but more importantly, he cut his walks nearly in half. He had a stretch spanning most of September in which he faced 141 consecutive batters without issuing a free pass.
In 2023, Clevinger got to rebuild his value while staying out of the spotlight by pitching for a bottom-feeder organization that endured a such a ridiculous amount of catastrophes that it made his off-the-field issues seem like a distant memory. It figures that Clevinger would wind up one of the only winners from this mess. Grade: B+
Dylan Cease (SP): 33 G, 177.0 IP, 27.3% K, 10.1% BB, 19 HR, 4.58 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.7 fWAR, 2.4 bWAR
Cease’s season feels like a letdown, but he set a high bar for himself in 2022. However, finishing second in the Cy Young race while leading all of baseball in walks felt like a tough combination to repeat. Sure enough, Cease’s struggles with efficiency were more problematic in 2023 when more hits were mixed in around the free passes. He also dropped a tick on his fastball and lost a little vertical bite on his slider.
On the plus side, this was his third straight season of at least 32 starts, so Cease is proving to be quite the workhorse. He’s a very good pitcher, but he likely won’t be in the Cy Young conversation again without dramatic improvements to his control. Grade: B-
THE CLASS RANK
- Gregory Santos – A-
- Mike Clevinger – B+
- Lucas Giolito – B
- Keynan Middleton – B
- Bryan Shaw – B
- Dylan Cease – B-
- Tanner Banks – B-
- Kendall Graveman – C+
- Touki Toussaint – C
- Jesse Scholtens – C-
- Reynaldo Lopez – C-
- Joe Kelly – D+
- Jimmy Lambert – F
- Aaron Bummer – F
- Lance Lynn – F
- Michael Kopech – F