Seeking (pain) relievers after Jenks

Blown saves suck no matter what, but sharing the load in the late innings would at least put the decision in the right hands.

My list of the 10 worst White Sox games of 2010 wasn’t particularly kind to Bobby Jenks, who was the culprit in four of the 10 games, including three save situations.
Seeing his name resurfacing in my searches made me wonder aloud whether a blown save would hurt more or less if a team had no designated closer. Then I started typing, and didn’t stop for a while. I’m still not positive about the answer, but I have my own leanings.
Which of the following decisions would hurt more?

The situation: A one-run lead, one out, a runner on in the eighth inning, nothing remarkable about the handedness or opponent in the ninth. Matt Thornton comes in and retires the next two batters easily on five pitches – one jam sandwich, one strikeout.
Course A: Ozzie Guillen calls for Jenks, who gives up a bloop and a blast, blows the lead and takes the loss.
Course B: Guillen sticks with Thornton, who gives up a bloop and a blast, blows the lead and takes the loss.
They’re going to suck for different reasons, but I think Course A leaves more questions, especially if the closer is as shaky as Jenks was in 2010.

Why’d you take out Thornton, Ozzie?
What’s wrong with Bobby, Ozzie?
Are you going to have to change closers, Ozzie?

Course B hurts because it’s uncommon.

How come you stuck with Thornton, Ozzie?
How many failures before you stick with one closer, Ozzie?

But I think those questions are easier to answer. “He looked like he was throwing the ball well” is more logical response, a more managerial response, than, “Bobby’s the closer.”
I also think it’s more fair to the players. Look at No. 6 on that list — Jenks’ flop against Seattle in the 11th inning. After he blew the save — the second soul-shatterer of the road trip — Guillen said:

“I wish he’d throw the ball better because of the last couple outings. Not because we lose the game, but because I don’t see anything on the ball.”

Jenks was probably the right call in the previous blown save against Minnesota. Thornton threw an inning, and J.J. Putz worked around two hits in his inning of work. It would have been a stretch to throw Putz in the ninth, and it was hard to picture Jenks being as bad as he was.
But against Seattle, Guillen had only used Sergio Santos and Erick Threets — and Threets breezed through his 1 2/3 innings. Trying to get one more frame out of Threets would have been unusual and maybe risky, but it could be justified. Or since the Mariners had a hard time getting around on the hard-throwing, left-handed Threets, calling on Thornton would have also made sense. He hadn’t been used the day before.
Instead, Guillen went with the pre-ordained save guy, despite having concerns about his stuff. It didn’t end well.
And who got the bulk of the blame? Jenks, of course.
The current system — eighth-inning guy, then closer, every time — is only perfectly applicable to a small amount of teams, but pretty much any manager can take cover under it. The closer didn’t close! Case closed!
(It’s also simultaneously kind and insulting to any non-closer. When Scott Linebrink blew a save a couple years ago while Jenks was hurt, the reaction was, “You can’t count on a setup guy to close.” Linebrink was battling tendinitis-type problems with his shoulder at the time.)
A closer is essentially his own manager, which is nuts. In a majority of cases, he isn’t nearly good enough to get that kind of responsibility. Jenks is a great example. He’s the perfect closer when everything’s working. Problem is, everybody knows Jenks’ undoing is an inability to keep his stuff in prime form. That would seem to make him a very vulnerable closer, but the only time he’s not getting the ball is if he tells Guillen, “I’m not feeling it today.”
Because he’s the closer, Jenks not only decides ninth-inning strategy, but he also has an impact on every other bullpen decision. When he’s absent, the situation devolves into a potentially toxic sliding block puzzle, where every replacement is immediately judged on a one- or two-game sample.
That is a lot of clout for a flake, is it not?
This is why I’d love to see Guillen revamp the back end of his bullpen in 2011 in an effort to reduce the importance of the last three outs, and place the focus on the last two, four or six. The current system makes very little sense for most teams in any form — strategically or financially (Thornton could have a better year saving 13 games than he would saving 40, but good luck getting the same contract).
Maybe going a closerless route would be a disaster, but I would welcome it. It makes sense on paper the way the Rotating DH never did, because it’s based on trying to take advantage of a player’s strengths, not highlighting their weaknesses. I think Guillen has the chops and the arms, at least if Chris Sale sticks in the bullpen.
If it works, it gives the Sox a much-needed edge over the Twins, who are battling cost problems in the back end of their bullpen over second-tier relievers. If it blows up in various faces, theirs and mine, it will have been in noble pursuit of a sensible idea, and an attempt to solve a problem that reared its ugly head in a lot of key games.
Jenks is a good reliever, but too much was riding on his shoulders when his stuff came and went so capriciously. Imagine if Guillen didn’t have to answer questions about late-inning decisions when he knew that Jenks didn’t have it. Give the Sox one more strong right-handed arm and Guillen the unfettered ability to use them whenever he pleased, and it could be a reality. I’d love to know what that looks like.
***************************
Arizona Fall League:

  • Peoria 6, Phoenix 3
    • Jared Mitchell went 1-for-4 with a triple, RBI and a strikeout.
    • Eduardo Escobar went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBI.
    • Anthony Carter struck out two in a scoreless inning. He’s struck out five of the six batters he’s faced thus far.

And bad news for Josh Phegley, who was removed from the Saguaros roster:

While the original intention was to have him play in the AFL to make up some lost time, blood tests revealed that his condition had not improved enough for him to continue playing. So, fellow White Sox catching prospect Jason Bour was added to the Saguaros’ roster while Phegley went back to Indiana to work with team and personal physicians to find a remedy.
“There are still some complications from it [ITP],” said Phegley, who hit .284 [50-for-176] at Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Bristol. “We made a joint decision with the White Sox to cut the season short and take as much time as we could in the off-season to deal with the syndrome. When spring training rolls around, I want to be ready to go.
“Right now everything is still up and down and it [his blood] is not stabilizing like we thought it would. We milked it through the regular season so I could keep playing. I don’t want to do that for a long [period of] time. So we’ll do what we have to do to get it figured out.”

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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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brittburnsfan

Great topic for discussion! The fact of the matter is that the only choice that is the “correct” one is the choice that is successful! I say this because the media and fans alike will complain and whine and question OG about his decision, no matter what the decision is, if it leads to a loss!
For example, OG campaigned for a more versatile and athletic team last off-season which lead to our not re-signing Thome. Many Sox fans (myself included) loved this idea. Stroke of genius! I could not believe how many times in July, August and September I either read in the papers or heard Sox fans complain about not re-signing Thome! I should not have been surprised.
That was a long way to say that the “safe” choice in the 9th is to do it like every other organization does it…which is to hand the ball to the same guy in the 9th with the game on the line. I, however, would support Jim’s position (I think it is Jim’s position) which is to give the ball to the hottest hand or leave it in the pitcher’s hand who breezed through the 8th!
Regardless, OG will be ridiculed for his decision if it leads to a loss. That is the life of a manager.

cushinglee

I agree with this. Whichever way a team runs it’s bullpen, as soon as someone blows a save, the media and fans will go nuts and complain about how the relievers are used. If a team wants to go with the closer-by-committee option, they need to stick with it the whole year no matter the fallout. I seem to remember earlier in the decade the Red Sox tried it, but after a couple of bad games they went back to the ordinary route.

knoxfire30

We could debate this thing til the cows come home and im not sure there is a right answer, my gut however says relievers like having and knowing their role. Getting them comfortable in their spots in the pen could really be beneficial. I think baseball is such a mental game that guys like knowing about when they should get loose start stretching start tossing start focusing in on where they will enter a game and who they are gonna face.

Shinons

I totally think the rotating closer makes sense. You don’t wind up with Jenks closing two games in one day, can actually make use of one of Ozzie’s strengths as a manager – his ability to gauge his pitchers. I really doubt it would be a disaster, but even if it was it’s not like rectifying it is as hard as fixing the rotating DH decision – you just declare whoever in the bullpen is pitching best the full-time closer. Add in the financial component, and it just seems logical.
The only question mark I’ve always had when this topic has come up is guys always seem to vocalize a preference for knowing their role in a bullpen. That could just be a method of angling for the closer job and the cash that comes with being a “proven closer,” but I can see how it could be frustrating for a player if they feel like it’s just a manager throwing darts.

knoxfire30

SIDENOTE: Anyone need a laugh, Nationals inked Mike Rizzo to a FIVE YEAR EXTENTION, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH well played!!!

baseballjones

When I first read this, I said: “No way, this is a hoax”…and then, further confirmation that there is no intelligent life in the Washington Nationals organization. Which now begs the question: Worst GM “vote of confidence”? Jim Hendry or Mike Rizzo?

ricksch

The rotating closer has merit of course. Saves are a recent invention and the primary currency for the elite bullpen arms. Always follow the money. It usually leads to corruption of some sort.
The biggest problem with the pen last year was the three dead spots to start the season, with Williams, Linebrink and Pena. (I know some of you still like Pena, but please view his deteriorating career stats with clarity. He’s a garbage-time player or innings-eater. His “good” starts at the end of this year may be fresh in memory but were meaningless games against opponents whose season, like ours, had already ended. At any rate, we’re already stuck with Linebrink and can in no way afford TWO dead or at the very least fully unreliable pen arms.
I realize no Major League team has seven aces in their pen, but you have to have some warranted expectation from every guy on the roster. The only expectation I had with Williams, Linebrink or Pena was disaster.
So in essence, they could rotate the closer spot or maybe even pull names out of a hat if out of these seven (or six) arms, ALL of them had some reasonable expectation of stepping up. On par, the 7 guy is not going to called upon to do this more than 2-3 times a year, but there has to be some expectation he can succeed — or else why the hell is he on the team?
Again, we’re stuck with Linestink so we can ill afford any more filler in the pen. Keeping Sale out there and spreading the Jenks and Putz’ money around to three decent arms is the way to go.

blah

I disagree about Sale. He belongs in the minors getting stretched out. The preseason prediction was that the rotation would be in great shape and that was why DJ was cut loose. I don’t think the Sox front office can go into next season with any assumptions on how healthy or durable the rotation will be next year.
Also IMO, I hope the Sox go with 6 relievers next year. It’s just a waste to demand a second lefty and almost never use him. Perfectly more sensible to carry an extra pinch bat.

baseballjones

How many wins could you add to the final number from 2010 had we experienced “good Bobby Jenks” and zero appearances from Randy Williams? I am also leaning toward the in-house solution (including bringing back JJ Putz, and keeping Sale in the pen). The money we save on Jenks, and (oh yeah, btw) losing Tony Pena as well….could make it much easier to re-sign Konerko AND make a run at a bona-fide DH bat. Who’s in long relief as the innings-eater when needed? Easy, Freddy Garcia.
Of course the whole thing hinges on Jake Peavy returning to the rotation, but if all goes as planned, Garcia could be scheduled to pitch out of the pen on days that Peavy starts, as a “safety net” if you will, especially in the beginning. Like a tag team of starters, with Freddy as the #6.

ricksch

The best role for Freddy and where he can help the team the most is as the long relief guy who starts maybe five games a year. He’s experienced enough to do well in that role. He would also be a back-up for any injured starter.
Freddy could probably get a deal to start elsewhere, but I don’t see any strong contender handing him a plum role. He needs to shelve his ego and understand the best way he can help a team is as the de facto 6th.
Still, it’s God help us if Peavy doesn’t come back and have at least a good, if not great season.