A plea for keeping Sale in the bullpen

I yield the floor for a powerful argument to keep Chris Sale in the bullpen. Re-start the debate.

I’m about 12 pages and 5,000 words into a retrospective piece on Kenny Williams’ first 10 years that will serve as the centerpiece for White Sox Outsider 2011, so I’m going to hand over the heavy lifting to Buford.
You may have seen the appeal for Chris Sale to start the season in the bullpen toward the end of yesterday’s lengthy and great discussion. I’ll yield the floor to re-post it here, because I think it has some great points worth debating.
* * *
Buford sez: Originally I wanted Sale as a starter but upon further review I have changed my mind for four reasons:
1. Last year the Sox and Twins played nine one-run games. The Sox won two.
2. LHH Mauer
3. LHH Morneau
4. LHH Kubel

What a strangely constructed fellow.
If the Sox are going to pass the Twins, winning these close games are a must. This means holding onto leads late in the game (and keeping tie games tied) by neutralizing these 3 guys with quality LH relievers.
Last year we saw how helpless Joe Mauer looked vs. Sale and I suspect Justin Morneau wouldn’t feel very comfortable. And we simply have to stop Jason Kubel from looking like Babe Ruth vs. us.
Kubel (career) 92 HR .463 SLG%
Kubel (vs. Sox) 18 HR .585 SLG%
Almost 20% of Kubel’s HR’s have come vs. the Sox. His career HR’s and SLG% are the highest vs. any AL team. Mauer or Morneau lighting you up is one thing, but this gremlin?
Matt Thornton can’t do this alone and some soft-tossing situational LH reliever isn’t the answer. Thornton and Sale in the bullpen to pitch in the late innings vs. LHH – and especially Minnesota’s LHH’s – makes me a happy camper.
Sale showed last year vs. Mauer how to get him and other LHH out – fastballs up and in and sweeping breaking balls on the outside corner. And if by chance one of his high and tight fastballs hits meat, I can live with that too.
If Jake Peavy can’t start the season, re-sign Freddy Garcia. He had 3 quality starts in 4 appearances vs. the Twins last year. Or Kenny can do his thingy by acquiring someone else. The guy I would love to acquire is the Cubs’ Sean Marshall, who seems to fly under the radar. But that’s for another day.
Also, since the AL pennant will likely go through Boston, we will facing Gonzalez, Crawford, Ortiz, Drew and Ellsbury.
And if the World Series goes through Philadelphia, you’re looking at their two LHH game-changers Utley and Howard.
I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but I’m tired of the Twins getting ahead of us.
* * *
Jim again: Given that there are several solid left-handed options on the free agent market, I’m inclined to let the decision wait for as long as possible. If nobody like a Pedro Feliciano or Randy Choate falls through the cracks, that would certainly allow the Sox a couple of months to see how well Sale adjusts to stretching out.
But this is certainly the emotional argument to make. Obviously Sale has more value as a starter, but if the Sox are truly “all in,” this would be the all-inningest decision they could make, as it hits their chief rival where they live. It’s not just that left-handed hitters power the Minnesota offense, but if their bullpen can’t recover from losing Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain (and to a lesser extent, Brian Fuentes), a lot of games could be had in innings No. 7 through No. 9.
Using Sale in relief for a full season before giving him a chance to start might permanently reduce his potential, kind of like taking cookies out of the oven well before they’re baked. Then again, sometimes cookie dough gets the job done in its own right.

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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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chisoxt

Right on Jim. While sabermetricians seem to down play the value of relief pitching, the unraveling of contending teams down the stretch many times seem to be traced back to bullpen failure. The failures of Jenks and Thorton in two epic games against the Twins come to mind. Sale is inexperienced and by his mechanics seems to render him as an injury waiting to happen. Why not stretch his value out by sending him to the bullpen?

djroomba

I agree, the southpaw McDougal like motion seems like an injury waiting to happen. I think if there is a team that in recent years who seems to place value in the bullpen its the Sox.

soxfan1

I couldn’t agree more. I had Sale as my closer in my 2011 White Sox plan but I’ll take him as a set-up man just as well. The guy is just a natural in the pen especially against left-handed hitters. A transition to an effective starter could take a couple of years and we could always do it in 2012 or 2013 when Chris has a lot more experience under his belt.

blah

IMO using Sale’s pre-arbitration years in such a fashion is a waste. I understand the need for bullpen arms on the cheap right now as the “all-in” mentality came to pass, but nonetheless I think the front office has more money to spend than they are letting on. While I don’t see elite pitchers coming here to Chicago I can see effective bargain buys later in the offseason.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see KW make some moves in spring training for bullpen pieces when players can recoup come of their value (Flowers, Teahen etc.) as is his MO.
The reason I would like to see Sale at least start the season in the rotation is because he provides an overall cheaper option for innings 1-7 than he does for a .1 – 1.2 innings later in the game. The money saved on marginal starters could then be used for better than average relievers.

lorenzobandini

>>I think the front office has more money to spend than they are letting on. <<
I agree with you, blah. It sure seems clear to me that the ownership of the White Sox is all about winning and spending money to do it. They are not looking to lose money, but making money is for their other businesses.
The Sox have also had a noticeable uptick in new revenue sources and they are plowing them back into the product.
The Sox stand proud with regards to how much salary they take on vs. tickets sold. The data of attendance vs. salary for 2010 is as such:
NY Yankees 3,765,807 $206,333,389 $54.79
Boston 3,046,445 $162,747,333 $53.42
NY Mets 2,559,738 $132,701,445 $51.84
Detroit 2,461,237 $122,864,929 $49.92
Chicago White Sox 2,194,378 $108,273,197 $49.34
Chicago Cubs 3,062,973 $146,859,000 $47.95
Seattle 2,085,168 $98,376,667 $47.18
Baltimore 1,733,018 $81,612,500 $47.09
Kansas City 1,615,327 $72,267,710 $44.74
Cleveland 1,391,644 $61,203,967 $43.98
Houston 2,331,490 $92,355,500 $39.61
Philadelphia 3,647,249 $141,927,381 $38.91
Toronto 1,625,555 $62,689,357 $38.56
Tampa Bay 1,864,999 $71,923,471 $38.56
Florida 1,524,894 $55,641,500 $36.49
Oakland 1,418,391 $51,654,900 $36.42
Cincinnati 2,060,551 $72,386,544 $35.13
Atlanta 2,510,119 $84,423,667 $33.63
Washington 1,828,066 $61,425,000 $33.60
LA Angels 3,250,814 $105,013,667 $32.30
San Francisco 3,037,443 $97,828,833 $32.21
Minnesota 3,223,640 $97,559,167 $30.26
Arizona 2,056,519 $60,718,167 $29.52
Colorado 2,875,245 $84,227,000 $29.29
Milwaukee 2,776,531 $81,108,279 $29.21
St. Louis 3,301,218 $93,540,753 $28.34
LA Dodgers 3,562,320 $94,945,517 $26.65
Texas 2,505,171 $55,250,545 $22.05
Pittsburgh 1,613,399 $34,943,000 $21.66
San Diego 2,131,774 $37,799,300 $17.73
http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance
http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries/teams
The interesting trends to watch will be to see how the Sox two biggest competitors…. the Twins and the Cubs go from here.
We will see if the Twins spend their new-found wealth on better players…. and we will see if the Cubs cut into salary to pay the mortgage.
All and all…. Sox ownership continues to show they have a stomach for big-time spending. I agree with you that they will continue to do it in 2011.

knoxfire30

The decesion has basically been made already, by not bringing Putz and Jenks back we simply cant put Sale in the rotation. We absolutely need him in the pen the way things are currently shaking up. Its a HUGE advantage to have two lefties who can get out both lefty and righty hitters but who are extremely devastating vs left hand hitting. Being able to generate those late inning matchups and take the bats out of the star players hands in innings 7,8,9 whenever a big situation occurs is invaluable. I still like the idea of bringing in someone else to close just because I value Thornton and Sale that much as setup guys.
Go out and pick up a 5th starter on the cheap and keep sale in the pen.

dalton

I agree. Yeah, he loses some “value” in terms of WAR or other sabermetrics, but he’ll be invaluable in crucial late-inning situations, like Knoxfire30 and others wrote, against tough lefties. His being in the bullpen puts pressure on the Mauers and Morneau’s of the world, knowing that Sale is in there, lurking. They may not be able to see him if he turns sideways, but they know he’s in there.
Plus, it’ll save his arm and the fewer pitches he throws per appearance will save wear and tear on his face from getting hit with that gold chain he wears.

David

The value a pitcher provides as a starter vs. reliever is too great to not find out if Sale is capable. However, I am not opposed to another year in the bullpen as long as the end goal is Sale becoming a starter.
I do respect that method of grooming a pitcher into starting…the Sox did it with Buehrle and the Twins did it with Santana.
The Rangers are in a tough spot with Neftali Feliz, who was a much more highly regarded talent than Sale. He succeeded as a closer and it could become hard to move him out.
2011 bullpen duties for Sale…sure. But I hope it doesn’t become permanent until we find out that it has to be.

daver

Agreed. The general rule is it’s always in a team’s best interest to put its most talented pitchers in the rotation — assuming the pitcher in question can handle the workload. But the good news for the Sox is time is on their side. Sale will be only 22 on Opening Day, so maybe it would be in their best interest to give him a full season of MLB experience in the ‘pen and look to stretch Sale out for 2012.

blah

“Plus, it’ll save his arm and the fewer pitches he throws per appearance will save wear and tear on his face from getting hit with that gold chain he wears.”
“I do respect that method of grooming a pitcher into starting…the Sox did it with Buehrle and the Twins did it with Santana.”
Being groomed in the bullpen didn’t really work out too well for Francisco Liriano who lost the ’07 season and most of the ’08 season. The Twins quite probably could have won the division in ’08 if they had him for a full season.
Sabermetrics aside, there is more value in 18-21 outs in a game than getting 1-3 outs. This is very similar to the “saves are overrated” argument.
In terms of what Mauer and Morneau say about being uncomfortable against him… What are they supposed to say? “We went to battle out there and tomorrow is a different day” “he came to camp in the best shape in his life” “Gotta tip our cap to him” “he’s a good pitcher (and I got lucky)”… It’s all cliches anyway. Players answer in these to protect themselves, I mean Cowley attacks Floyd because he does crosswords and Jenks was called out for riding a motorized scooter.
Sorry for the tangent, but to restate my opinion again, more so for a therapeutic sake than to convince anyone, there is substantially more value in starting than relieving.
An ’07 bullpen situation is not what I or anyone else wants, but if KW can get some other options out there I would prefer Sale at least start the year in the rotation and move to the bullpen later on when Peavy comes back.
The only way this Sox team will take the division is if they get off to a hot start. The Twins win an obscene amount of games in the 2nd half almost every year.

dalton

Regarding Mauer vis-a-vis facing Sale, I believe he said he felt “uncomfortable” against him. That’s not exactly cliche. Sounds like an honest answer to me that cuts through the athletespeak.
Not sure putting Sale in rotation from the outset will ensure Chicago gets off to a hot start. What if he struggles? That won’t be so hot.
Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, Jackson then Garcia until Peavy comes back. That’s a fine rotation right there.
2012? Sale starts. As for 2011? He’s our lefty Ginsu knife coming out of the ‘pen.

blah

The Sox getting off to a hot start was more a recipe for success than aimed at the rotation. If Sale struggles in the rotation, we’d be in the same spot anyway. He’s going to be the 5th starter. Odds are he would probably be better than a lot of options out there and Sale would for sure be cheaper.
If we’re speaking cost for the dollar, I would prefer to have Sale in the rotation for $400,000 and spend the rest of the money on bounce back relievers like Joe Beimel, Manny Delcarmen, & Alfredo Aceves.
Truth is this team has no viable pitching depth. Spreading the money that is left by signing bounce back candidates and viable options (albiet not ideal options) is better than spending a lot on a player with no future with the organization, IMO.
I understand your argument, it makes sense in the short term. However, as mentioned above, given Sales size, his motion, his history as a starter, I think he would be better off taking the ball every 5th day for 20-30 starts than pitching out of the bullpen every other day, 60-70 times next season.
At the end of the day KW decides what’s up and my opinion means
$h!t.

dalton

It’s an interesting argument: What causes more wear and tear on the pitching arm, throwing 100 pitches every fifth day (and having to incorporate more sliders and curves, which are harder on the arm), or making 60 – 70 appearances and throwing anywhere from 1 to 30 pitches, and where he can rely on the fastball. If he’s any sort of candidate for needing eventual rotator cuff surgery (or Tommy John surgery), odds are it’s going to come more quickly out of the rotation than out of the bullpen.
If we re-sign Garcia, then we have him, Pena, and Sale as fifth starters. That’s not rotation depth? And if and when Peavy comes back, he bumps one of those guys to the pen, which provides even more depth. How many teams have two or three guys that can be a serviceable or better fifth starter?

blah

Adding Garcia answers the question of rotation depth, but does nothing for bullpen depth. Again if cost effective options are a priority, signing Garcia and negelecting another bullpen arm is dangerous.
All I am saying is take a look at Liarino. He was in the Twins pen, moved to starting and broke down because he was ridden too hard. McCarthy same thing. Joba Chamberlin, didn’t break down but was inneffective. While working from the bullpen can work for some starters, I don’t think it does for all.
And going back to your point about Sale not being effective, easier to hide in the bullpen, yes, good for overall development, no.

dalton

Adding Garcia allows Chicago to keep Sale in the bullpen, which maintains depth otherwise further drained by having Sale move to rotation. If Sox re-sign Garcia, KW still needs to bring in two more arms for the ‘pen. Or is it three? At any rate, he has work to do.

blah

Either way, he needs to bring more arms in. Garcia likely won’t settle for $1.5mm again. Bullpen arms usually can be had for less than rotation arms.

David

BLAH,
I agree with most everything you wrote but what the hay are you talking about with Liriano.
The idea behind a pitcher beginning in the bullpen is learning hitters, developing a new pitch, practicing, etc.
Liriano got injured. He was a high risk for an arm injury due to throwing a baseball for a living. How is that a negative for grooming a pitcher via the bullpen?

blah

My point was that Liriano began the year in the bullpen until the need arose for him in the rotation.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/tom_verducci/11/28/pitchers/index.html
Verducci Effect.

blah

I suppose that is more in terms of how the Twins used him, but nonetheless in a division race, I think the temptation for overuse in the pen would be more common.
Considering Sale’s frame, size, age & history as a starter I am hesitant to say his place is in the bullpen, a role he was used well in during last season because of the risk to injury do to chosen occupation.
Again, who knows ho the season will play out, but there are 3 starters in the rotation now who have missed time with injury, the temptation might be there later on to use Sale in the starter role, thus increasing his exposure to injury.

daver

Jim: I doubt the Cubs would move Sean Marshall at this point as he arrived as one of the better left-handed set-up guys in the NL this past season. But I’d love to read a theoretical trade proposal for him. Curious to know what you think the Sox might be willing to give up.

evenyoudorn

Mark Teahen and Matt Karchner?
Honestly, I don’t know what we’ve got that the Cubs would want. I was talking about this very topic (trade for Marshall) with a Cub fan in the office today, and we just don’t match up. Don’t need a catcher, no room for a corner outfielder any way you cut it, and no space for DH.
Morel/Viciedo? Ramirez and Pena.
Escobar? Castro.
And trading pitching for pitching is running in place…

buford

Just heard about the Crain signing, but here’s my Marshall trade.
Sean Marshall > Dayan Viciedo & Charlie Leesman & Eduardo Escobar
Marshall 2010:
G-80 K/9-10.85 BB/9-3.01 HR-3 GB%-52 ERA-2.65 WHIP-1.11 BAA-.210 WAR-2.2
Marshall’s 2.2 WAR tied Matt Thornton and was behind only 3 relievers – C. Marmol (3.1) B. Wilson (2.7) and H. Bell (2.4). He is 28 and in his ARB2 year. If Thornton leaves after 2010, we’ll need a replacement.
[ There is a terrific article about Marshall in Fan Graphs dated 9-10-10 titled “Sean Marshall is a Rebel.” It focuses on Marshall’s change in pitch type for his success. Great read. ]
Viciedo seems to draw opinions at either end of the spectrum with no gray area. If the Cubs aren’t sold big time on Viciedo both offensively and defensively, next.
The Cubs will likely need a 1B next year. And if Ramirez’s club option isn’t picked up next year, they may need 3B help especially if Josh Vitters continues to stagnate.
The Cubs have no LHP in their minors. While Leesman had a crummy Arizona Fall League this year, he put up decent numbers in a short stint in AA last year. And he’s the only minor league pitcher you hear mentioned by the Sox with the ability to potentially help in the near term. LH SP with good fast balls attract interest.
Escobar’s fine Arizona Fall League performance brought him some attention. Since also can play 2B besides SS, he might have value to the Cubs if DeWitt doesn’t pan out. But he needs more minor league time.
Young arms like Gregory Infante and Anthony Carter would probably not interest the Cubs as they have some good RHP in the minors. They seem set at catcher so Flowers probably doesn’t factor into the equation.
Also, the Cubs can’t trade Marshall (or any important piece) solely for prospects years away from the show because that will be viewed as running up the white flag. And the Sox aren’t giving up anyone on their 25-man roster since we’re “all-in”.
Potential trades are always fun to discuss as long as they don’t make you reach for the blood pressure medication. While these trade proposals never occur, understanding the thought processes behind both the pro and con factions may be enlightening to varying degrees. And lead to more enjoyment in analyzing the game.
Then you too can make silly trade proposals.

pdxsoxgirl

I agree Chris Sale should stay in the bullpen. I would also like to see us bring back Bobby Jenks, but as a bullpen piece, not as a closer. Remember the games where he pitched mutiple innings late in the season? He looked very good there. I could even see him as a long man. This plays into his desire to pitch and not just blow people away with a fastball. It also may be that now as a family man who is more settled in life, closer is just not going to work for him. This of course would depend in Bobby’s mindset, but what do you think? Keeping his family in Chicago may matter a lot. It may be to late to repair relationships, as he may have decided to burn his bridges and moved on. Not so sure locking guys into a a role like “closer” or “starter” is reasonable. Anyone notice how Jose Contrares is thriving in the bullpen now? Didn’t the sox say that role would not work for him, he was a starter?

dalton

Leave it to a girl to talk about repairing relationships and being “settled in life” with his family. Pfft!
Kidding, of course.
I remember an article on Jason Kidd, after, I dunno, maybe the second or fourteenth time he battered his wife, where he talked about having to bring himself down after the games, and listening to hardcore rap music wasn’t helping. You thinking maybe being a closer is too intense for a family man? By no means am I implying Bobby’s home life was Beirut for Brides after a blown save…
As for Contreras, he is indeed thriving in the bullpen. He’s also 734 years old, and it’s amazing he’s standing and walking at his age, let alone pitching.

pdxsoxgirl

Sorry – can’t stop being a girl. Pfft back.
Had not thought of things in those terms for Bobby. As far as I can tell his home life is very good no reason to think otherwise.
Observing how his skill set played out last season, it just seems to me he could be a strong piece in a bull pen, just not a closer any more, not every situation. But called upon to close games from time to time.
It will be interesting to see how his career goes from here and where it ends up.

dalton

I’m not as down on Bobby as everyone else here is (besides you). I doubt he’s coming back, and I wish him the best. He was key for Chicago for several years.
PDX, huh? How ’bout them Beavers? Ever see 31knots?

pdxsoxgirl

Beavers? You mean the Ducks?
Actually the team I see being a good fit for Bobby is the Texas Rangers. They had that ginger ale celebration for the non-drinkers on the team.
I think people are right, Bobby is gone. I understand he bought a home in AZ.
I’d like to see Garcia back. Seem to me he is a good complement to Peavy to hold the fort until Peavy is back, if he does get back this year to what Sox are paying him for. Still waiting to see it.
People are probably right though, Garcia will go to high for the budget which is too bad. I also think if the Sox wanted him he would be already signed.

djroomba

The Bobby ship has Chris Saled, and I don’t see Garcia coming back, I much rather see what Pena can do in the rotation.

Shinons

Hm. Speaking of Jenks and changing roles, but I wonder if Jenks would be better off starting…

pdxsoxgirl

I think Bobby was a starter but did not succeed until the Sox put him in the pen. That is why I lean to long relief for him with his selection of pitches and desire to use them just don’t see Bobby as a closer any more.
Looked whatt happened to Papelbon- closer may not work long term for everybody.

pdxsoxgirl

You are probably right about Bobby being too fragile as a starter. Look at all the nagging injuries the past 2 years. Another reason not to have him be a key role like closer. I still think he can have value in the pen. But it is pretty clear that he isn’t coming back

knoxfire30

I think 2011 has sale in the bullpen, after that I see what he has as a starter with Buerhle and Jackson possibly not apart of the 2012 rotation.

dalton

Hopefully Jackson puts it all together for an entire year and convinces the folks here on this blog (along with upper management), that he deserves to stay in Chicago.

knoxfire30

Its not if he deserves it or not, its can we afford him. If he pitches great he will command atleast 3-4 years at 10 mil or more per, do we want to gamble that money on a guy who has had 1 or 2 years of success and 4 years of blah… And if he pitches poorly then there is no need for an 8 million dollar average or below average pitcher.

dalton

If he really puts it together this year, that’ll make it almost 1.5 years of consistently #2 or #3 starting pitching, which should warrant $10 – $12 million per for three or four more years.
But yeah, if he’s pitching poorly come trade deadline, ship him out.

knoxfire30

Im not gonna risk 30 to maybe 50 million on a guy who is only good for 1.5 years consecutively especially when 1.0 of those years comes as a free agent to be.
I hope Jackson has a nice season, but his pending free agency was a reason to hate the trade last year and is going to bear its ugly head for much of this year.

dalton
Shinons

Good.

striker

Any chance Jackson is a Type A free agent after this season?

bigfun

Sure. Pavano and De La Rosa were both Type As this year. I see no reason why Jackson couldn’t put up two-season numbers in the same neighborhood as those guys.

3oooooooo

Yes. In the reverse-engineered Elias rankings, Jackson was Type B, but just on the wrong side of the bubble. With a good 2011, he could make the jump.

ricksch

Agree, the boat has already Saled on pen work. I’ve wanted him there before any moves were made this off-season, simply under the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” axiom. I also think his funky delivery will play longer in the pen. With Jackson and Buerhle likely gone next season, that sets up as a good time to test him as a starter.
Right now we’re down three arms and I don’t want Pena back.
I would like to re-sign Garcia and believe he would be extending his career if he looked to become a long relief man when Peavy — God willing — returns. Garcia should think long and hard about whether or not he needs to get the max contract or start 25 games. The Sox have been good ju-ju for him and he and Oz are cuz.
Guerrier 3yr./$12 to the Dodgers. I loved Guerrier’s durability. This is on the high side but not a bad deal.
Sox need to score at least one guy in the Guerrier ballpark, in addition to another arm or two depending if you include Freddy or or not.

gnix

One thing I don’t think anybody has mentioned: if he’s in the bullpen, that means he’s in the majors all year and is working with Coop all year, rather than spending at least part of the year in the minors transitioning to starting (I can’t see the Sox throwing him into the MLB rotation right away… I feel like they said as much at the end of the year). I’d much rather have him work on his off-speed stuff and mechanics with Coop (learn a Cutter maybe?) than with the minor league coaches.
The list of success stories in the bullpen to starter transition is long and growing: Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, Phil Hughes all immediately come to mind. Especially with a college starter (aces often get really overworked) like Sale, it seems like a good idea to keep innings off his arm for a year or two before stretching him back out. Sale is in the injury nexus for the next few years, so a gradual build-up of innings seems like a good idea to me. The last thing we want is a Wood/Prior situation on our hands.

blah

Randy Choate signs for $2.5mm for 2 years.

blah

I guess my point was that the relief market is still affordable.

parkernutws05

So much for not having anymore money. I just hope he doesnt turn into another linebrink

dalton

Let’s hope he improves on his post-season performance if and when Chicago gets there this year. 2 HR allowed in 1.2 IP is not good.

buford

Last year Sox hitters were 3 for 30 vs. Crain. Konerko 0 for 5 with 5 K’s.
Also, latest rumor has us offering Kerry Wood a 2-year contract.
Does this mean a trade is coming to reduce payroll or are we really, really all-in ?