Residing in the American League Central has to be a bit unsettling these days. With the World Series run by the Royals to the and the aging yet still looming Tigers, the upstart Chicago White Sox are throwing their hat into the ring to compete immediately. Quietly signing Adam LaRoche along with adding both Jeff Samradzija and David Robertson to be their second starter and closer respectively, the White Sox are going for it. Addressing the back-end of the bullpen is a great way to solve some of Chicago’s glaring problems from a season ago in which their relievers ranked 27th in save percentage, converting just 63% of their opportunities. As White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin encapsulates, the bullpen was solid last year but didn’t have an anchor:
David Robertson is fresh off of a 39-save season for the Yankees and becomes the stabilizing factor that the White Sox bullpen needs. In 2014, 6 different relief pitchers recorded saves for Chicago with Jake Petricka leading the way with 14. The staff as a whole struggled though, especially in the late innings. As a team, they blew 21 saves. 21! Not only that, teams slashed .265/.356/.384 against the White Sox bullpen with a .740 OPS. Here are the cumulative statistics from the White Sox bullpen in 2014:
Chicago White Sox bullpen: 471 IP, 7.2 K/9, 4.38 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
David Robertson going to help Robin Ventura manage the late innings. The former Yankee is also coming off a season in which he had to replace Mariano Rivera and has experience pitching in a hitter’s venue. Robertson features a devastating cutter (92.6 MPH) and curveball (83.8 MPH) combination, while inducing grounders at a rate of 43.9% which is important when pitching at unfavorable stadiums. What is even more encouraging is that Robertson’s swinging strike rate improved to a career high 11.9% in 2014, helping his K/9 to spike to 13.4. Here are Robertson’s 2014 stats along with his averages over the last 3 seasons:
David Robertson 2014: 4 W, 39 Sv, 64.1 IP, 96/21 K/BB, 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
David Robertson 3-year average: 66 G, 63.2 IP, 85/17 K/BB, 2.63 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Robertson has a K/9 of 11.9 and a K/BB of 4.23 over the last 3 years, which are obviously huge improvements for the White Sox. This move pushes Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka to the seventh and eighth innings and may push up the arrival to Carlos Rodon. This is important as the White Sox have done this before with Chris Sale. In 2010 Sale only pitched 10.1 innings and was promoted to appear in 21 games after being picked 13th overall recording 4 saves as a 21 year-old rookie. Rodon was the 3rd player taken by the White Sox this year and made his debut in the minors across 3 levels but did not appear in Chicago. Rodon’s role in 2015 will be intriguing. With a mid-90’s fastball, one of the best sliders in the Minor Leagues and an improving changeup, he could follow Sale’s path by breaking into the bigs as a reliever first. The White Sox have a need for a power lefty out of the pen and with all of the troubles outlined above it could make sense for Rodon to pitch in high leverage situations. Rodon will turn 22 tomorrow which was the same age that Chris Sale was in 2011. Here is Sale’s stat line from that season as a reliever:
Chris Sale 2011: 58 G, 2 W, 4 Sv, 71 IP, 79/27 K/BB, 2.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP
As it stands today, Scott Merkin projects the arms in Chicago like this:
This is not to say that the White Sox rotation is set in stone but I can definitely see a scenario where Carlos Rodon makes his debut in the bullpen and transitions to the rotation like Sale did. Not only does the David Robertson signing shore up the bullpen, it could pave the way for Rodon to debut as well. Exciting times are ahead as the White Sox continue to evolve into a contending club.
As for Robertson’s fantasy value, I think he is likely to replicate his 2014 statistics with a slight dip in his strikeouts. However, Don Cooper is a respected pitching coach who may be able to help Robertson hold his 2014 gains in K/9 and swinging strike percentage. Barring injury, Robertson should prove 2014 was no fluke and he should remain a top-10 closer. Rodon’s value will be determined by his role but even if he is a reliever, the template from Chris Sale provides a nice baseline to use when forecasting his 2015 season. The biggest winner here is Robin Ventura who can now use his bullpen to it’s full potential in 2015.
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, MiLB.com, Sportingcharts.com, Baseball-Prospectus.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/Q0HycX (Robertson), http://goo.gl/cj5NFV (Rodon)
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!