As we scrambled for any semblance of a positive takeaway, two things stood out: Daniel Palka smashing a surprising number of home runs and Jace Fry becoming a useful backend bullpen piece. His 4.38 ERA didn’t exactly back that claim, but a team-best 2.67 FIP (second best was Dylan Covey at 4.39, if that tells you anything) and 12.3 SO/9 painted a rosier picture.
Jace Fry: Secret Weapon? pic.twitter.com/izJPB4btKe— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) May 16, 2018
In truth, Fry became the only reliever not named Joakim Soria (who was later traded to the Brewers at the deadline) whom Rick Renteria could rely on in high-leverage situations. While Fry wasn’t exactly lights out in the post-Soria era (who was?), he proved capable of missing bats at an elite rate (13.71 SO/9) in front of a defense that sorely needed anyone on the mound to do so.
Fast-forward to 2019. Fry comes in as the left-handed power arm, complementing a host of capable right-handers like Alex Colomé, Kelvin Herrera and Nate Jones. If all went well on that front we could then sprinkle Aaron Bummer into some more low-leverage situations and give him another chance to see what he’s got.
Well, almost none of that plan worked out.
Colomé has been everything the Sox wanted and more, but the same can’t be said for Herrera and Fry. The former has battled recurring back problems, leading to an ugly 6.23 ERA, while the latter has been downright ineffective. Prior to being placed on the 10-day IL on June 7, Fry compiled a 5.79 ERA (4.84 FIP) while seeing one his most oft-used pitches, his slider, become significantly less effective: his whiff percentage on the pitch has gone from 30.04% in 2018 to 22.71% in 2019. In the meantime, his counterpart, Bummer, has stepped into Fry’s 2018 role and flourished. Bummer’s ascent has been encouraging to say the least, but wouldn’t it be nice to have two elite left-handers in the Sox’ bullpen for Renteria to mix and match with?
It seems there might be hope yet for Jace Fry’s 2019 season. I’m about to come at you with an extremely small sample-size that should be taken with a grain of salt, but maybe Fry figured something out in his first two outings since coming off the IL on June 18:
- 2.0 IP, 5 K, 1 H, 0 BB, -1.83 FIP
Too little a sample to take as a concrete turnaround, sure, but compared to his five outings prior to landing on the IL?
- 3.1 IP, 1 K, 2 H, 6 BB, 7.97 FIP
It remains to be seen whether Fry will maintain his recent effectiveness, but it is interesting that in his two latest outings he has gone back to relying on his breaking stuff more (slider, curveball) and his fastball less.
Say, for the sake of argument, that 2018 Jace Fry is back. It completely changes the outlook of the Sox’ bullpen, and maybe even masks, ever so slightly, some of the major starting pitching deficiencies. Having two nasty lefties who can be deployed in high-leverage situations is something of a unicorn in today’s MLB.
An added positive to Fry’s reliability is the flexibility it provides the rest of the ‘pen. Now, questionable pieces like Carson Fulmer and Jose Ruiz can test their stuff in parts of games where they aren’t necessarily being looked upon to slam the door. They can learn on the fly and develop trust in their arsenal while not having an added weight of potentially losing a game.
Watching postseason upon postseason from afar hasn’t been fun, but if we’ve learned anything, it’s the fact that you can only go as far as your bullpen takes you. With the White Sox pushing closer and closer to participating in those playoffs again, the resurgence of a guy like Jace Fry becomes even more encouraging.
Be sure to follow us on social media for more updates @SoxOn35th!
Featured Image: Getty Images