Entering the 2022-23 offseason, the Chicago White Sox bullpen was generally deemed a position group of strength. The group was projected to be headlined by a dominant All-Star closer in Liam Hendriks, a breakthrough piece in Reynaldo Lopez, a reliable veteran setup man in Kendall Graveman, a bounce-back candidate in Joe Kelly, and several other intriguing pieces including fireballer Garrett Crochet returning from his Tommy John Surgery.
However, on January 8th, Liam Hendriks and the Chicago White Sox were delivered a devastating blow when Liam was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fast forward seven weeks and another blow (though to a much lesser degree) was delivered to the bullpen when MLB.com’s Scott Merkin reported that White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer is dealing with ongoing soreness.
While Bummer expects to be ready for Opening Day, this brings me to another thought: White Sox fans should temper their expectations for their southpaws, at least in the first half of 2023. Here’s why.
While Bummer’s career 3.03 ERA and 2022 2.36 ERA are solid-to-exceptional, he only pitched 26.2 innings last year due to a multitude of injuries. Furthermore, he’s logged under 100 innings in the last three years combined and is somewhat prone to IL stints. There is no doubt that when he is healthy, he is lethal, as evident by hitters recording a measly .296 SLG and .606 OPS against him throughout his career.
This latest update on Bummer’s health/nagging soreness gives me pause entering the season. I am a firm believer in his talent, fortitude, and stuff, but his inability to stay healthy could develop into a concern in 2023, given both his track record and his current status. It’s also tough to stay warm and pitch well in the early parts of the season when temperatures in April-May can dip below 50 degrees. My hope is that this is a moot point come summer, but I would not expect a crisp or fully healthy Aaron Bummer for the early part of the season.
White Sox manager Pedro Grifol delivered a positive review of Garrett Crochet on Tuesday afternoon, as also seen in our February 28th White Sox update:
While these notes are exciting to hear/see, especially given Crochet’s electric fastball, the fact of the matter is he is returning from a serious arm surgery in Tommy John. According to James Fegan of The Athletic in November of 2022, “Pitching coach Ethan Katz said that Crochet (elbow) isn’t expected to serve as a starting pitcher in 2023. Katz also said he hopes Crochet will be able to serve as a long reliever at some point in 2023, but the southpaw still needs additional time to recover after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April.”
Baseball Reference’s projections for Crochet include 30 IP, a 3.60 ERA, and a 1.23 WHIP. While merely 30 innings may be a bit conservative, Sox fans should prepare for a limited role for Crochet as he returns from injury. Being that he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2021, he will be eased into action slowly as his innings are monitored and his health is made a priority. Thus, I’m of the opinion that Sox fans should be excited to see Garrett back in action but temper their expectations in terms of appearances and innings.
The lone piece acquired by the White Sox in the 2022 Trade Deadline, Diekman turned in poor results on the southside. In 19.1 IP across 26 appearances, Jake posted a 0-3 record, 6.52 ERA, with 12 BBs and 28 Ks. Unfortunately, hitters thrived against him, posting a .398 OBP, .482 SLG, and .880 OPS.
As a 36-year-old with command issues coming off a down year, I would not expect Diekman to make a big impact or appear in many high-leverage situations. Hopefully, he can bounce back and provide adequate innings out of the ‘pen as a veteran reliever.
The reasons to temper expectations for each southpaw reliever are all different (Bummer-health, Crochet-return from injury/innings restriction, Diekman-performance). Having said that, while I and all of Sox nation are certainly rooting for success for not only these three relievers but all players, I advise fans to be cautious with any sky-high hopes for the lefties out of the bullpen.
Follow us @SoxOn35th for more throughout the season!
Featured Image: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports