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Who Closes for the Chicago White Sox?

Posted By Michael Barr On December 6, 2011 @ 3:15 pm In Closers | 7 Comments

With Sergio Santos being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Nestor Molina on Tuesday afternoon, it seems to signal the raising of a white flag of sorts on the South side. Santos had a pretty spectacular year, serving primarily as the team closer, posting a 2.87 FIP with a staggering 13.07 K/9, saving 30 games over 63.1 innings pitched. Santos is presumably the closer in Toronto, where he will have great fantasy value, but who will be handling ninth inning duties for the White Sox is very much up in the air — although they have plenty of options.

First in line would presumably be Matt Thornton, who entered 2011 splitting duties with Chris Sale, and then kinda-sorta handed the full time closer role, and then subsequently blew up and was relegated back to set-up duties. And while he wasn’t quite as dominant has he was in the previous two seasons, he was still pretty nasty — putting up a 2.62 FIP and a 9.50 K/9 rate. His strikeouts were down from 12.02 K/9 in 2010, but even at 9.50, it was right in line with his career average. He was stung by some bad luck with a strand rate of just 61.2% whereas his career rate sits at 74.7%, not to mention a BABIP of .326 where his career rate is .295. After a horrific first month of the season (5.91 FIP), Thornton was mostly back to his old self, throwing 51 innings, giving up 45 hits, striking out 53, allowing just one home run, posting an ERA of 2.45 and holding opponents to a .232/.286/.289 triple-slash. But if there’s truly a fire sale going on, it’s probable that they’ll be taking offers for Thornton too.

Another late-inning option is Jesse Crain, who posted a 2.62 ERA and 9.64 K/9, although his FIP stood at 3.70, which is much more in line with his career averages. Crain throws hard with an average fastball of 94.5 mph and he produced a career high 13.2% swinging strike rate in 2011. He’s mostly a fastball/slider pitcher, throwing the slider almost half the time and historically, it’s his most valuable pitch, and makes him particularly tough on righties. He does have some control issues with a BB/9 rate of 4.27 in 2011 and a career rate of about 3.50 BB/9, so he could make for some Pepto-moments under stress. Given his fly ball tendencies and the likelihood that he regresses to something more resembling his career figures in strikeouts and strand rate, he’s probably not the strongest choice.

One guy that many fantasy owners, not to mention White Sox faithful, would like to see handed the job is Addison Reed. Reed, 22, tore through the minor leagues making mincemeat of hitters at every level, Rookie through AAA ball, finishing with a minor league career 1.41 ERA over 108 innings pitched, striking out 155 and walking just 20. He earned a late season call to the majors in September where he threw 7.1 innings, striking out 12 batters and walking one. Reports from his minor league appearances put his fastball in the 94-97 range and that fits with what batters saw in his brief major league stint, averaging 94.9 mph. He has fantastic command and a very good slider, and in terms of just overall stuff, he’s probably the closer of the future and perhaps even the best man for the job in 2012. But it could be that Robin Ventura and company would prefer someone more seasoned, not wanting to throw the kid into the proverbial fire just yet — not to mention the fact that Reed very well could start the season in the minors.

Lastly, there is another former closer on the White Sox in Jason Frasor, who accumulated a fist-full of saves with Toronto. Frasor was pretty awful after being traded to Chicago, but on the season, he posted a 3.60 ERA (4.09 FIP) with a 8.55 K/9 rate, which is pretty much what you should expect from Frasor. He doesn’t have the same kind of shut-down stuff that guys like Reed and Thornton flash, but if Chicago moves other pieces and they want to lean on a veteran for late-inning duties while Reed seasons, I could see them turning to Frasor in a pinch.

From a fantasy perspective, the more exciting options are Thornton and Reed as they’d be able to contribute nicely to your strikeout totals, but obviously, this is a pretty fluid situation, and it’s more likely than not that we will see more White Sox packing their bags before the New Year. But for the speculative type, you might keep a close eye on Reed.


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