Matt Albers was one of the worst relievers in the American League in 2016.
Among pitchers who threw at least 49 innings of relief in the American League, of which there were 63, his ERA (6.57) was second worst to Detroit’s Mark Lowe. His fWAR was minus-0.9, tied with Kevin Jepsen, who was released in July by the worst team in baseball only to be picked up by another bottom-five team in Tampa Bay. His K/9 (5.29) was worse than any of the aforementioned 63 except Chien-Ming Wang, and his HR/9 (1.82) was worse than anyone except for Lowe and Jepsen.
So how the hell did we get here?
Albers was a surprising revelation out of the White Sox bullpen in 2015. In 37.1 innings, he posted a 1.21 ERA with 28 strikeouts and nine walks. The 33-year-old journeyman was brought back for 2016 with the expectation that he’d play a similar role, and found quite a bit of early success.
From the beginning of the season through May 1, Albers didn’t allow a run. Those 12 outings plus another 20(!) to end the 2015 season gave him 35 straight innings of work without allowing a run.
As one might expect, Albers started seeing more high-leverage work in the midst of that streak, and his success coupled with the high workloads of the aforementioned frontline Sox relievers meant he started to pitch more often in the seventh and eighth innings of close games.
Albers was fun — his “f—ing like a cat” play in Toronto and game-winning double in New York won’t soon be forgotten — but he was a journeyman for a reason. From the moment his streak ended, May 5 against the Red Sox, through the end of the season, Albers allowed 36 earned runs in 38.2 innings.
David Ortiz led baseball with a 1.021 OPS during the 2016 season. From May 5 through the end of the season, opponents had a 1.058 OPS against Albers.
Of course, Albers was put in the position he found himself in for a reason. Even had he not started the seeing with success, injuries to Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka left the White Sox bullpen thin, and Albers was, at least early on, preferable to young, unimpressive arms such as Chris Beck or Michael Ynoa.
Albers’ entire season was baffling. From the unexpected streak, to the highlight moments mentioned earlier, to Robin Ventura’s insistence on throwing him out there day after day, even when far out of contention, over Beck, Ynoa, or even someone like Juan Minaya. 12 of Albers’ 58 appearances came after August 1. Why that number was more than, I dunno, zero, will forever be a mystery.
It’s hard to imagine Albers will be back in a White Sox uniform in 2017. But hey, at least he provided some entertainment in a lost season, whether it was his doing or the hitters who were creaming him.
Lead Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports