At the risk of bestowing the Cat Garcia Curse on the relievers again this year, the White Sox bullpen is off to a really good start. It’s not a coincidence that David Robertson — already a trade candidate, despite coming off a rough second half — has triggered trade rumors, given that he has struck out 12 of the first 25 batters he’s faced.
Robertson isn’t alone in his hot start, although he has more of a track record to suggest it’s meaningful than some other players I’m about to discuss. Behind him, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, and Zach Putnam have combined for 34 Ks against 2 ERs and 3 BBs in 24.67 innings.
Putnam’s start shouldn’t be a surprise at this point. Over the past two seasons he has posted DRAs below 3 mixed between DL stints. The first 8.67 innings of 2017, in that sense, are the quintessential Putnam experience, as he has a DRA of 0.98 and was just placed on the disabled list with inflammation of the elbow.
Kahnle and Swarzak represent new developments. Swarzak was fringy as a long reliever/spot starter, but is able to dial it up into the mid-to-high 90s in short outings. While being used in such a capacity he surrendered 10 homers in only 31 innings with the Yankees in 2016, and those issues could still resurface, but a K/BB ratio of 12 does not suggest that his performance to date has been luck driven. And frankly, he has bullied hitters with his fastball in recent outings, with his streak of 18 straight batters retired broken by a weak single on Tuesday night.
Kahnle was acquired for Yency Almonte — which is looking like it might still sting — and was always intriguing if for no other reason than that he throws really, really hard, averaging 97 miles per hour on his fastball last year. The flaw was obvious, though, given that he walked 20 batters in 27.1 innings while y’know … throwing really hard!
He still hasn’t cracked seven innings this year, but dropping your BB percentage from 16.8 to 3.9 seems like progress. I’m not going to call him the next Matt Thornton, but there’s no doubt that if he can keep the ball in the zone there’s the very real potential for dominance.
Ironically, with Michael Ynoa hanging in there, Nate Jones is arguably off to the worst start in the bullpen while probably being the best of the bunch. For a rebuilding team, it is weird that the White Sox may profile to have a bunch of really good relievers. But either way, it sure would be nice if they could polish up NRIs like Swarzak into desirable trade commodities to go along with their higher profile chips.
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