Over the next few weeks, BP South Side will be reviewing the performance of all 51 players who suited up for the 2017 White Sox. Players whose seasons were particularly noteworthy will get their own standalone article, while smaller contributors or those who were traded/cut will be grouped together. We’ll do our best to summarize and analyze what each player brought to this year’s club, what we learned, didn’t learn, and what it all means for his future with the team.
Jake Petricka earned a spot in the White Sox bullpen four seasons ago because of his keen ability to induce ground balls.
The 2010 second round pick hurled his mid-90s sinker down in the zone and batters helplessly pounded it into the dirt. In 2014 and 2015 his ground ball rate was 63.4 and 65.2 percent, respectively, and he looked the part of a valuable middle innings guy capable of carving out a lengthy major league career.
Since then, Petricka has thrown 33 2/3 innings total as he battled a myriad of injuries, the latest coming just last week as after a season in which he was disabled with elbow strains on two separate occasions, the White Sox announced the right-hander underwent a nerve transposition in his right elbow. The injury helps explain at least in part his 2017 struggles, but also casts doubt onto his future with the organization. Quite simply, Petricka has lost the command that once made him so effective.
After allowing just six home runs in the first 152 innings of his career, Petricka allowed six in 25 2/3 innings in 2017. His ground ball rate dropped to 47.2 percent and and his fly ball rate — still just 19.6 percent for his career — soared to 27 percent. While that as well as his career-high strikeout rate can be explained at least partially by today’s run-scoring environment, Petricka earned and has kept his roster spot based on his ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. Lacking that, his effectiveness disappears. And it disappeared to the tune of a 7.01 ERA.
Petricka’s command has always been shaky, as his career 3.79 BB/9 indicates, and after a torn hip labrum wiped out basically all of 2016 and 2017 saw three separate DL trips, it’s possible we never see Good Petricka again. The White Sox surely must know that’s possible, and as an arbitration-eligible pitcher this winter, they might not be willing to pay to find out.
Petricka and Zach Putnam have always been lumped together in the eyes of White Sox fans. Surely I’m not the only one, right? After all, both surnames begin with the same letter and they’re fun to say together. Putnam and Petricka seem like the names of heavyset, mustachioed cop partners called on by the chief to work on a case that’s way above their abilities. You know those two old cops assigned to Daniels’ unit in Season 1 of The Wire? They could’ve been named Putnam and Petricka. OK, I’m getting off track. Sorry.
Putnam and Petricka also joined the organization around the same time. Petricka as a draft pick and Putnam after stints in Cleveland and on the North Side of town. Putnam was the other bright spot in the 2014 White Sox bullpen, bursting onto the scene to throw 54 2/3 innings with a minuscule 1.98 ERA.
The next year he became Putnam: The K God, using his splitter upwards of 50-60 percent of the time to generate whiffs before all the cool kids started doing it. Maybe he wasn’t the fireballing reliever you’d expect to anchor the back-end of your bullpen for the next 5-7 years, but one could envision a future where Putnam was coming in and eviscerating three hitters with that splitter in the middle innings for the White Sox for a long time to come.
But it turned out Putnam and Petricka really are tied at the hip, and just as injuries have wiped away Petricka’s last two seasons and put his future as a major leaguer in doubt, the same can be said of Putnam. After a bone fragment in his elbow cost him the second half of 2016, he went down after just 8 2/3 innings in 2017, eventually having Tommy John surgery in June. His status for 2018 is perilous as he is also arbitration eligible again this winter.
Putnam was always a personal favorite after the White Sox picked him up off the scrap heap and turned him into an effective and fun-to-watch middle reliever. Tommy John surgery puts the future of any pitcher in doubt, but for someone whose peak was so fleeting and out-of-nowhere as Putnam’s, the odds seem stacked fairly high against him pitching for the White Sox again.
Lead Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports