White Sox Top 5 relievers: Merkin's take

June 8th, 2020

CHICAGO – No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Scott Merkin’s ranking of the top 5 relievers in White Sox history. Next week: Manager.

White Sox All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP | LHP

1. , 1986-93
Key fact: Set MLB’s single-season saves record in 1990

Boasting 201 saves with the White Sox, Thigpen not only holds the franchise mark but is the only reliever for the team to top 200. The White Sox selected Thigpen in the fourth round of the 1985 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State, where Thigpen hit 17 home runs and drove in 101 over two seasons as an outfielder, but he also recorded seven saves and a 3.43 ERA in 1985. The right-hander needed only 54 Minor League appearances before reaching the Majors in ’86, where he picked up seven saves and produced a 1.77 ERA over 20 games.

Thigpen’s best season came in 1990, when he set the Major League record with 57 saves in 65 opportunities. Francisco Rodriguez broke that record with 62 saves in 2008 and Edwin Diaz tied the mark with 57 in 2018. The only All-Star season for Thigpen came in ’90 when he finished with a 1.83 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings. He finished fifth in the American League MVP voting that season and fourth for the AL Cy Young, while his 424 relief appearances rank second in franchise history.

2. , 2005-10
Key fact: Set an AL record with 41 straight batters retired in 2007

Jenks was claimed off waivers from the Angels on Dec. 17, 2004, beginning one of the most interesting and entertaining careers in White Sox history. His big league debut came on July 6, 2005, at home against the Rays, and the 6-foot-4, 275-pound right-hander drew oohs, ahhs and applause from the fans by hitting 100 mph with his fastball. By the end of that ’05 season, Jenks was closing for the first White Sox World Series champion in almost 90 years after just 32 games, 39 1/3 innings and six saves during the regular season.

His 173 White Sox saves rank second behind Thigpen -- including 41 saves in ’06 and 40 in ’07, which earned him All-Star berths in both seasons. Jenks recorded the final three outs to finish the 1-0 victory over Houston in Game 4 of the World Series, and his leap into catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s arms stands as a lasting championship image to this day following the sweep. Jenks recorded two saves in the ’05 AL Division Series and two in the World Series. He also fanned 334 over 341 2/3 innings during his White Sox run.

3. , 1991-97
Key fact: Third on White Sox career saves list

Hernandez started his first three career games with the 1991 White Sox -- allowing one run on one hit over seven innings in his debut on Sept. 2, against the Royals -- after coming back from surgery for blood clots in his right pitching arm. But the remaining 342 games with the White Sox all came in relief, as he recorded 161 saves and ranked fifth in all-time relief appearances.

During the 1993 season, when the White Sox captured the AL West title with 94 victories, Hernandez finished with 38 saves and a 2.29 ERA. He worked four scoreless innings in the AL Championship Series loss to the Blue Jays, picking up one save. Hernandez earned his one White Sox All-Star appearance in 1996, when he saved 38 with a 1.91 ERA and struck out 85 over 84 2/3 innings. The White Sox eventually moved Hernandez to the Giants as part of a nine-player trade on July 31, 1997, bringing Keith Foulke and Bob Howry back to the White Sox.

4. , 1997-2002
Key fact: One of four White Sox relievers with 100 saves

Foulke’s first season as a full-time White Sox closer coincided with the team’s 2000 AL Central championship. The right-hander finished with 34 saves and a 2.97 ERA, striking out 91 in 88 innings pitched. In the 1999 season, during which Foulke recorded nine saves, he struck out 123 with 21 walks and 72 hits allowed in 105 1/3 innings. He produced a 2.87 career ERA in 346 games with the White Sox, posting 425 strikeouts against 103 walks. His appearance total ranks fourth among White Sox relievers.

5. , 1963-68
Key fact: Made 358 White Sox relief appearances

With his devastating knuckleball intact, Wilhelm made 1,070 appearances during a 21-year career and pitched until he was 49. Traded from the Orioles to the White Sox on Jan. 14, 1963, in a six-player deal that sent future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio to Baltimore, Wilhelm was absolutely dominant during his time in Chicago, posting a 1.92 ERA and yielding just 465 hits in 675 2/3 innings. His 99 saves with the White Sox rank him fifth in franchise history.

From 1964-68, Wilhelm produced a 1.74 ERA over 306 games, including a 1.31 ERA in ’67. Wilhelm was 45 when the Royals took him from the White Sox with the 49th pick of the 1968 expansion draft before trading him to the Angels. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Honorable mentions

Matt Thornton
Thornton came to the White Sox in a 2006 trade that sent Joe Borchard to the Mariners, and he set the franchise record with 164 career holds and 512 relief appearances.

David Robertson
After joining the White Sox via a four-year, $46 million free-agent deal in 2015, Robertson posted 34 and 37 saves, respectively, in each of his first two seasons. Robertson was moved by the rebuilding White Sox back to the Yankees as part of a seven-player trade during the 2017 season.

Terry Forster
Forster’s 75 saves place him seventh on the all-time White Sox list, landing nine behind Robertson.

Addison Reed
Reed saved 40 games for the 2013 White Sox, and the team won 63 overall. The third-round pick in the 2010 Draft finished with 69 of his career 125 saves as part of the White Sox.

Nate Jones
When the hard-throwing right-hander was healthy, he was a solid late-inning option. Jones finished 8-0 with a 2.39 ERA over 65 games during his rookie season of 2012 and produced 69 career holds.

Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage
The Hall of Famer finished as a starter with the White Sox. But during an All-Star performance in 1975, Gossage had 26 saves, a 1.84 ERA and 130 strikeouts over 141 2/3 innings.

Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson and Neal Cotts
The White Sox probably wouldn't have claimed the 2005 World Series title without this talented trio leading the bullpen. Hermanson replaced Shingo Takatsu at closer in-season and saved 34, while Politte posted a 2.00 ERA and Cotts produced a 1.94 ERA as the primary setup men.

Damaso Marte
Marte was another integral part of the ’05 bullpen, and he also finished with 31 saves, a 2.78 ERA and 71 holds with the White Sox.

Bob Howry
In five years with the White Sox (1998-2002), Howry recorded 49 saves and 65 holds.

Jesse Crain
Crain’s last season in the Majors (2013) marked his lone career All-Star appearance, when he allowed three earned runs over 36 2/3 innings for the White Sox. Crain’s 53 holds rank sixth in franchise history.

Scott Radinsky
The southpaw ranks fifth in White Sox history with 61 holds.

Barry Jones
Jones won 11 games in relief in 1990 and finished with a 2.68 ERA in 110 games for the White Sox.

Bob Locker
Locker led the AL with 77 appearances in 1967, and he picked up 20 saves while throwing 124 2/3 innings in that same season. He had a career 2.68 ERA with the White Sox.