GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A common question asked of teams toward the end of Spring Training is, "Who's the closer?" But in the case of the White Sox, the answer will include an array of names.By the end of the 2018 campaign, the White Sox will have a better handle on
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A common question asked of teams toward the end of Spring Training is, "Who's the closer?" But in the case of the White Sox, the answer will include an array of names.
By the end of the 2018 campaign, the White Sox will have a better handle on how quickly the rebuilding process is progressing. They have a realistic view of where they are now, and where they want to be in a year or two.
One of the works in progress is the bullpen, and while they sort through who will make the cut when the team leaves Arizona on Sunday, it's unlikely they'll have anointed one particular reliever to nail down saves. They have a handful of pitchers who either have extensive closing experience or have shown an aptitude for it, and manager Rick Renteria intends to use a mix-and-match approach.
Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Juan Minaya are back-end options, and it's likely all three could see action in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Renteria said metrics are "absolutely" part of the equation. But there will be other factors as well.
"At the end of the day, I do understand the emotional and mental makeup of the individual sometimes determines if they're capable of finishing those eighth- or ninth-inning situations," Renteria said. "All those things have to be factored into it, I believe. I also believe I trust the guys that have continued to work through and develop the ability to do those things."
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This isn't exactly the "closer-by-committee" concept from years past, thankfully. It produced mixed results and did little more than confuse and frustrate pitchers who preferred a more concrete label -- "You're the seventh-inning guy. You're my setup man. You're my closer."
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But the new buzz phrase is "high-leverage situations," meaning a manager has the flexibility to turn to one of his more dependable relievers earlier in the game, if the manager has concluded that is the most crucial part of the game that could sway the outcome. That means a closer-type might enter in the sixth. Or the seventh. Or both.
This became commonplace in recent postseasons and as a result, a trend was born. Think Ned Yost in 2015 and Terry Francona in '16.
The White Sox hope to have several high-leverage situations with which to maneuver toward the end of games. How many they'll have is still a question. But the times they do have leads, the late-inning relievers know to be ready early.
"If you're a closer, or you're the eighth-inning or seventh-inning [reliever], you probably started to get loose in the fifth inning," said Soria, who has 204 career saves over a 10-year career. "Just get ready and wait for the call. You're reading the game and you can see the lineups -- if there's a lot of lefties, whoever's better against lefties at the time, whatever. You're ready in the fifth inning."
The difference between making decisions based on high-leverage situations and using the old closer-by-committee method is simple -- teams have more data and can make smarter decisions that go beyond lefty-righty matchups.
Jones, who seemingly had the inside edge throughout Spring Training to win the closer's job, said the inning he pitches doesn't matter as much as just making the right pitches when he's called upon, and not letting late-game pressures be a factor.
"No matter what inning it is, you have to have confidence to throw all your pitches in any count for strikes," Jones said. "That's the name of the game, attacking and getting ahead. Some people can buy into that pressure in the ninth inning and you create that pressure all on your own. In reality, it's three outs and you still have to execute your pitches.
"If someone mentally buys into that pressure -- 'I have to do this, or this, or throw harder, or break stuff off nastier' -- you've created that pressure. All you have to do execute."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.