In September 2020, Garrett Crochet took the baseball world by storm. His stunning fastball made major league players look overwhelmed, and that’s nicely put. After Crochet skipped every level of minor league ball due to the pandemic, he was thrown into a pennant race with just a few weeks of appearances at the team’s alternate location before making his way to the 35th / Shields.
Many thought the White Sox had a deadly weapon at their disposal, one that could dominate out of the bullpen while learning at the MLB level before moving onto the starting rotation as promised when it was drafted last June.
Looking ahead to the 2022 season, however, Crochet’s role for the team remains unclear. Questions arise about his ability to move into starting rotation, coupled with a 2021 performance that is still solid but feels a bit disappointing based on what we saw during his first experience of big league action .
Reason to worry?
Many of us within the fan base held our breaths when Garrett Crochet walked out of the final game of the 2020 Wild Card series against Oakland with forearm problems. While that diagnosis serves as a precursor to the dreaded Tommy John surgery in many cases, Crochet received a clean health certificate for 2021 and was qualified for a full-time position from the Sox bullpen.
Overall, Crochet was a solid performer out of the Sox bullpen last season with 2.82 ERA, 2.80 FIP and 1.3 fWAR in 54.1 IP. Again, these are solid numbers that most teams would like to have from a member of their pen. However, we didn’t see the dominant presence we expected after its stellar debut in 2020.
When it comes to the breakdown of Crochets numbers, there are some very interesting things that happened in 2021. Let me start all of this by saying that these are extremely small sample sizes, especially when compared to just a handful of performances in the 2020 season, so whether they are a sign of this from a long-term perspective, or just variances, remains to be seen .
There was a noticeable shift in the evaluation of his pitch mix and its effectiveness in 2021.
We just don’t know if Garrett Crochet’s drop in both fastball and slider speeds last season was due to residual issues with his forearm problem. However, we can probably guess that the sizeable drop in fastball speed played a role in the fact that crocheting wasn’t the dominant force we expected. To put it mildly, his fastball just wasn’t an effective place in 2021. It got no swings and was even remotely off the 2021 level. And when it made contact, it was often good contact that resulted in damage.
On the flip side, the lanky left-handed’s slider got even more devastating than it did on his 2020 cup of coffee. This became the main weapon Crochet would put away thugs with, as evidenced by the nice surge in deals on PutAway% (% of Two-Strike- Pitches leading to a strikeout). If Crochet will no longer have the fiery fastball that can simply beat the best hitters in the world with brute force, does he have to adjust his overall approach to be more dependent on the slider? This is a question that cannot be answered right now, but it is worth watching in the future.
Again, given the absurdly small sample size of his performance in 2020, this data could be very misleading. However, one thing was clear from the eye test. Crochet’s fastball was no longer a lethal weapon. Is it possible that it will be one again in the coming season? For sure. That would certainly add another dimension to Crochet’s ability to get clubs out, especially in high leverage spots.
Transition on hold?
When the team got into spring training this season, the team still viewed Garrett Crochet as a long-term starter. Deputy General Director Chris Getz explained the left’s outlook in February 2021.
“‘When we look back on last year, the way it has been used and how effective it has been, and when you look at the year ahead with the needs we have for our major league club, it is probably best that he and our club are best suited. ” more of a bullpen role, a multi-inning role, with the understanding that we will still see him as a starter in the long term, ”said Getz. “This experience that you gain in the Bullpen will certainly benefit him.
“He’s a guy who after a 2020 year with a lower starting load for 2022 has to be very creative, we have to be very careful how many innings we put under his belt. And the bullpen roll is probably the safest place to land to achieve this. Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll look up and he’s got a good number of innings so we’ll be comfortable with him from next year onwards. ‘”
– Excerpted from ‘Sox’s Ideal Plan for Crochet:’ Pen in 2021, Rotation in 2022 ‘via NBC Sports Chicago
Given that Crochet was only able to log 54.1 IP, I think it’s time to question that plan. In addition, of his 41 appearances last season, only 11 were multi-inning tilts. The belief that came into the season was that the Sox would have two multi-inning guns between Crochet and Michael Kopech that could help ease the load on the starting rotation while also preparing them for their later degrees in the bullpen.
We know Kopech will actually take on a starting role in 2022, and it’s clear that crochet won’t. Whether this is even a viable option for crocheting at this point, I have to question. The fact is, the White Sox are right now at the center of their contention window. Knowing that the Sox will have to manage Kopech’s innings if he moves into a starting role takes quite a bit of juggling with the pitching staff as a whole.
Could the White Sox just postpone their proposed plan for Crochet for a year to become a starter in 2023? From my point of view, that would be a pretty flawed thought process. We saw Carlos Rodon need extra care in the second half of the season in 2021. I think we can all expect the same for Kopech in 2022. It would really be gross talent mismanagement during a window of conflict to possibly do the same to Crochet in 2023.
What should the White Sox do?
If there isn’t a viable plan for Garrett Crochet to become a starter, which I personally don’t believe, the belief that Crochet’s selection was misguided with a first-round selection only gets louder. Crochet could do some things to calm those feelings down by having a dominant off-bullpen season in 2022, but the fact will remain that those whispers only get louder when he doesn’t.
2022 will be an interesting season for crochet. Can he cement his position as the dominant force in the bullpen of a team with World Series aspirations? Will the White Sox put him in a role that prepares him for a future on the starting rotation?
We don’t know the answers to these questions as we are only a few days away from Festivus. But how the Sox will deal with crochet going forward will surely open up all of the organization’s decision-makers to the exposure of the airing of complaints to them for the next year at this time.
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