Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

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Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

Roger Angell in 1973 wrote in The New Yorker (via Neyer-James Guide to Pitchers):

Everything about Wilbur Wood is disarming. On the mound, he displays a comfortable expanse of tum and the stiffish-looking knees of a confirmed indoorsman, and thus resembles a left-handed accountant or pastry chef on a Sunday outing. Even the knuckler which he throws, sensibly, on nearly every pitch - looks almost modest, for it does not leap and quiver like Hoyt Wilhelm's old hooked trout.

Dave Letterman, in the mid 80s, once referred to Terry Forster as:

A big fat tub of goo; the fattest man in professional baseball.

Besides both seemingly being produced by the same pitcher factory (fat-ctory?) which produced the likes of David Wells, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Jenks, this pair of portly portsiders has something else in common: theyre the only White Sox lefties with 20 or more saves in a season. While similar in body type, they couldnt have been at further ends of the spectrum in terms of pitching repertoire.

Wilbur Wood was a big New Englander who had pitched limited innings with the Red Sox and Pirates from 1961-65. With the tutelage of Eddie Fisher and Hoyt Wilhelm, he transformed his knuckleball from a pet project into a legitimate weapon.

In 1968, he set a still-standing White Sox record with 88 appearances, and in 1970, he flicked flutterballs to the tune of a career-high 21 saves. It was the first time a Sox lefty reached the 20-save plateau. It was also the last time he pitched primarily in relief; Chuck Tanner took the reins as manager and didn't like his ninth innings peppered with passed balls and wild pitches from wayward knucklers.

Don't worry about Wilbur; he was just fine in the starting rotation. He averaged 22 wins and 348 innings over the next four seasons. When he logged 376 23 IP in 1972, you had to go back to the White Sox previous World Series championship season to find a higher total (the legendary Grover Cleveland Alexander's 388 for the 1917 Phillies).

Terry Forster was a fireballing phenom. In his age 20 season, the southpaw set a franchise record with 29 saves. Due to injuries as a starter, he was shuttled from the bullpen to the rotation and back to the bullpen, and in 1974 he won the AL Fireman of the Year award with his second season of 20 saves (24).

Forster had a remarkable knack for keeping the ball in the ballpark. In his 1972 breakout season, he pitched exactly 100 innings, surrendering not a single home run. The streak, including the end of 1971 and the beginning of 1973, ultimately covered a span of 137.2 innings. Since World War II, his career mark of 0.42 HR9IP is sixth=best among any pitcher with 1000 or more innings.

Forsters 1975 was decimated by elbow problems. Goose Gossage took over as closer; Forster came back to make two appearances after May 23, including one start (which ended after one inning), contributing to the second most left-handed collection of starting pitchers in Major League history. The 124 lefty starts by the 1975 White Sox (mostly Wood, Jim Kaat, and Claude Osteen) were the most by any team ever...except the 1983 Yankees.

Wood took a Ron LeFlore liner to the kneecap early in 1976; Forster and Gossage were both pressed into starting roles for the rest of the season. They combined for a 11-29 record and were both shipped to Pittsburgh after the season in exchange for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez. Wood was never the same again.

Since Wood and Forster roamed the mound at Comiskey Park, lefties were left out of the closer role for the Pale Hose. The last 24 seasons of 20 or more saves by a White Sox pitcher have all been by right-handers. Scott Radinsky and Damaso Marte each took turns in emergency roles as Bobby Thigpen thawed and Billy Koch got cooked, but neither held it down for an entire season.

In fact, since the save became an official statistic in 1969, 84.1 percent of all Major League 20-save seasons (612 of 728) have been by righties. With Billy Wagner's retirement, Brian Fuentes' role as a plan B to Andrew Bailey and Matt Thornton's inability to keep the closer role (0-4 in save opportunities), 2011 ended up the first season with no 20-plus save lefties since 1982.

With Sergio Santos departure to Canada, can Matt Thornton break the right-handed stranglehold on the White Sox closer role? But Jesse Crain and Addison Reed waiting in the wings in 2012, so itll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

What White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is doing to combat second-year struggles

What White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is doing to combat second-year struggles

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tim Anderson got what sounds like a much-needed day off on Saturday night.

Normally soft-spoken, the White Sox shortstop was even quieter than normal during a pregame media session at Kauffman Stadium. Anderson discussed at length his struggles on and off the field after what has been another few trying days. A day after his mentor Todd Frazier was traded, Anderson bunted into a double play on Wednesday after he failed to quickly get out of the box. He also was surprisingly thrown out on an infield chopper in Friday’s loss, though his manager said that was more about Anderson’s route after he made contact. Either way, Anderson is learning how to handle the grind in a difficult season.

“It’s going to be — it was an up and down season,” Anderson said. “I’ve learned a lot. Just from on a maturity level. And just on the field. I still have to keep working and keep having fun with it.

“It’s easy to lose focus when you are not doing good. It’s something I have to keep grinding through. The game won’t stop for nobody. I have to keep playing.”

Anderson had a trying night during Friday’s four-plus hour affair played in 100-degree plus temperatures. Not only did he fail to beat out the infield chopper in the third, he also had a base running mistake to end the sixth inning. Anderson reached on a one-out single with a line drive to left. But he aggressively tried to advance from first to third on Kansas City pitcher Scott Alexander’s errant pickoff throw not noticing the ball rebounded most of the way back toward first base. Anderson got caught in the middle as Eric Hosmer quickly retrieved the ball and started an inning-ending rundown.

That play came three innings after Anderson hit an infield chopper that Alcides Escobar fielded near third base and fired to first just in time. Manager Rick Renteria said Friday he was a little surprised Anderson wasn’t safe but attributed it to his route out of the batter’s box. Renteria said it’s an adjustment the team is working on with Anderson.

“He's got a tendency to run out of the box, almost like he's going to start rounding a banana, and he does that a lot,” Renteria said. "We're trying to clean him up from going out and creating a straight line. I don't if it's because he ends up finishing his swing, he starts to fall out toward that side. But once he got down there he was busting his butt. I thought he got down there once he got himself back on track and line to try to give himself a chance and beat it out. Was I surprised? Yeah, it was close.”

Anderson said there’s been some discussion about his route from the box to first base but not a ton. He also said it’s an involuntary action.

“I don’t feel it,” Anderson said. “It’s something I’m still working on. I don’t feel it coming out of the box.

“When I get down the line a little bit, I kind of feel it. But I don’t feel it directly when I come out of the box. 

“Sometimes my finish could throw me back a little bit and kind of take me to that route.

“It’s just naturally.”

It’s only natural that Anderson is down about Tuesday night’s deal that sent Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees. Frazier has taken Anderson under his wing since the second-year player arrived in the majors last June.

Anderson said Frazier helped him improve his positioning and was a constant presence with their ongoing conversation.

“It’s tough to see people like him go,” Anderson said. “He’s kind of the voice of the locker room. So, it’s kind of, I’m on my own really. Just trying to figure it out myself.” 

Anderson’s had plenty to deal with already this season. The sudden death of his friend, Branden Moss, in May is well documented. He’s also struggled at the plate and in the field as the league adjusts to him. Renteria doesn’t think any one thing is responsible for the toughest year of Anderson’s life as a professional.

“There’s probably multiple factors,” Renteria said. “There are a lot of things going on in his life this year. I think the opponents are adjusting to him a little bit more. I think he’s having to deal with the newness of trying to also make his own adjustments. I’m sure he’s frustrated at times and still trying to kind of put himself in a position where he feels good about how he’s handling his at-bats. The truth is, though that’s the nature of the game of the big leagues.

"We’ve talked about process obviously, but we’ve also talked about, you’re always going to be making adjustments, but you’re also looking at some form of a finality in terms of trying to figure out exactly where you’re at and who you are as a hitter and as a player. And even then, you’re still always evolving, because the game’s always changing; the opponent’s always changing. You’re always having to make adjustments along the way and what will be I believe a very good and long career for Timmy.”

How Yoan Moncada's first hit stacks up against all-time White Sox greats

How Yoan Moncada's first hit stacks up against all-time White Sox greats

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yoan Moncada broke the seal in a big way on Friday night.

Facing Kansas City’s Royals pitcher Ian Kennedy at Kauffman Stadium, baseball’s top prospect delivered a three-run triple in the top of the third inning to earn his first hit with the White Sox. Moncada’s two-strike, two-out, opposite-field triple to left-center field arrived in his fifth plate appearance with the White Sox.

Below is a chart of how the top 11 White Sox in Wins Above Replacement, according to baseball-reference, notched their first hits.

Player, WAR

date | venue | inning | outs | opponent | pitcher | result | plate appearance

Luke Appling, 74.5 WAR

9/10/30 | Comiskey Park | B7 | 1 out | Red Sox | Danny MacFayden | 1B | third PA

Frank Thomas, 68.2 WAR

8/3/90 | County Stadium | T7 | 2 outs | Brewers | Mark Knudson | 3B | seventh PA

Eddie Collins, 66.6 WAR

4/14/1915 | Sportsman’s Park III | N/A | N/A | STL Browns | Carl Weilan | 1B | N/A

Nellie Fox, 46.95 WAR

5/18/50 | Comiskey Park | B7 | 1 out | Senators | Sid Hudson | 1B | fifth PA

Minnie Minoso, 41.36 WAR

5/1/51 | Comiskey Park | B1 | 1 out | Yankees |  Vic Raschi | HR | first PA

Robin Ventura, 39.37 WAR

9/12/89 | Memorial Stadium | T4 | 2 outs | Orioles | Ben McDonald | 1B | third PA

Luis Aparicio, 35.28 WAR

4/17/56 | Comiskey Park | B7 | 1 out | Indians | Bob Lemon | 1B | third PA

George Davis, 33.09 WAR

1902 | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A

Fielder Jones, 31.81 WAR

1901 | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A | N/A

Carlton Fisk, 28.8 WAR

4/10/81 | Fenway Park | T3 | 1 out | Red Sox | Dennis Eckersley | 1B | second PA