Liam Hendriks
Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks reacts after giving up a two-run home run to New York Yankees’ Joey Gallo during the 10th inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Chicago. (KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Should the White Sox be concerned with CP Liam Hendriks?

The Chicago White Sox are 68-50. They lead the abysmal American League Central by a comfortable 10 games, and barring an unprecedented turnaround by 57-59-second-place Indians, the division is theirs. They have a great lineup and a formidable bullpen, headlined by now set-up man Craig Kimbrel and CP Liam Hendriks. It could be a bit of recency bias, sure, but after Liam Hendriks was bailed out of the Field of Dreams game, and gave up another three runs the other night, is it possible the White Sox move him out of his closer role?

Yes, I’m aware Liam Hendriks has been quite good this year and could be considered among the best reliefs pitchers at times. In 50 innings pitched, he has a 3.42 era, with 26 saves, only third to Cardinals’ Alex Reyes and Padres’ Mark Melancon. He rarely walks hitters as well. His 13.7 K/BB is far and beyond the best among MLB closers. The problem is, his pitches find barrels, and they do it way too often.

This was tweeted after Hendriks surrendered an extra-innings home run this past weekend. I think it should certainly raise levels of concern for the White Sox. Hendriks has been great in nearly every statistic this season; hitters are only hitting for a .178 average against him so far. Essentially, he is not giving up hits often. But when he does, they’re leaving the yard.

Do The White Sox Make A Change at Closer?

With Hendriks, recent struggles, you have to imagine that the White Sox are at least considering changing closing roles, right? I just do not see how you roll with him in the playoffs with his current state. Luckily for the White Sox, they have some other great arms headlining their bullpen. Craig Kimbrel has had a good year, pitching to a 1.25 era, with 72 strikeouts and 23 saves in 43.0 innings pitched. He is the obvious candidate to switch with Hendriks should the White Sox make a change.

The sleeper candidate to me is relief pitcher Michael Kopech. Kopech has been used as a middle reliever all year. He’s had a rough last seven outings, giving up six earned runs in only seven innings. However, in his last 30 appearances, he’s pitching to a 2.53 era, with only 13 earned runs. If you watched the Field of Dreams Game, I’m sure you’re well aware of the electric stuff Kopech features.

If the White Sox do make a change at closer, and for some reason, it’s not with Craig Kimbrel, then I think they’d slide Kopech in there to see how it goes. If the White Sox believe Hendriks’ home-run issues will carry over into October, then they have to consider changing closer roles.

Liam Hendriks’ Concerning Save Rate

The other stat that really stood out to me here was Hendriks’ save rate. He saves the game 81.3% of the time. Maybe those are relatively good odds, but it’s the lowest among the closers who currently rank in the top ten. Even Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman, who had an unprecedented bad stretch, has a save rate of 85.2%. If you’re a White Sox fan, do you trust Liam Hendriks closing games come October?

Is There a Possibility the White Sox are Pretenders?

Despite their 68-50 record, is there a chance the White Sox are really pretenders? I mean, it’s known the AL Central Winner gets there by beating up on teams such as the Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals, and the Minnesota Twins. Remember 2019? The Minnesota Twins crushed the ball. They had the record for home runs as a team that year. They got embarrassed in the Divisional Round, not winning a single game. While I don’t think the White Sox fall victim to the same fate, I would not be surprised if they don’t get far at all this postseason. The White Sox are currently 16-21 against teams above .500. That’s good for a .432 winning percentage.

I’m not saying they’re frauds. It’s not their fault their division sucks year in and year out. I’m suggesting that perhaps the White Sox aren’t as good as everyone thought. If Hendriks figures it out, or if they flip him and Kimbrel’s roles, maybe they’ll feel better come October. As of now, there are some things they have to figure out. I think settling on one closer to lead them the rest of the way is step one.