Things are going well for our White Sox. They sit in first place with a record of 33-17 and have officially clinched their first playoff birth since 2008! They've been able to string together a month of quality baseball, thanks in large part to a favorable schedule that they feasted on (which good teams do, don't let anyone tell you otherwise). They've also weathered a storm of injuries of minor severity to Yoan Moncada and Edwin Encarnacion in addition more severe ones requiring IL trips to the likes of Nick Madrigal, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, and bullpen weapon Aaron Bummer.
Bummer's injury is possibly the most significant, as it has taxed a bullpen over the last month that was short on certainty coming into the season. In totality, the Sox bullpen has been one of the better units in the entire league. They rank in the top-ten for all bullpens in the following categories: fWAR (2.4), ERA (3.71), FIP (3.82), BB/9 (3.47), LOB% (75.1%), HR/9 (1.00), and GB% (45.2%). The few areas where the team ranks in the middle of the pack for all of 2020 is in terms of IP out of the bullpen, where they are 15th with 189.1 IP and 16th in K/9 (9.41). This is obviously a function of the starting rotation struggling to go deep into games with regularity in the early part of this season.
Coming into the season, it was a widely-held belief that Aaron Bummer represented the Sox greatest bullpen weapon because of his ability to handle hitters regardless of handedness plus possessing the capability of handling multiple innings. So when he abruptly walked off the mound on August 7th, there was a great deal of fear within the fanbase. That fear was warranted to an extent, as the Sox have been a little short on quality depth options within their relief corps. However, since Bummer's injury, the bullpen, while being stretched out and some relievers such as Jimmy Cordero being exposed due to overuse, they have held things intact.
Since August 8th, the bullpen has held up better than most would've anticipated. Here is where they rank in a variety of categories since Bummer's injury: fWAR (20th), ERA (6th), FIP (11th), IP (21st), K/9 (20th), BB/9 (9th), HR/9 (14th), LOB% (7th), and GB% (5th). With all of this in mind, the prospects of Bummer returning for the stretch run and playoffs could be a much-needed boost to a group that is desirous of reinforcements they weren't able to receive at the trade deadline.
I was surprised to see the relievers rank toward the bottom in innings pitched, however, that is again a function of the starters doing a slightly better job of getting deeper into games. It certainly has felt as if the pen has been more taxed without Bummer. The return of the southpaw will come at the most crucial time of the year for the South Siders as they have a division title within their grasp. A rested, functional Bummer could be a difference-maker come October.
In his absence, we have seen several relievers placed into precarious positions that have left them open to being over-exposed. I liken this to what the Sox encountered in 2008 when Bobby Jenks went down with back issues, necessitating Scott Linebrink to be thrust into the ninth-inning role. Linebrink had been outstanding in his eighth-inning spot that season, with Octavio Dotel and Matt Thornton serving as middle-inning weapons from each side of the rubber.
The Jenks injury caused a chain reaction of relievers being placed in roles they weren't anticipating heading into the season and things quickly unraveled. Linebrink's Sox tenure was never the same as he couldn't handle the burden of the final three outs, and it had an unfortunate carry-over effect upon Big Bobby's return. Fortunately, we haven't seen that to this point with the likes of Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer, and Matt Foster.
Adding Bummer back to this group could allow everyone to slot back into their normal roles. More importantly, it could help maximize Ricky Renteria's effectiveness in handling games past the sixth inning. If Bummer comes back fully healthy, he could potentially be deployed in a manner similar to what we saw with Andrew Miller back in 2016 when he helped guide the Indians to the American League pennant (where they promptly blew another World Series because, well, they're the Indians).
Getting Aaron Bummer back would be a huge development for this White Sox team that has aspirations of playing deep into October. The one vulnerability most fans see with this current squad is on the run prevention side, and a healthy Bummer could go a long way into helping them shore up this area. Though he is traveling with the team for the upcoming seven-game road trip, there is still no guarantee he will return or what type of impact he will make. But the very prospect of his return is one I wasn't anticipating.
I've been one of the biggest Aaron Bummer supporters as I feel he has the ability to be a deadly weapon out of the bullpen. He may be coming back at just the right time and could be a piece to help push this team over the top come Soxtober 2020.