In September of 2020, Garrett Crochet took the baseball world by storm. His jaw-dropping fastball was making Major League hitters look overmatched, and that's putting it nicely. Having skipped every level of minor league ball due to the pandemic, Crochet found himself thrust into a pennant race with nothing more than a few weeks of appearances at the team's alternate site before finding his way to 35th/Shields.
Many thought the White Sox had a deadly weapon at their disposal, one who could dominate out of the bullpen while learning at the MLB level before transitioning to the starting rotation, as was the promise when he was drafted last June.
However, as we look ahead to the 2022 season, Crochet's role with the team going forward remains unclear. Questions about his ability to transition to the starting rotation are beginning to arise, coupled with a 2021 performance that, while still solid, felt somewhat underwhelming based upon what we observed during his initial taste of big-league action.
Cause For Concern?
Many of us within the fan base held our collective breaths when Garrett Crochet exited the final game of the 2020 Wild Card series against Oakland with forearm discomfort. While in many cases that diagnosis serves as a precursor to the dreaded Tommy John surgery, Crochet received a clean bill of health heading into 2021 and was ticketed for a full-time role out of the Sox bullpen.
Overall, Crochet was a solid performer out of the Sox bullpen last season posting a 2.82 ERA, 2.80 FIP, and 1.3 fWAR in 54.1 IP. Again, those are solid numbers that most teams would love to have from a member of their pen. However, we didn't see the dominating presence that we anticipated after his stellar debut in 2020.
When breaking down Crochet's numbers, there are some very interesting things that happened in 2021. Let me preface all of this by saying these are extremely small sample sizes, particularly when comparing with only a handful of appearances in the 2020 season. So whether they are a sign of things to come from a long-term perspective or just simply aberrations remains to be seen.
When evaluating his pitch mix and its effectiveness in 2021, there was a noticeable shift.
We simply don't know if Garrett Crochet's decline in both fastball and slider velocity this past season was due to residual issues with his forearm issue. However, we can likely surmise that the sizeable decline in fastball velocity played a role in Crochet not being the dominant force we anticipated. To put it mildly, his fastball simply wasn't an effective pitch in 2021. He wasn't getting swings and misses anywhere close to the level he did in 2021. And when he was inducing contact, it was often quality contact that resulted in damage.
On the flip side, the lanky lefty's slider became an even more devastating pitch than it had been during his cup of coffee in 2020. This became the primary weapon Crochet would use to put hitters away, as was evident by the nice uptick in the offering's PutAway% (% of two-strike pitches that result in a strikeout). If Crochet will no longer have the blazing fastball that can simply overmatch the best hitters in the world by brute force, will he have to tweak his overall approach to being more dependent on the slider? That's a question that can't be answered at this time, but it will be something worth monitoring going forward.
Again, this data could be very misleading due to the absurdly small sample size of his 2020 performance. One thing was clear via the eye test, however. Crochet's fastball was no longer a lethal weapon. Is it possible that it could return to being one again this coming season? Sure. That would certainly add another dimension to Crochet's ability to get hitters out, particularly in high-leverage spots.
Transition On Hold?
Coming into Spring Training this season, the team still viewed Garrett Crochet as a starter long-term. Assistant general manager Chris Getz elaborated on the lefty's outlook in February of 2021.
"'Pointing back to last year, the way he was used and how effective he was, and you look at this upcoming year with the needs that we have on our major league club, most likely the best fit for him and our club is to be in more of a bullpen role, a multi-inning role, with the understanding that long term we still view him as a starter,' Getz said. 'That experience that you gain in the bullpen certainly will benefit him.
'He's a guy that, coming off of a 2020 with a lighter starting workload, for 2022, we have to be very creative, we have to be very cautious of how many innings we put under his belt. And the bullpen role is probably the safest landing spot to accomplish that. Hopefully we look up at the end of the year and he's got an ample amount of innings, therefore we're comfortable with him starting the following year.'"
Given that Crochet was only able to log 54.1 IP, I think it's time to begin calling this plan into question. Furthermore, of his 41 appearances this past season, only 11 were multi-inning tilts. The belief coming into the season was that between Crochet and Michael Kopech, the Sox would have two multi-inning weapons that could help lighten the load of the starting rotation while also preparing them for their eventual graduations from the bullpen.
We know that Kopech is, indeed, transitioning to a starting role in 2022 and it is clear that Crochet will not. I have to call into question whether this is even a viable option for Crochet at this point. The fact of the matter is that the White Sox are in the heart of their contention window right now. Knowing the Sox will have to manage Kopech's innings as he moves to a starting role will require some significant juggling with the pitching staff as a whole.
Could the White Sox simply be pushing back their proposed plan for Crochet for a year with an eye on him becoming a starter in 2023? From my perspective, this would be a pretty faulty thought process. We saw in 2021 that Carlos Rodon required some extra care in the season's second half. I think we can all anticipate the same for Kopech in 2022. Looking to do potentially the same with Crochet in 2023 would really be a gross mismanagement of talent during a contention window.
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 think there is, the belief that Crochet's selection with a first-round pick was misguided will only grow louder. Crochet could do some to help quiet these sentiments by having a dominant season out of the bullpen in 2022, but the fact will remain that these whispers will only grow louder should he not.
2022 will prove to be an interesting season for Crochet. Can he cement his position as a dominant force in the bullpen of a team with World Series aspirations? Will the White Sox utilize him in a role that prepares him for a future in the starting rotation?
We don't know the answers to these questions as we are a few days away from Festivus. But how the Sox manage Crochet going forward will certainly open up all of the organization's decision-makers to being subject to the Airing of Grievances at this time next year.