White Sox fill small need with Jake Diekman, declare victory to Seby Zavala

CHICAGO — It’s not uncommon to see White Sox general manager Rick Hahn after the clubhouse game, though it’s more common on the road. But he spent plenty of time after Sunday’s 4-1 win over the A’s chatting with Liam Hendriks, just before the closer, well-travelled, spoke to the media about his 20th stoppage of the season.

“That’s what I love about the front office here,” Hendriks said. “They ask guys, ‘How is this guy at the clubhouse? How is this guy as a person? (How is) this guy on the pitch? can be an asshole and change the morale of this clubhouse.

Just over 24 hours later, the White Sox traded for one of Hendriks’ former teammates, bringing in left-hander (and former Oakland Athletic) Jake Diekman in exchange for wide receiver Reese McGuire and a player to be named. later. Where cash considerations. Diekman is in the first year of a two-year deal that pays him $3.5 million this season and next, with a $4 million club option for 2024, and a source says Athleticism‘s Chad Jennings that the White Sox take over Diekman’s contract in full.

It’s a small matter. Diekman is established — 35, in his 11th season with a career 112 ERA+ and is holding left-handed hitters to a .188/.316/.250 batting line this season. That’s relevant for a bullpen missing Garrett Hook for the season and Aaron Bummer through September. But control issues have made Diekman’s efficiency hot and cold, to the tune of a 17.5% walk rate this season and a 6.57 ERA in July. Evidenced by the fact that Diekman was acquired primarily for McGuire, who burned a hole in the White Sox’s pocket as they carried three receivers on the roster, none of whom could be freely opted for underage.

So the biggest winner on Monday night is Seby Zavala, who was dropped outright from the 40-man roster to start the season and has now entrenched himself as a backup to Yasmani Grandal at receiver. A .409 batting average on balls in play suggests the 28-year-old Zavala can’t maintain the .296/.340/.439 batting line he posted in 30 games, but the second-best batting rate in MLB by Statcast means he already provides the defensive value the Sox hoped McGuire could deliver. Zavala was a 12th round pick and spent parts of five seasons at Triple A or the team’s alternate site. His tenure in the organization saw the White Sox draft Zack Collins 10th in 2016, sign Grandal to the biggest free agent contract in franchise history and trade for McGuire to slip past him on the depth chart this spring. And yet, Zavala remains. It took time.

“Being balanced allows me to hit for power and hit for average and not kind of get out of control in the box,” Zavala said of his offensive improvement. “I learned to use my feet. I couldn’t find the midpoint. And throughout the offseason, I was able to find it and learn to change my balance. When I feel like I’m leaning too far forward, I can make the adjustment right away, instead of taking days or a week to figure out what I was doing wrong. Now I can do the setting step by step.

But it’s Zavala’s (and Grandal’s) framing that will pair best with Diekman, who hardly ever had a strikeout rate below 25% or a walk rate below 10% at any time. season of his career. Diekman has some big stuff – a consistent 96mph fastball and a slider with a spin rate that’s in Dylan Cease territory – and his best seasons unsurprisingly correlate to when he’s more in the zone. struck. While right-handers have hit him hard this season (.212/.395/.447), it feels more like an aberration given Diekman’s career numbers (.212/.329/.352) despite what looks like three quarters lower. arm slot. There’s reason to suspect his vulnerability to right-handers will dissipate if he doesn’t consistently work behind and into traffic.

Sox officials are of the opinion that you should assume there is an Ethan Katz plan of attack whenever they acquire a pitcher with apparent flaws. But right now, they’re acquiring a 35-year-old reliever with a 4.23 ERA and austere platoon splits. That’s enough to warrant a trade, since Bummer has yet to throw from a mound and Tanner Banks — a Zavala survivor story in his own right — is both the lone southpaw in the bullpen and is physically adjusting to his first year as a full-time reliever.

“This year was the first time I had legitimately gone back to back (pitch days),” Banks said. “The chances of you feeling great on the second day of presentation are slim to none. It’s more of a mental thing – if you can feel good mentally knowing you’re going to go. Once you get into the game, I just want that tunnel vision, and everything you go through fades away.

Since the briefest of minor league stints in June (only one outing at Triple-A Charlotte), Banks has been excellent. He’s allowed two earned runs in 18 innings of work after being called up, with 14 strikeouts and four walks, and some higher-leverage work spurts mixed in recently. But you don’t have to scroll through all the pictures of his pitch grips that Banks keeps on his phone, or review his notes on finger pressure or how he wants to feel in his hips before each pitch, to realize that a lot is being asked. of him in his rookie season.

Diekman immediately takes some pressure off Banks, but there are certainly other parts of the White Sox bullpen who are yearning for similar relief. The batters have a .917 OPS against Kendall Graveman when working without a day off. Joe Kelly will likely be deployed with caution after a bicep nerve surge last week, and Reynaldo López is out for at least another week with lower back strain that was affecting his ability to turn. Possessing powerful sinkers, Kelly and Graveman doubled as prime setup men and boasted the fielding arsenal Tony La Russa favored when attacking the best southpaws of opposing batting orders.

“Common sense is that we’re going to have to be careful of back-to-back (outings) for a lot of relievers at this time of year,” manager Tony La Russa said. “One of the keys will be for the starters to throw well, deep into the game, at least until the last third. That would really help. We have enough depth that way.

Another way would be for Diekman to establish himself as part of that late-inning mix. The White Sox have certainly seen this version of him before, as he pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in their 2020 playoff loss to the A’s, after Diekman allowed just one run in 21 1/3 innings during COVID-19- shortened 2020 season. But trying to take over the world from the start is usually not the way to make these trades work.

“If you come in with the mentality of ‘I’m the big push,’ or something like that, it’s usually not going to play well for your audience,” Hendriks said. “You are an addition. You are someone who is brought to help and stabilize. But you’re usually not going to come in and be that immediate guy. Because generally if a team is in a position where they’re winning people, they have some strength, whether it’s relievers or starters or position players, you’re going to come in and fit into that mold of strengthening that unity .”

(Photo by Diekman: Dan Hamilton/USA Today)

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