Matt Thornton Announced as White Sox Closer: Will He Last the Entire Season?

Chris Murphy@@SeeMurphsTweetsAnalyst IMarch 20, 2011

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 05:  Matt Thornton #37 of the Chicago White Sox celebrates the win with Ramon Castro #27 on September 5, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.The White Sox defeated the Boston Red Sox 7-5.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The nominees for the Chicago White Sox closer job were front runners Matt Thornton and Chris Sale with Jesse Crain and Sergio Santos being the outside contenders.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen announced after Saturday's game against Oakland that Thornton would be the Opening Day closer.

It is a bit surprising considering Sale's dominance last season. Sale gave up five earned runs in his first 23.1 big league innings, striking out 32, walking 10 and giving up 15 hits.

Sale seemed destined for the David Price and Adam Wainwright treatment, where one starts as a closer with the thought process of eventually getting to the starting staff.

However, considering the closer role is one of the most overrated titles in sports, perhaps it's a good thing that Sale will be used in the tightest situations rather than solely the final inning.

Last season, with runners in scoring position, Sale gave up just three hits in the 17 batters he faced, while striking out 10. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Sale gave up one hit in the nine batters he faced.

Sale pitched 7.2 innings last season in the ninth inning, striking out 12, while giving up four hits, three walks and two earned runs.

I understand it's blasphemy to say the closer is not the best pitcher in a bullpen, but in reality your best bullpen pitcher should be available for all innings, when the spot is the tightest, rather than saved only for the final three outs. 

Yes, people, important situations can happen in other innings besides the final one.

It would seem Sale is the best pitcher in the White Sox bullpen, however, we need more evidence to crown him.

Sale is sporting a 6.48 ERA in 8.1 innings in spring training, while Thornton has a 3.00 ERA in six innings.

The fact that Sale doesn't have a lot of experience and is struggling in spring training could be why he didn't receive the closer's job, but it could turn out to be what's best for the White Sox.

Another reason could be the fact the White Sox just gave Thornton a two-year, $12 million extension.

But, it's not as if Thornton is a bad choice. He's paid his dues.

Thornton saved a career-high eight games, held batters to a career-best .191 batting average, while sporting a 2.67 ERA last season. He also led American League relievers in strikeouts with 81.

But the question is: Do you move something that fits perfectly? Thornton is and has been an extremely good left-handed setup man, so why change it?

Respect? Money? Yes, Thornton deserves both, but does it help the team?

Thornton didn't give up a run in 15.2 innings pitched in the ninth inning last season. In those final frames, he struck out 24, walked three and gave up four hits.

Thornton had 50 plate appearances in tie games, giving up three runs, eight hits and two walks, while striking out 23.

When the White Sox were ahead, he saw 150 plate appearances, giving up 10 runs and 27 hits, walking 11 and striking out 49.

All signs point to Thornton being a perfect closer, but Sale certainly isn't going anywhere. Considering how well Thornton worked as a setup man, it will be very tempting for Guillen to move him back to his comfort zone if any hiccups occur. 

Moving back and forth hasn't been a problem for Thornton, so worst-case scenario is the team swaps Sale and Thornton.

Unless Sale has a sophomore slump and Thornton's confidence is completely shattered in failing in the closer role...

Ah, pessimism. It's the best way to never be disappointed.