Chicago White Sox: Why Matt Thornton Isn't the Answer at Closer

Ryan WoodenContributor IIApril 13, 2011

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Pitcher Matt Thornton #37 of the Chicago White Sox is greeted by catcher A.J. Pierzynski #12 after picking up the save against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on September 26, 2010 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. The White Sox won 4-3.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

This offseason when the White Sox let go of former All-Star closer Bobby Jenks, nobody was panicking on the South Side.

After all, the Sox had two great young power arms at the back of the pen to go along with All-Star set-up man Matt Thornton.

Thornton, who has put up sterling numbers in each of the past three seasons as the White Sox primary option in the eighth inning, won the job in the spring and most people figured he would make a seamless transition to the closing role.

But in the words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso: "Not so fast, my friend."

Thornton has been a major part of what you'd have to consider the White Sox's biggest weakness, their bullpen. Through 11 games this season, the Chicago White Sox have posted a respectable 7-4 record.

However, that mark is haunted by the fact it could just as easily be 10-1.

The Sox have blown saves in three of their four losses this year, and they have blown four saves overall. Three of those blown saves have gone on the record of Matt Thornton, and people on the South Side are beginning to wonder if Thornton is the man for the job.

My answer, in short order, is a resounding "no."

Matt Thornton has been, and will continue to be, an extremely valuable part of this pitching staff. However, even though his numbers indicate that he has all the right stuff to be a closer, I'm not sure that his stuff necessarily does.

Sure, Thornton has a power fastball that ranks among the best of the league's lefties. But beyond that fastball, Thornton lacks a plus pitch in his arsenal. An average slider and an average change leave something to be desired in the form of an off-speed pitch.

That, in turn, places an enormous burden on Thornton to constantly locate his fastball effectively.

Now Matt Thornton finds himself in a situation where an off night often could lead to a Sox defeat, and I'm not sure such a heavy reliance on locating a fastball lends itself well to that scenario.

Chris Sale and Sergio Santos, on the other hand, both have plus sliders and plus changeups to go along with a mid-to-high 90s fastballs. History will tell you, stuff like that is much more indicative of a potentially great closer.

The downfall of Santos and Sale is a lack of major-league pitching experience (for Santos it's a lack of pitching experience in general, as he was converted from a shortstop in 2009.) But, in a sense, Sale and Santos have about as much experience in the closing role as Matt Thornton does.

I think it's time to make the switch. If you're going to deal with growing pains over the next couple of months, why not deal with them out of Sale or Santos? Both have higher ceilings than Matt Thornton and Thornton has already proven himself to be one of the game's best set-up men.

Make the move now and you're maximizing the value of your young power arms, and you are maximizing the value of Matt Thornton as an eighth-inning machine.

The White Sox need to heed the advice of last season's ad campaign, because to me, this decision is black and white.


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Ryan Wooden is a columnist for and the editor of You can follow him on twitter at!/ryan_wooden