Matt Thornton: Defending and Appreciating the Polarized Reliever
The Chicago White Sox just lost their first series in over month, so of course the sky is crumbling down as we speak. We also know Matt Thornton is the cause for all of the White Sox problems. He blows every game, he can’t close games, he allows hits to everyone, he’s a bona fide Thurman Merman. I should hate Matt Thornton with every fiber of my being because – ya know – he blew the game against the Boston Red Sox last night. Au contraire, my friends.
First off, I want to talk about last night’s game. I have to blame AJ Pierzynski as much as people blamed Matt Thornton. Now, I don’t know if Matt Thornton didn’t have his slider while warming up or not, but that has been Thornton’s best pitch this year, and the reason why he has rebounded until this series. But Thornton didn’t throw one slider to Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez ahead in the count. That’s on AJ.
Granted, I can admit Matt Thornton is struggling this year. But prior to this series, he was having a perfectly good season, even if a majority of fans still hated him. Matt Thornton is another one of my Adam Dunn’s, meaning I have to go out of my way to defend this guy like he is my own flesh and blood. And right now, I don’t think there is a better time to defend Matt Thornton.
Starting things off, let’s look at his numbers this season. Matt Thornton’s 3.86 ERA isn’t great by any means, but ERA for relief pitchers is as bad as a statistic as wins is for a starting pitcher. Given the sample size of innings relievers normally throw, a couple bad games can fluctuate ERA too much to get an accurate judgment on how well he is pitching. For example, before Matt Thornton’s blowups in Fenway, he allowed one run in nine innings, striking out 12 in the process. That’s a good two week stretch for a reliever. But in a matter of two games, Thornton’s good two weeks have vanished because of two poor outings. The thankless job of a middle reliever.
Beyond Thornton’s 3.86 ERA we can find a guy who has been very unlucky. As many on Twitter have said (i.e. SouthSideSox and South Side Asyleum), it’s #ThorntonLuck. Obviously, Matt Thornton isn’t the pitcher he once was, but he still has good stuff. His FIP is a very respectable 3.01, and his 8.39 K/9 still shows he’s got something left in the tank. Plus, his BABIP (.339) is .40 points higher than his career average. I realize the 12.02 K/9, mid-2 ERA, low-2 FIP days are probably over for Matt Thornton, but he’s still the best reliever the Chicago White Sox have.
The reason why he “blows” all these games is because he has the opportunity to pitch in these games since he is the best pitcher in the bullpen. Being a reliever is a lot like being a place kicker: you forget all the early game forty to fifty yard field goals, but you never forget the fourth quarter misses from forty-one yards out (i.e Mike Vanderjagt). No one wants to remember the quality innings Matt Thornton throws when we remember the games he blows.
I’m not giving up in Matt Thornton. Lord knows the White Sox need him more than ever right now. When Matt Thornton gets a key hold the next time he is pitching, be sure to celebrate it as much as you would erupt if he blew the game. It’s a lot more fun to celebrate good things that happen around 80% of the time instead of judging a guy based on what he does in the other 20%
Thornton has the third highest fWAR for relievers since 2007, trailing only these two guys named Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon.
The only inning Thornton has a better ERA than the 9th inning (the inning people say he can’t complete) is the 8th inning. His 9th inning ERA is 3.25, while his 8th inning ERA is 3.08. Also, his 9th inning 3.48 K:BB ratio is better than any other inning.
The only pitcher that has more holds (117) than Matt Thornton since 2007 is the LOOGY Scott Downs, who has 126 holds.
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