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updated: 7/15/2013 5:25 AM

Former Sox pitcher Thornton did not deserve the venom hurled his way

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  • White Sox reliever Matt Thornton was one of the top relievers in franchise history, better than 96 percent of 1.977 qualified relievers all time in Wins Above Replacement, according to Chris Rongey.

      White Sox reliever Matt Thornton was one of the top relievers in franchise history, better than 96 percent of 1.977 qualified relievers all time in Wins Above Replacement, according to Chris Rongey.
    Associated Press

 
 

If you are a relief pitcher, it's likely the majority of your fans don't pay you much mind.

Unless, of course, your name is Mariano Rivera and you're the best guy that's done it in the history of the game.

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You probably pitch in the seventh or eighth inning, but rarely in both.

You spend around 6-7 minutes per game on the hill. Sometimes in back-to-back games. Sometimes in three straight.

If you're lucky, you're on the field for a total of maybe a half hour per week.

You often inherit some other guy's mess and you're expected to clean it up every time.

Nobody seems to know your name when you leave the mound spotless (unless, of course, your nickname is El Duque), but nobody will forget you when you fail to clean the tub and mop the floor.

Thus is the life of a reliever. And thus is a window into the recent tenure of Matt Thornton, whom the White Sox traded to Boston over the weekend.

Anyone with a crumb of knowledge will admit that Thornton enjoyed some excellent seasons on the South Side and, at times, was absolutely dominant.

He was particularly outstanding from 2008-10, and though his performance declined the last few seasons, he was still, at minimum, a serviceable reliever. But even the word "serviceable" undermines what he did while he was here.

Aside from maybe Adam Dunn, I received more postgame complaints on Thornton than on any other White Sox player in the last 2 seasons, and while he certainly had his problems -- as does any reliever -- they were not nearly as frequent as perception advocated.

Sure he'd have games like he did last Monday against the Cubs, but unnoticed is the fact that he allowed only 2 earned runs the entire month of June. Also, the five inherited runners he allowed to score all season go completely ignored.

No, Matt Thornton is no longer great, but that does not mean he isn't still good. So why the recent, intense criticism?

I attribute it to a brief, but disastrous and unlucky stint as closer in 2011. Giving up runs is one thing, but blowing ninth-inning leads a few times in a short period of time will minimize the likelihood of ever living it down. Just ask Latroy Hawkins.

According to Fangraphs, of 1,977 qualified relievers all time, Thornton is 70th in Wins Above Replacement, better than 96 percent of all of them.

And it was just last season -- a campaign during which I was repeatedly told he was no longer any good -- that Thornton ranked 26th of nearly 500 players in Major League Baseball that pitched in relief. Far from awful.

In truth, Thornton was one of the top relievers in the history of the franchise. Hoyt Willhelm, Roberto Hernandez and Terry Forster may have been better, but none of them did it here for as long as Thornton did.

I'm happy for him that he'll get a chance at the postseason, but it's unfortunate the White Sox are in a position to have to wish their former players well elsewhere before their season is even over.

•Chris Rongey is the host of the White Sox pregame and postgame shows on WSCR 670-AM The Score. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRongey and at chrisrongey.com. Subscriber Total Access members can email him questions each week via our online link.

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