Brad Lidge's ERAs the last three years: 2.29, 5.28, 2.51.
Jose Valverde's: 2.44, 5.84, 3.24.
Neal Cotts from 2004-07: 5.65, 1.94, 5.17, 4.86.
It's time to stop paying so much attention to the ERA a pitcher puts up when he's only working 60 innings a year. That's too small a sample size to really glean anything from. If hitters were evaluated on that basis, Chris Shelton and Jack Cust would be first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Right now, the Chicago media are obsessed with the ineffectiveness of the White Sox bullpen. The Sox recently sent David Aardsma and Mike MacDougal to the minors to join the demoted Andrew Sisco. All have ERAs over 6.00 this year, as does Nick Masset.
MacDougal, I understand; he can't find the plate right now. Aardsma, on the other hand, is striking out well over a man per inning and more than two for every walk. If you can do that, you're good enough to pitch in the majors.
It's instructive to look at the White Sox bullpens over the past few years. GM Kenny Williams built a relatively inexpensive but effective bullpen for the 2005 season. Almost all their relievers stayed healthy and had career years, and the Pale Hose rode their performance to a World Championship.
In 2006, they brought back mostly the same crew, but the magic was gone. Cotts and Cliff Politte were ineffective, Dustin Hermanson got hurt, and Bobby Jenks was merely good rather than excellent. The bullpen was below average, and the Sox missed the playoffs despite scoring the third-most runs in the AL.
The 2007 bullpen features only one holdover from 2005 (Jenks) but was built the same way as in years past, through minor trades and promoting from within. The '07 pen has been a disaster, giving Ozzie Guillen constant fits.
Did Williams go from being a genius in 2005 to a flop in 2006-07? No. He had a good plan in place all three years; once it was a massive success and twice it blew up in his face. Is that really worse than hemorrhaging money on a mediocre bullpen, the way the Orioles did?
One month doesn't make Chris Shelton a Hall of Famer, and one year doesn't make Cliff Politte a great pitcher or David Aardsma a bad one. Everyone in Chicago would do well to remember that.