Saturday, February 05, 2011

Pondering the White Sox Rotation

Before the 2010 season, this writer predicted the White Sox would again fall behind the Twins. During those projections, the starting rotation for the White Sox was no perceived to be a strength. Another blogger from Chicago (one of this Fan's favorites) questioned the sagacity of the author of that post. He was insistent that the White Sox rotation was one of the best in the American League. It didn't seem to turn out that way. Oh sure, the top three of Buehrle, Danks and Floyd were better than league average, but more was expected of them. Jake Peavy was shut down early, Freddie Garcia started strong and finished dismal and the fifth spot never did gel (you could count Edwin Jackson there, but he theoretically took Peavy's place).

But were they really a disappointment? Certainly it was a disappointment that Peavy can't get healthy. The White Sox gave up a lot for him and it would be great at some point if he can consistently take the mound. As for the rest, the Fan has to keep in mind that the White Sox didn't score a lot of runs. 104 of the team's 162 games featured an offense that scored five runs or less. Considering that stats, the pitching staff probably held the White Sox in the division race longer than they had any reason to hang around that long. The rotation as a whole posted a healthy 2.33 strikeout to walk ratio. They gave up only 0.87 homers per nine innings. In other words, they did fine.

Entering the 2011 season, the same cast of characters is still there minus Garcia. The strongest pitcher and the closest you could call an ace would be John Danks. Danks completed his third straight solid season in 2010. His win/loss record never really shows how good he is. But every year, Danks has increased how deep he works into a game. He is a model of consistency as far as his walks, strikeouts and hits allowed are concerned. He did much better in 2010 of limiting homers and best of all, he's left-handed. Actually, that isn't the best thing at all. The best thing of all is that Danks is only 25. Perhaps Danks is overlooked a bit because of his name. It's not a glamorous one, is it?

Mark Buehrle is Mark Buehrle. He's going to give up his hits. He's going to work fast. He's going to keep the ball in the park, get his share of double play grounders and throw strikes. He wasn't as good in 2010 as he was in 2008 and 2009, but at age 32, Buehrle should have plenty left. His slipping strikeout rate is a big concern though. Buehrle was all the way down to 4.2 per nine in that category in 2010. That's down from 5.8 in 2008.  But still, he's going to give you 210 innings and will battle for his team all the way. Even if he finishes with a .500 record, that's a plus for the White Sox.

Gavin Floyd is a bit of a mystery for the Fan. Floyd is only 27 and yet has been a sub-.500 pitcher for the last two years after winning seventeen games in 2008. But appearances are often deceiving. His strikeout rate, walk rate and WAR are really about the same for the last three years. The two key things the Fan sees in his stats were a higher hit rate in 2010 and the fact that he's made the same amount of starts the last three years, but his innings pitched keeps dipping. That says that his manager isn't confident to keep him in the game as long as before. Floyd did lower his homer rate in 2010, and that's good. But you keep thinking that Floyd should be better than this. But keep in mind that luck does play a role. His BABIP in 2008 was .285 and it was .324 in 2010. Whether that means that he's getting hit harder, his fielders are worse or he was just a lot less luckier, the Fan will leave for smarter people to figure out. In any case, Floyd needs to step it up a bit. He's a better pitcher than he's shown lately.

Edwin Jackson is an even bigger mystery than Floyd. The story goes that the White Sox simply obtained Jackson to flip him to another team, but that deal fell through. So they are stuck with him. But is that a bad thing? Well, the White sox ARE his fifth team already and Jackson is only 27 years old! He's got a great arm, but traditionally has thrown too many pitches and walks too many batters. Jackson also struggles with the long ball. But if he can ever pull it all together like he did in flashes for the White Sox after he landed there, he could be a terrific pitcher. Jackson certainly has the talent.

On any given day, having Jake Peavy as your fifth starter sounds like a really good thing. But whispers are that Peavy won't be available until June. That leaves the fifth spot open again. Chris Sale, the sensational young pitcher the White Sox drafted last year pitched at the major league level in the same year he was drafted, which is remarkable. The White Sox would like to consider making him a starter, but many smart people in the Web world think he'll break down too much if he does that. We know he's terrific in relief, but it would be great for the team if similar success could happen as a starter. Lucas Harrell is probably not the answer as that young pitcher can't throw enough strikes. His walk rate in his few starts for the White Sox were no surprise when you look at his minor league career. How he managed to keep his ERA under five with more than two base runners per inning is beyond comprehension.

When you take it as a whole, the White Sox rotation looks like the strongest part of their team. A whole lot of things have to go well though. Floyd and Buehrle need to revert back to 2008 form and all of the pitchers have the ability to pitch well on any given day. The Fan sees this rotation with optimism. It's certainly better than the Twins' rotation and is at least as good as the Tigers (who still lack a fifth starter). If the White Sox can score more runs this year with the addition of Dunn, then these pitchers will all look a lot better.

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