Baseball

Stories From The Barber Pole – Midseason Player Grades: The Starting Rotation

While I know most of these have been pretty positive grades so far (other than Adam Eaton obviously), can you really blame me? This Sox team has been a pleasant surprise from the jump, and when you lead the division by 8 games at the break there’s not too much room for complaining.

So believe me when I say this next group isn’t going to get much in the way of complaints either. The starting pitching staff for the Sox has been far and away the most consistent and effective group of the entire bunch, and are largely responsible for the position the team finds itself in right now.

Really the only thing that could be an issue for the Sox going forward is the same one that everybody is facing: the league cracking down on the use of sticky substances by pitchers. Will it affect the rotation? Has it already? We shall see…

 

LANCE LYNN

Games Started: 16 / 9-3 record

1.99 ERA / 1.04 WHIP / 3.20 FIP

105 K / 31 BB / 3.39 K to BB Ratio

2.5 WAR

When Rick Hahn sent Dane Dunning to the Rangers this past off-season for our Big Beefy Boy, it was the type of move one makes when they have expectations of winning at least the division. The early returns on that deal have been quite promising, as the above number indicate.

Despite missing a few weeks with a strained trapezius muscle, Lynn has been the most consistent pitcher in the Sox rotation. He’s made it to the 5th inning or beyond in 13 of his 16 starts, and only given up more than 3 runs once. He’s also added “slapdick motherfucker” into the lexicon of Sox fans everywhere, and for that we all must be eternally grateful. He’s a bulldog on the mound, which occasionally leads to him throwing too many pitches, but otherwise there’s not really much to complain about here. Lance Lynn has come in and done the job exactly as advertised, and should be extended by the club at their earliest convenience (read: probably never).

GRADE: A

LUCAS GIOLITO

Games Started: 18 / 7-6 record

4.15 ERA / 1.17 WHIP / 3.99 FIP

125 K / 33 BB / 3.79 K to BB Ratio

2.0 WAR

Lucas Giolito has had an up and down year control-wise, as is evidenced by his unusually high ERA. While he has not reverted to the complete pumpkin he was in 2018 (he has the exact same amount of strikeouts right now in half as many games), the long ball has resurfaced as an issue for him. A lot of that comes from Lucas preferring to work up in the strike zone, with him being one of the few pitchers who’s willing to throw the changeup higher in the zone. The issue when you work up in the zone is if you miss your spots, the ball tends to go a LONG way. The way you avoid that when you work up in the zone is your pitches have to have good movement on them, and that’s attained by having a good spin rate (you see where I’m going with this).

The chart above shows the average spin rate for all of his pitches over the 2021 season. While this doesn’t guarantee that he was using some type of substance, it does lead one in that direction. Despite the loss in spin rate, his K% rate has remained pretty steady. Really the only thing to glean from this is pitches that would’ve moved more out of the zone and been more difficult to barrel up for hitters are being hit harder at a higher rate. Giolito’s mechanics are still solid, he’s just going to have to adjust the way he approaches batters now, and he’s already mentioned he wants to use the curveball and slider more than he was. He’ll be fine, there’s just going to be an adjustment period.

Also, fuck Josh Donaldson

GRADE: B

CARLOS RODÓN

Games Started: 15 / 7-3 Record (1 No-Hitter)

2.31 ERA / 0.96 WHIP / 2.35 FIP

130 K / 26 BB / 5.00 K to BB Ratio

3.6 WAR

What started as a depth signing on the cheap turned into what I would call the co-ace of the White Sox starting staff, and it’s impressive as all hell to see. Rick Hahn was panned by many (myself included) when it seemed he was punting again on the 5th starter position this past December by bringing back Rodón and having him battle it out with Reynaldo Lopez for the final spot. What ended up happening is that ‘Los seems to have finally put it all together, mashing that up with being healthy for the first time in years and turned it into an All Star nomination and ultimately some Cy Young votes.

What changed? Obviously being healthy played a huge role, as it allows him to throw the slider much harder than he’s been able to in the past 4 years. The added velocity has caused the pitch to become almost unhittable, as batters have gone from a .250 average against it to a mere .106, and only slugging .133 off it. No solid contact = results. He’s also throwing his fastball more, up from 50% to almost 60%, another instance of the added velocity. All told, it’s turned Carlos into a monster and it’s gonna make him a lot of money in the off-season, hopefully with the White Sox (stares in Jerry Reinsdorf).

GRADE: A+

Dallas Keuchel

Games Started: 17 / 7-3 Record

4.25 ERA / 1.38 WHIP / 4.73 FIP

58 K / 31 BB / 1.87 K to BB Ratio

0.7 WAR

Dallas Keuchel has not had a terrible year, but neither has it been a very effective one. In the past, he was known for keeping the ball down in the zone and creating weak contact with his sinker. This usually allowed him to eat quite a few innings and save the bullpen for other, strike-heavier pitchers. That’s not the case this year. His lack of precision has led to him not making it past the 5th inning in over half of his starts. His splits as he progresses multiple times through the order get worse and worse as the season goes along, with him facing people for the 3rd time particularly brutal as hitters have a .328 average against him as opposed to a .218 one the first time through.

I can’t quite put my finger on what the issue is here either. His underlying metrics are pretty similar to what he’s had in the past, though his HR/9 has taken quite the jump from last year’s half season. His BABIP doesn’t imply bad luck, and his FIP implies that he’s actually getting decent D behind him. Whatever the reason, he needs to figure it out because every inning that Michael Kopech mows down the competition Keuchel becomes more and more unnecessary. Best case scenario for him would be a 6-man rotation to allow Kopech to ease back into the role and Rodon to preserve his arm. As a 5th starter, Keuchel is fine. With better options on the horizon, however, his time may be limited.

GRADE: C

Dylan Cease

Games Started: 18 / 7-4 Record

4.11 ERA / 1.27 WHIP / 3.68 FIP

117K / 39 BB / 3.00 K to BB Ratio

2.0 WAR

Ahhh Dylan Cease, the pitcher that drives me crazier than any other on the roster. You can see the tools, and when his stuff is on, he’s nigh unhittable. He has little issue getting ahead in the count, with 0-2 and 1-2 counts the norm. Instead of putting away the hitter, the nibbling begins and before too long it’s either a full count or a walk. He throws way too many pitches, and puts himself in situations where there’s little margin for error.

He’s also one of the pitchers who’s spin rate has dropped fairly precipitously in the past months, though it hasn’t made as much of a difference in the way he approaches batters. His FIP implies he’s had some bad luck behind him defensively, but some of that can be attributed to the fact that he’s also the slowest pitcher on the roster, and that can lull a defense to sleep.

Ultimately I’m splitting hairs, as Cease is fine as a 4th starter. His stuff has potential to improve, and most of his issues are more approach related as opposed to mechanical. Carlos Rodon is proof that sometimes it takes starters longer to bake in the oven, and we should keep that in mind when it comes to Dylan.

GRADE: B

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