Baseball

James McCann finds himself in a new world of a different kind in 2020: Backup Catcher, staring at the high likelihood of not reaching 100 games played for the first time in his career since his short debut at the end of 2014. McCann’s 2019 was a pleasant surprise, a torrid start helping to see him to setting career highs with 118 GP, 120 hits, 62 R, 26 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 30 BB, .273/.328/.460/.789 batting line en route to an All-Star nod and a place in Sox fan’s hearts. What did he get for his breakout? a one year, $5.4M deal and a seat on the bench behind new starting backstop/pitch framer extraordinaire Yasmani Grandal. I feel like James isn’t gonna like the dip in GP heading into certain free agency this winter…

2019 Stats

.273/.328/.460, 18 HR, 60 RBI

2.3 fWAR, 3.8 bWAR, 1.0 WARP

6.3 BB%, 28.8 K%

.333 wOBA, 109 wRC+ .789 OPS

5 DRS, -10.2 FRAA, 11th-percentile framing

Last Week On Nitro: James found himself non-tendered by his previous employers in Detroit in the winter of 2018. He’d just come out of the worst season of his short career (57 wRC+) and the the Tigers decided the continued rebuild could do with any other backstop, allowing the 2nd-year arbitration eligible McCann to sign a one year, $2.5M contract with the rival White Sox. McCann sure did go about rubbing Detroit’s nose in it, scorching out of the gates on his way to an All-Star appearance and the aforementioned career marks all over the stat sheet. McCann’s intangibles were also deeply felt at the Arrow, with quick comfort and bonds with Lucas Giolito and others on the pitching staff helping to create some consistency and positive clubhouse culture from a position with a great deal of turnover for the Pale Hose. This all earned him another one year pact, avoiding his final arbitration chance for a cool $5.4M.

The bright lights would fade, though. McCann turned in a 133 wRC+ through the first 61 games and slowly reverted back towards his norm in the final 55 with a 83 wRC+ mark and stark regressions everywhere but in the power department (9 HR in each segment). Stark regression (sick fake band name) to his BB/K ratios and BABIP contributed to the swift end to the party and erased the thin veneer masking his near-league worst framing skills. Rick Hahn and Co., in somewhat of a shocker, decided not to bank on McCann finding a way back to his first half season glory and inked C Yasmani Grandal to the richest free agent contract in team history. Thanks for the good will and early season stat spikes, here’s about 40% of the playing time and double the pay for your troubles.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The good news is we don’t have to try to project what a full McCann follow up might look like on account of having his playing time slashed to pieces. Shortly after the Grandal signing, there were many easily connectable dots to see a fun timeshare to be had between C-1B-DH among those on the roster in the form of McCann, Grandal, Jose Abreu and Zack Collins. McCann likely would have found his way to at least half a season’s worth of games, give or take, or more when you factor in that familiarity with the staff and team already in house. Then Christmas came and Edwin Encarnacion came with it, and any idea of a fun little timeshare with plenty of PT to go around went out the window.

You can safely expect McCann to be more of what he was in Sept/Oct 2019 throughout his reserve role in 2020, and a .250/.315/.460 and a BABIP closer to .300 is a very palatable line to get from your second catcher. Development and the signings of Grandal and EE make relying on McCann’s bat moot, something that even he should be feeling relaxed about, so he can focus on his real deficiencies. The area that McCann can really improve his worth is by becoming something more than literally the bottom of the league in pitch framing.

Those FRAA and 11th-percentile framing ranks are absolutely unacceptable for any team trying to win in the MLB and McCann seemed to realize, whether it was before the Grandal signing or the seconds after it was announced, that he needed to do all he could to improve in this area. He’s taken the steps this offseason to put the time in and work exclusively on his framing, and having a full spring training and season with Grandal will likely help the 31 year old backstop improve his abilities and his market value. Anything he can do to continue to help the development of the young starters and bullpen arms on the pitching staff will help McCann and the team.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: Keeping with the theme here, the Grandal and EE signings and overall development within the organization has shielded the team against having to deal with a “worst case scenario” involving James McCann. The Sox don’t need the McCann from the first 60 games last year, they don’t need him to sway nearly 20 homers and drive in gobs of runs and set career marks across his stat line. They also don’t need to worry about what to do in the event he craters to 2018 57 wRC+ levels because they actually went out and got ahead of that exact potential problem.

Is this really the White Sox we’re talking about?? The absolute worst case scenario is Grandal going down with a serious injury, McCann reverting to his non-tender campaign offense and failing to have any of the offseason framing work pay off. That would be a real fucking Rube Goldberg machine worth of catastrophes to get us anywhere close to that kind of scenario. No, this is a rare occasion where the Sox put themselves in position to deal with some sort of awful chain of events without having the bottom fall completely out.

McCann would pretty much have to pout to Chris Sale/Adam Eaton Drake LaRoche-era levels for us to hit a “worst case scenario” on his season. Progress!

BAH GAWD THAT’S McCANN’S MUSIC!: McCann got his island in the sun moments last summer, and he seems pretty damn pleased with it all. The guy has gotten a bunch of PT, albeit on some pretty atrocious teams, and gotten paid to do so, and he finally might be a part of something special. Would he like to keep playing 110 games/year? Sure. But I bet James McCann is pretty excited to be on a team with playoff aspirations for the first time in his entire career, too.

McCann hasn’t complained or shown any attitude with his change in role, at least not publicly. If he can pitch in a solid OBP and show improvement on his pitch framing he might find himself getting closer to 60+ games. Abreu and EE are going to need days off, Grandal can’t catch 140+. McCann still has plenty to prove for another contract and possibly a shot at a starting gig elsewhere in the future, but he’ll be needed this season with this team. Hopefully he can embrace that and succeed with the at bats and innings he’s given, and if not, well, it’s really just not that big of a deal.

Baseball

I know Sox fans can be an insular bunch. Actually, I know Sox fans can be THE insular bunch. But you’ll have to excuse a non-Sox fan being inspired to write this post.

Even up here on the Northside, with our daily rainbows and IPA-filled rivers (that actually might be true considering the amount of breweries clustered by the river), I was hit with a touch of disappointment when Lucas Giolito was shut down for the season. Which was silly, because he was only going to miss out on three starts or so, and none of them would matter in the long run. And it’s not like his arm fell off, or I have to write my own funeral dirge and wear a shroud like most of baseball media did when Christian Yelich broke his kneecap (and the Brewers have lost once since, because baseball is weird and evil).

And the funny thing is that it’s only been three seasons since the White Sox had another genuine ace in the rotation, one of the  10-15 there are in baseball (if that many). It’s not like it’s an unfamiliar feeling for the guys in black. They know the joy of the day when that guy is taking the mound, and even if it’s just for that day, your team is must-watch. And yet what Chris Sale and Lucas Giolito represent seems so different.

By the time Sale reached the rotation, the Sox were stuck in that skipped-record cycle where Kenny Williams would go for it every year, construct a mish-mashed collection of assorted parts that he found on the garage floor, and if absolutely everything went right…they’d finish three games or more behind the Tigers. Which they did once, in Sale’s first year as a starter in 2012. And then Sale never pitched an important game for the White Sox again. Sox fans had long ago seen exactly what was going on, and where it wouldn’t go, and how it would never change.

So almost from the get-go, there was this feeling that Sale was going to go to waste. Before his career unfolded, there was a fear that it wouldn’t amount to anything for the team. Sox fans had already tired of their front office approach, wanted coherence, and could see down the road that there wasn’t anything down that road. It was impossible to avoid the conclusion that something special was going to get tarnished by its surroundings.

(It also didn’t help that much that Sale turned out to be a complete pissbaby, but whatever).

Giolito seems to be the complete opposite. He portends to all the big things down the road. There’s a lot in the distance instead of a void.

Sox fans believe in the rebuild for the most part, but they hadn’t had much vision of it before. Yoan Moncada, Giolito, Tim Anderson, Reynaldo Lopez and others have come up, and they’re physically there, but they hadn’t flashed before this year what they could be. That’s what this year was about.

And obviously it’s not Giolito alone, because Moncada and Anderson have been great as well. But Gio…well, there’s a place a genuine ace holds that no regular player gets to. Sure, there might be a three-homer game there, or a 4-for-4, or a walk-off hit. But they rarely if ever hold the whole game in their hand and simply squeeze the life out of it just to hear the wheeze. And that’s what Giolito did most of the time this year.

The one that sticks out to me is the late-August complete game in Target Field with the 12 Ks against the Twins. But there are so many other to pick. That day, Gio’s change-up was Merlin-created. It seemed to stop in mid-air to point and laugh at whoever was swinging at it. That’s the thing with pitchers. Hitters can make one pitcher or one pitch look foolish once. Pitchers can make eight hitters look like it’s their first day on the job and they’ve been kept awake for three days before multiple times in a game. Gio did that that day, and many others, but that day it was to a lineup that’s going down in history (however strangely).

When Sox fans watched Giolito this season, they didn’t look into the future and have to wonder or dread that it would all be for nought. That it would be a well-kept secret, a cult hero, much like King Felix in Seattle as well. They watched Giolito and saw big starts against the Twins in September, or October. They saw starts and games they’ll talk about years later. The saw the spearhead to the charge up the standings. Because on that day, Giolito is on the hill and the Sox are unbeatable. There’s a tide or wave of confidence behind a top-end starter that seems to propel a team, if only for those nine innings.

When Sale was in his pomp on 35th, all you could see was doom. Giolito makes you see the possibilities. And sure, you don’t know for sure that they’ll all come to fruition. But that’s part of the excitement, too. At least they’re there. That’s a start.

 

Baseball

BOX SCORES:

Game One: White Sox 6 – Twins 4

Game Two: White Sox 3 – Twins 10

Game Three: White Sox 4 – Twins 3

 

 

Full disclosure:  The picture above is of my friend Chris, with whom I have a running bet.  The bet is every time the Hawks play the Wild, or the Sox play the Twins each game is worth one beer.  We keep a running tally (well he does, and I question his accounting methods) and with how terrible the Sox and Hawks have been it’s become quite costly.  So for the Sox to take 2 of 3 from a scorching hot Twins team, well, that’s better than gold.  That’s beer.  Anyways, the Sox did indeed take 2 of 3 from the Twins.  I said in the preview that I would consider winning one of three a victory, so I guess taking the series is…ultimate victory?  I dunno.  Either way, the team and the fans should be very pleased after today’s rain delayed game.  I assumed (almost correctly) that after Giolito was forced out of the game due to the lengthy rain delay that the bullpen would implode and the Sox would lose the rubber match.  Evan Marshall tried with a little help from Leury Garcia (who had a bad case of the yips today), but Bummer and Colome were able to seal the deal.  To the bullets!

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

 

-Thankfully Moncada only missed one game after being drilled on his knee by Chris Sale last series, so that bullet got dodged as it were.  Looks like Tim Anderson is gonna be out 4 to 6 weeks thanks to a shitty Fenway infield and a high ankle sprain.  Losing him not only hurts the fun quotient of the team, but forces Leury Garcia into SS duty, which is quite the ask for someone who clearly has either a bum hamstring or a quad.  Both his errors today were due to his footwork and being out of position.  Hopefully the All Star break gives him the recuperative time he needs, as the Sox are going to need him down the stretch to keep the infield from becoming a clown parade

-Despite dropping off Yonder Alonso at the drive-thru at Goodwill, Zack Collins isn’t getting consistent playing time.  I don’t know what the idea was by bringing him up, but I can’t believe it was to watch Palka pulverize the infield dirt with ground ball after ground ball.  If you’re gonna have him up here, fucking PLAY HIM.  It can’t get any simpler than that.

-In other prospect news, it’s time to REJOICE, because Cease has risen from AAA to take the start against the Tigers Wednesday!  Good seats still available!  Seriously though, I am very excited to see what he can do against a semi-major league roster this week.  I fully expect him to get sent back down after the start for the All Star break, which is fine.  I just wanna watch that curveball make Nick Castellanos poop himself a little.

-Hoss Detwiler is better than Jose Berrios.  Just kidding.  It was nice to see the Sox be able to get to Berrios for a change, as in the past he’s had little trouble mowing them down one after the other.  Detwiler himself was…fine.  He was actually better than Nova the following day (not a super high bar to clear, but here we are), and I’d say he’s earned himself another turn in the rotation.  Just don’t forget Despaigne pitched well in his first start too.

– 2/3rds of Eloy’s hits this series went yard, which is exciting.  What is NOT exciting is that he got 3 hits, and is still parked below a .250 average.  I’m not being impatient, mind you, I just want him to bat .310 and hit another 25 dingers by year’s end.  No big deal.

-Now that Yonder Alonso is gone, I need someone else to shit on in each recap.  As nobody has been as terrible as him, I’m going with Ricky Renteria.  His lineups still suck, and his management of the bullpen (albeit slowly improving from the start of the year) is still terrible.  I hate being that “fire the coach” guy, but the evidence in support is starting to rack up, especially with how he’s handling injured players.

-Jon Jay has been a pleasant surprise so far, I’m just not expecting it to last.  The OF situation is still a dumpster fire, though Eloy had a nice sliding catch Saturday, and he even managed to not get hurt doing it.  Ryan Cordell is boring and bad.

-Next up is the Tigers of Detroilet, with the Sox now 3 games back of .500.  Sure would be nice to head into the All Star break with a winning record.  If that’s gonna be a thing, then 3 of 4 against the Tigers is the bare minimum, because you know the damn Cubs aren’t going to cough up 2 games to them.  Onward!

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Red Sox 14-17   White Sox 13-15

GAMETIMES: Thursday and Friday at 7:10, Saturday 6:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: WGN Thursday, NBCSN Friday-Sunday

FRUSTRATED WOMEN: Over The Monster

PROBABLE PITCHERS

David Price vs. Lucas Giolito

Chris Sale vs. Reynaldo Lopez

Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Manny Banuelos

Rick Porcello vs. TBD (most likely Dylan Covey, or Dylan Arrieta to Fifth Feather)

PROBABLE RED SOX LINEUP

Andrew Benintendi – LF

Mookie Betts – RF

J.D. Martinez – DH

Xander Bogaerts – SS

Rafael Devers – 3B

Michael Chavis – 2B

Mitch Moreland – 1B

Christian Vasquez – C

Jackie Bradley Jr. – CF

PROBABLE WHITE SOX LINEUP

Leury Garcia – LF

Tim Anderson – SS

Jose Abreu – DH

James McCann – C

Yoan Moncada – 3B

Jose Rodon – 2B

Yonder Alonso – 1B

Ryan Cordell – RF

Adam Engel – CF

 

After digging through the muck of the Tigers and Orioles for a couple weeks, the White Sox get to…dive back into the much that the Red Sox have been for the season’s first month.

The Beantown Nine have pulled this act before. They won the World Series in ’13, and then were so bad the following season they ended up punting Jon Lester among others midseason. Apparently the party never stops in Boston when they win…except for the Patriots who aren’t allowed to party by Bill Belichek. It actually took the Red Sox two years to round back into form after the last championship, making the playoffs the last three years, and BoSox fans can only hope they’ll come around a touch quicker this time.

Maybe they already are. They come to the Southside after sweeping the equally struggling A’s at home the past three days. They put up 21 runs over those three games, so the hope would be that the offense is finally clicking into gear. Because really, there’s no way this lineup should be struggling to put together innings. And yet here the Carmines sit at 10th in runs in the AL, 9th in OBP, and 10th in wOBA.

Where the blame goes is probably the supporting cast. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are hitting, and Betts being a perennial MVP candidate you’d figure that. So’s J.D. Martinez. But Devers has shown very little power this year, as it’s never a good sign when your on-base is higher than your slugging. Second base has been something of a sinkhole, though Michael Chavis is putting in a strong claim at the moment. Benintendi isn’t really hitting yet and Moreland has only been ok.

The problems just don’t end there. The rotation has been a quasi-zoo. Chris Sale can’t decide if he wants to throw not hard enough or too hard to compensate, and has been getting paddled either way to the tune of a 6.30 ERA and a 5.22 FIP. Natha Eovaldi is hurt, because guys throwing max effort 97 MPH fastballs pretty much every pitch aren’t all that stable. Who knew? Rick Porcello himself has been gasoline, and one day may end up the weirdest goddamn Cy winner in history. The dude won it and hasn’t managed a sub-4.00 ERA since. How did that happen? Only David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez are holding this rotation together.

The pen has been middling, though hasn’t really missed being shorn of Craig Kimbrel or Joe Kelly (who sucks anyway). The Red Sox are big proponents of finding just any dude lingering around to fill out the pen. So far, Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, and Brandon Workman have been excellent out of there, and the only people who recognize them are their mothers and even they’re not totally sure. Ryan Braser is the closer here, and he’s got six saves, but he allows more contact than most closers, only striking out a touch over seven hitters per nine. Heath Hembree and Tyler Thornburg are where you’d like to break through.

For the pale version of footwear, Lucas Giolito comes off the DL to start the opener, and hoping to be a touch better than his last three starts had him. Reynaldo Lopez looks to keep his momentum going, and everyone else just exhales in not having to watch Ervin Santana again. Weather could play a role again as tonight’s forecast is iffy, but the rest of the weekend looks better than it’s been. The Red Sox probably think this is their chance to really springboard into the rest of the season. The White Sox are probably just happy to not be super depressed by looking into the other dugout.