Baseball

Reynaldo Lopez doesn’t really know what he wants to be. His first full season with the White Sox in 2018 was very up and down, with flashes of greatness. His follow up in 2019 was very up and down, with flashes of greatness. I’m sure that Lopez would like to be more great than not, but man he has a helluva time trying to get there.

Consistency seems to be difficult for Reynaldo to come by, as he can toss a 14K/3 H gem like he did to close April and then five days later open May giving up 6 ER/2 HR. The real problem lies in the fact that the gems are much fewer and farther between than the stinkers, but some underlying indicators as the season wore on give hope that a corner is about to be turned…

2019 Stats

Games Started: 19

33 Games Started 10 Wins and 15 Losses

5.38 ERA   1.46 WHIP 184 IP

169 Ks  65 BB  35 HR

8.3 K/9 Innings  5.04 FIP

2.3 WAR

Last Week on Nitro: As mentioned, the constant for Lopez in 2019 was inconsistency. He managed to erase gains made in 2018 across the board, adding almost a point and a half to his ERA (3.91/5.38), a half a HR/9 (1.19/1.71) and lost 25 points on his park-adjusted ERA- (94/119…higher than 100 is BAD). He suffered from erratic control, spraying per game K, BB and IP totals all across the board all season. In what was expected to be a year with a step or two forward, Lopez stayed mostly running in place (which could probably be perceived as a step back if we’re all being honest).

All hope is not lost, though, as Reynaldo was the lead in a tale of two halves. Lopez was especially rough in the first half of 2019, walking nearly a batter an inning his first month and giving up 23 HR prior to the ASB while turning in a 2018 Giolito-esque 6.34 ERA/1.58 WHIP. Something clicked in late July, though, as Rey was able to right the ship to the tune of a 4.29 ERA/1.31 WHIP while lowering his BB/9 to 2.83 from 3.5 in 86 IP. The HR/9 dropped from 2.11 to 1.26 as he saw a nearly 2 MPH increase on his fastball (94.8/96.2), usually a very strong indicator of an improvement to come. Lopez will look to use the 2nd half springboard to create a constant for himself in 2020…if it ever begins.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): All of those positives from the 2019 2nd half hang around, and combined with a new offseason program Lopez takes a Giolito sized step forward in 2020. So a 5 WAR step is probably asking too much, but what the hell? He’s got the stuff, and the fastball velocity improvement added to the more consistent location of the slider and change add up to a 4 WAR SP on a surprise AL Central force on the South Side. A further look at the numbers suggest that Reynaldo worked with an unlucky BABIP of .325 through the ASB and the .304 mark thereafter is a much more realistic number to expect from opposing hitters.

Really, continuing what worked for Lopez in the 2nd half and working to make his mental approach more consistent would be enough for a lot of Sox faithful. Frustration is the word that comes to mind to best describe Lopez thus far in both his starts and how he appears; if he can change it for himself he can probably change it for fans and the organization as well.

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Lopez has now turned in two seasons with 1st/2nd half splits that make the upcoming year look encouraging. A third in a row will mean a trend that maaaaaybe he just isn’t going to realize his frontline starter potential, and that’d be quite a disappointment. A FIP and ERA- going in the wrong direction again puts Lopez in a sort of grey area – is he a backend SP, capable of the occasional gem, but not really counted on for much more than eating innings OR is he better suited as a high leverage RP, honing his offerings for 15-25 pitches at a time and looking to add a tick or two more to that FB?

There are some that already believe Lopez should be moved to the bullpen, and with Dallas Keuchel set to be a rotation fixture for at least four year, Lucas Giolito the staff ace, Michael Kopech breathing down his neck and a stable of young arms (or a 2020 FA addition?) possibly a season away time is running out for Rey to control his own destiny. The other scenario is another org thinks they can sort him out and keep him in the rotation, or he thinks that enough of himself and requests a ticket out if the Sox don’t agree. Either way, if Lopez can’t keep the good vibes trending up we’re all gonna wonder a lot about exactly how/if he can help the 2020 club.

Bah Gawd, That’s Reynaldo’s Music!: The Sox finally look like they’ll roll out a more than competent MLB rotation, and they’re planning for Lopez to be a part of that. A full season line mimicking his 2019 2nd half would be more than enough for the Sox, especially a consistent start with the K/BB and HR/9 ratios. The beauty of this season is, if the problems persist the team isn’t exactly SOL. Sure, they may struggle to fill the spot in the rotation in season and it’d definitely be a bummer, but with Kopech, et al, ready to contribute the margin for error is larger than it’s been in half a decade or more.

Would Lopez be willing to move to the ‘pen should things go South? Would he be better there than Carlos Rodon in July if both are healthy? I don’t know! But that possibility could also be the motivation that Lopez needs to get his mind right and fix the mental part of his game. And if it isn’t, well, after three-plus years of the same song and dance likely means Reynaldo just ain’t it…and for the first time in years that might be okay.

Baseball

Now to the consensus #2 starter in the rotation and the Sox second biggest free agent signing of the winter, Dallas Keuchel. 2019 was not the highpoint of Keuchel’s career, nor was it the lowest. He spent the first 3rd of the season on the sidelines, waiting for a suitor for his services after not getting any good offers during the winter (mostly due to the compensatory pick associated with his free agent status.)

Once the Braves finally came calling in June after the cost of the pick expired he signed a one year deal with them worth approximately 21 million. He finally took the mound for them on the 21st of June, and went 8-8 the rest of the way with a bunch of unspectacular but solid numbers. While he’s not the same guy who won the Cy Young with the Trashstros back in 2015 he’s still a valuable pitcher who can keep the ball on the ground and out of the bullpen. Can the Sox take advantage of his specialty? Let’s take a look.

 

2019 Stats

Games Started: 19

8 Wins and 8 Losses

3.75 ERA   1.367 WHIP

91 Ks  40 BB  16 HR

7.3 K/9 Innings  4.72 FIP

0.8 WAR

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 was a weird year for Dallas Keuchel. For the entire off-season he sat on the sidelines watching pitchers with far worse pedigrees than him get signed to deals that most would consider beneath his level. A majority of industry folks assumed that this was due to the compensatory draft pick that a team would be required to cough up were they to sign Keuchel to a deal. So he was forced to wait until the pick associated with him dropped off at the beginning of June, and on the other side of that line the Braves were patiently waiting.

It was kind of an odd fit at first look, as the Braves boast what might be the deepest glut of young pitching possibly in the entirety of MLB. Much of that pitching is untested, and the Braves felt that having an excellent veteran like Keuchel in the locker room could help shorten the incubation time on some of those arms considerably. So Keuchel signed with the Braves for $21 mildo (pro-rated for the half season he actually pitched, the total came to just over 13 million actually paid out) and spent a few weeks in AAA before joining the big club at the end of June.

Over the season he went a solid 8-8 with a respectable 3.75 ERA, but the 4.72 FIP behind those numbers shows a lot of batted ball luck, and quite a bit of excellent defense behind him suppressing that ERA. As Fangraphs takes FIP instead of ERA when calculating WAR, his FIP is the biggest reason why he was only worth 0.8 in their eyes. He pitched in 2 postseason games and ended with a no decision in both starts, giving up 4 runs in 9 innings combined.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Dallas Keuchel would be for him to find the groove with his sinker again and the Sox infield behind him continue to improve on their minimal gains from last season. For someone like Keuchel who is neither a fireballer (his 4-seamer tops out at about 92 MPH) nor a strikeout pitcher, his pitch to contact style generates a TON of ground balls. Out of the last 5 seasons, he’s second in all starters for ground ball percentage with 59.2%. Only Marcus Stroman has a higher GB% and it was a whopping .3% higher than Keuchel’s.

So for Keuchel to have the kind of success he enjoyed with the Astros, the defense behind him has to be ready to field. Having Nick Madrigal come up at some point (though with the plague we’re all currently dealing with, who knows if/when that will happen) would definitely help as he and Moncada would both be plus defenders behind him. Tim Anderson‘s continued improvement would go MILES to helping Keuchel’s ERA stay below 4. Anderson has been quoted as saying he’s been working hard on his defense this winter. Hopefully that’s true, as with Keuchel on the mound he’s going to see a lot of action.

I would consider the following stat line for Keuchel to be a complete success:

12 wins 9 losses/3.45 ERA/1.18 WHIP/155 K/44BB/3.99 FIP

 

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Conversely, the worst case scenario for Keuchel is twofold: the Sox defense behind him gets worse, resulting in a ton of unearned runs, and his sinker stops sinking and he becomes an infinitely more expensive version of Dylan Covey. Because when you have a sinkerballer who throws that pitch more than 70% of the time and it doesn’t sink that’s exactly what you get. A whole shitload of balls leave the yard at a very high rate of speed and frequency.

At that point the Sox have to hope that Gio Gonzalez is able to pick up more of the slack, adding a bunch of unnecessary innings to his plate. This causes his pitching arm to go dead in July, forcing Kopech into the rotation much sooner than everyone hoped. This causes more damage to his elbow and he turns into the Sox version of Brent Honeywell: all promise and zero ligaments. Or we all get COVID-19 and the season is canceled, which would fucking suck too.

 

Bah Gawd That’s Keuchel’s Music!: In reality I think we can probably expect a slightly better version of Dallas Keuchel than the Braves got last season. A 3.65 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and 10-7 record with a 4.10 FIP seems about right. He’s going to have a little trouble with the long ball, especially since it looks like the league won’t fire up until late May at least. That removes the cold weather factor, which usually suppresses home runs during the first month of the season. Plus pitching at the down arrow naturally inflates HR totals due to it’s tiny confines and the heat from the Dan Ryan, which causes air (and baseballs) to rise to the heavens.

All in all the Sox have themselves a solid #3 or 4 starter locked in for the forseeable future, which with the glut of young arms (Cease, Kopech, Dunning, Lopez etc) and one returning high draft pick in Rodon, is exactly what this team needs. Someone to keep the ball on the ground, eat innings, and give the bullpen a rest for the days when the young guys lose command of their fastball and they have to leap to the rescue. All for the low, low price of 18 million per year. Good work if you can find it.

 

Stay healthy out there everybody.

Baseball

Well that was a fun few months, wasn’t it?

Honestly if you had asked me back at the end of October what my hopes were for a good White Sox off season I would have told you I would’ve been satisfied with the team adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-8 WAR by plugging up the Black Hole of Sadness that was RF, DH and the 5th starter positions.

After the past few winters and the lack of anything that could be described as “remotely exciting,” my expectations were not enormous, despite this off season looming as the type that could be critical to make the last step from “rebuilding” to “competing” a reality. Which is understandable, as you can only watch guys like AJ Reed and Dylan Covey so long before your soul becomes jaded and calloused.

So when the Sox blew the market open just before Thanksgiving by signing the best (switch hitting) catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal to a 4-year, $73 million dollar deal I nearly drove off the road and through the razor wire-covered fence separating me from the Air National Guard base in Atlantic City. Thankfully that didn’t happen, because then I would’ve missed out on the Sox hot pursuit of Zack Wheeler. While not ultimately successful, the rumors of the contract offered to Wheeler showed that Rick Hahn truly was not going to be fucking around this winter.

The Sox also traded for Nomar Mazara to play in a potential platoon in RF this season, which hopefully assures positive production out of the right field position for the first time in what feels like decades. The trade itself initially didn’t move the needle very much for me, but after reading between the lines of what Rick Hahn has said about Mazara’s potential and how little the Sox committed to the position financially makes me think there might be bigger things down the road for that spot in the OF (man George Springer would look good out there).

Lest anyone think Hahn was done, he then went and solved the 5th starter spot by welcoming back Gio Gonzalez to the South Side for a 3rd time on a 1 year deal. It doesn’t really need to be said, but Gio compared to the dreck that had been oozing out there every 5th day is a drastic upgrade to the staff. A few days later, Hahn put an end to the narrative that the Sox would never deal with a Scott Boras client by inking Dallas Keuchel to what is essentially a 4-year deal with club options. Keuchel isn’t Zack Wheeler, but he’s not exactly Jamie Navarro either.

At this point most of us figured that Hahn was about finished with signing people, and the majority of fans out there would have considered this winter to be a success. Yet Hahnta Claus had a few more gifts to deliver, the first showing up on Christmas day with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 1 year deal worth $13 million with a club option for 2021.

Encarnacion is not the same player he was when he was batting .280 for the Blue Jays with 80 HR and 200 RBI. That being said he’s far from a league average player. While missing some games last season split in-between the Indians and Yankees due to a wrist fracture, Encarnacion was still able to mash 34 taters and knock in 89 RBI, all while maintaining a .344 OBP and ending the year with a 129 wRC+ rating. While his K rate has risen by about 4% in the last 2 seasons, his walk rate has stayed the same, which is what you’d expect from a player entering his age 37 season. If he can keep both at about 20 and 10% respectively there’s no reason to expect anything less than a 2.5 WAR season from him.

This is a sneaky-solid signing for the Sox, as Encarnacion has essentially been the same player for the last 8 years. Never less than 30 home runs in a season, and always right around an .875 OPS. His splits work pretty much the same against pitchers of either handedness, which solves some issues the Sox had against right handed pitching last season.

This also creates a hydra option at DH for Ricky Renteria, as you now have Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and James McCann available for the position. Managing Abreu and Encarnacion’s workload this season should be fairly simple work and keep both of them fresh throughout the year. It’s also an enormous upgrade at DH, and Encarnacion has the distinct chance to become the best hitter the Sox have played there since Jim Thome got run off because Ozzie and Kenny Williams fucking hated each other.

So at this point Hahn had solved the issues in RF, DH, 4SP and 5SP. Fuck it, may as well avoid the service time questions about Luis Robert by signing him to what amounts to an 8 year deal and buying him out of all his arbitration years. This deal at it’s core is very similar to the ones Hahn signed Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Timmy Anderson and Eloy Jiminez to. By betting heavily on what is essentially your future, the Sox get cost certainty for their payroll and potentially room to expand it the next two seasons.

This also all but guarantees that Robert will be the starting CF for the Sox on opening day, which makes the potential starting outfield look like Eloy/Robert/Mazara which is infinitely more palatable than what last year’s Eloy/Engel/A Department Store Mannequin.

With the starting outfield now pretty much set, Hahn added a solid bullpen arm in Steve Cishek on a one year deal for $5.25 million with a team option $6.75 million. Cishek had two good years with the Cubs, taking on a pretty hefty workload with the dumpster fire state of their bullpen. He racked up 134 innings in two seasons with a 2.55 ERA. He held righties to a minuscule .183/.260/.293, and his numbers against lefties weren’t to the point where he’s a specialist (.217/.367/.361).

While his peripherals sound a few alarm bells with a 4.54 FIP, some of that can be attributed to the sheer amount of work he was forced into with the Cubs. His strand rate was in line with his career averages, as were his BB and K rates, so the hope is with more workload management he can stave off any regression in the Sox bullpen.

So as it stands right now, the Sox opening day roster looks something like this:

C: Grandal/McCann

1B: Abreu/Encarnacion/Grandal

2B: Garcia

SS: Anderson

3B: Moncada

LF: Jimenez

CF: Robert

RF: Mazara

DH: Encarnacion/Abreu/Grandal

SP1: Giolito

SP2: Keuchel

SP3: Cease

SP4: Gonzalez

SP5: Lopez/Kopech/Rodon?

CP: Colome

RP: Marshall

RP: Herrera

RP: Cishek

RP: Bummer

 

Now that’s a lineup that will not only put some butts in seats (glares at Kenny Williams), but will give the Twins and Indians notice that the Central division is no longer a two horse race. For the first time in what feels like forever, hope blooms on the corner of 35th and Shields. How long that will last will depend on whether the Sox horrible injury luck persists into the 2020 season, and whether or not Hahn has the flexibility to trade or sign for the last few pieces needed for that final leap. It’s time to have fun watching Sox baseball again, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time considering the state of the other sports teams in Chicago. Game on!

 

 

Baseball

Hey, look! Some of the money got spent!

Honestly, I cant tell you how surprised I was to open up my twitter app last night during the 49ers game and see the following come across my feed:

At first I had to double check it wasn’t some asshole’s parody account (though the Bruce Levine one is pretty damn funny), and when it began showing up on MLBTR along with other beat writers it seemed the Sox had actually signed him. So now what?

Dallas Keuchel is not the same pitcher he was four years ago when he won the Cy Young for the AL with the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros. He is, however, an expert sinkerballer and a guy who generates ground balls at an astounding rate. Keuchel’s career average for GB% hovers just a tick under 60% (59.2% to be exact), which is second only to Marcus Stroman in the league for the last five years.

This is a very good thing, as The Down Arrow is not exactly a pitcher friendly park. Having an innings-eater who gets hitters to pound the ball into the dirt is a very handy thing for the Sox to have. With both Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito living life at the top of the strike zone, someone like Keuchel will go a long way to preventing Luis Robert’s hamstrings from flaming into dust his rookie season. It’s also gonna mean a lot more work for Tim Anderson, so here’s hoping he’s been working on his AL-worst fielding percentage this winter.

In addition to all the ground balls, Keuchel has thrown more than 150 innings (not including last year’s shortened season due to not having a contract until June) in all but one of his seasons, so durability is not an issue for the guy. Having a quality pitch framer for him last season in Tyler Flowers (skypoint) helped him bring his K/9 back up above seven for the first time in four years, so Yasmani Grandal should be able to continue that trend.

To top that off, he has a career ERA+ average of 110, which for comparison we turn to this tweet from @MrDelicious13:

 

With the last two signings, Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez (at least statistically speaking) immediately become the 2nd and 3rd best pitchers on the Sox rotation. It also means the days of seeing Ross Detwiler and Dylan Covey serve up plates of meatballs to opposing hitters are dead and buried. For the first time in what feels like eons the Sox will have major league quality starters at the 1-5 spots in their rotation. Granted Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez are still unknown quantities at this point, but they’ve both shown flashes of dominance thus far in their careers and (at least in Cease’s case) are still valued members of The Future™.

This also creates a glut of potential starters for the Sox going forward, as the impending returns of Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon from Tommy John surgery creates a scenario where the team has the flexibility to make some trades for a proven bat provided everyone stays (or comes back) healthy. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Hahn uses this as a reason to start Kopech in the minors as a way of both building up his arm strength and recapturing a year of service time. I’m assuming the Sox opening day rotation looks something like this:

  1. Lucas Giolito
  2. Dallas Keuchel
  3. Dylan Cease
  4. Gio Gonzalez
  5. Reynaldo Lopez

 

Finally I can look at the 4th and 5th starter spots and not feel like someone just scrubbed my eyes with a urinal puck. What a great feeling, lets keep it up!

In other interesting news, Dallas Keuchel is repped by none other than Jerry Reinsdorf’s arch nemesis Scott Boras. This explodes the narrative that the Sox were never interested in doing business with Boras clients, or at the bare minimum presents a new path forward for the Sox front office in the way they pursue free agents in the off-season. It also inches the Sox payroll close to the $100 million mark, with Keuchel’s contract for three years, $55 million (for an AAV of about 18 mil per). It also has a vesting option for a 4th year if he hits innings pitched numbers in the 2nd and 3rd year of the contract. With Keuchel turning 32 before the season starts that puts him at 36 in the 4th year of the deal which might look a little iffy but fuck it, it’s not my money.

So the Sox still need another bat (unless you’re totally wowed by Cheslor Cuthbert, and if you are I’d like to congratulate you on surviving this long with head trauma) and most likely another bullpen arm (Hello Dellin Betances!), but even if none of those things come to pass we can finally say the Sox have had a successful off-season. It doesn’t quite wash away the disappointment of losing the MannyDerby last season, or make me forget that Odrisamer Despaigne and Yonder Alonso were things last year, but it goes a long way towards making me hopeful that this rebuild is not going to stretch on ad infinitum.

Good work, Hahn and co. Now don’t jerk around with Luis Robert’s service time, because I’ve seen enough of Adam Engel starting in CF to last a lifetime.

Baseball

The White Sox fulfilled half of what GM Rick Hahn said he sought to do to the 2020 rotation (and an organizational prophecy to re-acquire him a third time!) by signing journeyman LHP Gio Gonzalez on Thursday afternoon. The terms are not yet known, but I’d assume it’s a year and under $6M. Again, totally fair.

Gonzalez won’t get the tingles going for anyone the way the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes did, but he’s perfectly fine as your back end hurler that helps bide time until the Michael Kopechs, Carlos Rodons and Dane Dunnings are ready to take those innings back. He’s a career 3.68 ERA/8.6 K/9/3.8 BB/9 guy that basically won’t kill you, the type of arm that probably would’ve been good for 3-5 wins last year over the sub-replacement options the White Sox threw out there almost 40% of the season. His ground ball rate (45ish%) and HR/9 rate (0.9 or so/9) will also be welcome on a team that could use a little more and less of each, respectively. Fangraphs projects him at similar numbers and 1.5 WAR for 2020, so yea they’ll most definitely take that from a #5 considering the last few years worth of results.

Originally drafted by Chicago in 2004 (though never playing an MLB game for them in two (!!) stints), Gio the elder does come with some warts. He missed a good two-plus months in 2019 to start the season, not signing until late March only to be cut by the Yankees. He battled “dead arm” and surfaced with the Brewers to put up a respectable 1.4 WAR/1.9 bWAR with a 3.50 ERA/8K/9 over 87.1 IP (19G/17GS). He’s been incredibly durable over his career, so the injuries/slow start in 2019 and his not going late into games can probably be chalked up to sitting around most of the off-season and missing spring training completely. His velocity and spin rate are slowly diminishing, but so are every other 34+ y/o not named Verlander or Greinke.

Gonzalez actually improved in a lot of areas over his sort-of-rough 2018, and it doesn’t take much for one to connect some dots and see that, hey, I wonder if new White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal had anything to do with the improvement? Well we’re all about to find as the pair will team up again in 2020 on the Southside. Sometimes these things write themselves.

While this isn’t a bad signing, it could start to look that way if the White Sox don’t look to add one of the remaining better starting pitching options remaining on the free agent or trade markets. Gonzalez is perfectly palatable as an aging and hopefully mostly effective rotation filler, but depending on your opinion he’s anywhere from the fourth to second best major league starting pitcher on the roster.

This depends on how you feel about Reynaldo Lopez being consistent and how Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech can start their second seasons with the big club (with one coming off a year on the shelf). I’m going to guess not many of you are hip to any of those three slotting in at #2 caliber material just yet, so signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel or trading for Jon Gray(yes, please) or David Price (gross) is still ideal to the White Sox really start pushing the Twins for the division crown in 2020 and creating a winning culture.

Funny, since the Sox will likely be battling those Twins for the services of all the aforementioned (besides Price). There’s a clear path here to making some noise and getting the fan base excited about more than just the waves of prospects set to potentially be sort of good. Signing Gonzalez can be a part of that, or it can be the signal that management really is punting this thing until 2021 (for the most part) if they keep signing off the proverbial scrap heap.