Baseball

Well that’s not what I was expecting.

Honestly, when I heard that today was the day for Rick Hahn’s “End Of Season” press conference/wrap party I assumed that this was going to be more of the same from him. You know, the “we like our team, we like our players, obviously this isn’t what we wanted for an end result but we’re happy with the progress…” etc, etc, etc. What I absolutely did not expect was what went down today, which was basically a bloodletting from Renteria on down. So where does this all leave us?

Well first off, it’s obviously the end of Ricky’s time here with the White Sox organization. His tenure was basically what everyone expected it to be when sold the Rebuild by Rick Hahn. His end record of 236-309 was actually better than what one would expect with the talent he was given. While it’s a surprise that he was let go (moreso because of the history of Reinsdorf loyally holding onto managers until well beyond their expiration date), looking at the last 10 days of his career with the Sox, it’s also understandable.

Don Cooper’s exit was also a surprise, but one that I thought at the end of the season had a better chance of occurring than Ricky getting the boot. Cooper had been with the team since 2002, shepherding some of the best pitchers the organization had ever seen. Yet time comes for all coaches, and in Coop’s case the science of pitching had passed him by about 8 years ago. Not the type of guy to give a shit about spin rate or advanced stats, Coop’s welcome seemed to wear out just before Chris Sale went full Michael Meyers on the throwback jerseys. The fact that guys like Lucas Giolito were buying Rapsodo machines on their own to analyze their deliveries, or that Zack Burdi was making mechanical adjustments by watching videos on YouTube doesn’t speak much to the impact that Cooper was having on the younger arms.

So now the Sox are left with openings at the top of their coaching pyramid, at a time where there aren’t a ton of options that don’t either come with baggage (AJ Hinch and Alex Cora), a ton of experience (Sandy Alomar Jr), or a functioning parietal lobe of their brain (Ned Yost). In a perfect world Cleveland would move on from Terry Francona leaving him in the cold for the Sox to snap up, but this probably isn’t gonna happen. With the comments Rick Hahn made today about playoff experience being something they’d be focusing on in their search leads me to believe one of the 4 guys mentioned above may have the inside track.

Hinch and Cora are both seasoned managers, and have taken a team with a young core group of players to the promised land. They’ve also both had good relationships with the top available RF free agent in George Springer, which is probably the most Rick Hahn thing ever. They also both come with the concrete shoes of having been managers of a team who laid down Cheat Beats all the way to the World Series. Is that something that we as fans would be OK with? I honestly don’t know.

Sandy Alomar Jr. checks all of Rick Hahn’s boxes for having playoff experience with the Indians, but not as a head coach. He also has the added benefit of being a manager with a Spanish speaking background, which for the Sox core is almost like being able to speak French while coaching the Montreal Canadiens. Plus he’s familiar with the team after spending a few seasons here as a player.

Ned Yost is a neanderthal, and if Rick Hahn considers hiring him Tim Anderson should push him onto the Dan Ryan during rush hour.

As far as pitching coach goes, it seems like the Sox have been grooming Matt Zaleski in the minors for quite some time now. He’s a fan of advanced stats and biomechanics, and has helped most of the Sox young pitching core at one point or another in their minor league careers. It wouldn’t shock me if he got the call to fill in Coop’s shoes.

Ultimately the thing that a move like this signifies that the Sox front office is no longer satisfied with simple progression as a whole. It also changes my thinking about them crying poor this off-season and not filling the holes in the lineup that need to be filled in. I fully expect Nomar Mazara to be non-tendered and replaced by a player outside the system. With COVID affecting the amount of money teams will be willing to spend, the Sox could find themselves in a situation where if they’re willing to shell out the cash, there could be bargains to be had (which is extremely On Brand for Jerry Reinsdorf).

If they’re not willing to open the purse strings and jump into the free agent pool, then this shakeup was all a giant waste of time.

 

Other Notes From Hahn’s Presser:

-The Sox are treating the DH position this off-season as Andrew Vaughn’s to lose, much like CF for Luis Robert and 2B for Nick Madrigal were this year.

-Garret Crochet’s UCL is still in one piece, and it was a flexor strain that caused his forearm stress. Flexor strains can still be harbingers for TJ, so he’s not out of the woods yet, but for now he should be ready for spring training

-Jimmy Lambert also has a forearm issue, albeit one more severe than Crochet’s. Still should be ready for spring training.

-Nick Madrigal underwent his expected shoulder surgery this last week, and if his rehab goes according to timeline may miss the beginning of spring training.

-Eloy’s foot strain was nothing more than that, and should be good to go.

-Ozzie Guillen is not a candidate to fill the coaching vacancy (nor should he ever have been).

 

That’s about it for now. I hadn’t expected to be writing again this soon, but Hahn threw the curveball today. I’ll be back after the Rays win the World Series to talk about who stays and who goes this off-season.

Rest in peace, Joe Morgan.

Baseball

With the position players all wrapped up, we come to the spot on the diamond that will matter the most to the playoff hopes of the White Sox, the pitcher’s mound. From where things stand offensively for the Sox with additions made in the off-season, run production is not going to be an issue for the team moving forward. If the Sox truly have deigns of making the playoffs it’s the pitching rotation that’s going to have to step up and mow some people down.

Since we’ve gone all in with the pro wrestling analogies so far, we may as well keep it going. Every good faction in wrestling needs a leader. Evolution had HHH. DX had Shawn Michaels, and the nWo had Kevin Nash. I guess that makes Lucas Giolito the Kevin Nash of the White Sox rotation.

 

2019 Stats

Games Started: 29

14 Wins 9 Losses

3.41 ERA 1.064 WHIP

228 Ks 56 BB 24 HR

11.62 K/9 3.43 FIP

5.1 WAR

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 for Lucas Giolito was an amazing leap forward from his status in 2018 as “World’s Worst Starting Pitcher” (at least according to Fangraphs) to “Top 10 Starter In MLB Worthy of Cy Young Votes” (Also according to Fangraphs). He bettered his stats from the previous year in every meaningful category, but none more impressive than his K/9 rate, which jumped from 6.49 to 11.62. Giolito credits this jump to work he did in the previous off-season to completely overhaul his mechanics and delivery to give his fastball more movement and allow more pinpoint accuracy at the top of the strike zone.

The results were nothing less than phenomenal, as his 5.1 WAR was second on the team only to Yoan Moncada‘s 5.7 tally. The stats could’ve been even better, but a lat strain caused him to be shut down early and miss his final 3 starts of the year (2 of which would’ve been against the moribund Tigers offense). That likely cost him a few AL Cy Young votes, but ultimately his progress in 2019 is far more important than any award and he’s cemented as the White Sox ace for the next 5 years unless a resurgent Michael Kopech takes it from him.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Lucas Giolito this season is he continues his upward rise towards the top of the American League pitching lists. He’s able to stay healthy, and avoid the post All Star break slump that ended up costing him about a half point of ERA in 2019. He breaks the 275 K plateau, bumping up his WAR for the season to above 6, making him the first Sox player to crack that ceiling since Mark Buherle almost did it in 2005 with a 5.9 season. He also finishes top 3 in AL Cy Young votes, and secures his 2nd All Star Game appearance.

If his delivery arm slot holds up and he’s able to replicate the successes of last season, I’m certain Rick Hahn will reach out to Giolito’s camp and begin discussions for a contract extension. While I don’t think the deal would end up nearly as team friendly as the one signed by Chris Sale back in 2013, there would still be value for both sides of the aisle by having the team buy out his remaining arbitration years. Keeping Giolito in a Sox jersey for as long as possible would reduce the sting of being forced to send the team’s previous young ace away.

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Worst case scenario for Lucas Giolito has already happened, and it was called the entire 2018 season. I’ll throw up his stats from that godawful year as a comparison to the 2019 ones above:

Lucas Giolito 2018 Statline

Games Started: 32

10 Wins 13 Losses

6.13 ERA 1.48 WHIP

120 K 90 BB 27 HR

6.49 K/9 5.56 FIP

Just looking at those numbers sends a cold shiver down my spine. Having personally watched multiple Giolito starts in 2018, I can say those numbers were all very well deserved. Thankfully, Giolito’s underlying numbers last season supports his turnaround as being genuine. He actually had worse batted ball luck in 2019, based on his .273 vs .268 BABIP numbers. While nothing is impossible, I certainly would bet on the 2019 Lucas Giolito showing up this year as opposed to the 2018 version.

The other thing that could derail his season would be injuries, but seeing as though he’s already had Tommy John surgery the odds of that recurrence would be pretty low. Other than that, he’s been pretty durable throughout his career with the last few weeks of September being the only extended time missed. Fingers crossed this trend continues.

Bah Gawd That’s Giolito’s Music!: This season is going to be more of the same for Lucas Giolito. I would fully expect any innings restraints to be off him, so barring any major time missed for injury I would think he’d eclipse the 200 inning mark for the first time in his career.

Adding in the new high in innings would also give him the chance to blow past the 250 strikeout line, which when factoring in the framing skills of Yasmani Grandal seems all the more likely (I also feel like I’m going to be talking about Grandal a lot during the pitching portion of the previews, in a very good way).

My final stat line for Giolito looks something like this:

17 w 8 L/3.32 ERA/1.14 WHIP/266K/64 BB/25 HR/3.38 FIP/6.1 WAR

Home runs are always going to be an issue for pitchers who ride the top of the zone like Lucas does, aided and abetted by the bandbox nature of The Down Arrow. As long as he can keep those under 30, I see no reason for a huge jump in any of his peripheral stats. The defense behind him could definitely be an issue, as outside of Luis Robert in center field there isn’t much in the way of plus defenders there until Nick Madrigal makes his triumphant entrance at second base.

With some reinforcements coming in behind Lucas in the rotation, this season looks like it could be the sequel to his triumphant coming out party in 2019. Strap in, everybody. Looks like it’s gonna be a fun year of baseball on the South Side.