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.

Baseball

We know that the Cubs need an upgrade in the rotation. We know that they know this. We also know that they’re probably just going to fill it by promoting Tyler Chatwood to it while claiming poor as Tom Ricketts lights another cigar with a $100 before having a money fight with his brother. Or they’ll dive around a money tank like Scrooge McDuck. Whatever. That doesn’t mean we can’t hope or that it’s all a slow-play. Which I thought last winter and all I got was this stupid rock. Anyway, if you’re going to upgrade the rotation, a Cy finalist seems like a pretty good idea, no?

Why A Spoon, Sire?: Well this one’s as obvious as Thor was yesterday, and that’s because Ryu is really good. Unless a 2.32 ERA and 3.08 FIP aren’t your thing, in which case you’re just baseball stupid. It’s ok, a lot of people in this town are! Including some who run both baseball teams! Being stupid doesn’t preclude you from your dreams, this is America after all!

Anyway, Ryu actually saw a drop in his strikeouts this year, but also cut his walks to almost nothing, which meant he was still carrying damn near a 7-to-1 K/BB ratio, which plays just about anywhere. Ryu was also able to up his grounders to a rate not seen since his rookie year, which he did by upping the use of his change-up at the expense of a cutter. That change produced a 53% ground-ball rate. Ryu found a way to get more downward tilt on that change, which made it a real weapon. And change-ups are something you can keep going for a while.

Ryu’s sinker also produced an obscene amount of gopher-killers, but isn’t something he goes to as much. Still, it might be something he uses more of as he gets more into his 30s. Ryu never threw all that hard, but his four-seamer is barely above 90 now so he’s had to get a little more creative.

Ryu had a bit of luck last year, with only a .278 BABIP. But the Dodgers had an excellent defense simply everywhere, and he would enjoy at least the same level of infield play in Chicago. If he keeps his grounder-heavy ways, that should play out just about the same here.

Ein minuten bitte, vous einen kleinen problemo avec de religione (he was from everywhere): The first problem with committing to Ryu is health. He missed all of 2015 and 2016 aside from one start, and only made 15 starts last year. Even this year he only made the post 29 times, and he’s only cracked 30 starts once, which was his rookie year and now six seasons ago. If you have him in your rotation, you have to have backup plans. Which was fine for the Dodgers who had about eight or nine starters either on their roster or in the holster at AAA. The Cubs really only have Chatwood right now and maybe Alec Mills, and I would need a fair amount of Pepto if they had to rely on Mills for more than a spot start or two.

Second, Ryu is 32, so you’d have to conclude he’s probably been as good as he’s ever going to be and you’d be paying for the downside of his career. As a pitcher who doesn’t rely on strikeouts, you’d be a little more comfortable with him as he ages, but the margin for error with him is also that much smaller.

Third, coming off that season might delude a couple teams into paying more than they should, which we will get to directly…

Some Silver? Little Gold?: The other way this might break is that because of his injury history and his age, combined with the frugalness/analysis/collusion of teams in the free agent market these days, Ryu’s price-tag and years he gets might not be all that high. Remember, Dallas Keuchel had a Cy Young in his closet, some of the same profile as Ryu, and was younger and he waited until June to sign. The idea that any team is going to give Ryu much more than three years is probably a little far-fetched.

MLBTR has Ryu getting three years and $54M, and $17M-$18M for a #2 or maybe #3 starter is hardly the worst idea in the world (the Cubs will be paying a combined $30M for their #4 and #5 mind). If the Cubs would still be interested in Cole Hamels for one year at $12M give or take, would taking on the better, younger pitcher for an extra two years for another $5M or $6M really be so outlandish?

Could It Happen?: Unlikely. Ryu is probably going to have a lot of suitors that will drive the price and years north of where you’d want to go. But if the market slow-plays again, or outright just ignores pitchers over 30, then the Cubs could lurk here and get a pretty nice deal. Again, you wouldn’t want to go more than three years, but that is basically where the Cubs have the clock set anyway. With Lester and Q almost certainly phasing out after this year, you could slide Ryu down the rotation if you felt like you needed to and with only a two-year commitment left you’d have space for more. Especially if Alzolay by some miracle proves ready for the rotation in 2021.

Probably another dream, but not total fantasy.

 

Baseball

It’s bad enough that the Dodgers have a weaponized, flexible, young lineup that’s been punching holes in the ozone all season. The Dodgers have run roughshod over the National League now for basically two and a half seasons. Sure, last season’s record and needing a 163rd game to win the division doesn’t sound like it, but any of their underlying stats told you that they were the class of the Senior Circuit. They apparently are determined to set that record straight this season.

In the past couple seasons, the Dodgers rotation has been good, but beyond Clayton Kershaw it had been more to the functional side than dominant. Perhaps that’s what kept them from capping it all off with a World Series wins, as true nuclear lineups like the Astros and Red Sox essentially pummeled them.

Not so anymore. Kershaw doesn’t even have to be Kershaw anymore, and they’re still rocking five starters with ERAs under 4.00. Walker Buehler promised this last year, Rich Hill infuriatingly has been this effective his whole tenure there. But Hyun-Jin Ryu is the real surprise. Then again, the real surprise is that he’s been upright for more than four or five starts.

Ryu hasn’t made 30 starts in six seasons, and he’s only crossed 20 twice in the five seasons since. So taking the ball every fifth day already this season is something of a win. And of course, when he is, no one has been able to touch him. He currently has a microchip of an ERA of 1.36, a WHIP of 0.80, and a FIP of 2.62. All of which lead the National League (he’s second in FIP behind Scherzer barely) and make Ryu your clubhouse leader for the Cy Young.

Ryu has been using a sinker more often this year instead of his fastball, but it’s his fastball that is showing a heightened effectiveness. Whereas in the past hitters managed a .283 average against his fastball, it’s only .203 now. Ryu is getting more whiffs and foul balls off it, but the contact is just about the same. But Ryu seems to be combatting the new swing planes of hitters by using it only in the upper part of the zone. See for yourself:

Another change is that Ryu is using his change more. He’s throwing it a quarter of the time, up from 18% last year. That’s how he’s been getting all the grounders, as nearly 60% of the changes that are put in play end up with grass stains. It’s become his go-to, as he throws it more than any other pitch with two strikes.

There is an element of mirrors to Ryu’s season so far. He’s got a .248 BABIP, which is some 40 points below his career average. And he’s getting a 94 left-on-base percentage, which clearly won’t last. The Dodgers have a great infield defense of course, so the higher number of grounders should lower the BABIP. But more of those runners will score. Ryu’s 1.6% BB% is simply ridiculous, and would be the lowest since Carlos Silva’s 1.2% in 2005 and no other marks since 1980. Maybe he can keep it up, but it hasn’t been done in a very long time or at all.

Combined with Buehler, Kershaw, and Hill, the Dodgers have a rotation that can slice through anyone in a playoff series, which obscures perhaps their one mini-weakness which is the bridge to Kenley Jansen (who hasn’t been his normal self this year). As if they didn’t have everything already.