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’ve been through a few pitchers the Cubs could just sign, some good some bad. We started this whole thing off with a trade target, and that was Thor, which will never happen. So let’s cycle back to another trade target, something of a baby Thor. And that’s Jon Gray.

Gray is probably on the trade market because he only has two more years of control, and the Rockies are loathe to spend money they don’t have to, even more than the Cubs. They’re not going to sign him when he’s a free agent, and there are some things about his performance that would give any team pause, so they can probably sell him at his highest now before he breaks again. Would he make sense for the Cubs? Yeah, he just might.

Why A Spoon, Sire?: Gray was sneaky good last year, when you adjust for the fact that he basically pitches his home games on the moon. He finished the year with a 76 ERA- (100 is average, and counts down), which if he had enough innings would have been one of the best marks in the league. It was the second out of the last three that he was around 75, which he also did in 2017.

The strange this is this past season, Gray doesn’t have much of a home/road split. Hitters had a .261 average against him at home, and a .258 on the road. On-base and slugging are just about the same as well. His ERA at home was 3.46, and 4.22 on the road. He actually had a worse home-run rate on the road, which doesn’t make a ton of sense but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And for his career, there really isn’t much difference between home and road for Gray. He’s basically the same pitcher.

Which is a pretty good one. Gray has struck out just a tick above a hitter per inning in all four of his full seasons in the Majors. If you go by percentage, he’s struck out a tick above league average as well. In three seasons, he’s maintained a 3-to-1 K/BB rate. This year, Gray bumped up the amount of grounders he gets to over 50%, which would play even better away from Coors as the altitude tends to turn their infield into a runway. Still, the Rockies had a great infield defense, which Gray would find here.

Ein minute bitte, vous einen kleined problemo avec de religione (he was from everywhere): There are flags with Gray, of course. One is health. Gray has never taken on a full slate of starts in a season, managing over 30 starts just once (and 29 on another occasion). He’s achy-breaky. He just turned 28, so he’s probably just always going to be the kind who misses 5-10 starts a year. Again, we’ve gone over this before, that the Cubs should be buffeted for that kind of thing with Chatwood and Alzolay around, but it’s not something you’d willingly choose if you didn’t have to.

Second, Gray only throws two pitches really. As we’ve seen with Chris Archer, the shelf-life for starters with only a fastball and a slider isn’t very long, and Gray could be coming to the end of his if he doesn’t add something. He does have a decent curveball, and if a team could draw that out of him more then you might really have something. It would just be a departure from his approach in his whole career. On the plus side, Gray’s fastball gained some velocity this past season, so it’s probably still some time before his fastball is a problem.

Third, Gray has given up a ton of hard contact, and especially this past season. Statcast has him at 43% hard-contact against, and FanGraphs at 39%. The StatCast mark is in the bottom 4% in the league, The average 89.8 MPH exit velocity isn’t pleasant to look at either, and that’s not altitude influenced. And he’s been trending that way for the past two seasons.

Little Silver? Little Gold?: Gray would be moved for prospects, as the Rockies system blows, they don’t really want to add any payroll if they can help it. Gray has two years of arbitration left, and he’s projected to get $5.6M this year so you’d have to guess his last year of arbitration would be somewhere around $7M-$8M, unless he goes nuclear next year. His affordability will make him a harder trade, but them’s the breaks. The Cubs aren’t laced with prospects, and other teams might be in on Gray given his low salary and high ceiling and relatively established floor. It would probably take a couple B-Level ones to get this done. Very well might be worth it.

Baseball

Perhaps being named “The Best Rockies Starter” of all-time is something of a misnomer, or a comedy title no one would ever want. After all, no pitcher in his right mind with any quality isn’t getting the hell out of there as soon as possible. Why put yourself through it? It’s something of a pyrrhic victory. And yet, here we are. In only his third full season as a starter, German Marquez is like a season and a half from gathering the most amount of WAR in Rockies history as a starter.

Going even farther than that, Marquez is working on his second consecutive season of a sub-4.00 FIP. He’d be the third Rockies starter to do it after Ubaldo Jimenez and teammate Jon Gray, if you can believe it.  To give you some idea of how bad pitching in Coors has been for the masses, Jason Hammel has the 10th-most WAR for a Rockies pitcher, ever. Tyler Chatwood is 14th. You just marinate on that one for a second.

Marquez is the great hope now, at age-24, that the Rockies will finally have a consistent ace to turn to. They thought it would be Gray, who was never really that bad last year after his breakout ’17 but got sent down anyway. He’s back now, and more than fine, but the idea of him joining the Scherzers and Kershaws of the world has long faded.  He’s just an effective starter.

There has been every theory tossed at the wall to figure out what it takes to have an effective staff in Coors Field. Some have thought you need a bevy of ground-ball pitchers, and that has some merit. However, the way the ground dries out at altitude makes for a pretty hard infield, so grounders scoot through a little more often than they do everywhere else. And some of that is roster construction, as only in the past couple of seasons have the Rockies put together an infield that’s good at sucking up grounders. They’ve ranked in the top-10 in ground-ball efficiency the past two years, after always being in the back half of the pack the five years before.

And Marquez does that, increasing his grounders rate every year and to be over half this year. We can all agree that keeping the ball out of the air in Coors is preferable to taking your chances on the altitude and ranch-like spaces in the outfield. Both Jimenez and Aaron Cook, the names on top of the Rockies pitching list (I know, it’s so funny) got over 55% grounders when they were in purple.

Another thought was that your staff had better throw pretty hard. As the thin air can flatten out breaking pitches and movement, it’s not going to do much about velocity. That will always play in the conditions. Marquez certainly does that, averaging 95.2 MPH on his fastball, top-15 in the league. Jimenez also threw pretty damn hard, especially for the time period, but Cook did not. It’s not mandatory, but appears to be a really good idea.

Marquez’s strikeouts are down this year, but so are his walks, and unlike pretty much every other Rockies pitcher in history, he hasn’t seen a spike in the homers he gives up per fly ball. It helps to give up less flies every year as Marquez is doing, but unlike Gray or others he’s never seen a season where he’s got some 20% mark simply because the gods laugh at you at every turn.

Marquez has become exceedingly slider-happy this year, throwing it over a quarter of the time. It’s his curve that seems to be the real weapon though, as hitters are managing all of a .098 average against it this year, while whiffing at nearly half the swings they take. His slider is around there too. Which is kind of amazing, because it was thought that it was harder to have effective breaking pitches in Denver. Marquez doesn’t seem to care.

Either way, the Rockies might finally have their ace. It only took 26 years. Sometimes these things take time.