Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: White Sox 3 – Pirates 6

Game 2: White Sox 4 – Pirates 3

 

If there were ever a series that perfectly encapsulated the occasional drudge that is the middle of the season in Major League Baseball this one was it. The White Sox offense has had a “Not Interested” sign in the window for a little over a week now, and it showed. With only Yasmani Grandal willing to work a few counts into his favor, the Pirates pitching staff (Team ERA 4.75, 7th worst in baseball) consistently put Sox hitters behind in the count where they were immediately in defense mode, generating weak contact.

The Sox offense is clearly pressing right now, and with runs at a premium the onus is going to be on the pitching staff more than ever before in the season. With a few exceptions, they answered the bell in this two game stretch, definitely giving the team a chance to win both games. They’re gonna be needed until the hitters get back to where they need to be, or reinforcements arrive via trade.

To the bullets!

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

Game 1

-Adam Frazier had himself a nice audition for Rick Hahn in game one, going 1-3 with a dinger off a hung changeup from Lucas Giolito in the 3rd inning. He also made a few slick plays in the field. I understand his career wRC+ is 105 (which is still good) and he’s outperforming that by +21, but the eye-test is very strong here. He may turn into a pumpkin, but odds are better with him keeping this up than, say, Eduardo Escobar. Get it done, Rick.

-Yasmani Grandal was the lone bright spot for the White Sox offense today, pinch hitting for Zack Collins in the top of the 2nd, and jumping all over a meatball of a sinker from Tyler Anderson. The shot gave the Sox a 3-2 lead, which they would hold for approximately 4 minutes because…

-It was Garret Crochet’s turn to implode in a high leverage relief role. His fastball was about 6 mph slower than his average of 98.8, and had less than zero movement on it. 92 mph fastballs up in the zone have a tendency to be hit a lot, and that’s what happened here. The 4 runs he gave up were on a whopping 10 pitches total, as the Pirates jumped all over his shit. I don’t really understand his usage this season, or what the Sox ultimate plan for him is going forward.

-On the plus side, we had a Yermin sighting in this game as he singled in the 7th pinch hitting for Lucas Giolito. Baby steps for the Yerminator.

-The White Sox now lead all of baseball in errors, so they’ve got that going for them.

Game 2

-Dylan Cease was not his sharpest today, but he was able to scatter the 7 hits and 1 walk he gave up over 6 innings so I suppose you could consider this a bounce back performance from the beatdown the Astros gave him over the weekend.

-LaRussa turned once again to Ryan Burr to help get Cease out of a jam in the 6th, which he did by getting Michael Perez to line out to Jake Lamb in left. He’s now thrown 8.2 innings without giving up a run, which is something few in the Sox bullpen can say. The underlying metrics aren’t great, but given the inconsistency around him, TLR may as well ride the hot hand.

-Codi Heuer can’t get anyone out right now, and shouldn’t be trusted with anything more than mop up duty at this point.

-Aaron Bummer and Liam Hendriks both looked deadly today, pitching 2.2 innings total without allowing a baserunner. Bummer came in for Heuer in the 7th when he gave up 3 straight hits and cleaned up the mess. More please.

-Yasmani added 2 more RBIs to his total with a 2-run double laced into left-center field in the top of the 5th. With the Sox offense scuffling right now, it’s the perfect time for him to heat up.

-TA looked a little more himself in this game, going 2-5 with an RBI and a run scored. Happy Birthday indeed.

 

Next up is a 4 game stint back at The Down Arrow vs. the Seattle Mariners. This brings another potential audition for a trade candidate as Hahn will get to watch Mitch Haniger all over the M’s outfield. While the M’s aren’t really in the playoff picture just yet, they’ve gone 8-2 in their last 10 games and are over .500 for the first time since the first week of the season. Their pitching outside of Yusei Kikuchi isn’t anything to write home about, but they can definitely hit the ball up and down the order. I’d be happy with 2 of 3, and that should be considered the bare minimum to pull outta this dive.

 

Let’s Go Sox.

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

Not that he wasn’t before, exactly. Giolito has had a brilliant season, establishing himself as a true ace in the American League. One of my favorite newish (you don’t look newish) stats to look at for pitchers is expected weighted-on-base. If you followed my stuff at BP Wrigleyville last year (and you didn’t), you’ll know I have a garden gnome who specializes in statistics, and he came up with this idea of measuring types of contact and strikes and walks at the same time. Basically the two things a pitcher can control. Of course, StatCast was already doing this and we didn’t know, because we’re morons. Happy to meet you.

Anyway, xWOBA takes the type of contact you surrender–though measured in MPH instead of hard or soft percentages like we used–along with walks and Ks to measure what wOBA you should be giving up. And Giolito ranks fifth in the AL in that, behind only the Houston duo of Verlander and Cole and the Tampa duo of Snell and Morton. Pretty nice company, if you ask me.

But, as I noted back then, Giolito had a small blip in July. I attributed some of it to his change losing some fade or arm-side run, which it had. Gio had a 5.65 ERA in July, along with his highest average, on-base, and slugging against of the season. Clearly something was off, though some fiendish left-on-base numbers didn’t help either.

Clearly, that’s been corrected in August. Gio is striking out over 14 hitters per nine, only walking two, for a tidy 7.33 K/BB ratio. Hitters are managing all of a .194 average against him in the dog days, and his ERA is 2.33 with an even more glittering FIP of 2.18. His K-numbers are best in the AL in August, and by FIP or WAR he’s been the best pitcher of the month along with Mike Clevinger and Morton again. So yeah, clearly something was corrected.

But you know that’s never good enough for me. I need answers. I need facts. I need the width and depth of it. Science matters. So what did Giolito change? Was it his change? Did it regain some of that “fade” it had lost from earlier in the year? Well, not especially.

What he has done is upped its usage, and this month Gio has almost exclusively been a two-pitch pitcher. He’s been hopped-up-on-goofballs Kyle Hendricks, almost. He’s using his four-seamer 56.6% of the time in August, and boosted his change-usage five points to 31%. So, and you can get your calculators out to check this one, nearly 88% of the time he’s throwing one or the other. The only exception is his slider, as he’s basically abandoned the curve this month.

His slider has gotten more movement in August, gaining some tilt and some sweep away from righties. But that’s not really been key to his success, as it’s generating by far the least amount of whiffs-per-swing of the season (23%, when it had been over 40% all season before).

No, the real heroes here are the fastball and change, which both major jumps in whiffs-per-swing, especially the fastball, which itself is garnering 38% in August. For a fastball is borderline obscene. So what’s going on here? Well, Gio has learned what a lot of pitchers have, and that there’s salvation at the top of the zone and above it against hitters trying to lift what’s below their waist (insert some joke about a beer belly and belt-placement here).

While Giolito hadn’t shied from going up in the zone before, he’s now living up there and above (stay hydrated!….I’m sorry). And the results are the results…

This has led to his change being more effective, as hitters scramble even more to catch up to even higher heat. So when the bottom drops out of the change, even if it’s not fading as it did in the first half, you can still hear all the air go out of their swing, and possibly their souls.

But it can’t be that simple, right? Don’t worry, it isn’t! Nothing ever is! Gio is getting all those strikeouts because he’s decided his fastball isn’t just his get-ahead pitch, but his put-away pitch to lefties almost exclusively.

Secondly, he’s decided he can throw his change to give righties the Dark One as well, which he was hesitant to do before.

You can go far with fastballs on either side of the top of the zone, and change-ups meant to look like that until the last instant. Seems like GIolito has cracked the code.