Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Twins 3 – White Sox 2 (8 Innings)

Game 2: Twins 3 – White Sox 5 (7 Innings)

Game 3: Twins 5 – White Sox 9

Game 4: Twins 7 – White Sox 2

 

Quite the weird and wonky series here, as the Sox and Twins split in every way possible, from the double header to the full 9 inning games. The Sox pitching staff (other than Lance Lynn) was pretty suspect here, with Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease not exactly having their best stuff. On the other end of the battery, you have two catchers who if you combined them might equal one Yasmani Grandal (but probably not), highlighting the need to perhaps add another catcher at the deadline for Rick Hahn, especially since catchers and knee injuries aren’t really compatible.

On the offensive side of things, this was a split as well with long periods of inactivity puncuated with a barrage of hits and runs. Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada are both scorchingly hot right now, with both of them smashing the ball to all fields. After the 1st game, things cooled considerably for Tim Anderson, with his 16-game hit streak coming to an end Tuesday night.

All told, the Sox gained a half game on the Tribe and kept the stupid Twins right at the bottom of the division where they belong. One would assume this would make Minnesota sellers at the deadline, because they have some quality pieces they can move.

TO THE BULLETS!

 

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

Game 1

-What a waste of an outing for Lance Lynn here. Other than one mistake in the 6th to Nelson Cruz (which has happened to a LOT of pitchers over the last 15 years), he was pretty dominant, only allowing 6 baserunners in the 7 innings he pitched. Fresh off his new paper from the Sox, Lynn did nothing to imply that Rick Hahn didn’t make an excellent move with the extension. He deserved a better fate, but if you can only manage 1 run in 7 innings it’s gonna be tough for any starter to get the W.

-Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak in the 3rd inning with another oppo dong off the guy from Mortal Kombat with the metal arms. Timmy is hitting to all fields with power right now, and honestly looks like one of the best hitters in baseball, except when he swings 3-0 with a chance to tie the game and popped out in foul territory. Stuff like this is going to happen when you have a free swinger, but overall I wouldn’t change anything about his approach.

-Garrett Crochet didn’t get any help from his defense or the reliever that came after him, ultimately taking the loss after Jake Burger had trouble making a decision on a Josh Donaldson chopper that loaded the bases. LaRussa went to Ryan Burr who got Cruz on a sac fly but then gave up a single to Polanco that scored what ended up being the winning run.

-Jose Abreu tried to drag the Sox back for the tie in the bottom of the 8th with a double that scored Tim Anderson, but was stranded there with a K and a pop out. Fart Noise.

Game 2

-The Reynaldo Lopez Revenge Game never really materialized, but he pitched decent in his return to the big club. He gave up a single to lead off the game, then promptly advanced the runner to 3rd on a pickoff throw that was never within 10 feet of Jose Abreu. One Donaldson sac fly later and he was down 1-0. He later gave up a dinger to Mitch Garver, but other than those 2 mistakes looked serviceable.

-Poor Matt Foster got smoked by a line drive off the bat of Min Kepler, but at least managed to deflect it towards Danny Mendick for the out. He stayed in the game and had another ball hit at him. Not a great night.

-Codi Heuer came in and pitched a solid 6th inning, and Aaron Bummer continued his Jeckyll and Hyde routine by looking infinitely better than his previous outing.

-Jose Berrios only made 3 mistakes on the evening, and those 3 turned out to be all 5 Sox runs. Other than Moncada, Abreu and finally Gavin Sheets, Berrios kept the Sox hitters off balance all night with his sinker while striking out 8. It didn’t matter in the end, as Gavin Sheets did this with a 4-seamer Berrios tried to jam him with:

Game 3

-It was pretty apparent at the start of this one that Dallas Keuchel didn’t have his A game. He labored through 5 innings, only giving up 2 but he had to battle the whole way. Min Kepler took him WAY deep in the 2nd inning after an 8 pitch at bat where Dallas was up on him 0-2, which was the theme of the night. Keuchel had no issue getting ahead of hitters, but was unable to put any of them away. I have no evidence of this, but it feels like him and Seby Zavala weren’t on the same page for most of the night.

-Brian Goodwin saved Keuchel’s bacon in the 5th with a diving catch on a sinking liner hit by Nelson Cruz that would’ve scored at least one run and quite possibly two. I once again am forced to applaud Rick Hahn for one hell of a pickup in B-Good. He also singled in Jose to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning that wouldn’t last.

-Jose Abreu is a goddam beast. He finished a single short of the cycle, which in and of itself is kind of mind blowing. He also lifted this absolute moonshot in the bottom of the 8th to put the game out of reach permanently for the Twins:

https://twitter.com/whitesox/status/1417688497037643777?s=20

-Michael Kopech pitched a decent 2 innings, really only giving up one mistake to (who else) Josh Donaldson, who smoked a 3-1 fastball about 15 rows deep. While Kopech didn’t have his A+ stuff, it was still good enough to get the job done. He probably could’ve gone one more, but TLR decided he wanted some Ryan Burr. The Twins did too, apparently because Donaldson singled on the first pitch he saw, then Polanco got to him again with a 2-run dong to (temporarily) put the Twins on top. The Sox’ options for reliable relievers in the 7th and 8th innings are practically non-existent, so Rick Hahn has quite the job ahead of him in the next few weeks.

-Andrew Vaughn came up big in his pinch hit situation in the bottom of the 8th, scorching a single to left center field that was hit so hard that Adam Engel nearly got drilled at home after he held up for half a breath before dashing from 2nd to home in a thrilling play to tie the game.

-Yoan Moncada is locked in. Beware.

-Billy Hamilton, ladies and gentlemen. After pinch running for Gavin Sheets in the 7th, he came up in the 8th with the go-ahead run on 2nd and 1 out. He didn’t waste any time, lining a single down the 3rd base line past a diving Donaldson to score Zack Collins from 2nd. You just gotta love how this guy plays the game.

Game 4

-While his stat line doesn’t look too awful, Dylan Cease didn’t exactly set the world on fire in this start. He threw way too many pitches again, and when he missed his spots it was right in the middle of the zone (see: Kepler, Min).

-Codi Heuer has once again highlighted the need for Rick Hahn to acquire bullpen help at the deadline. The inconsistencies of a very young crew has been exposed over the last few weeks. The high level at which the starters have been pitching covers up a lot of those warts, but when Keuchel and Cease have less than stellar efforts, the pen has been overexposed.

-The Sox hitters didn’t help much either, stranding 14 people on base and generally making Michael Pineda look like a world beater (he’s not). Leury Garcia hasn’t been great in the last 7 games, posting a .174/.321/.304 slash line with 9 strikeouts. The catching crew of Seby Zavala and Zack Collins have sucked out loud as well. Here’s hoping Yasmani has Eloy-like healing abilities.

-Billy Hamilton was a lone bright spot in this game, going 2 for 4 and directly being responsible for the Sox first run. He fired a double down the line, then promptly stole 3rd and was brought in with an Adam Engel grounder that Assbag McGee couldn’t handle by 3rd. Love it.

 

Next up is a weekend series up in the remains of Giannis-Town with some of the most marquee pitching matchups you could possibly hope for:

If that doesn’t get you excited for baseball, you’re clinically dead and I can’t help you. Granted, whenever you get exciting pitching matchups like this, instead of duels, you end up with an offensive explosion so I fully expect 56 total runs this weekend. Either way, should be fun. Take 2 of 3 and get the hell outta there.

Lets Go Sox

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

Gathered the three baseball wisemen here to go over the offseason again. The Sox appear to be done…and so do the Cubs, but in wildly different fashion. How are we all feeling?

So we’re just over a month away from pitchers and catchers, and it feels like the Sox are pretty much done. Everyone feeling their oats?

Air Traffic AJ: It’s pretty hard to look at this off-season and not feel positive about it, especially considering the absolute duds the previous two had been. The Twins signing Donaldson last night in a clear response to Hahn’s moves makes me think the Central may not be as up for grabs as I originally thought. The ceiling of their starting pitching is lower than the Sox staff, however, so it’s gonna be interesting. Most importantly it’s gonna be fun and watchable.

Wes French: Echoing AJ, the Donaldson singing takes some air out of the sails. The White Sox did a lot of work towards becoming a viable AL Central threat, but looking at that Twins lineup leaves you feeling like it’s all a 2nd/3rd place effort even with a lot of the remaining uncertainties becoming positives – How Robert starts, what Kopech gives, how the rotation looks after Giolito/Keuchel/Gio.

AJ: Sam, you’ve been pretty vocal thus far about the off-season the Cubs have had. If the ultimate goal for them is to be under the luxury tax cap this season and it costs them Quintana is there enough pitching to keep them up with the Cards and the newly resurgent Reds?

Sam: Fuck and no. 

I’m not wholly in on the Reds yet because I don’t think the lineup is that good as Joey Votto is continuing to decompose. They’ll still beat the Cubs 13 of 19 infuriating times though. The only hope if Q were to be moved is that Lester discovers something that can make him more effective at 36 than 35, but everything is trending the wrong way and he’s not exactly the most flexible guy when it comes to changing what he does. Not only does Chatwood in the rotation make it more volatile, but it robs them of an at least an interesting bullpen weapon. He and Alzolay together would have given the Cubs two possible multi-inning pieces out of there which could have covered for some of the shortness of the rotation. You could easily see Lester continuing to decline, Chatwood being the Pollock painting he’s always been as a starter, and some combination of Alec Mills and other goofuses getting continually rocked without Q. 

 That said, a Q trade is more palatable than a Bryant one. 

 Speaking of starters and bullpen switching, is Reynaldo’s future as something of a Hader-type? Come in and fire smoke for two-three innings 50 times a year or so?

 AJ: I think Reynaldo has a three month audition window to show he belongs in the rotation. I want to see what his numbers look like with a premier pitch framer like Grandal scoring him a few extra strikes per game. One of Lopez’ biggest issues is nibbling once he gets ahead in counts, and if Grandal can turn some of those nibbles into Ks he could be a viable 4th-5th starter easy. If that’s not in the cards for him, I very easily could see him coming in the 7th and just unleashing devastation for an inning and a third. He’s gotta have that chance to be a starter, however. Rodon coming back healthy is no guarantee, and it’s never a bad thing to have too many young viable starters.

 Wes: I think I would already have Lopez ticketed for such a role if i were making those sort of decisions. Alas, I have not been given any kind of say in the matter and I think that they’ll bring him along and keep working with him like he’s a viable starter at least until June this year. If everyone can stay healthy and show signs of success outside of Lopez, Cease/Kopech/Dunning/Lambert/Steiver (at various levels of the org), and Lopez doesn’t show any kind of consistency or improvement I think it needs to be strongly considered. The bullpen is going to need a power arm from somewhere, and the other internal options like Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, and Jayce Fry aren’t exactly encouraging at this point. It’d be ideal to not have to spend a truckload on the bullpen as this thing starts trending in the right direction and Lopez is the easiest to transition to that type of role, especially being the farthest removed from his debut and having plenty of shots at sticking in the rotation. 

 AJ: What’s the expectation for David Ross this season? Is he an advanced stats guy, or is he the more media friendly reincarnation of Robin Ventura? I personally think the Cubs could benefit from the use of an opener, especially if Quintana is traded for a pack of Topps cards and a copy of MLB the Show 2014. Also what kind of leash does he get from ownership?

 Sam: We were just talking about this on the podcast. First off with Ross, no one has any idea and if they say they do they’re lying. He’s obviously exactly in tune with how the front office sees the team, but who knows what that means given the restraints. I think they feel like players walked on Maddon a bit or tired of his shtick or both, and Ross definitely commands respect from the vets so you’d think the younger players will follow. I hope/suspect he’ll be a little more advanced in-game than Ventura, but again, no one can be sure. 

 I’m with you on the opener. The Cubs do have two intriguing, multi-inning possibilities out of the pen in Chatwood and Alzolay. The latter certainly can’t take on a starter’s share of innings this year, if he ever can. They both have electric stuff, though with varying problems with that stuff. You don’t know what you’ll get out of Lester, but if Q were to stick around you’d have three dependable (at least innings-wise) starters and Lester. You could easily have each of Chatwood and Alzolay throw 2-3 innings twice a week to cover for what you don’t get from Lester and a hole at the #5 spot. 

 But the reality is that they’ll trade.Q merely to save money, slide Chatwood into the rotation where he’s yet to prove he can be, and now both the rotation and pen are short. 

 Maybe I’ll just get on the Mariners train now and enjoy the fruits in three years. 

 Wes: Julio Rodriquez is gonna be a monster, we’d all be smart to buy shares now and revel in our intelligence in 2022-23. 

 I have a feeling the Cubs are gonna struggle to pitch the ball all season long and we’re in for some “fun” 14-10 type games. I think the NL Central is full of flaws, so 84 wins might just do it, but from the way you’ve spoken all winter, Sam, it seems you believe the Cubs could have trouble breaking even that number. 

 Of course, Yu, Hendricks and Q could all throw 175+ masterful innings and then you just need to survive the Lester clunkers and get to .500 in 5th start spots. Craig Kimbrel being his pre-2019 self would go a long way, too. 

 AJ: Question for all of us: If Lopez advances in his skills and both Rodon and Kopech come back healthy, what do the Sox do with their rotation?

 Wes: Assuming the rest of the staff is healthy/effective, I’d think that Gio G switches to a swing man/relief role that he was very effective in with Milwaukee last season. But you’re still looking at six guys with Giolito, Keuchel, Kopech, Cease, Lopez and Rodon.

 They’re going to want to bring Rodon along quite slowly, I’d think, being that he’ll come back in the 2nd half of the season, so he’d probably spot start during some long stretches where a 6th could be introduced to help rest everyone else/be used in longer relief situations to better control his workload and keep his innings as effective as possible. Cease is also going to top out around 160-175 innings, so I’m sure having too many SP options come August wouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

 This would be a very awesome problem to have. 

 AJ: I think at the end of the season if Rodon comes back healthy, Lopez advances like we all hope he does, and Kopech comes back in good shape you would have a six-man rotation from August on. You would be able to manage Cease, Kopech and Rodon’s innings as need be as well as give Gio Gonzalez some time as well. If September comes around and the playoffs aren’t an option Dane Dunning could conceivably be thrown into that mix as well. Like Wes said, it’s an excellent problem to have. 

 Sam, what’s your take on the Sox this year as a Cubs fan (for the time being, at least)?

 Sam: I think they’re exciting and am looking forward to watching them but I don’t think they’re a sure thing. Neither do I think the Twins are either, to be fair.

 I’m not as high on the Keuchel signing as some. He was regressing last year and his margin for error is so small. The batted ball numbers aren’t encouraging. Which still makes for something of an iffy staff. Giolito is great, but we have no idea what Cease is and it’s all questions from there on out, be it health or development. Wes, you may get your share of 14-10 games on the Southside, too. 

 That said the Grandal signing seems perfect for them, and even though I think Mazara sucks when Robert and Madrigal are up it’s hard to find a true hole in the lineup. It’s also hard to see anyone regressing, though I guess I could see where Abreu’s age kicks in a bit along with playing the field every day. Maybe TIMMY! can’t keep his BABIP around .400 again, which will really hurt his output because he never walks and still hits too many grounders (though that’s trending the rifht way). But again, this feels more around the edges than the heart of it. 

 They definitely need Kopech to come back healthy and contribute. You’ll never get me to believe in Rodon and I think his future is a lot like Reynaldo’s in that he’d be a great reliever. He just walks too many guys right now. 

 All that said, I feel like this will be the most fun season on the Southside in a very long time. And now with no Hawk around, I can watch comfortably!

 

 

 

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.

Baseball

The White Sox need another starter, perhaps even two. The immanent return of Michael Kopech should satisfy one of those needs, but successfully returning from Tommy John surgery is no sure thing. In addition to that, you can almost guarantee that his innings are going to have a cap on them, as the most he’s ever thrown in a season is the 140 he tossed before his elbow went “TWANG” in 2018.

So Kopech fills in for Ivan Nova, but that still leaves the Black Hole of Sadness that is the Sox 5th starter. Carlos Rodon won’t be back until August at the earliest, and he faces the same questions Kopech does. Reynaldo Lopez hasn’t cemented his spot in the rotation of The Future™ as of yet, either. Besides, you can never have too much starting pitching (or so I’m told).

So that brings us to the next person on the White Sox offseason shopping list. He’s a front line starter who comes with some risk attached but (other than Gerrit Cole) is the youngest available free agent starter on the market. I of course speak of Zack Wheeler.

Why Him?: First off like I said above, he’s the youngest starting pitcher available on the market this winter that the Sox would realistically (as much as I want Cole or Strasburg) pursue. He has that first round draft pick pedigree that Rick Hahn loves so much (though to be fair that’s a hangup of most GMs) and would immediately make the Sox starting rotation a thing to be feared.

He’s had an ERA of under 4.00 every year but 2017 (when he missed an extended period of time due to various maladies), has a 22.8% K rate, an 8.5% BB rate and has been a 4+ WAR player the last two seasons.

His fastball sits in the upper 90s with movement, and he has a nasty slider that he throws in the low 90s for his strikeout pitch. He also has a plus curveball and an average changeup that he doesn’t throw a whole lot in the zone. He also has a 44% ground ball ratio compared to a 32.5% fly ball that would play well at The Down Arrow.

Him lining up with Giolito, Kopech, Cease and Lopez gives you four starters that will rack up strikeouts at a hilarious pace, and would hopefully take some of the onus off the bullpen to have to eat up so many innings. Plus with him just entering his age 30 season, the threat of a downturn in velocity seems pretty low.

Why Not Him?: First and foremost, injuries. Wheeler has had issues staying healthy, as he’s never broken 200 innings in his career. In 2015 he had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL which cost him all of the 2016 season. In 2017 he got tendinitis in his bicep which cost him some time on the IL, then after than he had a stress reaction in his right arm (a stress reaction is basically a broken bone that hasn’t totally broken. I had to google it.) which resulted in him being shut down in August. He also missed time this past season with a shoulder impingement.

In addition to the injury risk, he’s another righty which with Carlos Rodon out would make the current starting rotation entirely right handed. In and of itself this is not a terrible thing, as if the stuff is good then the results will be good. Still it’s not the worst thing in the world to be able to vary the handedness of your starters from time to time. Especially when the Indians and their bevy of left handed mashers is in your division.

He was also issued a qualifying offer from the Mets this last week, so any attempt to sign him after he turns it down results in the Sox sending a 2nd round draft pick to NY. Thus far, Rick Hahn has been loath to part with ANY of his draft picks…but the time for the Sox hoarding them is well past.

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend?: FanGraphs has Wheeler looking at a four-year deal with about an $18 million AAV running at a grand total of just under $80 million total. This contract would blow past the $68 million the Sox gave Jose Abreu as the highest ever issued by the team (pathetic). Being that the Sox are most likely going to have to overpay due to the fact that the South Side isn’t currently the mecca for free agents the Northside is, I would think four years and $85 million might be enough to get Wheeler in a Sox jersey.

If the free agent market is slow enough, his injury history could potentially suppress that number even further. Either way, the $85 million would probably be the cap that Rick Hahn would set for himself, especially with all the other needs (DH, RF, 2B potentially) to be filled out in addition to starting pitching. I’m a big fan of Wheeler, and I think he’d fit in nicely here. It’s a bit of a stretch, as I see the Yankees becoming a problem if they miss out on Gerrit Cole and I don’t see Hahn outbidding them, like, ever. If the dominoes fall the right way however, Wheeler could be another pillar of an awesome pitching staff.

 

 

 

Baseball

Now to the last of the starting pitchers, the guy who I thought was going to be a depth starter and a placeholder for Dylan Cease at the start of the year, and ended up leading the Sox in innings pitched after Carlos Rodon’s elbow evaporated and Lucas Giolito got shut down early in September. All things considering, Nova earned his paycheck this year, despite a very shaky start.

2019 Stats

34 Starts  187 Innings

11-12 Record

4.72 ERA  4.98 FIP

114 Ks  47 BB

5.49 K/9  2.29 BB/9  1.45 WHIP

2.0 WAR

 

Tell Me A Story: The Sox and Rick Hahn traded for Nova back in December of 2018 during the winter meetings. They sent 19 year old Yordi Rosario and $500,000 international bonus pool money to the Pirates for Nova and his $8.5 million in what was essentially a salary dump for Pittsburgh.

At the time I was intrigued by the move, as it really didn’t cost the Sox anything in the way of immediate assets and provided what Don Cooper loves best: a reclamation project with good stuff but no real sustained success. Nova was an international signee of the Yankees way back in 2004 when he was a teen in the Dominican Republic. He debuted in 2010 for the Yanks, and quickly turned heads in 2011 and 12 when he went a combined 28-12 in his first two full seasons.

After that, the consistency waned considerably the rest of his tenure with the Yankees and he finished with them in 2015 with a 5 ERA and a 6-11 record. He was traded to the Pirates thereafter and the consistency issues followed him West. Last year he had his best run in a Bucs uniform with a 9-9 record and a 4.14 ERA on a less than stellar team.

His first few weeks with the Sox were…less than inspiring. His first 9 starts saw him net a 2-4 record with a 7.12 ERA. He wasn’t really walking many or giving up a lot of dingers, his stuff wasn’t being located very well and that shit was getting hit all over the place.

After Carlos Rodon went down with his elbow issue, however, something clicked into place for Nova and he went on a pretty solid if not excellent run. Through the heat of the summer months he was locked in, starting 19 games and going 7-7 with a surprising 3.28 ERA. The true highlight was his start against the Cubs, holding them to 5 hits in the start, walking 1 while striking out 5 and getting an assist from Eloy with another bombshot into dead center that bounced off the fan deck and gave the Sox a 2 run lead Nova would keep safe.

If you take out the first 6 weeks of the season, Nova had a good year for someone who would be a 5th starter on most other average teams with a 3.80 ERA and a 9-8 record. Something that many teams would gladly take out of the 5 hole in their starting rotation. Unfortunately for the Sox, after Rodon went down Nova was more like the #2 starter with the inconsistencies of Reynaldo Lopez, the Rookie-ness of Dylan Cease and the absolute fucking black hole that was whatever started on the 5th day.

All in all, I would say that this was $8.5 million well spent on a guy who was acquired to be a 5th starter and ended up leading the team in innings pitched. Nova doesn’t strike a lot of people out, but he keeps the walks down and when effective keeps the ball in the park. You could (and the Sox did…hello Dylan Covey!) do much worse.

Contract: Made $8.5 million in 2019, the last year of his deal. Unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: As well as Nova performed this season in the position he was put in by the Sox, he’s just not going to be necessary next year. His spot in the rotation will most likely be filled by Reynaldo Lopez as Michael Kopech, Gerrit Cole (Hi Fels!) Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito take the other spots with Carlos Rodon and his rehab waiting in the wings. Thanks for your help in making this summer a little more watchable, Ivan. Best of luck to you in Toronto.

 

Baseball

As AJ said yesterday, the hopeful and wandering eyes (ewww) of Sox fans are going to turn from Lucas Gioilito to Reynaldo Lopez next year. Is Lopez a candidate for such a turnaround? Let’s get in up to the wrist.

2019 Stats

33 starts  184 innings

10-15

5.38 ERA  5.04 FIP

8.27 K/9   3.18 BB/9  1.46 WHIP

35% GB-rate  69.2 LOB%  14.0% HR/FB

119 ERA-  2.3 WAR

Tell Me A Story: It was something of a strange year for Lopez, as in a lot of ways he had the same exact year as he did in 2018. And in some ways better, except without any of the results or numbers that would agree with that. He struck out slightly more hitters than he did in ’18, he walked slightly less hitters. He got ever so slightly more ground-balls, and considering what the baseball was his hard-contact against was essentially the same. And yet his ERA jumped nearly a run and a half and his FIP almost half a run. What’s going on here?

Some of this is luck. Lopez gave up more homers simply because more of them floated out of the park, which happened to just about everyone this season (at least not named Gerrit Cole). Whereas his fly ball-to-homer ratio previously was under 10%, it rose to over 14% this year. But Lopez didn’t give up hardly any more flies than he did previously, nor was the contact on them any more lively than before. They just ended up in places in various parks that were homers where they didn’t before, which is essentially just kind of random. Lopez wasn’t helped either by a dip in his left-on-base percentage, which is just sequencing. His 69% mark is three to four points below league average, and could just rebound simply because next year. More solo homers instead of them with men on would improve his ERA and such, without him actually doing anything differently.

Still, that’s not all of it. Lopez’s stuff suggests he should strike out more hitters than less than one per inning. And yet he doesn’t. Lopez’s fastball velocity ranked in the top-10 of all starters this year. The guy behind him was Max Scherzer. The guys ahead of him were Marquez, Alcantara, Castillo, Buehler, Wheeler, deGrom, Cole, and Thor. Almost everyone of them have much bigger K numbers than Lopez, and if not that than better success. Why so?

The easy answer is that they have better offspeed and breaking pitches, but that’s only partially true. The thing with Lopez’s fastball is though it’s one of the hardest around, it doesn’t get the whiffs you might think:

With Lopez’s velocity, you want him living at the top and above the zone. But all the other pitchers mentioned get whiff-per-swing rates in those six spots in the 30% range or 40%. Some even 50%, which Lopez has only in one spot and is probably more due to a weird spike than any skill. Maybe hitters just see Lopez’s fastball better than those others’. Maybe he needs some more deception in his delivery, but considering he’s throwing 95-97 regularly he should be blowing that pitch by hitters more often. And he’s not. And that’s a bigger problem because it’s still the pitch he goes to most often when ahead and with two strikes.

Lopez has good breaking stuff, but they don’t seem to come out of the same plane as his fastball. He mostly keeps his fastball up int he zone or above, but his slider breaks from the middle or low in the zone and out. Hitters can pretty much suss out when it’s not up it’s not a fastball, though they still offer and whiff at a decent amount of them. Though hardly a heroic amount. When pitching to lefties, his change still comes out of a lower plane as well. Perhaps using his curve more, which does come out of his hand looking higher in the zone, is the key. Or given how hard he throws, not being afraid to use the middle of the zone more often on the edges, and then the slider and change will look a little different. Clearly the tools are there.

Contract: Team control, arbitration eligible in 2021.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Well this is obvious. Lopez will be part of the rotation next year and hopefully for a good long while after that. And seeing as how he’s put up over 180 innings his first two full seasons, his durability will be needed in a season where the Sox don’t know what they’ll get from Carlos Rodon or Michael Kopech in terms of innings. He’s clearly the next project in the Giolito mold, how they can unlock what is clearly a lot in that closet. Feels like a delivery tweak is coming for him too to give him more deception and to make sure that fastball gets on hitters instead of them seeing it the whole way. Lopez will be 26 next year, so there’s still time but there isn’t the oodles of time it might feel like. If they can boost him as they did Giolito next year, then the games might matter in August again.

Baseball

With the position players done, we move on to the starting pitching staff where we begin with what might be the biggest success story in White Sox (pitching) history. More on this after the stats jump. To The K-Mobile!

 

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

 

Tell Me A Story: In 2018, Lucas Giolito was the worst starter in all of Major League Baseball. That’s not hyperbole at all, it’s a statistical fact according to Fangraphs. Out of  57 pitchers who met innings pitched requirements, Giolito ranked 57th. Having personally watched a few of his starts live last season, it was a ranking well earned.

With that in mind, expectations for this season were not very high. When he started the first five games of the season with a 5.32 ERA, most were ready to write him off as not a viable core piece for The Future™ being built by Rick Hahn.

Then he went and ripped off nine-straight starts where he didn’t give up more than three runs and struck out at least seven batters. Even more impressive was the improvement of his control, only walking 16 batters in those nine starts. His changeup was electric, with the kind of downward motion that Johan Santana used to beguile Sox hitters with. His fastball was located in the upper reaches of the zone, just at the spot where a hitter can’t possibly catch up to it but it still looks like it could be a strike.

He had one burp (unfortunately) against the Cubs where he gave up six, but he rolled into the All-Star break with an 11-3 record and a 3.15 ERA. This was easily good enough for him to be selected to his first ever All Star game (along with the guy he credits for some of his improvement, James McCann), and ranked him as the 2nd best pitcher in the AL after future White Sox signee (I hope) Gerrit Cole.

After the All Star break ended, Giolito ran into some trouble. From the middle of July till the end of August his walks-per-9 spiked from around 1.55 to almost 2.50. The changeup that was dancing so well at the end of July was just spinning in the middle of the zone and getting pummeled by opposing hitters. Most pitchers that like to live at the top of the zone are susceptible to the long ball, but as long as their out pitch moves out of the zone it’s a line they can walk. That wasn’t happening in Gio’s case, and the results were showing.

As is his way, Giolito dove into the Sox video archives of his starts and dissected his mechanics to find out what his issues were with the release point in his change that were causing it to get slaughtered. Whatever he found, it worked. From his start against the A’s on August 11th (where he gave up two in six innings and took the L while striking out 13) to when the Sox pulled the plug on him in the middle of September with a lat strain Giolito had a 3.33 ERA in seven starts while striking out 70 and only walking 10.

From the 57th starter in the league last season to the 10th overall this year, Giolito is deserving of a few Cy Young votes, and is one of the three players nominated for Comeback Player of the Year Award. He’s also become the surprise gem in the Sox pitching rotation of The Future™. The most impressive thing about Gio’s stats this year (other than the BB and K rates) is the fact that very little of his success is due to batted-ball luck. His FIP is 3.43, which is only .02 higher then his actual ERA, and his BABIP sits at a cool .275, where in comparison Gerrit Cole’s is at .273.

Credit to Giolito for not imploding in on himself like a dwarf star and becoming the latest in a long list of high hype pitchers that never live up to expectations. After the disaster that the 2018 season was for him, his hard work in the off-season should be the boilerplate for Sox pitchers, and something that Reynaldo Lopez should look to emulate this winter.

Contract: Giolito earned $573,000 in 2019 and is under team control in 2020. After that the arbitration years kick in and things will get exponentially more expensive. Look for Rick Hahn to attempt to buy him out of his arbitration years like the Sox did with Tim Anderson and Eloy with a 5-6 year extension.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: This isn’t even a consideration, as Giolito has become the ace that the Sox have been looking to develop since before Chris Sale suited up. As a certified member of The Future™, Giolito will be here for the long haul and should become the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Sox starting rotation from here on out, teaching the young Padawans his secret Jedi pitching ways. Sorry, just watched the new Star Wars trailer for the 300th time and am still buzzing.

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vs.

RECORDS: White Sox 65-84   Twins 91-58

GAMETIMES: Monday-Wednesday 6:40

TV: WGN Monday, NBCSN Tuesday/Wednesday

THEY LOVE HAWK: Twinkie Town

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Twins Spotlight: Dingers!

After providing far too much hope for the Mariners future, the Sox head to Minneapolis to essentially form an honor guard for the Twins. Minnesota is goal-to-go for clinching the division, with a magic number of nine. They spent the weekend taking a doubleheader from the chasing Tribe, which essentially ended the discussion in the Central. 4.5 game lead with 13 games to go is going to be really hard to gag away.

So now it’s about setting up their rotation for the Division Series, getting guys rest who haven’t had it, and figuring out who can be in the bullpen and trusted with playoff innings. It’s a nice place to be, and perhaps another lesson for the White Sox on where they want to go.

That doesn’t mean the Twins are full-strength, or will be. Byron Buxton finally had to give in on his shoulder and have surgery, and he’s done for the year. Michael Pineda got suspended for taking a diuretic, which can be a masking agent but also can just be a diuretic. Still, MLB makes it pretty clear that anything taken should be checked with the training staff or league office, so if you get caught you had outs before. Still, MLB seems only to gobble up Latin players in this. Weird, no?

Which is going to leave the Twins short in the rotation, especially as they have to get through both the Astros and Yankees, in whatever order, to get to the World Series. And those two teams chew up really good pitching staffs anyway. Jose Berrios is your Game 1 starter, but other than him it’s basically Jake Odorizzi now and then a company outing. Berrios has the capability to shut anyone down on a crisp night, but he’ll most likely have to do it twice in a series for the Twins to have any chance.

Then again, the Twins aren’t going to feel like they have to apologize for anything offensively when the playoff roll around. They’ve hit more homers than anyone, so it won’t be automatic they get out-slugged in any short series. And seeing as hoe they get homers from everywhere, that makes their lineup just as hard to negotiate. It’ll be a coming out party for them in some fashion. Dylan Covey should probably just starting turning around and looking behind him now.

For the Sox, there probably is something to finishing the season strong, as after this they’ll have the long dead Tigers and recently probably dead Indians to finish out the campaign. 70 wins or 72 wins might not really matter, but it’s been a few years since the Sox eclipsed 70 wins and any step forward should be welcomed. The Twins will either already be daydreaming of October nights or hellbent on clinching ASAP to really start resetting their roster. If it’s the latter, then it’ll be worth watching how Lopez and Giolito do, not that the latter has anything to prove. Lopez kicked Cleveland’s dick in the dirt when they were hot on the trail, so maybe the brighter lights are what he needs.

And at least the Sox will be done with the Twins after this, laying the ground for bigger games with him as soon as next season, hopefully.