John Danks' 0-8 record through his first 11 starts last season wasn't indicative of his struggles -- W-L records never are. Danks pitched well enough to deserve to win at least three of those starts, but thanks to poor run support and a blown save, he went winless through Memorial Day.
More reliably, Danks' struggles were epitomized by his poor strikeout-to-walk ratio (4625) opponent on-base percentage (.355) and home runs allowed (11). That's why his ERA sat at 5.25 at the end of May.
In the remainder of his starts in 2011, though, Danks was his usual solid self. He posted a 3.69 ERA with 81 strikeouts, 23 walks and eight home runs allowed, all while holding opponents to a .690 OPS. Interestingly enough, luck had nothing to do with Danks' struggles and successes -- his BABIP sat at .315 through both his first 11 and final 16 starts.
But we can dive a little deeper into what Danks did differently beyond the results thanks to Texas Leaguers' pitch fx database. And it centers around using his cutter with a higher frequency.
From April 3 through May 29, Danks threw his cutter on 22 percent of his pitches. From June 6 through the end of the season, he threw that pitch 28 percent of the time. Danks threw the pitch better, too, throwing it for more strikes and generating more swings on the pitch.
There was also a small difference in Danks' fastball and changeup velocity in these two blocks. Compared to his first 11 starts, Danks threw his fastball harder and his changeup slower in his final 16 outings, although both differences were less than 1 mph.
But Danks generated about 9 percent more swings and misses on his changeup in his final 16 starts, so there's probably something to that drop in velocity.
This isn't groundbreaking stuff: Danks has to have a good cutter and changeup to be successful. He found that out the hard way last April and May.
27-year-old Justin Jirschele made quite an impression in his first season as manager of the White Sox Class-A affiliate in Kannapolis. He helped lead the Intimidators to the South Atlantic League championship, and was named White Sox Minor League Coach of the Year. Jirschele came on the podcast to speak with Chuck Garfien about how he went from playing minor league baseball with the White Sox to coaching in their system. He talks about how growing up with a dad who was coaching minor league baseball helped mold him as a manager who is wise beyond his years. Jirschele also gives a report on some of the top White Sox prospects he managed last season such as Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Miker Adolfo.
The White Sox farm system is baseball's best, according to one of the people making those rankings.
In the wake of Major League Baseball's punishment of the Atlanta Braves for breaking rules regarding the signing of international players — which included the removal of 12 illegally signed prospects from the Braves' organization — MLB.com's Jim Callis tweeted out his updated top 10, and the White Sox are back in first place.
Now obviously there are circumstances that weakened the Braves' system, allowing the White Sox to look stronger by comparison. But this is still an impressive thing considering that three of the White Sox highest-rated prospects from the past year are now full-time big leaguers.
Yoan Moncada used to be baseball's No. 1 prospect, and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez weren't too far behind. That trio helped bolster the highly ranked White Sox system. Without them, despite plenty of other highly touted prospects, common sense would say that the White Sox would slide down the rankings.
But the White Sox still being capable of having baseball's top-ranked system is a testament to the organizational depth Rick Hahn has built in such a short period of time.
While prospect rankings are sure to be refreshed throughout the offseason, here's how MLB Pipeline's rankings look right now in regards to the White Sox:
4. Eloy Jimenez
9. Michael Kopech
22. Luis Robert
39. Blake Rutherford
57. Dylan Cease
90. Alec Hansen