Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
Imagine if Trader Kenny strikes out and is unable to turn a starting pitching surplus into better roster flexibility, opts not to move Carlos Quentin or decides a 120 million budget works for the team. The White Sox can still get stronger just by shuffling what they already have. Heres how:
Modest Proposal No. 1: Outfield Shift
Juan Pierre is continually maligned as a left fielder because of his weak arm. However, he was the White Soxs strongest fielder last year not named Alexei Ramirez there simply wasnt a ball hit to left field that Pierre couldnt track down. His weak arm was mitigated by his position, and its clear that the speedster stole away more bases in making catches and filling gaps than he did by allowing base runners to sprint home without recourse. As great as Alex Rios was last season, hes not even on the short list of baseballs outstanding center fielders. And Carlos Quentin in right? Yeesh.
Presuming Andruw Jones doesnt return to take the reps in right field away from Quentin, theres a simple way to patch the hole: shift the outfield.
Pierre is a career center fielder who has proven he can chase anything down and what he lacks in strength he makes up for with accuracy. Rios in right field can take any ball in the gap, mitigating Pierres weaker arm. Both Pierre and Rios can shade toward left due to their outstanding speed. Quentin, whose fielding range and arm accuracy are shoddy, moves back to left field, where hes historically done less damage.
Of course, the best remedy in the outfield is to re-sign Jones, install him in right field and make Quentin the teams regular DH.
Modest Proposal No. 2: Six-Man Rotation
A squeeze for starts might never occur: Jake Peavy might not be healthy in spring training, for instance. However, the White Sox are traditionally the healthiest team in baseball and there could be more starting arms than the team knows what to do with. What if neither Peavy nor any of the other five White Sox starters (Mark Buehrle, Chris Sale, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson) miss significant time in 2011? Barring a trade, the White Sox have six outstanding arms for five rotation spots.
Pitching on five days rest isnt a legitimate option unless the White Sox opt to use a starters work day off in actual game competition, and thats not recommended. So given this bounty, its time to expand our minds.
As fans, were used to thinking about a fifth starters role as an inning-eater; Freddy Garcia in 2010 is a great example, as a guy who ate some innings, had some effective outings and made less headaches for manager Ozzie Guillen.
With the talent the White Sox have in the rotation, they can aim higher than that, with a true shutdown crew. If a hitter is slumping, he sits for a start or two, but what about a similar merit system for starters?
Say the White Sox enter the season with a six-man rotation of Buehrle, Peavy, Floyd, Danks, Jackson and Sale, and that the first starter to falter is Peavy, banged up in the seasons second game. That means Sale slips into Peavys spot, and Peavy is the next starting sub.
An additional bonus of a six-man rotation would be having the No. 6 (idle) starter work in a game instead of doing his side work only in the bullpen. Day two after a start is usually reserved for bullpen side work what if day three or four becomes an occasion where the idled starter can work in a real game for a couple of innings?
Using a benchmark of a poor start as a game score of less than 40 (with 50 considered a quality start), in 2010 Buehrle would have had 10 starts that would have bumped him from the rotation, Peavy six (of 17 starts), Floyd eight, Danks seven, Garcia seven, and Jackson just one.
Think that this is mere stat geek meddling? Well, consider that the White Sox had 39 total poor starts in 2010 and 20 of them happened consecutively for example, Peavy had a total of six poor starts, two in a row in April and three in a row in May. That would indicate two main slumps in his season, both of which were likely needs for additional work on mechanics or mental approach. In the case of Buehrle and Floyd, both of whom suffered poor streaks in September, perhaps slumps were born of sheer fatigue.
At any rate, this utilization of a six-man rotation could shorten or perhaps eliminate starters slumps entirely. In case of an injury, the White Sox would remain in a five-man rotation, with no sixth-man sub. But six healthy starters shouldnt necessarily force Jackson out of town or Sale into the bullpen or the minors. The White Sox have the opportunity to have their starting rotation carry them into the 2011 postseason, and by letting merit rule in a six-man rotation and would push the unit that much closer to doing so.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.