As the White Sox head into the winter following a 76-86 offseason, CSNChicago.com will examine the past, present and future of each position group at 35th and Shields. We'll begin with the starting rotation.
1. LHP Chris Sale: 5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options
2. LHP Jose Quintana: 5 years/$21M (2014-18), plus 2019-20 options
3. LHP Carlos Rodon: 0.168 major league service
4. LHP John Danks: 5 years/$65M (2012-16)
5. RHP Erik Johnson: 0.089 major league service
6. RHP Frankie Montas: 0.035 major league service
What went right
Chris Sale’s 274 strikeouts set a new White Sox single season record and were the most among American League starters. The 26-year-old left-hander also tied a major league record when he racked up double-digit strikeouts in eight consecutive games, cementing himself as an upper-echelon starter in baseballs pitching-heavy landscape. His 3.41 ERA isn’t indicative of how dominant he was, and his significant FIP-to-ERA split (his ERA was 0.68 points higher than his FIP, the fifth-highest positive difference among qualified starters) shows he was frequently the victim of a bad defense behind him.
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Jose Quintana continued to be a steady presence in the middle of the rotation, starting at least 32 games and throwing at least 200 innings for the third consecutive year. His win-loss record (9-10) is cruel; Quintana hasn’t won double-digit games in his career despite a 3.46 ERA. The 26-year-old left-hander’s contract is favorable and, coupled with Sale’s team-friendly deal and Carlos Rodon’s early-career inexpensiveness, allows the White Sox to have some wiggle room with money elsewhere.
Rodon finished strong in his major league debut season, posting a 1.81 ERA over his final eight starts. He threw 149 1/3 innings between Triple-A and the majors, setting himself up for a 2016 season in which his workload will still be monitored, but hardly to the extent it was in 2015.
Erik Johnson posted a 3.34 ERA in six late-season starts, continuing a strong Triple-A showing (132 2/3 IP, 2.37 ERA, 136 K, 41 BB, 5 HR). Hard-throwing prospect Frankie Montas made his major league debut after posting a 2.97 ERA in 23 starts for Double-A Birmingham.
What went wrong
The White Sox hung on to Jeff Samardzija at the trade deadline with the thought he’d help them push for a berth in the American League wild card game. Instead, the free-agent-to-be imploded to the tune of an 8.82 ERA in six August starts (33 2/3 IP, 33 ER). He barely finished the year with an ERA below five (4.96) and appears likely to sign elsewhere in the offseason.
John Danks deserves plenty of credit for trying different pitching motions and strategies to regain his pre-shoulder surgery form, but his 4.71 ERA was right in line with his mark in 2013 (4.75) and 2014 (4.74). While Samardzija and Danks both struggled, though, the White Sox starting rotation wasn’t among the chief reasons why this team finished below .500.
With Samardzija expected to sign elsewhere this winter, the White Sox have an opening in the rotation on which the 25-year-old Johnson should have the inside track heading into spring training. Montas could get in the mix too, or the White Sox could bring in an inexpensive veteran to push the younger pitchers during spring training.
The interesting question will be if the White Sox deal from their strength — left-handed starting pitching — to address needs at plenty of positions across the diamond.