White Sox

Ballantini: Different directions for Alexei and Freddy

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Ballantini: Different directions for Alexei and Freddy

Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011
2:10 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through the offseason, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. Stories broke on Monday about two White Sox players, one speculative but logical (Alexei Ramirezs reported contract extension), the other elementary and borderline sad (Freddy Garcia taking another bite of the Big Apple). Lets take a look at how these latest developments affect the big picture for the White Sox:

Whats the story with Alexei?

Ramirez was already signed for 2011 after opting out of the fourth year of his original, four-year deal, which forced the White Sox to re-sign him at 2.75 million instead of the original payout of 1.1 million. His value to the White Sox being self-evident (per FanGraphs, Ramirez has provided 29.3 million in value in exchange for just 3.6 million in salary in his first three seasons, and even at a more than doubled contract in 2011 he projects to give the White Sox a surplus value of around 12 million), clearly the club would be working on an extension for their prized shortstop. GM Ken Williams told me that very thing back at the start of December, once Adam Dunn was signed, although he acknowledged it could be around spring training by the time something got done.

So this extension is a good deal for the White Sox?

By inking Ramirez to a reported four-year, 32.5 million extension with a 10 million club option in 2016, the team will give itself cost certainty at the most important fielding position on the diamond and will build around a player who will turn just 35 at the end of the 2016 season. Abacus-ing up the quick and dirty numbers, by 2016 the White Sox will have paid 48.8 million over nine seasons (5.4 million per season) to a player who has averaged almost 10 million in value for the team in his first three years. Providing Ramirez can at least reach his average major league season so far in the six to come, the White Sox will have gotten a return of around 200 on the shortstop over the breadth of his career. Many are calling the speculated extension reasonable and fairfrom this angle, it looks like an incredibly team-friendly deal, and another masterstroke from Williams.

As the potential foundation piece of the future White Sox, does Ramirez have the leadership capability to mentor a new generation of White Sox players?

Leadership and such intangibles develop over time, and to be fair, in many ways Ramirez is just getting his feet wet in American culture and within the confines of a clubhouse already rife with veteran leadership. And providing that Gordon Beckham will be his double-play partner over the course of his contract, Ramirez will always be the second course, at least to Bacon, when it comes to overall team leadership. But with a second year under his belt (including Gold Glove-quality defense in 2010, AL managers and coaches!), Ramirezs confidence is growing. The shy import will never fill Ozzie Guillens cleats when it comes to media friendliness and team leadership, but if he commits to the White Sox for what will essentially be the remainder of his career at shortstop, its an indication he is ready to grow a bit into areas hes yet to explore, like leadership, mentoring, and maybe even expanding his English vocabulary.

Have the White Sox ever committed this kind of money to a shortstop?

Is that a rhetorical question? Well, not only have the White Sox not, but few major league teams have ever invested so heavily in a shortstop. From Cots Baseball Contracts via J. Jonah Stankevitzs analysis of the deal at Sox Examiner, just seven teams have plunked more money into a shortstop than the White Sox are in Ramirez: the New York Yankees (Derek Jeter), Colorado Rockies (Troy Tulowitzki), Florida Marlins (Hanley Ramirez), Baltimore Orioles (Miguel Tejada), Los Angeles Dodgers (Rafael Furcal), San Francisco Giants (Edgar Renteria) and Boston Red Sox (Julio Lugo).

So the White Sox have just secured their Tulowitzki or Ramirez for the next six seasons?

Well, not exactly. In terms of comps, Alexei comes only as close as a surname to Hanley, unfortunately. Interestingly, Alexeis most comparable player (per Baseball-Reference) is an infielder named Charlie Neal, who played eight seasons in the majors, much of them with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1959, Neal made his first of three All-Star appearances, won his first and only Gold Glove (at second base), finished eighth in NL MVP voting, and ironically enough stung the 1959 White Sox in the World Series to the tune of two homers, six RBI and a 1.037 OPS.

Will any White Sox player ever have a cooler nickname than the Cuban Missile?

Probably not.

OK, now that Garcia has signed with the Yankees, where does that leave the White Sox in terms of a fifth starter?

Very comfortably, thank you. Listen, were talking about six potential aces among Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Edwin Jackson, Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. As well as Garcia pitched for the White Sox in 2010, he wasnt a world-beater, just a fifth starter who benefited from good enough health to take the mound for 28 starts. That durabilityoften the bane of fifth starterswas what allowed Garcia to give the White Sox a phenomenal return (5.4 million) on what was a gamble of a million-dollar contract.

There were a multitude of reasons why Garcia could not have returned to the White Sox in 2011, from the way Williams bolstered the bullpen for 2011, early reports that Peavy could well occupy that No. 5 slot beginning on Opening Day (the club wouldnt need a fifth starter until April 9, the ninth day of the regular season) and a payroll stretched wafer-thin. The only reason to bring Garcia back, frankly, was sheer sentimentality.

Is it written anywhere that a fifth starter has to stink?

Thats a great point. While its rare these days when even three starters in a rotation are reliable, it seems silly to therefore accept that every fifth day needs to be batting practice, because pitching is so very scarce in baseball today. Think about the multitude of horrors sent out by fifth starters in recent White Sox past, and then feel your blood pressure lower as you envision Peavy andor Sale manning that post in 2011. Talk about Adam Dunn all day long, but the real reason why the White Sox have World Series potential is being six starters deep in a league that struggles to find a single ace in a haystack. On the other hand, some clownish projections have the White Sox with just a middling rotation (worse than the Tigers and Cubbies, really, Matthew Pouliot?), so who knows what lies in store for the Pale Hose.

What are Freddys prospects in Gotham?

Well, it didnt work out too well in 2009, when his tenure with the New York Mets lasted all of three months and exactly zero regular-season games. Garcia really needed the White Sox to be less set with their rotation and overall pitching, because there are few places where such a unique veteran (read: awful spring outings, languid demeanor, stubborn streak) can flourish. Garcia benefited from the immediate care and curating of pitching coach Don Cooper and the support and mentoring of Guillen. In New York, its going to be a Florida free-for-all among the Bartolo Colons, Sergio Mitres, Mark Priors of the rest of the 30-and-up softballers the Yankees have opened their spring training mounds to. Guillen said in January that any team picking up Garcia had better talk to us, meaning that when Garcia is sweating a 20.00 ERA in spring training and looks utterly lost andor disinterested, dont be so quick to judge him. Think the Yankees, who cant even decide who their go-to GM on signings is, did any sort of background check beyond a physical? Like Mick Jagger wrote in the back of a cab some three decades ago, go ahead, bite the Big Appledont mind the maggots; unfortunately, Sweaty Freddy is set up to fail in those dastardly Yankees pinstripes.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

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USA TODAY

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

White Sox fans are justifiably concerned by Yoan Moncada's league-leading number of strikeouts.

Moncada carried big expectations into this season after earning the title of No. 1 prospect in baseball last year. He hasn't lived up to those expectations. But the struggles Moncada has dealt with this season don't at all etch in stone what kind of career he'll have in the long term.

Moncada's just 23 years old, and part of the reason there have been so many outside complaints about his season is that he's under the microscope in this rebuilding process. As an early arriver to the South Side, he gets looked at closely on a daily basis while many of the other highly touted youngsters in the organization are going through their developments in the minor leagues. And with the team where it is in its rebuilding effort, Moncada is going through certain things at the big league level that, if the White Sox were in a different spot, he might be experiencing in the minors.

But while Moncada is on pace to break Major League Baseball's single-season strikeout record, it's not at all the end of the world. See above for several reasons why. But there's another good one that's been discussed before but perhaps warrants a closer look, particularly after Moncada added two more strikeouts to his total in Monday night's loss to the Detroit Tigers. (He's up to 169 on the campaign and on pace to strike out 236 times.)

For fans expecting Moncada to arrive in the big leagues and display complete offensive mastery at the plate, just look to two of baseball's biggest stars, two guys who also piled up big strikeout numbers in rookie seasons that ended in Rookie of the Year awards, for examples of how Moncada's path can still end in plenty of major league success.

Kris Bryant struck out 199 times in 2015 to lead the National League and set the Cubs' single-season record. That's striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. It's also a total that currently stands as the 11th highest in baseball history. But Bryant has since seen those strikeout numbers drop dramatically, a possibility for Moncada as time wears on considering the rave reviews he gets from manager Rick Renteria and others when it comes to his understanding of the strike zone.

Bryant saw his strikeouts drop from 199 in his rookie season to 154 in 2016, a season in which he had 49 more plate appearances than he did in the year prior. Last season, his strikeout total plummeted to 128 (and his walks climbed to a career-best 95) in just 15 more plate appearances than he had in 2015. This season, Bryant has been plagued by significant injuries, but for what it's worth, he's got 75 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances, a strikeout rate 10 percent lower than the one from his rookie season.

So while Bryant and Moncada are different players, there's recent precedent — and just up the Red Line, at that — for a player striking out a ton during his rookie season only to consistently see those strikeouts decrease as time goes on. Remember that this is only Moncada's first full season in the majors. Time and experience can change an awful lot.

Then there's Aaron Judge. Last season, the New York Yankees slugger struck out 208 times, the sixth-highest total in baseball history. Like Bryant did in his rookie season, Judge struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. But unlike Bryant, Judge is striking out at a similar rate this season. Judge is a different kind of player than Bryant, of course, more of a slugger with the kind of power you see elsewhere among baseball's all-time single-season strikeout leaders: your Mark Reynoldses, your Adam Dunns, your Chris Davises, your Ryan Howards. Of course, Judge also walks a ton, something some of those guys did/do, too. Judge led baseball with his 208 punchouts last season, but he also led the American League with 127 walks. Judge ranks in among the league leaders again this season, with 68 walks.

Again, we'll go back to the praise for and confidence in Moncada's eye at the plate. He's got 50 walks in this strikeout-heavy season. As his skills at the dish are honed further, perhaps he could follow a path more similar to Judge's than Bryant's, where his strikeout numbers stay high but so, too, do his walk numbers.

Now, these are obviously not perfect comparisons. Bryant was an NL MVP a year after he was the NL's Rookie of the Year. Judge was the AL's Rookie of the Year a year ago and finished second in MVP voting. Moncada has other statistical areas of concern besides strikeouts: He's slashing .221/.304/.398 after Monday's loss in Motown, numbers that don't come close to the Rookie of the Year stats that Bryant and Judge put up in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

But these are examples of paths to success for players who hit the big leagues only to strike out and strike out a lot. There's little way of knowing if Moncada will be able to achieve the stardom those two have accomplished. But the big strikeout total doesn't preclude him from doing so.

Who knew? Chicago's weekend in walkoffs

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Chicago's weekend in walkoffs

A weekend wrapup in Chicago baseball in several bulletpoints

  • Friday night, Carlos Rodón continued his excellent run with 8 scoreless innings against the divisionleading Indians. His 1.27 ERA since July 1 leads the Majors among the 91 pitchers with at least 35 innings over that span. 
  • Unfortunately, Jon Lester is 91st out of those 91 pitchers with an 8.01 ERA in 39.1 IP over that span
  • Also unfortunately, Dylan Covey is tied for 89th (with Clayton Richard) out of 91 with a 7.71 ERA in 35 innings over that same span.

 

The biggest White Sox story of the weekend was arguably Jim Thome Night on Saturday. The Sox slugger made a nice speech and joined Jason & Steve in the booth during the game. 

  • Thome had 612 career home runs. That’s roughly 41.7 miles of baserunning. Which is about the distance from Chicago to Aurora.
  • Thome’s 612 career HR are the most of anyone born in Illinois (Thome was born in Peoria). The next highest total is 360 by Centralia’s Gary Gaetti. The gap of 252 career home runs between Thome and Gaetti is one more than the career total of Robin Yount (251 career HR), who was born in Danville.
  • Thome had enough home runs in an Indians uniform (337) to be their franchise leader. If you subtracted those from his career total, he still had 275, which is the amount of career home runs Roger Maris had.

 

The biggest White Sox story on the playing field over the weekend was Daniel Palka’s walkoff HR to give the White Sox a 1-0 win.

  • Palka’s blast was the second walkoff HR in White Sox history to break a scoreless tie. The other one was Sept. 14, 1967, by Don Buford (also against the Indians), but it was a 10th inning grand slam. If you like walkoff grand slams, keep on reading…
  • Palka’s walkoff HR was the first in White Sox history to win a game by a 10 score.
  • Palka is also the only player in White Sox history to strike out three times (as he did Friday) and hit a walkoff home run in the same game.
  • Palka’s 18 home runs ties him with Gleyber Torres for the American League lead among rookies this season.
  • Palka’s 18 home runs are tied with Jeff Liefer (2001) & Carlos May (1969) for second in White Sox history (behind Pete Ward’s 22 in 1963) among left handed rookies.
  • Palka’s 18 home runs since making his MLB Debut on April 25 is 4 more than any other White Sox hitter.
  • Adam Engel over a 7-day span robbed 7 runs worth of home runs – Greg Bird (with 2 runners on) Monday, Kyle Higashioka Tuesday, Yonder Alonso (with 2 runners on) Sunday. He even added a solo HR of his own in the same inning on Sunday. It’s particularly amazing given that the Sox were off Thursday, Engel played only one inning in the field on Friday, and he didn’t play on Saturday.
  • The Cubs won a game on Friday where their starter (Kyle Hendricks) allowed 8 hits in 6 innings, and the opposing starter (Jeremy Hellickson) allowed no hits in 5.2 innings.
  • Tyler Chatwood pitched three scoreless innings on Saturday, with 2 walks and 2 strikeouts. Chatwood has 8.13 walks per 9 innings and 7.68 strikeouts per 9 innings this season in 99.2 innings. The last pitcher to do that in at least 50 innings? Former Cub Carlos Marmol (7.32 BB/9, 11.71 K/9 in 2012). Only four times in MLB history has a pitcher finished a season with 100+ innings and at least 7 walks and 7 strikeouts per 9 innings. Bobby Witt & Mitch Williams (both with the Rangers) in 1987, and Witt & Eric Plunk in 1986.
  • Cole Hamels in three starts with the Cubs has a 1.00 ERA and in 18 innings has 11 hits and 20 strikeouts.
  • Cubs have had only 4 games all season in which the starting pitcher has had 9 or more strikeouts. Two of them belong to Cole Hamels (August 1 at PIT & August 12 vs WSH – 9 apiece) despite having made only three starts for the Cubs. Yu Darvish had 9 on April 7 at Milwaukee, and José Quintana has the only 10 K start for the Cubs this season back on June 6 vs. Philadelphia (the game Jason Heyward hit the walkoff grand slam).

 

David Bote’s walkoff grand slam was clearly the big moment of the weekend for the Cubs.

  • Bote hit the 30th “Ultimate Grand Slam” in MLB history – a walkoff grand slam where his team was down 3 runs.
  • It was the first Ultimate Grand Slam in the Majors since Steve Pearce of the Blue Jays did it last year on July 30.
  • It was the second Ultimate Grand Slam in Cubs history – the other was Ellis Burton 8/31/1963 against the Astros.
  • It was the second Ultimate Grand Slam in MLB history which came with the team down 30. The other was Sammy Byrd of the Reds on May 23, 1936, against the Pirates. Bote’s grand slam came with 2 outs, however; Byrd hit his with none out.
  • It was the first Ultimate Grand Slam by a pinch-hitter since Brian Bogusevic of the Astros hit one off Carlos Marmol of the Cubs back on August 16, 2011. However, Bogusevic’s home run came with only one out.
  • Bote’s was the first Ultimate Grand Slam by a pinch-hitter with two outs since Roger Freed of the Cardinals hit one May 1, 1979.
  • Bote was the first Cub to hit a pinch-hit walkoff grand slam since Earl Averill (the son of the Hall of Famer) on May 12, 1959.
  • Bote’s was the first Cub since Ron Santo on Sept. 25, 1968, to hit a walkoff grand slam to give his team its first runs of the game (Santo hit his trailing 1-0).
  • Bote & Heyward (June 6) give the Cubs a pair of walkoff grand slams in the same season for the first time since 1980 (Barry Foote & Cliff Johnson).
  • Bote joins Danny Kravitz as the only players to hit an Ultimate Grand Slam in the same season as their MLB debut (Kravitz’s was his first MLB home run – May 11, 1956 for the Pirates).
  • Both the Cubs and White Sox scored 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday… unfortunately the White Sox were trailing 9-3, whereas the Cubs trailed 3-0.