White Sox

The five most important hits of the White Sox season

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The five most important hits of the White Sox season

Jordan Danks earned the White Sox a win last night a win last night, belting a walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth to push his team past Oakland, 4-3. But it wasn't the biggest hit of the season by a White Sox player.

Briefly: Win Probability Added is a stat that measures how positively or negatively a player's performance affected his team's chances of winning a specific game. In the case of Danks, when he came to bat in the ninth, the White Sox had a 53.3 percent chance of beating Oakland. His home run -- because it was a walk-off -- gave the White Sox a 100 percent chance of winning, and thus, he increased his team's chances of winning by 46.7 percent, which is a WPA of .467.

Anyways, on to the top five plays, as measured by WPA:

1. Dayan Viciedo: 628 vs. New York, .513 WPA

Source: FanGraphs

With the White Sox down 3-1 in the top of the ninth, Viciedo cranked David Robertson's offering over the left-field fence at Yankee Stadium for a three-run homer, a seismic shift in the Sox chances of winning the game. The White Sox went from having a 31.3 percent chance of victory to 82.4 percent with on swing of the bat.

2. Adam Dunn: 55 vs. Detroit, .485 WPA

Source: FanGraphs

The White Sox only needed a run to tie Detroit in the top of the ninth, and with Alejandro De Aza on third with one out, all Dunn had to do was hit a sacrifice fly. He one-upped that, homering off Jose Valverde to give the Sox a 3-2 advantage. The White Sox went from a 33.5 percent chance of winning to 80.9 with Dunn's homer, and as of Saturday morning, that's the difference between alone in first and a tie for first in the AL Central.

3. Jordan Danks: 810 vs. Oakland, .467 WPA

Source: FanGraphs

The first walk-off home run of the list was not only Danks' first career home run, but it was also the first walk-off homer he hit at any level, from Little League to the pros. Unlike Viciedo and Dunn's blasts, the White Sox had a decent chance of winning the game when Danks stepped up, at 53.3 percent (tie games generally favor the home team). But for all the walk-offs the White Sox have had this season, Danks' blast stands as the biggest.

4. Alexei Ramirez, 425 vs. Oakland: .449 WPA

Source: FanGraphs

The White Sox tied things up in the ninth on Paul Konerko's 400th home run (which, by the way, had a WPA of .350), which sent this late-April game spiraling into extra innings. Finally, the Sox broke through with two outs in the 14th on a two-run double by Ramirez...but Hector Santiago allowed a game-tying two-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes (.478 WPA) and a walk-off single to Kile Ka'aihue (.301 WPA), and the A's went from a 3.8 percent chance of winning to 100 percent in the inning.

5. Alex Rios: 58 vs. Cleveland, .383 WPA

Source: FanGraphs

The White Sox steadily built a lead that was quickly erased in the eighth, but Rios' 10th-inning triple scored Brent Lillibridge from first and put the Sox back ahead 4-3. The hit dashed Cleveland's hopes of winning, which fell from 49.9 percent to 11.7 on the hit.

Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease still in the minors, but White Sox end of the Jose Quintana trade looking real good right now

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USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease still in the minors, but White Sox end of the Jose Quintana trade looking real good right now

Who won the Jose Quintana trade?

It’s still way too early to actually answer that question. But a trade that seemed so beneficial for both the White Sox and Cubs when it was completed last summer seems to have a South Side lean at the moment, even if it’s a very slight one.

That’s not a knock against Quintana, who faced his former team for the first time Friday afternoon. He’s doing his part in the mission the Cubs acquired him to accomplish. A rocky start that afflicted most of the North Side starting rotation means Quintana’s season-long numbers aren’t dazzling, but he’s been excellent as the Cubs’ division race with the Milwaukee Brewers has heated up, with a 2.10 ERA in his last six starts heading into Friday’s Crosstown opener.

They acquired him to help them win another World Series, and he’s pitching well enough as the postseason nears to be a big piece of that equation this October.

But the team that traded Quintana away probably isn’t having second thoughts at the moment. While the return pieces in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades haven’t exactly hit the big leagues in dominant fashion — the ceilings of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all still very high — the two biggest return pieces in the Quintana trade are perhaps the two biggest reasons to be excited about the White Sox future at the moment.

Eloy Jimenez is being discussed as a superstar in waiting. His eventual promotion to the majors was the biggest discussion topic of the season, and though it didn’t end up happening in 2018, it doesn’t figure to be long into the 2019 campaign before he’s playing big league ball.

He lit the minors on fire this season with a .337/.384/.577 slash line and 22 home runs in 108 games split between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. After being promoted to Triple-A, he posted a .355/.399/.597 slash line and 12 homers in 55 games. He’s currently ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the game.

Dylan Cease, meanwhile, was good enough to be named MLB Pipeline’s minor league pitcher of the year. He posted a 2.40 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 23 starts between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. That includes a sparkling 1.72 ERA in 10 starts following a midseason promotion to Double-A. He went to the Futures Game and pitched in the ninth inning on that All-Star stage.

Coming into the season, Cease was maybe the fourth most highly thought of White Sox pitching prospect, trailing Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning — not to mention big leaguers Giolito and Carlos Rodon. But where the question then was whether Cease could find a place in a crowded rotation of the future, the question now is: Could he lead it? Cease’s magnificent 2018 has sparked thoughts of him being the pitcher with the greatest promise in the organization.

And so that sounds like a pretty good state of the trade for the White Sox. Of course, the win-now Cubs probably feel similarly about their end of the deal, Quintana’s performance of late helping to answer what was a glaring question earlier in the season.

It’s worth repeating that it’s extremely early to be making any definitive statements about the “winner” of this deal. It’s also very early to be able to say with certainty what impact Jimenez and Cease will finally have when they reach the majors. The two most exciting White Sox youngsters at this time last season were Moncada and Kopech, and while the organization still thinks the world of both, fan expectations have shifted as Moncada’s first full big league season has been an up-and-down one and Kopech is days removed from Tommy John surgery that will wipe out his 2019.

In other words, things can change. And fast.

But right now, Jimenez and Cease are arguably the two brightest parts of the White Sox future. There’s plenty of questions to be answered over the coming years, but in the moment, the South Side half of this win-win deal is living up to the billing.

With Michael Kopech out for the year, should the White Sox try to bring James Shields back for 2019?

With Michael Kopech out for the year, should the White Sox try to bring James Shields back for 2019?

Michael Kopech's recovery from Tommy John surgery put an unanticipated item on this offseason's to-do list for Rick Hahn's front office: The White Sox now need to fill a 2019 rotation spot that was supposed to belong to Kopech.

There are numerous ways to fill that hole in the rotation, though are any more attractive, perhaps, than simply bringing James Shields back for another season on the South Side?

Shields' third year in a White Sox uniform has undoubtedly been his best. After he posted a 5.60 ERA and allowed a combined 67 home runs during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the 13-year major league veteran has done impressive work this season. After six innings of two-run ball Thursday night in Cleveland, Shields has a 4.48 ERA in 2018.

Of course, that's not a number that will have fans picketing Guaranteed Rate Field if the White Sox opt to move on from Shields this winter. But don't let that one figure overshadow how reliable Shields has been during the campaign. Thursday night marked his 19th quality start of the season, and he ranks in the top 10 in baseball in innings pitched.

Detractors have some statistical ammunition, too, however. Shields is one of three White Sox starting pitchers ranking in the top 10 in the game in walks (74 after three on Thursday), and his 33 home runs allowed are the second most in baseball (back-to-back jacks by the Indians accounted for pair of runs he gave up Thursday).

But Shields, it should be noted, has plenty of value independent of the kind of numbers he's posted during his White Sox tenure. He is a veteran mentor to the team's young pitchers. That includes Lucas Giolito, whose locker has been next to Shields' all season — or rather it was until Kopech became Shields' new locker buddy when the organization's No. 1 pitching prospect got his promotion to the big leagues. That placement, by the way, was Shields' request. While Kopech will be in recovery mode during the 2019 season, bringing Shields back would allow him to continue to help Giolito and act as a resource for Kopech.

This team is young and will continue to be young next season. Having a few reliable veterans around to guide the youngsters is a valuable thing.

Plenty, though, might not be sold on the idea, a reasonable reaction as the team moves toward contention mode and might need to free up spots in a rotation that could soon star some of the young arms developing in the minor leagues. But what are the alternatives for plugging Kopech's empty spot in the 2019 rotation? And if Shields doesn't come back, that makes two holes that need filling.

There isn't a wealth of major league ready options within the organization. Dylan Covey has a 5.33 ERA after his 19 starts this season. At the Triple-A level, Spencer Adams and Jordan Guerrero would figure to be the next-best options. Adams had a 3.19 ERA in 15 starts at Charlotte, and Guerrero had a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Though it's possible the White Sox could want them to receive some more conditioning in Triple-A. Jordan Stephens' 4.71 ERA in 21 starts and Carson Fulmer, who was moved to the bullpen after getting sent down to Charlotte earlier this season, are less appealing options.

Of course, the White Sox could go outside the organization, and that would seem to be the most likely course of action. But whether that's via free agency or a trade, wouldn't the still-rebuilding White Sox rather do that once than twice? And while there's nothing to say that the White Sox can't spend big this offseason with a loaded free-agent class, is the time right to do so? Does spending big this winter line up with the timeline of this rebuilding effort? In simpler terms: Would signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers be the kind of win-now moves that Hahn has tried to avoid during this rebuild?

The most attractive free-agent options include the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin and Charlie Morton. But those big names could be looking for instant contention or a gigantic contract that could put the White Sox out of the running. Going lower down the wish list, you'll see names like Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson, J.A. Happ, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, Tyson Ross and Gio Gonzalez.

It's quite possible that even with Shields brought back, the White Sox will need to sign one of those guys. Here's the question: Are two of those guys — and the contracts they'll command — better than one of them and Shields?

Another thing to think about: With Kopech on the mend until spring 2020, how close could the White Sox get to contention by the time he returns? And if the team has reached the contention stage, could they afford any growing pains that Kopech could have during his first full season in the majors? Remember that Kopech's first start in 2020 will be just his fifth big league start. That could affect the approach the White Sox take this offseason, perhaps hoping to acquire a pitcher who could be around for a while — not just as a bridge to Kopech but as a safety net for him, as well.

So does a Shields return make sense? Given that the White Sox might still be playing the waiting game next season, having a reliable arm to save the bullpen and a veteran presence to help the still-developing young pitchers could be an attractive option this offseason.