White Sox

Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

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Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

Roger Angell in 1973 wrote in The New Yorker (via Neyer-James Guide to Pitchers):

Everything about Wilbur Wood is disarming. On the mound, he displays a comfortable expanse of tum and the stiffish-looking knees of a confirmed indoorsman, and thus resembles a left-handed accountant or pastry chef on a Sunday outing. Even the knuckler which he throws, sensibly, on nearly every pitch - looks almost modest, for it does not leap and quiver like Hoyt Wilhelm's old hooked trout.

Dave Letterman, in the mid 80s, once referred to Terry Forster as:

A big fat tub of goo; the fattest man in professional baseball.

Besides both seemingly being produced by the same pitcher factory (fat-ctory?) which produced the likes of David Wells, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Jenks, this pair of portly portsiders has something else in common: theyre the only White Sox lefties with 20 or more saves in a season. While similar in body type, they couldnt have been at further ends of the spectrum in terms of pitching repertoire.

Wilbur Wood was a big New Englander who had pitched limited innings with the Red Sox and Pirates from 1961-65. With the tutelage of Eddie Fisher and Hoyt Wilhelm, he transformed his knuckleball from a pet project into a legitimate weapon.

In 1968, he set a still-standing White Sox record with 88 appearances, and in 1970, he flicked flutterballs to the tune of a career-high 21 saves. It was the first time a Sox lefty reached the 20-save plateau. It was also the last time he pitched primarily in relief; Chuck Tanner took the reins as manager and didn't like his ninth innings peppered with passed balls and wild pitches from wayward knucklers.

Don't worry about Wilbur; he was just fine in the starting rotation. He averaged 22 wins and 348 innings over the next four seasons. When he logged 376 23 IP in 1972, you had to go back to the White Sox previous World Series championship season to find a higher total (the legendary Grover Cleveland Alexander's 388 for the 1917 Phillies).

Terry Forster was a fireballing phenom. In his age 20 season, the southpaw set a franchise record with 29 saves. Due to injuries as a starter, he was shuttled from the bullpen to the rotation and back to the bullpen, and in 1974 he won the AL Fireman of the Year award with his second season of 20 saves (24).

Forster had a remarkable knack for keeping the ball in the ballpark. In his 1972 breakout season, he pitched exactly 100 innings, surrendering not a single home run. The streak, including the end of 1971 and the beginning of 1973, ultimately covered a span of 137.2 innings. Since World War II, his career mark of 0.42 HR9IP is sixth=best among any pitcher with 1000 or more innings.

Forsters 1975 was decimated by elbow problems. Goose Gossage took over as closer; Forster came back to make two appearances after May 23, including one start (which ended after one inning), contributing to the second most left-handed collection of starting pitchers in Major League history. The 124 lefty starts by the 1975 White Sox (mostly Wood, Jim Kaat, and Claude Osteen) were the most by any team ever...except the 1983 Yankees.

Wood took a Ron LeFlore liner to the kneecap early in 1976; Forster and Gossage were both pressed into starting roles for the rest of the season. They combined for a 11-29 record and were both shipped to Pittsburgh after the season in exchange for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez. Wood was never the same again.

Since Wood and Forster roamed the mound at Comiskey Park, lefties were left out of the closer role for the Pale Hose. The last 24 seasons of 20 or more saves by a White Sox pitcher have all been by right-handers. Scott Radinsky and Damaso Marte each took turns in emergency roles as Bobby Thigpen thawed and Billy Koch got cooked, but neither held it down for an entire season.

In fact, since the save became an official statistic in 1969, 84.1 percent of all Major League 20-save seasons (612 of 728) have been by righties. With Billy Wagner's retirement, Brian Fuentes' role as a plan B to Andrew Bailey and Matt Thornton's inability to keep the closer role (0-4 in save opportunities), 2011 ended up the first season with no 20-plus save lefties since 1982.

With Sergio Santos departure to Canada, can Matt Thornton break the right-handed stranglehold on the White Sox closer role? But Jesse Crain and Addison Reed waiting in the wings in 2012, so itll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Luis Robert highlights White Sox prospects as Arizona Fall League concludes

Luis Robert highlights White Sox prospects as Arizona Fall League concludes

The Arizona Fall League wrapped up on Thursday for White Sox prospects and the overall results were mixed.

Perhaps the most important thing from the seven-week season is that Luis Robert began to show his potential. After injuries limited him to just 50 games in 2018, his first season playing in the U.S., Robert added 18 games and 79 plate appearances against much more experienced players in Arizona.

Robert, still just 21 and the second-youngest hitter on the team, hit in his first 14 games in the AFL and tallied a hit in 16 of his 18 games. He did this while missing over a week in the middle of the season due to a hamstring injury. The Cuban outfielder’s final numbers are .324/.367/.432. He had five walks, which isn’t an inspiring total, but he kept the strikeouts down at 13.

One of the things that still hasn’t shown in games very often is Robert’s power. He didn’t hit a home run in the 2018 minor league season, but it’s possible his thumb injury was affecting his ability to hit for power. Robert’s power didn’t come through much in the AFL, but there was definitely improvement. He hit two home runs and had two doubles, but this home run last week was definitely seductive.

The AFL isn’t make or break for prospects. Adam Engel hit .403/.523/.642 in the AFL in 2015 and hasn’t shown the ability to hit in the majors yet. Still, Robert showed flashes of his potential with the bat while also causing chaos on the base paths with five stolen bases in five attempts.

Robert was one of seven White Sox minor leaguers who played for the Glendale Desert Dogs. Glendale finished the season 12-18.

The next biggest hitting prospect on Glendale was Luis Alexander Basabe. Basabe struggled in his time in Arizona, but did show some of what has makes him an intriguing prospect.

Basabe hit just .180, but did draw 12 walks in 63 plate appearances. The 22-year-old isn’t known for hitting for average. He is a career .258 hitter in six minor league seasons, including a .251 mark in Double-A in the second half of 2018. However, if he can draw walks at a high rate while bringing good speed in the outfield, he can have some value.

Overall, hitting .180/.333/.180 is a disappointing stint, but there was at least one positive with the walk rate.

Laz Rivera rounded out White Sox hitters with a line of .215/.271/.246. Rivera had solid stints at both levels of Single-A in 2018, his first full season of pro ball, but the AFL showed he may find the adjustment to Double-A a tough one.

On the pitching side the only marquee name was Zack Burdi, but he got shut down early in the season. He made only five appearances (4 2/3 innings, 3 unearned runs, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk, 2 hits), but Rick Hahn said there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Tanner Banks (4.43 ERA, 10 strikeouts, 5 walks, 30 hits in 22 1/3 innings), Zach Thompson (2.70 ERA, 15 strikeouts, 6 walks, 10 hits in 13 1/3 innings) and Danny Dopico (6.57 ERA, 15 strikeouts, 12 walks, 10 hits in 12 1/3 innings) also pitched for Glendale. All three will be 25 or older when 2019 rolls around.

White Sox free-agent focus: Josh Donaldson

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USA TODAY

White Sox free-agent focus: Josh Donaldson

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

The White Sox third baseman of the future is?

That's a question without an answer at the moment, with the long-term prognosis for the hot corner a mystery in the wake of a pair of Achilles tears suffered by 2017 first-round pick Jake Burger earlier this year. There were already questions floating around, though not necessarily inside the White Sox organization, about whether the heavy-hitting Burger could play third base on a regular basis. Now, thanks to those injuries, those questions have been amplified.

Yolmer Sanchez is coming off a disappointing season offensively and doesn't appear to be a long-term solution. Yoan Moncada might move over there this spring considering that middle infielder Nick Madrigal (this year's first-round choice) could be quickly making his way toward the majors. Past that, though, there's not a surefire third-base prospect like there are at many other positions throughout the White Sox farm system.

And so attention has naturally turned to external solutions. Colorado Rockies MVP candidate Nolan Arenado is a free agent next winter, and plenty of fans have their sights on adding him as the finishing piece this rebuilding effort needs to vault the White Sox into the realm of perennial contenders. But this winter has its own multi-time All-Star third baseman in Josh Donaldson. Any takers?

The focus has been on the South Siders' reported interest in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two biggest fish in this free-agency pond, but don't forget Donaldson is just three years removed from an MVP campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays, when he slashed .297/.371/.568 with 41 home runs and 123 RBIs. Donaldson's got four top-eight MVP finishes to his name, including the win in 2015. Harper and Machado have three top-eight MVP finishes combined, including Harper's win in 2015.

In an insanely productive four-year stretch from 2013 to 2016, Donaldson slashed .284/.375/.518 with 131 homers and 413 RBIs.

But it's the last two seasons, heretofore unmentioned, that have made Donaldson less attractive than the Harpers, Machados and Arenados of the world. He played in only 113 games in 2017, still smacking 33 home runs and driving in 78 runs in that injury-shortened season. Then last season, he played in only 52 games, getting dealt from Toronto to the Cleveland Indians late in the summer. Though 52 games is hardly enough to judge a season on — let alone a player's future performance — his numbers plummeted, his slash line dipping to .246/.352/.449 and his home-run total to just eight.

Whether or not teams believe Donaldson's best days are behind him thanks to a pair of injury-riddled seasons remains to be seen. But one inarguable fact is his age. He'll be 33 on Opening Day 2019. Does that line up with the White Sox long-term plans? Not as well as the 27-year-old Arenado, of course. But Arenado's going to be a popular guy next winter, so would it be wise to put all the eggs in the Arenado basket?

Donaldson might not fit in the White Sox contention window, but he's got one heck of a track record and could bring some big-time production to whichever lineup he joins for 2019.