White Sox

Poetry in Pros: Jenks is a stand-up closer

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Poetry in Pros: Jenks is a stand-up closer

Thursday, July 29, 2010
9:20 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

When fans think of Bobby Jenks, they think of big.

Its not unfair. Jenks is big in every way. His off-field demeanor may be sweet, but hes physically imposing64 with a goatee somewhere north of ZZ Top and 275 pounds you wouldnt want to enrage. His smoke is legendaryyou see him scale the mound and still remember the baby face who stared down mountain man Jeff Bagwell in Game 1 on the 2005 World Series.

Jenks hit 99 on the gun in that matchup five years ago, and hit it again Wednesday night, reducing Seattle Mariners cleanup hitter Russell Branyan to a pillar of salt with 99 mph wickedness. Short of a game-ending home run, theres little else that jacks up a crowd more than a dominant closer performance.

And Jenks has seen his share of them. Hes second on the Chicago White Soxs all-time saves list with 167thats 60th all-time and 12th among active pitchers. Jenkss 9.3 is also 204th all-time in Win Probability Added, a stat that attempts to measure an individuals contributions to wins, as well as 46th among active pitchers.

All fine and good, right? But while Jenkss name is almost always preceded by Bad, his statistics this season so far are bad, and not in a good way.

Jenks has a 4.82 ERA, on track for his first career mark above 4.00. His ERA is less than 100 (below average) for the first time ever. Jenks has a 9.9 H9, which is more than one hit per nine innings-higher than his previous career worst. His 3.9 BB9 equals his career worst, but his 11.3 K9 is a career best, indicating Jenks is pitching less to contact than ever.

The 2010 season is also shaping up to be Jenkss first with a negative WAR (-0.2), and for an arbitration-eligible player making 7.5 million, thats a formula for non-tendering a contract in the offseason.

To his credit, Jenks remains focused on the task at hand, winning games. He sees closing out games as a point of pride, and admits disappointment over the recent is-he-or-isnt-he closer controversy, but only from the standpoint where he feels hes a proven commodity.

Jenks is a standup guy, almost beyond belief. He had a week from hell during the road trip, badly blowing games on July 18 at the Minnesota Twins and July 21 at the Seattle Mariners, yet in both circumstances was forthright, even welcoming, when it came to discussing his performance.

Wednesday night, Jenks had every excuse to crow a string of I-told-you-sos after an impeccable, vintage performance that touched every stone for his return to dominance, including a blistering fastball, a grip-lock on the zone and a complete lack of intimidation give a save situation vs. Seattles 3-4-5 hitters.

Did he? Not even close. In fact, Jenks took pains to credit every member of the White Sox bullpen after his best performance of the seasonas well as his first 1-2-3, three-strikeout save in four years. And thats not just Sergio Santos, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz, all of whom are embroiled in some manner of scoreless streak, but the little guys like Tony Pena and Erick Threetseven Randy Williams got some love.

This is Bobby Jenks; a stand-up guy who is beloved by his bullpen mates, as well as the entire team. Not a player who spoke postgame Wednesdaya list including Mark Buehrle, Santos, Putz, Gordon Beckham and Juan Pierrehad anything but admiration and support for Jenks. As manager Ozzie Guillen said, were behind Bobby 100, and thats a statement that applies to every man in the White Sox clubhouse.

Castro Comfortable

Backup catcher Ramon Castro credits hitting coach Greg Walker with his resurgent season, one that could see him stealing starts from slumping A.J. Pierzynski if the incumbent doesnt turn his season around soon.

Castro is stroking at an .870 OPS clip, which dwarfs his career .729. His OPS is 129 despite a below-average career figure of 90. Hes boasting a 0.7 WAR, impressive for a player seeing such modest action, and his seven walks12 Ks is a ratio Castro hasnt produced since his rookie year in 1999.

Its just hard work, Castro said of his resurgent season at age 34. 'Walk' helped me with keeping my head still, keeping my hands a little more open.

Count Castro as yet another White Sox player who applauds Walker for developing batting strategies around a players strength vs. forcing a roster to adapt to his beliefs.

And if theres any doubt in his growth as a hitter, Castro laughed and said, The numbers dont lie. The production doesnt lie.

In his first three at-bats Thursday, Castro had a run-scoring double and two towering, solo home runs.

Gold Gloving

In a surprisingly sedate pregame session, Guillen riffed on Gold Gloves, saying theyre a bit of a sham based only on offensive stats. Rafael Palmeiro winning a Gold Glove in 1999 despite playing only 28 games at first base that season was Exhibit A for Guillen.

Guillen isnt the first to point this out, of course, but he may be the first to use himself as an argument for how silly the selection process is. But the manager also pointed the finger in the mirror, noting that the one season he won a Gold Glove, 1990, he hit really well.

Really well for Guillen counts as a modest, to that point career-best .279with 17 errors. But Guillen also garnered the only MVP votes of his career in that season, so his visibility was at its highest point.

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

Reynaldo Lopez outdueling Jose Quintana shows why White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was

Reynaldo Lopez outdueling Jose Quintana shows why White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was

White Sox fans have been great at buying in to Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort.

But if there were controversies along the way, they stemmed from the dealing away of two of the best young pitchers in the American League.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana represented the White Sox in the All-Star Game back in 2016, perhaps as good a 1-2 punch as there was in the Junior Circuit and a dream tandem to throw in a playoff series, if the South Siders could ever get there. But they couldn’t. Not in the state they were in. And so Hahn shifted from win-now mode to rebuilding mode, with the trading away of Sale the move that jumpstarted the whole thing.

Half a year later, Quintana was shipped across town to the win-now Cubs. Fourteen months after that, Quintana faced his old mates for the first time at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The other big trade that’s gone heretofore unmentioned was the Adam Eaton deal, which brought back a trio of pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Lopez got the head-to-head matchup with Quintana on Friday to kick off the second Crosstown series of 2018, and while the Cubs and White Sox couldn’t be in more different spots in terms of competing for this season’s World Series title, it was Lopez who flashed why the White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was.

Lopez dominated the Cubs’ offense, the team that still owns the best record in the National League made to look completely incapable by the hard-throwing 24-year-old. He struck out eight batters in a lineup trying desperately to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central race. After Daniel Murphy led off the game with a solo homer, Lopez held the Cubs to a scattered quartet of hits over seven innings.

"Their pitcher was good. Give him some credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He threw the ball really well. I was watching him on video yesterday and even some this morning. He's got good stuff. His last three outings, he went seven, six and seven and he did it again, so a big part of why we didn't look so good was him. He was that good."

Indeed, it was the latest in a string of dominant starts Lopez is putting together to close out his first full major league season. The campaign hasn’t always gone smoothly for him, his ERA still above 4.00 when Friday began, but he’s finishing it off in a way that should have fans real excited for his long-term prospects. In his last five starts, he’s got a pencil-thin 0.79 ERA, a stretch that’s dropped his season ERA from 4.66 to 3.94.

“It’s very important for me,” Lopez said, through a team translator, of closing the season on such a strong note. “I set my goal to finish this season with my ERA below 4.00, and now I know my ERA is below that number. That’s all that I want to do. I want to finish the season strong and finish with my ERA below 4.00.

“When you see all the work that you have put in day in, day out to get that result have shown, you feel very satisfied. Because that's what you work for. You work to get good results. You work to get better and to perform. To be able to do that and to know that you're doing something like that, it's special and you feel good.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox offense did to Quintana what it could never do for him: scored a ton of runs.

Quintana’s recent stretch of high-quality starts came to an end — he entered with a 2.10 ERA in his previous six outings — as his former team touched him up for five runs on nine hits and chased him from the game before the first out of the sixth inning. All in all, the White Sox had one of their best offensive days of the season, pouring it on against the bullpen and finishing with 10 runs on 19 hits.

Quintana remains a very good pitcher, and he could very well help the Cubs to another championship. But instead of having just Sale and Quintana, the White Sox now have five or six or seven guys either here or developing in the minor leagues, Lopez being just one of them. The future will continue to be on display this weekend when Giolito and Carlos Rodon pitch in the second and third games against the Cubs.

Friday’s results are not to say that Lopez is a better pitcher than Quintana now or that he ever will be. But it was probably a little bit of vindication for the White Sox, a sign they made a good decision in pushing the rebuild button. The era of White Sox baseball in which Quintana pitched never ended in a postseason appearance. Hahn & Co. are hoping the era Lopez is pitching in ends in a championship.

Friday, at least, it ended in a win.

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.