White Sox

In pursuit of offense, White Sox haven't overlooked defense

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In pursuit of offense, White Sox haven't overlooked defense

Todd Frazier’s bat is critical to his new team, but the third baseman’s glove also brings significant — and much-needed — value, too.

As they try to mop up the sloppy mess left by three consecutive losing seasons, the White Sox have been hopeful to not only find players who could hit, but ones also capable of good defense.

While the team’s offense excelled in inducing boredom last season, it finished last in the American League in most major offensive categories. And the defense wasn’t much better. The 2015 White Sox finished 28th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved with minus-39 and were last in Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-39.5), according to Fangraphs.com.

In Frazier, the White Sox finally believe they have a third baseman that can provide them with both aspects. Frazier was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds earlier this month in a three-team deal that sent Frankie Montas, Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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“Certainly the offense is probably the calling card,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “You are talking about a guy who also was a Gold Glove finalist and one of the better defensive third basemen in the game, depending on which metric you trust over the last several years.”

Over the past three seasons, Frazier has averaged six Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks fifth among all qualified major league third baseman. He also has averaged a 7.8 Ultimate Zone Rating, which is also fifth.

Overall, third base wasn’t a huge problem defensively for the White Sox in 2015 because they limited the damage Conor Gillaspie could do when they replaced and traded him by July. With outstanding glovework provided by Gordon Beckham and Tyler Saladino, the White Sox finished 10th in Defensive Runs Saved with four.

But the team’s third baseman also combined to produce a .611 OPS, which ranked 30th, and only hit 16 home runs.

That’s where Frazier comes in. In the past two seasons, Frazier has blasted 64 homers, including 35 in 2015.

The White Sox also hope to receive a similar uptick in offensive production at second base from Brett Lawrie without suffering much of a defensive drop off. A strong defender at third base in his first two seasons, Lawrie is believed to be a very capable second baseman (Hahn called him ‘solid’ and thinks he is an everyday player).

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

If he can do that and hit 15 homers, as Fangraphs projects, the White Sox would feel pretty confident they have improved in both areas on the infield. And Hahn would have done so without robbing Peter to pay Paul, as he likes to say.

“While certainly the offense has been a priority, or upgrading the offense, we didn’t want to lose sight of some of the defensive issues we’ve had in the recent past,” Hahn said. “We didn’t want to give away, we didn’t want to exacerbate that problem while addressing the offense. This (Frazier) move helped us both offensively and defensively at a difficult position to fill.”

Next up, the White Sox reportedly are looking to improve upon an outfield that combined for minus-22 Defensive Runs Saved (though minus-16 came from center field). Several national reports have suggested the White Sox are pursuing corner outfielder Alex Gordon, who has saved 94 runs in six seasons.

Even if Gordon were asked to switch from left field to right, he’d provide an instant upgrade over Avisail Garcia, who has produced minus-21 runs saved over the last two seasons.

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

Lucas Giolito is having a rough go of things in his second year with the White Sox.

He came into the season with some pretty high expectations after posting a 2.38 ERA in seven starts at the end of the 2017 campaign and then dominating during spring training. But he’s done anything but dominate since this season started, and after one of his worst outings in Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, he’s got a 7.53 ERA in 10 starts in 2018.

Giolito stuck around for only four outs Thursday, but he allowed the Orioles to do plenty of damage, giving up seven runs on six hits — two of which were back-to-back home runs to start the second inning — and three walks. He leads the American League with his 37 walks.

“I take what I do very seriously. I work as hard as I can at it,” Giolito said. “So when I experience failure like this, it’s kind of hard to deal with. All I can do is come back tomorrow, keep working on things and hopefully have a better one.”

All of Giolito’s struggles have fans wondering why the White Sox haven’t sent him down to Triple-A to work on his craft.

“I don’t foresee that at this particular time,” Rick Renteria said when asked if Giolito could be sent to Triple-A. “I think he’s just a young man who’s got to continue to minimize the emotional aspect of crossing from preparation into the game and staying focused, relaxed and hammer the zone with strikes. And truthfully it’s just first-pitch strike and get after the next one.”

The White Sox have already sent one young pitcher down in Carson Fulmer, who was having a nightmarish time at the big league level. Fulmer’s results were worse than Giolito’s on a regular basis. He got sent down after posting an 8.07 ERA in nine outings.

But hasn’t Giolito suffered through command issues enough to warrant some time away from the major league limelight? According to his manager, Giolito’s situation is vastly different than Fulmer’s.

“I don’t see them anywhere near each other,” Renteria said. “They’re two different competitors in terms of the outcomes that they’ve had. Lucas has at least had situations in which he might have struggled early and been able to gain some confidence through the middle rounds of his start and continue to propel himself to finish some ballgames, give us six or seven innings at times. So it’s two different guys.

“With Gio, I expect that we would have a nice clean start from the beginning, but when he doesn’t I still feel like if he gets through it he’ll settle down and continue to hammer away at what he needs to do in order to get deeper into a ballgame, and that was a little different with Carson. With Carson it was right from the get-go he was struggling, and he had a difficult time extending his outings after the third or fourth because it just kept getting too deep into his pitch count and not really hammering the strike zone as much.”

Renteria is not wrong. Giolito has had a knack to take a rough beginning to a start and turn it into five or six innings. Notably, he gave up a couple first-inning runs and walked seven hitters and still got the win against the Cubs a week and a half ago. And while his first-inning ERA is 10.80 and his second-inning ERA is 12.54, he’s pitched into at least the sixth inning in seven of his 10 starts.

Renteria’s point is that Giolito is learning how to shake off early damage and achieving the goal, most times out, of eating up innings and keeping his team in the game. Those are a couple valuable qualities to develop for a young pitcher. But are those the lone qualities that determine that Giolito is suited to continue his learning process at the major league level? His command remains a glaring problem, and both he and Renteria admitted that his problems are more mental than physical.

“The one thing everyone has to understand is we have to go beyond the physical and attack a little bit more of the mental and emotional and try to connect and slow that down,” Renteria said. “Those aspects are the ones that ultimately, at times, deal in the derailment of the physical action. So if we can kind of calm that down a little bit.

“He’s very focused. Giolito is high intensity. Nice kid but high-intensity young man when he gets on the mound. You might not believe it. He’s going 100 mph. So I think it goes to more just trusting himself, trusting the process, taking it truthfully one pitch at a time.”

Well, if a demotion to the minors isn’t likely, what about moving Giolito to the bullpen? Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale dipped their toes in bullpen waters before moving to the rotation. Could a reversal of that strategy help Giolito?

Well, the current state of the White Sox starting rotation — Fulmer in the minors, Miguel Gonzalez on the 60-day DL and pitchers like James Shields, Hector Santiago and Dylan Covey, who aren’t exactly long-term pieces, getting a lot of starts — doesn’t really allow for another piece to be removed.

“I know they have done it with Rodon and Sale,” Renteria said. “The difference is we don’t have the makeup of the starting rotation that those clubs had in order to put those guys in the ‘pen. We are in a different situation right now. Moving forward, is that something we can possibly do? Absolutely. It has been done with very good success.

“Right now we are in truly discovery mode and adjustment mode and adapting and trying to do everything we can to get these guys to develop their skill sets to be very usable and effective at the major league level and we are doing it to the best of our ability.”

There could be promise in the fact that Giolito has turned a season around as recently as last year. Before he was impressing on the South Side in August and September, he was struggling at Triple-A Charlotte. Even after he ironed things out, things had gotten off to a rocky enough start that he owned a 4.48 ERA and 10 losses when he was called up to the bigs.

It doesn’t seem Giolito will be going back to Charlotte, unless things continue to go in a dramatically poor direction. Right now, these are just more of the growing pains during this rebuilding process. “The hardest part of the rebuild” doesn’t just means wins and losses. It means watching some players struggle through speed bumps as they continue to develop into what the White Sox hope they’ll be when this team is ready to compete.

Danny Farquhar to throw out the first pitch before White Sox game on June 1

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AP

Danny Farquhar to throw out the first pitch before White Sox game on June 1

In another example of how amazing Danny Farquhar’s recovery has been, the pitcher will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox game on June 1.

Farquhar suffered a brain hemorrhage from a ruptured aneurysm during the sixth inning of the team’s April 20 game against the Houston Astros. But his recovery has been astounding, and he was discharged from the hospital on May 7. Farquhar’s neurosurgeon expects him to be able to pitch again in future seasons.

Farquhar has been back to visit his teammates at Guaranteed Rate Field a couple times since leaving the hospital. June 1 will mark his return to a big league mound, even if it’s only for a ceremonial first pitch with his wife and three children. Doctors, nurses and staff from RUSH University Medical Center will be on hand for Farquhar’s pitch on June 1.

The White Sox announced that in celebration of Farquhar’s recovery, they will donate proceeds from all fundraising efforts on June 1 to the Joe Niekro Foundation, an organization committed to supporting patients and families, research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms.