White Sox

Seven things we've learned: Just win, baby

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Seven things we've learned: Just win, baby

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 3:30 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
Ten times this season, CSNChicago will submit a Chicago White Sox report card of sorts for your approval.Sadly, todays missive from Kansas City will be the final true 13 Things of the 2011 season and with no offense to Ozzie and his beloved No. 13 uniform, lets switch up the luck with things and just trim the traditional list down to a lucky seven this time around. Toward the very end of the year, Ill put together 13 highlights and lowlights of the season, just to wrap things up.

But still, weve learned many things about this ballclub, and with team on a season high-tying seven-game losing skid, they are increasingly not so good things. So, White Sox fans, cinch it up and scroll down

1. No one will truly take the blame

In Kansas City, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has come out endorsing the job his bosses have done, advising fans not to blame GM Ken Williams or owner Jerry Reinsdorf for this lost, All-In season. But the manager also offers that as much as he and his coaching staff and players are to blame for what it hurtling toward a sub-.500 season, theres nothing hed do differently in 2011.

Williams has mostly disappeared from sight as the early swoon settled into season-long malaise. He largely acquitted himself back in July after advising Guillen to field a lineup according to performance, not salary, tacitly approving the benchings of underperforming, monied players like Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

In the end, everyone in the organization bears responsibility for the disaster that became 2011. Whether any of the primary figures step forward to fully man up for the failure is another question.
2. September swoons have become an Ozzie trademark

This season, the White Sox are 5-12 to begin September, which has included two crushing sweeps at the hand of Central champion Detroit, losing 9 12 games in the standings since Aug. 31. But such swooning is not rare for Guillens White Sox. While the manager has averaged an 85-77 season in his eight years in charge of the White Sox, hes 105-106 overall in September. Ironically, the only season in which his club hasnt been swept at least once in September is the forgettable 2007 campaign, when Chicago finished with a 15-12 kick but entered the month 21 12 games out.

Even in 2005, when the White Sox started the month with a seven-game winning streak and appeared in commanding position to suffocate the rest of the Central, the team fell into a 4-10 tailspin that shrunk its division lead form 7 12 to 1 12 games.

Here are the dirty details:

2004 - White Sox go 17-12 in September, swept by Minnesota Twins.
2005 - White Sox go 17-12, swept by Los Angeles Angels and see lead shrink to 1 12 games before running off five wins to end the season and 16 of 17 to end the season as World Series champs.
2006 - White Sox go 12-16, including a sweep by the Oakland As.
2007 - White Sox go 15-12 and avoid a sweep but finish at 72-90 and in fourth place.
2008 - White Sox go 12-15 in September in what becomes a war of attrition with the fading Twins. The White Sox won three straight games to end the season as Central champs, but lost five straight, including being swept out of first place on September 25 by the Twins to create such dire straits.
2009 - White Sox go 13-14 and are swept by the Twins.
2010 - White Sox go 14-13 and are swept by the Twins and Tigers, essentially eliminating them from the division race.
2011 - White Sox are 5-12 and will have to go 10-1 in the home stretch to finish better than .500 for the month. Two sweeps by Detroit nailed the coffin shut on the 2011 season.
3. Guillen needs to bow his neck

Related to the September swooning or not, Guillen must take more ownership of his teams performance. His explanation that he pilots a veteran club has merit and is not an excuse but there has to be an accountability trickle-down through coaches or veteran players. Someone has to answer for all the September faltering, and in lieu of someone else doing offering it up, Ozzie must supply an answer.

4. Times running short for Danks

Its not to say that John Danks wont be due for yet another arbitration raise despite a down season (6-12, 4.36 ERA), because he will. My value analysis says that even including his 0-11, 6.28 ERA every day this season not between June 6 and Aug. 27, Danks has provided a surplus value of 2.5 million to the White Sox in 2011 and thus, technically, underpaid.

However, for the sake of those scoreboard stats like W-L record and ERA, it behooves Danks to have a strong start on Sunday vs. Kansas City and good finale in a projected Sept. 24 vs. the Royals. Theres still room for him to pull his ERA back to sub-4.00 and push his overall surplus value to the White Sox to the 4 million level. And a boost like that could mean extra millions in any extension offer from the White Sox, or long-term offers from every team after the 2012 season.

5. Buehrle, too

Mark Buehrle has had a typically strong season, as arguably the best Chicago starter (Id submit Phil Humber a shade better). But boy, his September is doing him no favors: a 12.00 ERA, 2.54 WHIP and 18.3 average game score compared with 3.101.2254.2 from April through August.

Buehrle has the credentials to earn another big contract after the season, as hes essentially been worth every penny of his most recent four-year, 56 million deal, and then some. But the concerns over the veterans declining stamina, as his struggles through September have fueled, could round down some of the offers out there. The only way to stave off teams legitimate worries about Buehrles stretch runs is for the lefty to spin a strong start at Cleveland on Wednesday and drive the point home in a projected finale on Sept. 27.

6. Of central concern is the Central

We heard a lot in the spring about the White Sox needing to beat the opponents closest to them in 2011, those four dastardly AL Central clubs. But after a 32-40 in 2010, the White Sox are wheezing along those same lines this season, currently at 28-36. Intradivisional foes are no more fearsome than they were a year ago Detroit tags in for Minnesota this season as the division champ and having started 7-13 in a September that is essentially a long intradivisional finale, its shaping up to be a second straight year of doleful drubbings from the Central.

It would be different if the White Sox played poorly against everyone else, but they are near .500 against the tough East (15-19) and 19-16 against the West. Toss in an 11-7 mark against the National League, and the troubles are pretty easy to diagnose: Beat the Central. How to do so is another question.

7. Morels month is no mirage

As tempting as it might be to write Brent Morel off as a September wonder (an AL second-best six homers in the month and 12 RBIs in his last 18 games, he is getting stronger at a time when it would be easy for a young player to falter. His OPS is still just .652, but for a player who wasnt going to be counted on for his offense this season to be outperforming Dunn, Rios, and even fellow young infielder Gordon Beckham, those numbers arent bad at all.

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

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.