White Sox

White Sox season preview: Starting rotation

690906.png

White Sox season preview: Starting rotation

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Be sure to check out the looks at the White Sox infield and outfield if you haven't already. Today's topic: the starting rotation.

From 2004 -- Don Cooper's first full year as the pitching coach -- through 2011, only one team in baseball has seen its starting rotation provide more value than the White Sox. Per Fangraphs, White Sox starters have been worth 142 Wins Above Replacement from 2004-2011, topped only by Boston's 143 starter WAR.

Of course, Mark Buehrle has accounted for the largest percentage of that value. Long-term, replacing what Buehrle did shouldn't be a focus -- it'll be a long time before another pitcher comes along like Buehrle.

Short-term, though, the Sox should be able to shoulder the loss of Buehrle thanks to Chris Sale's move to the rotation.

Sale shouldn't be expected to throw 200 innings -- for someone who's only thrown 94 13 in his major-league career, that's an unlikely goal to be reached. A baseline of 150 innings is likely, although don't be surprised if he throws a few more.

How Sale handles his transition to starting will have a long-lasting impact on the organization -- if he succeeds, he'll join John Danks as a long-term building block. If he struggles, he'll probably slide back into the bullpen in 2013.

If anyone is going to be expected to replace Buehrle, though, it's Danks. He'll enter the first season of a five-year deal in 2012, which, when it's over, would put him in Chicago for nearly as long as Buehrle (2000-2011 for Buehrle, 2007-2016 for Danks).

But Danks is coming off statistically his worst year since his rookie debut, with his ERA creeping over the 4.00 plateau for the first time since 2007. The good news is that Danks, if healthy, should be expected to see his ERA fall back below 4 given his 3.82 FIP in 2011.

Gavin Floyd is probably the steadiest pitcher of the bunch -- his ERA and accompanying peripherals have barely changed in the last three years. The good news is that Floyd has pitched better than his ERA, per FIP, so there's a much better chance of a positive departure from the near-4 ERAs he's put up than a negative one.

That Floyd is under contract through 2013 could make him an attractive trade target in July if the Sox fall out of contention. But that's a long way off, and even if the Sox are out of contention they may opt to wait until the winter to deal Floyd.

And that brings us to the two keys to the Sox rotation: Jake Peavy and Philip Humber.

If Peavy can stay healthy and make 30 starts, he should be effective -- his 4.92 ERA last year was a bit of a mirage. But Peavy hasn't made 30 or more starts since 2007 and he hasn't made 20 or more since 2008, so expecting the 31-year-old to hit that mark probably isn't the best idea.

Peavy has repeatedly said he's healthy. That's good, but his ability to stay healthy will be one of the key stories to follow in 2012.

Humber has kind of flown under the radar this spring as most of the starting pitching attention has focused on Sale and Peavy, but he's just as important to the success of the team. A regression back to the Humber of old could leave the Sox scrambling for a fifth starter, while a repeat of his 2011 performance would provide a huge boost.

Given the Sox starter depth beyond DanksPeavyFloydSaleHumber is essentially Dylan Axelrod and a bunch of question marks, it's paramount for those five starters to stay healthy and effective. If there's an injury to or an ERA spike from any of them, it could doom whatever playoff hopes the White Sox have.

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

0722_eloy_jimenez.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

1019_matt_davidson.jpg
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.