White Sox

White Sox season preview: Starting rotation

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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.

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson turned 24 on Saturday and celebrated the occasion with a bang.

Anderson smashed a three-run home run in the first inning against the A's. It was actually his first swing on his birthday. Anderson took the first two pitches before launching the 1-1 pitch over the right field fence.

That home run, Anderson's 13th of the year, gave the White Sox a 5-0 lead. Things took an ugly turn later in the game with Oakland winning 7-6. Dylan Covey left in the fifth with a hip injury, which manager Rick Renteria said will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the severity of the injury.

Anderson finished 2-for-4 on his birthday. He later added a single, a stolen base and a run in the sixth inning.

Anderon's power surge this year has him on pace to blow past his 17 homers from a year ago. He is four shy of last year's total and has done so in just under half as many plate appearances.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.