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.

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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