White Sox

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

Previous:  Designated hitter | Right field | Center field | Left field | Catcher | Shortstop Third base  Second base | First base

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to starting pitching.

What happened in 2019

To this point, this series has addressed what happened with one player. Moving on to the entire rotation, it’s obviously a little less cut and dry.

On one hand, Lucas Giolito was perhaps the best South Side story of the season. After allowing more earned runs than any other pitcher in baseball and leading the American League in walks during his first full season in the majors, Giolito spent the offseason making mechanical adjustments and revamping his mental approach.

That work paid off in extraordinary fashion, as he transformed into a completely different pitcher, named to the All-Star team and becoming the ace of the staff. He’ll finish somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote after turning in a 3.41 ERA with a whopping 228 strikeouts — a total reached by just two other pitchers in team history. His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against the 100-win Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, shutting down both playoff teams on their home turf.

In summary, Giolito went from a guy who we didn’t know where he fit into the White Sox long-term rotation to the guy leading it.

The rest of the starting staff didn’t experience the same good fortune.

There was certainly other good news, chiefly in the form of Dylan Cease’s arrival to the major leagues. Past his simple presence, however, Cease experienced the same kind of growing pains that Giolito and Yoan Moncada did in their first extended tastes of the big leagues. In 14 starts, Cease’s ERA was a rather large 6.29. He experienced routine trouble early in games before straightening out, and he did have his flashes of brilliance, like when he struck out 11 Cleveland Indians in early September.

Reynaldo Lopez could hardly describe 2019 as a good year, ending it with an ERA of 5.38, narrowly escaping the same distinction Giolito had in 2018, when he was the qualified pitcher with the highest ERA in the game. His first half was particularly nasty, with that ERA at 6.34 at the All-Star break, but while a strong stretch to start the second half showed tons of promise, Lopez returned to his prolonged bouts of inconsistency, dominating an opponent in one start only to get shelled the next time out. By season’s end, even optimistic manager Rick Renteria admitted he didn’t know what he was going to get from Lopez in a given start, troubling to be sure.

But despite the long-term focuses on Giolito, Cease and Lopez, the 2019 season, from the standpoint of the starting rotation, will likely remain infamous for its mostly ineffective pieces that were trotted out with alarming frequency following Carlos Rodon going down for the year with Tommy John surgery. The likes of Ervin Santana, Odrisamer Despaigne, Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler and Hector Santiago were routinely pummeled by opposing lineups, exposing a lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth in the White Sox organization. South Side starters — including the positive efforts of Giolito and Ivan Nova, who was increasingly reliable as the season went on — finished with a 5.30 ERA. Only six teams had a higher ERA by season’s end.

In the minor leagues, the bag was also mixed. Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all spent the season in recovery mode from Tommy John surgery, contributing to that dearth of depth near the top of the system. But Jonathan Stiever broke out as a prospect worth watching, posting a 2.15 ERA in his 12 starts following a promotion to Class A Winston-Salem, striking out 77 batters in 71 innings.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have perhaps nothing higher on their offseason to-do list than starting pitching, not surprising after the team wore that aforementioned depth bare early in the 2019 campaign.

General manager Rick Hahn laid out his front office’s plans during his end-of-season press conference last month, projecting that Giolito, Cease and Lopez will all be part of the team’s rotation next season. Kopech is expected to join them, though there’s a chance the team starts him in the minor leagues if spring training isn’t enough to get him ready for Opening Day. Rodon, Dunning and Lambert will all finish their own recoveries over the course of 2020, but they won’t be able to account for spots in the rotation when the team leaves Glendale, Arizona.

“We're very pleased, going into the offseason, projecting out Giolito, Cease and Lopez as part of that rotation, but that leaves a couple spots,” Hahn said. “Obviously, Michael Kopech's coming back from injury, Carlos Rodon at some point next year, at some point next year Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert. But it still leaves the opportunity to solidify that rotation either through free agency or trade, and that will likely be a priority in the coming months.”

The offseason is likely setting up for the White Sox to add a couple arms to the starting-pitching mix. As for exactly what kind of arms they’ll be shopping for, that remains a mystery. There are needs in various areas that Hahn would surely like to address, both pairing an impact arm with Giolito at the top of the rotation and providing the kind of depth that would prevent a repeat of this year’s misfortunes.

All eyes will instantly dart to the top of what could be a pretty loaded free-agent market from a starting-pitching standpoint. Gerrit Cole, who’s currently carving up every lineup that comes his way in the postseason, will be the No. 1 name there and could command the richest pitching contract in baseball history. But he’s not alone, with World Series winners Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel available, as well. One of the best pitchers in the National League, Hyun-Jin Ryu, will be out there, along with one of the New York Mets’ young guns in Zack Wheeler and an All-Star pitcher in Jake Odorizzi from the Minnesota Twins. And then there’s the possibility of Stephen Strasburg opting out of his deal with the Washington Nationals and becoming a free agent.

So if Hahn & Co. are aiming to add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, there will be opportunities to do so. Likewise, there will be opportunities to add pieces elsewhere in the rotation. Examples include Rich Hill, Cole Hamels, Michael Wacha, Kyle Gibson, Alex Wood, Wade Miley, and perhaps the likes of Jose Quintana and Chris Archer.

One thing for sure: Hahn will be busy looking for starting pitching this offseason.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Obviously we don’t know exactly what the rotation will look like, but there will be plenty of questions that need answering.

Will Giolito’s transformation be permanent? Will Cease be able to pull off a Giolito-esque winter and take a huge step toward reaching his high ceiling? What will Kopech look like on the other side of Tommy John surgery, and will he have to endure the same growing pains his teammates did as they found their big league footing?

But there might be no bigger mystery than what Lopez will do — and exactly how much opportunity he’ll have to do it. Hahn signaled that the White Sox still plan to have Lopez as part of the 2020 rotation. But how does he fit in this puzzle? Giolito and Cease have spots locked down, and Kopech will pitch out of the rotation for much of the year, one would figure. If the White Sox make two additions to the starting staff this winter, what kind of room does that leave for Lopez?

And even if Lopez gets his shot at sticking in the starting five, how long can the White Sox afford to put up with any continued inconsistencies in a season they hope can feature the transition from rebuilding to contending?

“He's still a young kid, and there's still going to be development at the big league level,” Hahn said. “We've talked about this for years, that unfortunately it's not always linear. Sometimes these guys don't climb progressively with each and every start or each and every month. There's setbacks and there needs to be adjustments, not just from the mechanical side, which is probably what plagued Lopey more than anything in the first half, but sometimes from the approach and preparation side.

“He's learning. And this experience, I think, is going to be good for him. ... Lopey's going to be better for it, and you're going to see not only the improvement in terms of the mechanical adjustments that we made and you've seen over the course of the second half, but also from the approach. I think it's been a positive year for him, even if the results haven't been what anyone, including him, were looking for.

“At this time, as we sit here right now, we continue to remain very bullish on Reynaldo Lopez in the rotation. He's got the stuff, he's got the ability. We just need to see more consistency.”

Then there’s how Rodon, Dunning and Lambert could factor into things. Rodon is entering his final two years of team control with the White Sox and will only pitch, at maximum, in a year and a half of those. But will there even be room in the rotation for him upon his return from Tommy John? Hahn said Dunning might’ve been a part of the 2019 Opening Day rotation if not for his injury.

And all of that is before even knowing who the additions from outside the organization will be and how long those pitchers end up factoring into the White Sox plans.

It’s going to be a very interesting season from a starting-pitching standpoint, one in which some of the team’s long-term questions at the position should be answered.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

With Nicholas Castellanos on the market, how important is defense in White Sox search for new right fielder?

1119_nicholas_castellanos.jpg
USA TODAY

With Nicholas Castellanos on the market, how important is defense in White Sox search for new right fielder?

We’ve talked about this before.

The White Sox are looking for a new right fielder after getting some of the worst production in the majors out of that spot in 2019. The free-agent market looks to be the most realistic source of any new everyday player considering the team’s potentially weakened trade potential after a season of injuries and under-performance in the minor leagues.

The best outfield bat on that free-agent market? It belongs to Nicholas Castellanos, who long feasted on White Sox pitching as a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. He showed just how impactful his bat could be in a playoff race after a midseason trade to the Cubs, posting a 1.002 OPS in 51 games on the North Side. All told, he hit a major league leading 58 doubles in 2019, the 10th highest single-season total in baseball history.

The bat is no question, and it would look terrific in the middle of the White Sox order. But Castellanos’ tremendous offensive reputation is accompanied by a poor defensive reputation. Whether that reputation is deserved or not is another aspect of this discussion, with folks who followed his time on the North Side saying things weren’t that bad in right field. Though certain defensive metrics tell a different story.

And so we continue to wonder, as the White Sox have already been linked to Castellanos this winter, just how much that glove means to them.

Well, we’ve got some new insight from Rick Hahn, and yes, defense does matter. But like everything involving the White Sox offseason, it’s not going to close any doors.

“It’s a legitimate consideration,” Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “We don't want to send somebody out there and it's going to, you know, tax our center fielder too much or tax the pitchers too much by not making plays. So it's a legitimate consideration.

“I pause half a step because we have discussed some pretty good offensive contributors who might not quite be up to snuff to what you want defensively that conceivably at some point in the offseason we wind up saying, ‘They're the best option, so let's move on it.’ So I don't want to just say it's the end all be all.

“But as we sit here today, the prototypical guy that we add to that position will be an above average defender to help lighten the load on the rest of the fielders and our pitchers.”

While that’s hardly an ironclad commitment one way or the other, Hahn voiced a definite preference for someone who can provide some defense in right field. While Luis Robert, who’s expected to spend most of the 2020 season as the team’s starting center fielder, receives positive reviews for his defense up the middle, Eloy Jimenez is still a work in progress in left field. Putting another less-than-stellar defender in the other corner-outfield spot would put a heck of a lot of pressure on Robert as a rookie center fielder.

"You're asking a lot of (the center fielder) if you put a poor defender in right and Eloy continuing to develop and left," Hahn said. "It's a real consideration when we're putting together this outfield.

"We think Eloy's got a real special bat, and even though he's a work in progress and still improving defensively, we like having him out there in left field, even though he's not going to be mistaken for an everyday center fielder defensively. If we're looking and we absolutely had our pick of the litter, we're looking for a guy in right who can contribute with the glove, as well.”

Castellanos might not fit that description. But his offensive abilities could certainly outweigh that and push the White Sox to bring him aboard. Of course, he’s going to command a pricey contract, with his agent, Scott Boras, already talking him up last week with this gem: “Ol’ St. Nick delivers once a year. Young St. Nick delivers all season.”

Certainly the White Sox would enjoy that kind of season-long delivery. They also happen to have a hole that needs filling at designated hitter. If we’re playing fantasy baseball or creating video-game lineups, slotting Castellanos into that spot would make an awful lot of sense. But a guy looking for a long, expensive contract and doing so at just 27 years old probably doesn’t want to do it as a DH.

Maybe the White Sox end up throwing enough money his way that it doesn’t matter. But there’s also the risk of putting someone who doesn’t have DH-ing experience at the position, potentially continuing the not-so-great track record of the likes of Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Yonder Alonso. Castellanos has been a DH in just 41 of his 839 career big league games.

It’s all stuff to think about. It might end up, simply, that Castellanos swings a big bat and the White Sox would like that, no matter what comes with it. Hearing that they prefer a right fielder with a good glove might only apply if they have to move further down their wish list.

Time will tell.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Lucas Giolito’s most impressive feat of 2019

Lucas Giolito’s most impressive feat of 2019

From the highest ERA in the Majors in 2018 to an All-Star appearance in 2019, Lucas Giolito had a season that nobody could’ve imagined possible.

As Giolito worked a pair of shutout masterpieces during the season, you knew you were watching something special. Then as the season unfolded, for the first time in MLB history four teams reached the finish line with at least 100 wins.

The White Sox, at 72 wins certainly were not among the ranks of the 100-win teams.

But the Astros and Twins both DID reach 100 wins, and something else those teams have in common is a 2019 shutout defeat at the hands of Giolito. Not only were those complete game shutouts the only ones thrown against those teams this past season, but they were the only complete game shutouts tossed against a 100-win team PERIOD. Nobody hurled a CG shutout against the Yankees and nobody pulled it off against the Dodgers.

So Lucas Giolito was the only pitcher in 2019 to toss a complete game shutout against a team that finished the season with 100 or more wins.

But let’s take it a bit further.

From 2012-2019 there were 12 teams who won at least 100 games in a season. And there were only five combined complete game shutouts against those teams. Giolito owns two of the five; Sean Manaea (against the 2018 Red Sox), Luis Severino (against the 2018 Astros) and Jason Vargas (against the 2017 Indians) have the other three.

Going back even further, from 2000 to present, 26 teams won 100 games in a season and there were 25 combined complete game shutouts tossed against those teams. Lucas Giolito & Jason Vargas (2017 vs. Indians and 2011 vs. Phillies) are the only two pitchers to have more than one. But Giolito is the only one to do it twice in a season.

To find the last pitcher with two shutouts against eventual 100-win teams in the same season, you need to go back to 1999 when José Jiménez of the Cardinals did it against the 100-62 Diamondbacks, which in itself is impressive given that Jiménez was only 5-14 with a 5.85 ERA that season. But Jiménez had both of his against the same team. What about the last pitcher to toss complete game shutouts against MULTIPLE 100-win teams in the same season?

Well, the last time THAT happened was 1980, when both Larry Gura and Moose Haas had one shutout apiece against the 103-59 Yankees and the 100-62 Orioles. Gura’s shutout against the Orioles came against eventual 1980 Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone.

As far as White Sox history is concerned, Giolito was the first White Sox pitcher to toss a CG shutout against an eventual 100-win team since both Melido Perez & Eric King shut out the 103-59 Athletics in 1990. And before that, Steve Trout had one apiece in both 1979 (against the 102-57 Orioles) and 1980 (against the 103-59 Yankees). But for the last time a White Sox pitcher did it twice in the same season, it’s Tom Bradley, who remarkably blanked the 101-60 A’s THREE TIMES in 1971.

So while Lucas Giolito’s shutouts were awfully impressive at the time, they become even more incredible when you look back at the season and realize that he was the only pitcher to shut out a 100-win team this season.

And he did it twice. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.