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State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

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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.

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White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

White Sox free agent focus: Splurging for Stephen Strasburg

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.

Stephen Strasburg, RH SP, Nationals

Age: 31

2019 salary: $38,333,333

2019 stats: 209 IP, 3.32 ERA, 251 K, 56 BB, 161 hits (24 HR)

What Strasburg would bring to the White Sox

Strasburg was one of the most hyped draft picks when the Nationals took him No. 1 overall in 2009. He has elite strikeout stuff, but endured a Tommy John surgery early in his MLB career in 2010. Since then, the Nationals have played it cautiously with Strasburg. He has only gone over 200 innings twice in his career, although 2019 was one of those years when Strasburg led the National League with 209 innings.

His ERA has been under 3.8 every year of his career and he hasn't shown any signs of dropoff in his arsenal. He was also a stud in the playoffs this fall with a 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36.1 innings.

Strasburg would vault straight to the top of the White Sox rotation. If he can continue to shoulder a full-season workload, which is a fair question because Strasburg averaged 145 innings per year from 2015-2018, Strasburg is a top 10 pitcher in baseball.

What it would take to get him

Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100 million on a seven-year, $175 million contract to enter free agency so he's expecting to get more than that. He could be in line for a record-setting contract for a pitcher, although Gerrit Cole could top him within the same offseason.

Look for Strasburg to get more than $30 million per year on a long-term contract.

Why it's not realistic for the White Sox

Until the White Sox win the bidding war for a top-end free agent, the assumption will be that they won't. Strasburg is a premier pitching talent coming off a World Series MVP. He will be expensive and many teams will be interested in him.

There's also the fact that Strasburgh might not want to leave the Nationals anyway. He has been in the nation's capital his whole career and most early indications are that both parties want to sign a new deal.

Latest rumors

Report: Nationals think they have a better shot at keeping Stephen Strasburg over Anthony Rendon

Nationals owner Mark Lerner says team can’t afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon

Remember That Guy: Herbert Perry – a LegenDairy Third Baseman

milkman_white_sox.jpg
AP

Remember That Guy: Herbert Perry – a LegenDairy Third Baseman

Over the last 20 years, the White Sox employed both a “Melkman” and a “Milkman.” Melky Cabrera received his nickname due to his first name. But then there was the “Milkman” Herbert Perry, who actually ran a dairy farm.

Herbert Edward Perry Jr. was born on September 15, 1969, in Live Oak, Florida. His father, Herbert Sr. (who went by Ed) ran a family dairy farm in Mayo, Florida located up where the panhandle meets the peninsula. You can’t make this up: the town briefly renamed itself Miracle Whip in 2018 as part of a marketing deal with Kraft, in exchange for funds to beautify the town.

In any event, Perry was an excellent athlete; he threw multiple no-hitters in high school and played quarterback for the football team at Lafayette High School, eventually earning a football scholarship at the University of Florida. Perry backed up Gators QB Kerwin Bell, who amazingly was also from Mayo (a town of only about 1,200) and was a teammate of future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. In addition to backup QB duties, Perry punted the pigskin as well.

But it was on the diamond where Perry was most successful, and he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the second round in 1991.

Herbert worked his way through the minors playing first & third base with some pop and patience at the plate leading to a Major League debut for the Tribe on May 3, 1994, at New Comiskey Park.

Perry entered the game in the bottom of the 8th inning as a defensive replacement for future Hall of Famer Jim Thome at third base and drew a walk in the top of the 9th. He earned his first Major League hit a few weeks later off Al Leiter and after a brief four-game trial was sent back to the Indians Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, where he hit .327/.397/.505 with 13 home runs in 102 games.

Perry returned to the Indians in mid-June 1995 when Dave Winfield went to the DL and performed well in limited duty, spending most of his time at first base and hitting .315/.376/.463 in 52 games. He even saw some postseason action going 0 for 14 with a walk as the Indians eventually lost the World Series to the Braves.

When Julio Franco won the first base job for 1996 (Jim Thome was entrenched at third), Perry was shuffled back to the minors where he eventually suffered a knee injury which kept him sidelined all the way through the 1997 season. He never played another game for the Indians.

While Perry didn’t play a game in 1997, it was an eventful year. He and his brother Chan (who played 18 games over two MLB seasons with the Indians & Royals) purchased cows of their own to continue the family dairy business. Also in November, Herbert got married and later that month, he was the 34th of 35 picks by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the expansion draft.

Other notables selected by the Rays in that draft: Bobby Abreu (immediately traded to the Phillies), Dmitri Young (immediately traded back to the Reds), Esteban Yan (who allowed Konerko’s inside-the-park home run at Tropicana Field AND a home run to Jon Garland in Cincinnati) & White Sox legend Jose Paniagua.

After a year in the minors where he missed a chunk of time due to a broken hand, Perry got the call back to the Majors in May 1999. After not appearing in a Major League game since June 19, 1996, Perry had a wonderful return by collecting 8 hits and 6 RBI in his first three games back. Perry went on to play 66 games for the Devil Rays in 1999. The retiring Wade Boggs opened up the third base spot for Tampa for 2000 but the Devil (since exorcised) Rays instead acquired Vinny Castilla in a trade from the Rockies. However, Perry DID end up the Rays 2000 opening day starter at third base, but only because Castilla was nursing a rib-cage muscle injury. The Rays won that game 7-0 (Perry went 2-4 with a double), and after 7 games with the Rays he ended up on waivers at the end of April. Then the White Sox came calling.

On April 21, the White Sox skimmed the waiver wire and selected Perry from the Rays. On April 22, the White Sox & Tigers got into an infamous brawl, the aftermath of which left 16 players suspended for a total of 82 games. The following day, McKay Christensen was sent down to Charlotte (which was by now the White Sox triple-A affiliate) to make room for Perry.

At age 30, the ”Milkman” finally played in 100 games in a season (7 for the Rays, 109 for the White Sox). Initially backing up Greg Norton, he played himself into a starting role while with the Southsiders, hitting .308/.356/.483 with 12 home runs & 61 RBI. In his first start with the Sox, third baseman Perry homered in an 11-6 win over the Orioles. His .308 batting average was the best by a White Sox third baseman (minimum 50% of games at third) with at least 400 plate appearances in a season since George Kell hit .312 in 1955. Only Yoán Moncada (.315 in 2019) has done it since. From July 25-27, Perry homered in 3 straight games, which is roughly 2% of a 162-game schedule. The White Sox learned that Milkman does a lineup well.

Perry got a chance to play in the ALDS in 2000, and he milked it for all it was worth with a strong 4-for-9 (with 2 walks) performance against the Mariners even though the White Sox were swept in the series. At the team level, it was a big disappointment; the White Sox led the Majors with 978 runs scored and led the AL with a 95-67 record. For Perry, 2001 was a disappointment. He battled a strained Achilles tendon and struggled to remain on the field.

Rather than crying over spilled milk(man), in November the White Sox dealt Perry to Texas for a player to be named later (pitcher Corey Lee). Besides, Joe Crede was waiting in the wings to take over at third base, which he eventually did for good in 2003.

Perry flourished in the Lone Star State in 2002, as he hit .276/.333/.480 with career highs in games (132), home runs (22 – finishing 3rd on the Rangers behind Alex Rodriguez’s 57 and Rafael Palmeiro’s 43) and RBI (77). Unfortunately, the Milkman was at the wrong place at the wrong time. By 2003, Hank Blalock took over at the hot corner and Perry’s playing time was condensed (partially due to another injury). He saw his last MLB action in 2004.

The family dairy farm was sold shortly after Herbert’s father died in December 2004. Perry moved on to running a company in Mayo where he molds and delivers septic tanks throughout Lafayette County.

Herbert Perry was a solid player who could really hit when he was healthy. It’s a shame we never got a chance to see him deliver for an extended period of time. But we remember the Milkman fondly!

Sources:

Holy Cow: A Season Worth Milking

Written by Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune, October 1, 2000

 

SABR BioProject: Herbert Perry

Written by Jay Hurd

 

No Longer The ‘Milkman,’ Perry Tries a Pre-Cast Side to Life

Written by George Castle, chicagobaseballmuseum.org August 29, 2016

 

Baseball-Reference.com

 

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