White Sox

White Sox pitching problems persist in ugliest performance yet

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USA TODAY

White Sox pitching problems persist in ugliest performance yet

That’s no moon. That’s the White Sox team ERA.

Maybe there was a better joke to make after the White Sox were blown up like Alderaan in a two-touchdown loss to the visiting Boston Red Sox on Star Wars Night. But that one seemed plenty appropriate for a team that might have to start holding tryouts for Wookiees and Wampas and any other intergalactic species that might be able to get some outs.

All right, that’s probably enough with the Star Wars references for now.

The fact remains, though, that White Sox pitching to this point has been mostly unsuccessful in 2019. Manny Banuelos getting lit up in a nightmarish, when-will-it-end third inning Friday night was just the latest sore sight, though perhaps there have been none worse. After retiring the first eight hitters he faced, he gave up two-out hits to the next 10. Nine of them scored. Carson Fulmer didn’t fare much better, facing eight batters and getting just one out, a nasty stretch that saw the first six hitters of the fourth inning reach base. Five of them scored.

By the time it was all said and done, the White Sox gave up 15 runs on 20 hits and watched their staff ERA climb to 5.55, the second highest in baseball.

White Sox starters have been the worst offenders, the rotation now in possession of a 6.82 ERA after Saturday’s debacle. None of the team’s starters have pitched well enough to own an ERA below 5.00. Carlos Rodon, who’s on the injured list for the foreseeable future with a significant elbow injury that could result in Tommy John surgery, leads the way with a 5.19 ERA. Everyone else has a worse mark: Lucas Giolito at 5.32, Banuelos at 5.96, Reynaldo Lopez at 6.69 and Ivan Nova at 8.33.

That the rotation contains two pitchers with higher ERAs than the guy who gave up nine runs and left before the end of the third inning Saturday night should say quite a lot.

While the bullpen can hardly claim innocence, they at least have an excuse. The rotation has been unable to log many innings, their 151.2 of them among the fewest in the league by a starting staff. That leads to a taxed bullpen, a tired bullpen, a vulnerable bullpen and ultimately, what we saw Friday night, when infielder Jose Rondon was sent to the mound in just a five-run game.

“It’s hard, man, it’s hard,” Banuelos said of the rotation’s continued inability to go deep into games. “Honestly that’s my goal every time I get the chance to start a game. I’ve been in the bullpen, and I know how that feels. My goal is just every time I get the ball, try to go deep in the game, six or seven innings. Today it didn’t work that way.”

It could be more of the same when Dylan Covey makes his first start of 2019 on Sunday. Though the starter has been determined, manager Rick Renteria has described it as a bullpen day already. That’s hard to do with a bullpen that’s been as overworked as this one, and it’s why Fulmer and Jose Ruiz were optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after Saturday’s game: to make room for more arms.

Covey has been tabbed as the guy to replace Rodon in the rotation. White Sox fans are familiar with Covey’s work as a starter. He put up a 6.26 ERA in 33 starts during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The White Sox, though, are confident things will go better this time around.

It has to, because there’s practically no starting-pitching depth to speak of behind this current quintet. The numbers at Charlotte — aside from highly touted pitching prospect Dylan Cease, whose timeline won’t be altered because of a need at the big league level, per general manager Rick Hahn — aren’t much better than the ones on the South Side.

With nowhere to turn, the White Sox are banking on the hope that going back to the drawing board will work, that attempting to correct what’s made for one brief, high-scoring outing after another will click at some point.

“The guys that we still have left pitching right now, they have the capability of executing,” Renteria said after Saturday’s game. “We'll kind of work and see what we discover through our stuff tomorrow when we're looking at everything. In terms of confidence, these guys have enough stuff to do it. We've seen them do it. It's just a matter of trying to get them to consistently be able to effectively get through a ballgame.”

Maybe that consistency will come, but what if it doesn’t? Fans are certainly tired of this already, just a little more than a month into the campaign. Their wishes for the team to sign the still-unemployed Dallas Keuchel or trade for the apparently available Marcus Stroman are probably unrealistic. But can they be expected to just sit through this for another five months?

The White Sox are still in the thick of their rebuild. That is understood. And the growing pains and losing records the team is experiencing right now were experienced by the teams that have rebuilt before. The Cubs and the Houston Astros went through miserable seasons with plenty of bad pitching and came out the other side World Series champions.

And it’s very possible, if not probable, that the bulk of the rotation of the future just isn’t here right now. Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning are on the mend from Tommy John surgery. Cease is still cooking at Triple-A. Hahn speculated that maybe the team will need to go out and acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter from outside the organization in an offseason to come.

While the White Sox talked of increased expectations before the season began, it’s possible, at the very least when it comes to the pitching, that the waiting game is still very much ongoing and these woeful results are just what happens while the White Sox wait.

But let’s address those increased expectations. They were talked up not by a hopeful fan base but by the players and manager and general manager themselves. The White Sox wanted as much focus placed on the present as there has been on the future in recent years. If there are increased expectations, what is the penalty for not meeting them?

It wouldn’t exactly be shocking to see another year of development, another year of losing at the big league level. And it should be pointed out that even after a hideous performance Saturday, these White Sox are just three games under .500, a big improvement in the win-loss department (at the moment, anyway) from where this team was last season. There are brighter bright spots right now in Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada than there were at any point last season.

But the pitching? Oh, the pitching. It’s been really, really ugly and never uglier than Saturday.

As Renteria so often points out, his players are trying to do the things that lead to better outcomes. They’re trying to be more consistent. They’re trying to do what Ivan Nova said at one point earlier this season: “pitch better.”

But as every Jedi in training knows: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

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Eloy Jimenez reaches 30-home run mark in rookie season

Eloy Jimenez reaches 30-home run mark in rookie season

It took a couple months for Eloy Jimenez to get going in his rookie season, but the prized White Sox outfielder is meeting most reasonable expectations for his first year in the majors.

Jimenez smacked his 30th home run of the season Sunday in Detroit, which represents a notable round number milestone. Jimenez now has eight home runs in September and it’s only the 22nd of the month.

Jimenez launched a 2-0 slider to left center in his first at-bat to give the White Sox an early lead in Detroit.

A 30-home run season is a long way from the player Jimenez looked like in April and May. Entering June 1, the 22-year-old was hitting .220/.273/.390. He was struggling to lay off sliders out of the zone and looked a bit lost at the plate.

In June, Jimenez looked like the talented hitter the White Sox believed he was capable of becoming. He hit .284/.340/.602 with eight home runs, including a memorable go-ahead home run in Wrigley against the Cubs.

An injury playing the field in mid-July in Kansas City cost him a couple weeks and seemed to disrupt whatever rhythm he was building in June. This month, Jimenez is once again showing his elite potential. He won AL Player of the Week last week.

Jimenez’s overall numbers now have the look of a solid, promising, albeit still flawed rookie season. Jimenez entered Sunday hitting .267/.316/.506. The power is there, but the batting average and walk rate are both lower than most expectations for him long-term. However, to put up an above average overall season at the plate as a rookie while dealing with two stints on the injured list is definitely a strong base to build from.

Expectations will be higher for Jimenez in 2020. Many will expect him to take a step towards becoming a middle of the order hitter for years to come. For now, it’s safe to look at Jimenez’s 30th home run as proof of a solid rookie campaign.

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Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Even as the White Sox finish up the final stretch of their seventh consecutive losing season, the games they are playing aren’t meaningless -- Jose Abreu acknowledged as much when he said that the 2020 season “starts in September”. Key contributors in the White Sox lineup have clearly taken that to heart, as the Sox offense has been one of the best in baseball in the month of September. 

Here are four numbers* that reflect what has been a torrid stretch for the Sox offense to close the season:

*All stats as of the morning of September 21

Three

Three has been a magical number for the White Sox in September. For one, going into play Saturday, the Sox boast the top three leaders in hits for the month: Tim Anderson (32), Yoan Moncada (29) and Eloy Jimenez (28). The team as a whole is also third in baseball in total bases (319) and OPS (.832) in September -- only trailing the Astros and Yankees in both categories, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. 

Unrelated to the number three, but also worth noting, the team is leading the majors in batting average this month:

 

10

Ok, we cheated a little bit here -- 10 makes this list as a reference to Yoan Moncada’s jersey number, but in fairness, we needed a full section to highlight all Yo-Yo has done at the plate this month. He enters play Saturday as the major league leader in batting average (.444) and WAR (1.6) in September, and is currently working on a streak of five consecutive multi-hit games (he has 12 since the start of the month). 

To give even more of an idea of how scalding hot of a stretch it has been for Moncada, here is a side-by-side of his full-season slash-line on September 1 compared to September 21 (a stretch in which he has played 16 games):

  • September 1: .288/.342/.518 (.860 OPS)

  • September 21: .314/.368/.547 (.915 OPS)

Oh, and that .314 batting average? As of Saturday, that's only one point behind Michael Brantley for third in the AL. If Moncada can usurp Brantley, him and Anderson would make up two-thirds of the best three batting averages in the AL. *In best Larry David voice* Preeeeetty, pretty good.

27

“When I feel good, I don’t know, it’s just reaction. I don’t try to do too much and [I] just try to hit it on the barrel,” Eloy Jimenez said post-game last night, in reference to his grand slam against the Tigers. 

The Sox as a team are certainly employing that mentality this month, and the data reflects it. According to Baseball Savant, the White Sox lead baseball in balls batted with an exit velocity of greater-than-or-equal to 108 mph in September with 27 (the next closest team is the Yankees, with 20). Three such instances occurred in last night’s 10-1 rout in Detroit, including Moncada’s 24th home run of the season:

 

118

wRC+ is a weighted, park-controlled measure of a player’s ‘runs created’ wherein the league average is 100 and a player’s proximity to 100 determines how above or below average they register (if you’re curious, there is a great explainer of wRC+ on Fangraphs).

The White Sox have struggled in this metric for most of the season -- their wRC+ as a team is 92 (eight percent below league average), which ranks 20th in baseball. However, in September, the Sox collectively have a wRC+ of 118 -- a whopping 18 percent better than league average -- which ranks fourth in MLB for the month. It’s over a small sample size, as all of these stats are, but it remains an encouraging indicator that the offense is ending the year on a strong note. 

The offseason will officially be upon us soon enough, but if the Sox continue to rake, as they have been all month, there’s still time for a couple exciting moments and performances before the long wait for 2020.

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