Could White Sox fans watching the playoffs this October be seeing a future South Side hurler? Maybe.
Neither Nathan Eovaldi nor Hyun-Jin Ryu qualified to rank among the league leaders during the regular season. Eovaldi's season didn't start until the end of May, and Ryu was on the shelf from early May until mid August. But had they qualified, they'd both rank among the league leaders in walks per nine. In fact, among the actual league leaders, only Miles Mikolas, Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander were better in that category.
Eovaldi and Ryu are both on the playoff stage this fall. Ryu helped pitch the Los Angeles Dodgers to a victory with seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS, and Eovaldi gets the ball for the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of their ALDS on Monday night.
Both also happen to be free agents once this postseason comes to an end, something that could interest the in-the-market White Sox.
Rick Hahn said the White Sox will be making some additions to the pitching staff this winter, and while there are big names out there like Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin, the 29-year-old Eovaldi or the 31-year-old Ryu could make a lot of sense.
The announcement that there will be additions to the South Side staff came as little surprise after Tommy John surgery wiped out Michael Kopech's 2019. James Shields is expected to become a free agent, though perhaps the White Sox could return him to a clubhouse in which he had a big impact. Still, there could be two holes in the rotation that need plugging.
The White Sox could opt to simply bridge the gap between now and the 2020 season, when Kopech is expected back at full strength and Dylan Cease could be up from the minor leagues. If that's the case, then someone like Eovaldi or Ryu doesn't make much sense. A one-year fill-in would be a much more cost-effective option in a season where the team isn't expected to make a playoff run — not to mention someone the White Sox wouldn't have to think twice about removing from the rotation if someone like Cease is ready to hit the big leagues.
But there's an argument to be made that the better way to go this winter would be to add someone more attractive on a multi-year deal who could serve as a safety net for these young pitchers.
Injuries have illustrated all too well over the past year how volatile pitching prospects can be. Kopech's Tommy John surgery was the highest profile of the significant injuries to White Sox pitching prospects, but Dane Dunning and Alec Hansen went through their own. Hansen had a disappointing season all around, missing a huge chunk of time with a forearm injury to begin the season and then struggling to the point he was sent from Double-A Birmingham to Class A Winston-Salem. And Hansen was a guy considered a potential future stalwart in the rotation when the season began. Who knows if significant injuries will change the outlook for Kopech and Dunning, too?
And another question: What if the rest of the rebuild advances to a point where the White Sox are ready to contend in 2020, but Kopech is starting that season a year behind in his development? Growing pains are to be expected with any young player. Could a White Sox team ready to compete for a playoff spot afford them? A veteran added to the mix this offseason could help solve that problem before it starts.
Eovaldi and Ryu fit that bill. And for more reasons than just just their age.
Eovaldi walked just 20 guys all year, 12 in 54 innings with the Red Sox and only eight in 57 innings with the Rays. That's compared to a season strikeout total of 101, for a better than 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ryu, meanwhile, walked only 15 batters in his 82.1 innings, compared to 89 strikeouts. His ERA was a pencil-thin 1.97, significantly lower than Eovaldi's still quite good 3.81 number, which was 3.33 after a midseason trade from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Those walk numbers are so pertinent because the White Sox could use someone who keeps the walks down.
White Sox pitchers led the American League in walks in 2018, issuing 653 free passes. That was the most in the Junior Circuit by a wide margin, with the Baltimore Orioles ranking second with 589, or 64 fewer than the White Sox. Individually, Lucas Giolito was tops in AL with 90 walks. Shields was third with 78. Reynaldo Lopez was fifth with 75. Hector Santiago, a reliever who made a handful of starts, was 15th with 60. Carlos Rodon was 21st with 55.
That's a lot of walks.
Either Eovaldi or Ryu would add a pitcher nowhere near the top of the walks list and help toward some of the White Sox other mysteries, as well. Of course, the rebuilding White Sox have so much flexibility at this point that they could make a variety of moves that would keep their long-term plans intact.
The White Sox are going shopping for pitchers this winter. Perhaps Eovaldi and Ryu should be on their list.