White Sox

Why these two playoff pitchers — and free agents to-be — could make sense for the White Sox this winter

1008_nathan_eovaldi_hyun_jin_ryu.jpg
USA TODAY

Why these two playoff pitchers — and free agents to-be — could make sense for the White Sox this winter

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.

Remember That Guy: Kelly Wunsch

kelly-wunsch.jpg
AP

Remember That Guy: Kelly Wunsch

“Has absolutely the worst delivery I have ever seen, except possibly Floyd Youmans.”

 - From The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (2004)

In the year 2000…

A funky sidearming lefty made his MLB debut on opening day, then went on to tie for the MLB lead with 83 appearances for the season.

That would be Kelly Wunsch. Born July 12, 1972, in Houston, Tex., Wunsch was drafted twice. First, he was drafted out of high school by the Braves in the 54th round in 1990, but opted for college. The Brewers came calling in 1993, when they selected Wunsch in the first round (26th overall) out of Texas A&M, where he majored in mechanical engineering. He was the free agent compensation pick from the Blue Jays when Toronto signed Paul Molitor.

On April 15, 1994, pitching for Beloit of the Class-A Midwest League, Wunsch made history when he struck out five batters in the third inning in a game against Springfield. He was the first minor leaguer since Ron Necciai on May 17, 1952, with five whiffs in an inning (side note – Necciai struck out 24 in that game – for the Bristol Twins in the Class-D Appalachian League… after pitching a 27-strikeout no-hitter in his previous start four days earlier).

Wunsch continued making his way through the minors. He struggled to a 5.51 ERA as a starter for Beloit (A) and Stockton (Advanced A) in 1995, then missed all of 1996 with injuries. As noted in the 2003 White Sox media guide, he “proposed to his wife in 1997 while disguised as the Class A Stockton team mascot.” The team was the Stockton “Ports,” and the mascot is apparently a large fuzzy red thing and not an actual port, though it would be interesting to see someone try to pull off dressing as a port.

In any event, Wunsch was granted free agency by the Brewers in Oct. 1999 without yet reaching the majors. One month later he signed with the White Sox as a non-roster invitee to spring training and made the team. He went on to have a great rookie season, posting a 2.93 ERA in 61 1/3 innings with 51 strikeouts and a 1.288 WHIP. He finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Kazuhiro Sasaki, Terrence Long, Mark Quinn and Bengie Molina. His 83 games in 2000 remain a White Sox rookie record (15 more than the next highest total). The rookie lefty even appeared in three games in the 2000 ALDS against the Mariners, collecting a loss in one inning work with one unearned run allowed.

2001 was tough. Wunsch pitched to a 7.66 ERA in 33 games before shoulder surgery ended his season in June. The lefty specialist returned to the mound in May 2002 and bounced back with a 3.41 ERA in 50 games (31.2 IP). Wunsch started 2003 on fire. His sidearm funk held opponents hitless over his first nine appearances (7 IP), scoreless over his first 14 appearances (11 1/3 IP), and had a 1.15 ERA and .102 opponent batting average in 22 appearances when he suffered a strained left lat at home against the Giants. He wasn’t quite as good when he returned, walking 16 in 20 1/3 IP with a 3.98 ERA.

He made only three appearances for the White Sox in 2004; by now the lefty reliever spots belonged to Damaso Marte and Neal Cotts. He pitched fairly well with Triple-A Charlotte and signed a free agent deal with the Dodgers in 2005, where he took the mound 45 times to the tune of a 4.56 ERA. Despite an attempt to come back with the Astros in spring 2007, he never made it back to the majors.

Since 2007, Wunsch has worked as a home builder and realtor, running Kelly Wunsch Homes in Austin, Tex. He has also worked as a color analyst for the Round Rock Express on radio and television.

 

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.

New Cubs pitcher joins chorus of friends and ex-teammates defending Manny Machado in wake of 'Johnny Hustle' comments

New Cubs pitcher joins chorus of friends and ex-teammates defending Manny Machado in wake of 'Johnny Hustle' comments

GLENDALE, Ariz. — To White Sox fans worried about what kind of addition Manny Machado might be, let a Cub alleviate your concerns.

Yes, I'm aware taking advice from one of those players from the other side of town isn't White Sox fans' favorite thing to do. But new Cubs relief pitcher Brad Brach spent five seasons as Machado's teammate with the Baltimore Orioles, and he has some insight for fans bothered by Machado's postseason antics, which were headlined by his comments that hustling wasn't his "cup of tea."

"He was good," Brach told reporters Friday at Cubs camp in Mesa. "He goes out there and plays hard every day. I know obviously some quotes were said later in the playoffs, but I enjoyed him as a teammate. He's going to make anybody who has him better, and he's a once-in-a-generation talent. It's exciting to get to see that on a daily basis.

"I think seeing him every day, you really appreciate it. If you see him in a short series or seven days or something like that, you might not appreciate what he brings for 162."

These are points that have been made by others who played with Machado, but it remains important to hear from former teammates while certain segments of the White Sox fan base remain fearful of what he'll do to the clubhouse culture should he end up signing on the South Side.

It's true that Machado has a history of unseemly on-field incidents. Even before a run of them in the NLCS while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in October — failing to run out a ground ball, interfering with double-play attempts at second base and dragging his foot across the leg of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar — he threw a bat and a helmet in on-field fits of frustration and executed a spikes-up slide that injured Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

The notorious "Johnny Hustle" comments have helped color Machado in the minds of many fans this offseason, and while perhaps an ultimately harmless public-relations gaffe, they generated speculation of how he would fit in with the White Sox, where manager Rick Renteria has not been shy about benching players who don't run hard to first base.

But those who know Machado best have been quick to rush to his defense. New White Sox outfielder Jon Jay, a good friend of Machado's, called him an "unbelievable worker." New White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Yonder Alonso, Machado's brother-in-law, had even more to say when he joined the team.

"We’re looking at a player, a family person, a player that wants to be better every single day, a guy that pushes everybody," Alonso said back in December. "This guy shows up every day. ... We know what this guy does. I know what he does off the field, on the field. When he shows up, he shows up ready to play every single day. He gives it everything he’s got, and at the end of the day it’s about wins, wins, wins, wins. That’s all he wants.

"I know that in his past, playoffs, things were overblown, I believe. All the people don’t see the things that nobody can see: inside that clubhouse, how he gets ready, how he prepares, bringing it every single day, every night and making guys better every single day. This guy plays hard.

"He plays really good defense. He’s been a Platinum Glove winner. We obviously all know what kind of player he is when it comes to the offensive side. To do all those things you’ve got to play hard. You’ve got to go out there and give it all you got because there’s so many talented players out there that play the game very hard. ... I believe that he’s that type of player."

Machado's talent and statistical output are obvious. More of a mystery, however, to those who haven't been in a clubhouse with him is what kind of effect he could have on a team off the field.

Those who know him, those who have played with him, continue to say he's a good teammate and a totally different player than those comments during the postseason made him seem.

Machado still hasn't made up his mind about where he'll be playing. But should he come to the White Sox, it sounds like fans won't have to worry about his presence in the clubhouse being a negative one.

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.