With four games remaining, the White Sox rotation is officially “López and Nova until it’s all over.” Dylan Cease exited his start when he strained his hamstring during his bullpen session before Thursday’s game, joining Lucas Giolito and (to a lesser extent) Dylan Covey as pitchers that can’t offer innings to Rick Renteria in the season’s last week.
Cease is closer to his fellow Dylan C. than Giolito when evaluating the quality of the innings he already logged. He finishes the year 4-7 with a 5.79 ERA over 14 starts and 73 innings. The 81 strikeouts are good. The 35 walks are OK. The 78 hits — 15 of which are homers — need work.
He put a dent in those latter numbers in September, posting a 3.00 ERA and allowing just 16 hits (two homers) over 21 innings. Cease’s game log will show that he ended his season on a high note, throwing six innings of one-run ball against the Tigers back on Sept. 20.
I would’ve liked to see one more start against a quality opponent, just to better understand the state of his game at the end of 2019. He went 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA against the Tigers in 2019, and 1-7 with a 6.47 ERA against everybody else.
That said, one more start would’ve mostly served as symbolism. He already set a career high with 150 innings, and it’s pretty clear what lies ahead of him — get people off his fastball, especially lefties.
It’s the roughest introduction for this recent crop of young White Sox starters. Reynaldo López and Lucas Giolito each notched a decent two months back in 2017, and Michael Kopech took it up a step further with his stuff when weather and his ulnar collateral ligament allowed him.
Cease had the roughest adjustment yet, which was partially a product of the Triple-A environment being so counterproductive to developing pitchers. López, Giolito and Kopech all had an extended runway of success in Charlotte before getting called up to Chicago. Cease, conversely, posted a 4.48 ERA with the first-inning issues he battled with the White Sox, but he and the other Knights pitchers were virtually plying their trade at altitude.
The White Sox made the right call in letting him take his lumps in Chicago, instead. Cease seemed to appreciate the opportunity:
“It’s a lot different than anything you can prepare for in the minor leagues,” Cease said. “I’ve learned how to handle the travel, some stuff off the field. And then on the field, it’s been learning which pitches work, learning which adjustments need to be done.”
Giolito is going to be the offseason transformation lottery dream held by every White Sox fan for every White Sox player over the next 10 years. He wasn’t inspired to address the fundamentals of his delivery after an encouraging-but-not-electric rookie season. It was only until he started getting routinely drubbed in the majors that he overhauled his preparation methods. If you look at it that way, Cease was better off struggling than succeeding his first time around.
The problem is that can also be applied to López, Covey and the rest of the non-Giolito pitchers. Just like the offense with its plate discipline issues, when everybody has similar struggles at the same time, it’s all an indistinguishable blob of below-averageness, even if some are more defensible than others.
The other question is whether the developmental issues Cease encountered in Charlotte will be a hurdle for the other arms that represent the White Sox’ internal pitching depth. Maybe Kopech doesn’t need to prove he can hack it in Triple-A before he returns to the White Sox, but Dane Dunning hasn’t yet pitched for the Knights, and neither have Bernardo Flores, Jonathan Stiever, and, whenever he comes back from his Tommy John procedure, Jimmy Lambert. If they’re going to have a harder time hitting the ground running, the Sox probably shouldn’t count on them when it comes to meaningfully boosting 2020 and 2021 win projections.
These are speculative concerns, and ones that could be overwritten with action or time. The White Sox have the budget room to add sizable veteran contributions. It’s also possible that Charlotte will be normalized within a year or so, because Rob Manfred is finally acknowledging that the product is warped.
“We have reconvened the group of scientists that worked with us before [on the initial study],” he said. “We’ve asked them to take a fresh look at everything that is occurring with the baseball. We expect to get this new report shortly after the World Series.” […]
“The only thing I’m prepared to say at this point and time is I do think that we need to see if we can make some changes that gives us a more predictable, consistent performance from the baseball.”
However it happens, resuscitated pitching depth is going to be vital for the next step in the White Sox rebuild. They only need to look across town to see what happens when the supply dries up.
Is there even any value in having your top pitching prospects pitch in Charlotte? Just have them get their innings in Birmingham and bring them straight to the majors when you think they’re ready.
For relievers, not really. But Birmingham and the Southern League in general can make pitchers look better than they are, so Charlotte is a more accurate gauge for fortune on well-hit flies. At least when it’s not insane like this year.
I also think they need at least a few AAA starts to get used to the different feel of the ML ball leaving the hand. Pitchers say it feels more “slick”.
That’s a good point I hadn’t considered.
I wanted to say, great work as usual Jim. Hopefully they build on this year’s success.
A little more perspective on the Sawchik quote, they have certainly tried.
If my count is correct, and it may not be, the Cubs front office has drafted 150 pitchers between 2012-2018 and have a grand total of zero of them on the current big league roster. How do they not run into at least a long reliever? It’s baffling.
— Brad Robinson (@bradrobinson8) April 5, 2019
Cautiously optimistic with 2020:
If they go in relying on Kopech and Lopez, that has the potential to be a tough season. Ideally they pick up a top of the rotation guy, and middle of the rotation guy. Then let the players compete for the spots.
How do they compete for spots? Are you going to shuffle Kopech, Lopez and Cease between the majors and AAA, leave Kopech in AAA until someone fails or gets injured, or force them to compete in Arizona Spring Training air and the loser gets sent down? None of that seems too fair to me.
+ dumping $40mil per year on veterans, when home grown guys could handle at least 1 of those spots? I hope they don’t.
But going into the season with no starting depth is how we got 30+ starts from Santana, Detwiler, Covey, Despaigne, etc. I don’t think anyone wants that again.
How does not blocking natural development tracks for Cease, Kopech and Lopez and not spending $40 mil on 2 starters = “going into the season with no startinng depth”?
Blocking natural development my ass. If they can keep Robert in the minors so they can give more PAs to the likes of Cordell and Palka, they can hold back one or two of those guys a few months for an actual proven MLB talent.
We’re 80 starts into Reynaldo Lopez’s below average career. He’s had his fair shot. Anything he gets after this as a starting pitcher in the major leagues is gravy.
And it’s not like this season has been some sort of breakthrough for him where he’s earned another look. He’s ended his season on a streak of giving up at least 5 runs in 3 straight games (and 4 of his last 5 games) (and 7 of his last 9 games).
So you’re done with “Reynaldo Lopez, major league starting pitcher”. Are you moving him to the ‘pen or AAA for ’20, mikey?
Hahn has already said Kopech is starting in AAA. I agree with mikeyb about Lopez. He will get some time at the beginning to show he can hang, if not he goes to AAA.
And what if he starts strong, and Kopech proves healthy?
And what if he doesn’t? Then does Covey start?
Ideally, the starting rotation for 2020 is Giolito, Kopech, Cease, Lopez and a top F/A. I would love that. But let’s look at the White Sox pitchers the last several years. What are the odds that all of them are healthy all year? Not very good. That’s why I’d like to bring in another guy who, if all those guys are healthy can be a long relief/spot starter. Someone who has a better MLB record than 6-27.
Why do you automatically go “if not top tier FAs, then Covey”?
That’s not what I said at all. They have 4 spots “set” for next year in Giolito, Kopech, Lopez, Cease. They need another starter- that’s the top tier FA. Unless you think Covey should be in the rotation to start next year?
I would like to see them sign another lower-tier guy just in case Kopech isn’t ready at the start of the year. I don’t want to see Covey as the 5th starter if Kopech opens the season in AAA, like Hahn has suggested he will.
I would not spend big on a top tier FA pitcher. I would prefer the team allow the pitchers they have sort themselves out, allow prospects to build trade value, save draft picks while development dictates next steps.
2 of Wood, Lyles, Roark.
Fair enough. I think they can win next year, and having Cease as your number 2 guy going in would put undue pressure on him. That’s why I would like a top-of-the-rotation starter. But if you don’t think they can contend next year, then adding 2 lower end rotation guys makes sense.
I don’t know who my # 2 is because the rotation hasn’t worked itself out yet.
I don’t know if they can contend in ’20 yet. That’s for them to prove during the first half.
It’s just my opinion that this is the way the majority of tear-down rebuilds, that have achieved extended success, have been handled.
The Cubs spent big on Lester before they were contenders. That turned out pretty good.
You’re really describing problems we want to have here.
I’d like to see the 2020 staff be:
2. F/A (Bumgarner, Keuchel, Odorizzi, Wheeler- I dont think we have a chance at Cole).
4-5. Lopez/Kopech/#4-5 F/A (Gibson, Nova, Miley, Roark or someone of that quality), with Kopech being settled in by June.
I think Cease will make big strides this winter. His half-season MLB experience was very helpful, as he said above. He definitely has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter, now he needs to make the necessary adjustments to be successful. I think he will do that.
I have a similar opinion. I’d like the front office to treat Cease/Lopez/Kopech/Rodon as essentially 2 back end of the rotation pitchers when accounting for the team’s pitching needs
I think a reasonable plan would a top-tier FA starter as the #2 and then re-signing Nova or someone similar that could be moved to the pen if/when Kopech is ready.
This seems a lot more realistic than the “sign Cole and Odorizzi or you’re a cheap-ass org who doesn’t care about winning” stuff.
I completely agree with hitlesswonder, and said as much above. There is no one here today who has mentioned anything about not caring about winning.
Didn’t mean to imply it was said today.
Well, looking at the last winter’s free agent exploits, they either didn’t care about winning or were just really, really bad at their jobs. Let’s hope that changes for the better this winter. I want Hahn to be the Executive of the Year next year.
That’s not an either/or thing with this club.
Just from a health perspective, teams need 7+ starters/bulk pitchers to get through a season. The Sox should expect to be on the higher end of that because of the above average injury risk they’re carrying from the injury histories they’ve already collected.
The Sox have 3 pitchers rehabbing from surgery. They’re not going to be available to open the season and are probably on timelines ranging from May to August. And we’ve seen with Burdi and Hansen how that’s not a guarantee.
They have 3 healthy-ish starters. Cease and Giolito both missed time with fatigue and injuries, plus have already had major arm surgeries. Lopez was healthier this season but also has a history of oblique injuries.
And only 1 of those guys was effective enough to be better than a back-end starter.
So, yeah, a front office that cares about winning is going to add more than just inning eaters and flyers to the roster because their current selection barely counts as depth. The team needs to pay for certainty and reduced risk. If everyone ends up healthy and effective after adding a good starter or 2, then they have depth and flexibility for matchups, rest, or trade options.
Just fix the ball!
I feel like it would be an odd offseason for GMs to navigate evaluations if they were considering changing the ball back.
Like what type of player is being adversely affected the most? Fly ball pitchers? Is the Twins lineup as deadly if Kepler, Rosario, and Garver are 20 homerun guys and Polanco is in the teens?