White Sox 2020 Grades: Pitchers

To complete the grading process, which started with the previously-published position-player review, here are assessments of the 2020 White Sox pitchers. To reiterate some context from that post, these grades are more art than science due to the subjective nature of how much expectations for a player should affect their grade. My goal is to balance actual player performance against their expectations and probable role (both short-term and long-term) entering the season. While I may mention postseason performance in a player review, the grades primarily reflect regular season performance.

Per usual, I consider an average grade to be someplace on the C/C+ borderline. An ‘A’ is the highest grade and an ‘F’ is the lowest grade.

Again, the shortened season makes setting a minimum for playing time tricky. Last season, I used 25 IP. A straight proration would have Aaron Bummer slightly making the cut, and I don’t see much point in grading his nine innings, so everyone from Bummer on down is being excluded from this.

In ascending order of innings pitched….

Jace Fry (RP): 18 G, 19.2 IP, 28.9% K, 14.5% BB, 3 HR, 3.66 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 0.1 bWAR, 0.0 fWAR

Fry was good against same-handed batters (.231/.286/.346), though not as dominant as he has been in his career overall (.184/.302/.257). Righties haven’t exactly killed him (.788 OPS-against career, .786 OPS-against in 2020), which means the three-batter minimum rule didn’t reduce Fry’s usefulness as much as that of some lefty specialists. He had a dominant stretch in mid-August, but was pretty walk-happy from August 30 on, and that likely played a factor in being the only pitcher on the postseason roster that didn’t enter a game. There’s a lot of “meh” here. Grade: C-

Ross Detwiler (RP): 16 G, 19.2 IP, 18.5% K, 6.2% BB, 2 HR, 3.20 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 0.1 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR

Hindsight’s 20/20, but one wonders whether the pivotal Game 3 loss against Oakland might have gone differently had the Sox opted to keep Detwiler in tow rather than the rusty Carlos Rodon. Instead, Detwiler was DFA’d shortly before the playoffs and I’m not sure he did anything to deserve it. He didn’t allow a run until Aug. 29 and didn’t walk a batter until Sept. 2, but Rick Renteria twice allowed him to twiddle his thumbs for a week at a time, even with Aaron Bummer on the shelf. His last outing — a bad one on Sept. 20 — did a lot to sully his season line. Hot stretch in a small sample or not, Detwiler deserved better. Grade: B-

Steve Cishek (RP): 22 G, 20.0 IP, 22.6% K, 9.7% BB, 4 HR, 5.40 ERA, 5.64 FIP, -0.2 bWAR, -0.2 fWAR

Cishek spent years beating his peripherals and in 2020, some combination of regression and worse pitching doomed him. Cishek’s sinker was horribly diminished this season (.964 SLG against!); it lost velocity and floated more on him. He tried to compensate by shifting to throw 51 percent sliders, but you can’t survive on just one breaking pitch and a show-me fastball. Cishek’s greatest utility had been suppressing right-handed batters, and in 2020, they tattooed him for a .319/.396/.617 line. The White Sox DFA’d him, and Cishek left them no other choice. Grade: F

PERTINENT: Steve Cishek never resembled Steve Cishek with White Sox

Alex Colomé (RP): 21 G, 22.1 IP, 17.8% K, 8.9% BB, 0 HR, 0.81 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 1.0 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR

Colomé was just as effective at saving games as he was in 2019, going 12-for-13 and picking up the win the only time he lost the lead. This time, however, no one could question whether the quality of his pitching was commensurate with his results. Colomé’s strikeout rate actually decreased from 2019 to 2020 while his walk rate held serve, but the endless parade of dribblers and weak flyouts made the effort convincing anyway. The loud contact from 2019 that made many question whether a collapse was forthcoming essentially disappeared, and he lowered his xwOBA from .339 (kinda bad) to .262 (excellent). I’d bet against him repeating the .200 BABIP from this year or the .215 BABIP from last year, but at least in 2020, his good results felt earned. Grade: A

Evan Marshall (RP): 23 G, 22.2 IP, 32.3% K, 7.5% BB, 1 HR, 2.38 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 0.6 bWAR, 0.9 fWAR

Marshall is another guy who fought regression by making significant season-over-season improvements. His changeup gets a lot of the fanfare, but Marshall nearly doubled his slider frequency in 2020 and it’s hard to argue with the results. The righty’s strikeout rate skyrocketed when reducing his fastball usage to just 29 percent, which went well with the steady diet of ground balls he generates. On the flip side, Marshall was second on the team to Jimmy Cordero with five meltdowns, and his Win Probability Added was just fourth in the bullpen and practically the same as that of Garrett Crochet, who only threw six innings. Poor failure timing aside, this was a very successful season for Marshall. The Sox control him for another two years, and three months ago no one would have cared about that. Grade: A-

Codi Heuer (RP): 21 G, 23.2 IP, 27.2% K, 9.8% BB, 1 HR, 1.52 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 0.8 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR

Heuer came from off the grid to quickly establish himself as Rick Renteria’s go-to righty setup man down the stretch. Hitters had no chance against his slider, as they whiffed against 31 percent of them and only slugged .050 (!!!) against the pitch. The two-run blast Sean Murphy hit in the decisive Game 3 against the Athletics led to the first runs that Heuer had allowed in over a month. That blemish aside, his future looks bright and he’ll likely wind up an integral part of the 2021 bullpen. Grade: A

Reynaldo López (SP): 8 G, 26.1 IP, 19.8% K, 12.4% BB, 9 HR, 6.49 ERA, 7.63 FIP, -0.6 bWAR, -0.5 fWAR

López missed a month of the season with shoulder soreness, but he still found time to allow nine home runs. His fourseam spin rate has always been dismal, but this year, his velocity dipped into the 94-95 range. After four seasons of frustration (including one where good fortune gave him a low ERA), the Sox got to the point where they couldn’t justify putting López on a 28-man postseason roster. The likelihood the Sox will pursue starting pitching in free agency plus the availability of more interesting internal candidates will likely lead to López getting squeezed out of the organization’s plans. Grade: F

Jimmy Cordero (RP): 30 G, 26.2 IP, 17.7% K, 7.3% BB, 2 HR, 6.08 ERA, 3.87 FIP, -0.9 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR

I’ll forgive you if you look at that innings pitched total and go, “That’s it?” Fans experienced some level of fatigue with Cordero this season (and hey, he did appear in half the games), but those looking at only his ERA are doing Jimmy a disservice. The ERA disregards Cordero’s success with stranding baserunners; only one out of 16 scored on his watch this year. As a result, Renteria relied on him a lot. One inclined to spin narratives might say that Jimmy was so exhausted from successfully cleaning up other people’s messes that he had no energy left to put out his self-created fires. He was also one of the few White Sox relievers that helped the cause in the postseason. By no means was it good year for Cordero, but he didn’t deserve a lot of the tomatoes hurled his way. Grade: C-

Matt Foster (RP): 23 G, 28.2 IP, 28.4% K, 8.3% BB, 2 HR, 2.20 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 0.7 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR

Foster wilted in the biggest moment of the season, coming on in relief of an extremely ineffective Carlos Rodon with two outs and the bases loaded. His inability to find the strike zone (which I’ll chalk up to nerves, as Foster had no history of being wild) led to walking in two runs and lowering the White Sox’s win probability from 51 percent to 28 percent before Khris Davis bailed him out by swinging the bat for some reason. It was a very disappointing moment in a string of them during that game.

That said, one of the main reasons it was disappointing was because Foster spent all season conditioning us to expect better. His fastball/changeup combination was lethal all season long, and like Heuer, he came from the fringe of the roster to become one of the bullpen’s most reliable arms. Foster is essentially found money, and while the White Sox could use work at striking gold someplace besides the bullpen, that doesn’t make pleasant surprises like this any less welcome. Grade: A-

Gio González (SP/RP): 12 G, 31.2 IP, 22.2% K, 12.4% BB, 6 HR, 4.83 ERA, 5.50 FIP, -0.3 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR

Ultimately, González’s body failed him. It was a very good idea for the White Sox to bring in Gio, but a groin strain and shoulder soreness limited his availability and he didn’t have the same level of effectiveness as in years past. He could still make hitters swing and miss at an offspeed pitch, but the fastball was vulnerable all season long. Gonzalez’s propensity to pitch from behind in the count caught up to him this season, and it’s likely the Sox will take a pass on his services for next year. Grade: D-

Dane Dunning (SP): 7 G, 34.0 IP, 24.6% K, 9.2% BB, 4 HR, 3.97 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 0.1 bWAR, 0.7 fWAR

After a seven-inning, one-earned-run, seven-strikeout performance against the Twins on Sept. 15, confidence was soaring that Dunning could take the ball in Game 3 of a postseason series. He ultimately did, but was only allowed to record two outs, and the two starts leading up to the postseason were the primary reason why. Dunning was hit hard by Cleveland and was uncharacteristically wild against the Cubs down the stretch, which lost him the right to try to pitch out of trouble in an elimination game. Despite the late stumbles, this season was a successful debut for Dunning, and health willing, he looks the part of a mid-rotation starter moving forward. Grade: B+

Dylan Cease (SP): 12 G, 58.1 IP, 17.3% K, 13.3% BB, 12 HR, 4.01 ERA, 6.36 FIP, 0.1 bWAR, -0.4 fWAR

What a disaster. Cease’s command was a mess from start-to-finish, and while the stuff can be eye-popping at times, his issues with gyroscopic spin raise questions as to how it would play even if he had a clue where the ball was going. Cease made all 12 of his scheduled starts this season but didn’t manage to pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. That FIP mark was the worst of any pitcher to throw at least 58 innings, with a mile between Cease and Matthew Boyd‘s Tim-Anderson-induced 5.78 mark. Had Cease been a more established pitcher, I might have placed more weight on the 4.01 ERA, which stemmed from his ability to get hitters to magically slap into double-plays (he’s not a ground ball pitcher) to get him out of trouble, and the fluky .193 batting average he allowed with men on base. Instead, he’s being primarily evaluated with his progress towards a long-term role. Right now, he looks a lot more like the guy the Sox were (rightfully) afraid to use in any meaningful postseason situation than a 4.00 ERA pitcher. Grade: F

Dallas Keuchel (SP): 11 G, 63.1 IP, 16.3% K, 6.6% BB, 2 HR, 1.99 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 2.0 bWAR, 1.8 fWAR

Like multiple other pitchers on this list, Keuchel was extremely successful all season long and saved his worst performance for the Oakland A’s. He avoided dangerous contact and yielded the fewest home runs per innings pitched in all of baseball. Keuchel’s success has never been predicated on a high strikeout total, but this year’s 16.3 percent mark is the lowest he’s posted since his awful debut season in 2012, owing possibly to him losing yet another tick on his fastball (the sinker averaged 87.4 mph). It will be interesting to see whether he’ll be able to find continued Buehrle-like effectiveness with further-reduced stuff, but it would have been hard to expect better than what he did this year. Grade: A

Lucas Giolito (SP): 12 G, 72.1 IP, 33.7% K, 9.7% BB, 8 HR, 3.48 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 0.8 bWAR, 2.0 fWAR

The staff ace allowed seven runs to the Twins in the season opener, but that was not the ominous sign it looked to be. Across two starts in August, Giolito fanned a whopping 26 batters over 16 scoreless innings, including his first no-hitter. Questions of whether he’s a “true” ace quickly evaporated when he threw seven scoreless innings (the first six of them perfect) against the A’s in Game 1 of the wild card series. Giolito has established himself as one of the American League’s best pitchers, and there are nothing but great things to say about his outlook from here. Grade: A

PERTINENT: Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter a reward for those who kept watching

The Class Rank:

  1. Dallas Keuchel, A
  2. Lucas Giolito, A
  3. Alex Colome, A
  4. Codi Heuer, A
  5. Matt Foster, A-
  6. Evan Marshall, A-
  7. Dane Dunning, B+
  8. Ross Detwiler, B-
  9. Jimmy Cordero, C-
  10. Jace Fry, C-
  11. Gio Gonzalez, D-
  12. Steve Cishek, F
  13. Dylan Cease, F
  14. Reynaldo Lopez, F
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Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
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evenyoudorn

Sign Bauer and have him show Lopez and Cease the magical, mysterious way he increased his spin rate. His contract could include an expense account at Walgreens or Lowes.

As Cirensica

Yes.

Eagle Bones

To my knowledge, Cease’s issue with spin isn’t one of rate, but axis.

karkovice squad

Yes and no. His raw spin is above average but it’s not surprisingly so because there’s a strong relationship between velocity and spin.

On top of that, the spin he puts on the ball is both inefficient and unpredictable. That probably means hitters are even less fooled by what they see and he has reduced command of the pitch.

knoxfire30

Alex Colome may be the least appreciated whitesox in decades… dude has flat just done his job. Shaky peripherals or not in 2019, from then to now all he has done is close out games at a very impressive clip.

I still would much rather ride with Cease then Lopez, Lopez at this point to me is AAA fodder or maybe a minimally interesting piece of a trade package for another team to try and get something out of him.

The sox really need an internal option to emerge as more then just a backend starter out of the Kopech, Dunning, Cease, Lopez, Stiever, crop of arms. You cant expect them to go out and sign 2 or 3 more starting pitchers especially if you want any kind of run at Bauer to be realistic. Very interested to see how fast they push Crochett as well if the other guys cant step up.

HallofFrank

Agree, agree, and agree. Colome has been great. I’d be happy if they brought him back. If they do, the 2021 bullpen could be really special.

I’m holding out hope for Cease. He’s a Giolito-esque tweak away from being good, but even if he can’t find it he can be an asset as a feast or famine 5th starter a la 2018 Reynaldo Lopez. And I like Kopech to settle in as a #2 or #3 type starter in 2021. The positive spin on him missing two years: the dude has yet to throw 500 innings since his 18th birthday. Going into his age 25 season, the arm should be as fresh as they come for the next few years.

texag10

I am past hope on Cease at this point. Maybe he is a tweak away. From everything I’ve heard/read from others though, it would take a complete rebuild of his mechanics to alter his spin into something useful. That doesn’t sound like something that is easy to do and even then it doesn’t guarantee that he can all of the sudden throw strikes. He’s young and there’s improvement left but he feels like the best candidate on this team to trade for an OF instead of getting in to a bidding war for a 30 year old Springer, however effective he still is. Cease seems like the exact kind of guy that Tampa loves to get their hands on and fix and they have somewhat of a surplus of outfielders at the moment with the rise of Arozarena. Maybe the Mets want another flame thrower to get in the rotation with Thor and DeGrom and clear out some of their logjam.

evenyoudorn

Giolito is the exception rather than the rule, but it’s been done before by a guy getting outside Cooperdom for a fresh philosophy. Aside from height, aren’t their prospect profiles fairly similar?
99 on the straightball, big 12-6 curve that’s nowhere near the plate, touch and go CH. Beyond hope seems hasty to me. I imagine Gio’s F grade from two years ago read almost the same as Cease’s above.

texag10

Here’s the big difference for me: Giolito had a career 8.7BB% in the minor leagues. His disaster two years ago it was 11.6% before falling back down to single digits the past two seasons. He had a skill, his delivery broke and upon fixing it, that skill returned. Cease has had exactly one stop in his minor and major league career with a single digit BB% and that was when he first came over in the trade here when it was 9.7% at High A. Every other stop in his career has seen an inability to hit the strike zone consistently. He has no established floor to return to after a mechanical change like Giolito. Every change we talk about with Cease is “maybe this will help him suck less”. I get that he is still young and inexperienced and we need to give him time. After doing a rough search through pitchers, I feel like the best case scenario for Cease is Edwin Jackson. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing but I don’t know that I want us spending the time and rotation spot to get him there if there’s an option to get something valuable in trade for him right now.

knoxfire30

I agree I would buy pitching and trade for a RF option. Actually quite a few guys I like but I dont want to get into it before the off season project 🙂

I have more hope for Cease then Lopez, I like his breaking ball more and he has a funky motion that should add deception. Lopez throws hard but his fb is very flat, he doesnt have the omg breaking ball you would expect of a guy who throws that hard and his changeup comes and goes.

The hope is the signing of a front line starter…. kopech gets pushed to your 4, then out of Cease, Lopez, Stiever, Dunning, you can manage both the 5th starter spot and have some AAA level guys ready for when someone goes on the DL or you have a DH or whatever.

HallofFrank

I wouldn’t mind trading Cease nor am I convinced he’ll put it together. The odds are probably against him, in fact. But he’ll be 25 with 131 IP. He’s yet to pitch a full season. MLB rotations are full of guys who took a year or two to put it together. The Sox rotation has two: Giolito and Keuchel. Lopez, on the other hand, will be 27 with almost 1,000 IP.

I suspect neither fetch much in a trade, so I’d rather part with Lopez for depth and slot Cease in at #5. If he bombs, make a move at the trade deadline.

texag10

That’s why I’m open to trading Cease now. He hasn’t pitched a full season so he should still have decent value to other teams. Lopez is a known at this point.

Trooper Galactus

I posited trading him in my last offseason plan for exactly the reasons he supplied. While my target (Mitch Haniger) would have been an unmitigated disaster, I was trying to chuck him at the height of his value. Unfortunately, Cease’s trade value is now much lower, and he won’t bring the sort of return as before given a a year of burned up service time and horrible results.

karkovice squad

During Spring Training it looked like he’d made the mechanical tweak to keep his front side from opening out of sync with the rest of his motion. That disappeared by Opening Day, tho. So we know he does off-season work. We know that work produced at least some temporary improvement. That’s at least a little reason to be less dour about him.

The questions are whether the improvements will ever stick, whether that solves the spin efficiency issue, whether he’d need another adjustment to his release on top of it and, if so, can it be done in parallel?

Eagle Bones

I’m interested to see what they do with Lopez. On one hand, he’s not been good / healthy the last two years and a contending team should certainly be aiming higher for their rotation. On the other hand, he’s probably going to be relatively cheap as an Arb-1 guy (maybe I’m underestimating the cost since he has thrown a ton of innings) and it’s not like they’re not going to need depth in the rotation next year even if they add a FA arm. I think I’m just befuddled because this is the kind of decision we haven’t had to even contemplate for them in the past however many years (he would have been auto-tendered in all of the past however many years as they needed the arms just to fill out the rotation).

knoxfire30

MLBTR just did their arb price estimates, lopez came in at 2.2 mil.

Trooper Galactus

I retained him in my offseason plan, but as a bullpen option to see if he can be employed as an opener or long reliever.

karkovice squad

I still think if Lopez and Cease can’t start it’s for reasons that will prevent them from being effective even in those roles: loud contact and poor command. If their issues were times through the order or stamina it’d be a different story.

Trooper Galactus

In the case of Lopez if he’s able to regain a couple ticks on his fastball in a relief role then he has what he needs to at least get through an inning without too much trouble. Coming into this season he did lead the team in innings over the previous two seasons combined, so it’s not like he’s never been able to pitch clean ones.

karkovice squad

Hitters can also hit velo when it has trackable movement which is a problem for him, too. He significantly overperformed the loud contact he allowed through a combination of batted ball and sequencing luck that would be tough to bank on in any leveraged situation.

He led the team in IP. That’s the sad thing.

Trooper Galactus

Just saying he has shown the ability to get through clean innings. I’m not sure that he can be any more consistent doing that as a reliever as opposed to a starter, but I think it’s worth exploring.

texag10

If we can get 2018/2019 Reynaldo as our 5th starter, I don’t think that’s a bad idea. He should be cheap and can eat innings like 90% of his starts. The problem is even his best season in 2018 saw 3 of his starts fail to get through 3 innings but that happens to even good pitchers so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

MarketMaker

So disappointing that neither Cease nor Lopez look like MLB pitchers, let alone rotation fixtures. Makes Dunning’s comeback all the more important.

As Cirensica

So many As and Bs you’d think this was a team built for the post-season (when pitching matters most). Poor roster construction (Collins/Rodon instead of Detwiler/Lopez), and Renteria burning pitchers in game 3 derailed the dreams.

I agree with these assessments. Well done.

Eagle Bones

Nit pick alert, but man what does Foster have to do to get an A? I guess the playoff game is really the only ding right?

Eagle Bones

That’s fair. If it wasnt obvious from that being my only comment, great writeup.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Cease was disappointing, but I don’t think that’s what an F looks like for a guy who only has 26 career starts.

texag10

I don’t think number of starts should factor in to the grade for each player but even so, he had a 4 ERA and he had to get super lucky to even have that. I imagine Giolito got an F for 2018 which was pretty comparable to Cease’s year.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I think experience has something to do with expectations, so I guess my expectations weren’t as high as Patrick’s. Not saying he was good or even met my expectations, but I wouldn’t call his season a complete failure.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I felt like his facial hair situation improved as the season went on. That has to count for something.

texag10

He got worse as the season went on, therefore the facial hair is to blame. Clean Shaven Cease will be a Cy Young winner!

Eagle Bones

Nah nah you got it backwards. He needs to lean into the facial hair. Look at abreu. Dude went full Jafar and found the fountain of youth.

Michael Kenny

Cease to Yankees confirmed.

My expectation was, “establishes himself as a viable starter”. Given he can’t complete five innings of work almost half the time, I’d say he’s failed to do that.

carbiner

Cease had black ink for walks