The White Sox’s final came of the Cactus League season was not televised, so only eyewitnesses could behold the glory of Dylan Cease striking out 11 Rockies against zero walks over 5⅓ innings.
In place of being able to see it, we have the next-best thing: Statcast data, which is available at Salt River Fields and no other Arizona park. In fact, given the general absence of pitch data during a period where the biggest question is whether certain pitchers have been able to make key improvements, I might take numbers over visuals in this case.
Especially when the numbers are this damn handsome.
Cease threw 86 pitches over those 5⅓ innings, which is a respectable count given the 11 strikeouts. Of those 86 pitches, 58 were strikes, including 20 whiffs. All four of his offerings got at least two swings and misses, including 10 of 39 fastballs. The average velocity on those fastballs? 97.5.
There are also details of sequences, and this one jumped out to me:
There’s a four-pitch strikeout of a very good hitter on zero fastballs and three consecutive sliders, even after falling behind 1-0.
Cease topped out at 14 swinging strikes in any game from 2020, and 15 the year before that. Between the unwanted fastball cut and poor control creating unfavorable counts for secondary pitches, he didn’t put himself in position to accumulate strikes, much less strikeouts.
The walk problem still occasionally reared its head this spring, and one has to be prepared for random strike zone relapses throughout the season, and maybe career. What’s important is that he finds ways to miss bats around those walks, because that’s the easiest and most sustainable way to mitigate potential damage of baserunners.
Cease might’ve walked seven batters and plunked two more over 17 innings, but he also struck out 22. Last year? 39 free bases against 44 strikeouts over 58 innings. This year’s earliest sample shows a much more favorable balance, and while it’s only spring training, throwing strikes and getting whiffs are always in style.
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The White Sox finished the spring 12-12 with a handful of ties. After the final game, the White Sox also finalized their 26-man roster for Opening Day. There are no real last-minute surprises, but there are a couple of players for whom it’s hard to imagine them getting much playing time.
On the pitching side, Ruiz was the only one who wasn’t a great bet to break camp on the roster. He didn’t really go out and win the job, but other candidates didn’t make themselves any more compelling. Moreover, Ruiz was the only one out of options, and he’ll likely only pitch in games that are out of hand in either direction, so there he is.
The bench is probably muddier than the White Sox would prefer thanks to the twin injuries of Eloy Jiménez and Adam Engel, which force Leury García to be more of a third/fourth outfielder than his true calling of a utile utility man.
That said, García’s the only backup middle infielder on the bench, so if he’s pressed into that duty, Hamilton is around to restore outfield order. If a corner infielder goes down, Lamb can take over, at least superficially. It’s hard to treat him as a “lefty bat” sight unseen when he’s hit righties worse than lefties over the last two years. Mercedes seems like he’s there mostly to give La Russa the flexibility to deploy Grandal and Collins.
Backup catcher looked to be the biggest uncertainty of any positional battle, so it’s novel to see the White Sox liking their options enough to carry two of them. Credit Collins for going out and winning the hell out of the job, and, like Cease, doing so in a way that makes it easier to believe in more than a spring mirage.
(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)
We’ve been talking about the top 3 of this Sox rotation all winter, we just didn’t know it would be Giolito, Cease, and Rodón…
If Cease and Rodon both have sliders that actually work the way they used to, this pitching staff is going to be so much fun to watch. Other than maybe Keuchel and Foster, there isn’t a single guy on the staff who doesn’t have amazing stuff. Sure, you never know if Jose Ruiz’s 99 mph fastball is going to end up anywhere near the strike zone, but it’s powerful and fun on his good days.
The pitching staff top-to-bottom looks to be the most complete group of any of the AL contenders, which is… not something I ever thought I’d say.
The usual caveats about health and reliever variance aside, this is a group where the biggest factor in overall performance is going to be how they are deployed. I guess it’s time for TLR to earn that paycheck.
I see the top 5 in AL Cy Young voting as Giolito, Lynn, Cease, Rodon, and Hendricks. Not sure of the order, though Giolito, Rodon, Cease, Hendricks, Lynn is a reasonable guess. I suppose Bummer or Heuer could crash the party, too.
Wow this is very disrespectful to the man who finished 5th in 2020 AL Cy Young Voting.
He’ll be good, but it will be hard for a team’s 5th starter to get much support in the voting.
Hendricks starts the year on the Cubs and winds up 5th in the AL? Must be a whale of a second half.
I hope Mercedes gets the DH at bats against lefties. For whatever not-really-justifiable reason, I really believe he’s going to be a productive major league hitter.
I would think that is the case. Unless something has changed with Collins, he wasn’t someone who should face lefties often. The article states Mercedes is mainly there because Collins and Grandal will both be in the lineup. But assuming Vaughn is in LF full time, at least to start the season, Mercedes should be getting some playing time. I suppose when Engel comes back, he could cover left and Vaughn DH against lefties if the Sox want to leave Eaton to his own devices in RF
Brian Goodwin didn’t make the Pirates opening day roster. He can play all 3 OF positions and hits both righties and lefties. 80th percentile sprint speed, hits the ball hard.
Based on ability and fit he’s a much better option than both Hamilton and Lamb.
I know Larussa made the decision on the final roster but Goodwin would be perfect.
The White Sox also drafted him in 2009, which is why I’ve long thought he’s destined to be on the roster at some point.
The Gio Gonzales homecoming special.
Sorta feels like Hamilton is just a placeholder for Engel, no?
I knew the position player roster would look thin without Eloy, but, wow, to officially see it now… fingers crossed
This is a Tony LaRussa team. I’m looking forward to something like this lineup from Charlotte in 2019.