White Sox signing Vince Velasquez, presumably to pitch

(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Minutes after the Minnesota Twins announced the acquisition of Sonny Gray from the Cincinnati Reds, the White Sox answered with a pitching depth acquisition of their own.

OK, that’s overselling it more than a little. Nevertheless, Robert Murray reported that the Sox agreed to a deal with Vince Velasquez.

The terms have yet to be disclosed, and they’ll say a lot about the kind of ambition the Sox have for Velasquez. Their position is enviable and ironic, in that their staff is so strong that it’s difficult to bolster. They’re short on candidates to take starts during the season, but the typical respectable back-end free agent sees no room in the Sox rotation, and the White Sox lack the kind of prospect capital to trade for a starter without worrying about letting a more pressing need go unaddressed.

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A pitcher like Velasquez occupies that awkward middle ground. He’s capable of making starts, but he’s struggled enough to where he can’t be choosy about any job that puts him on an MLB roster.

That’s not blurb-quote material, but there’s no inherent reason to be excited. Velasquez’s career hit a new low in 2021, and the highs have been hard to come by after a fine first full season. In 2016, Velasquez posted a 4.12 ERA with 152 strikeouts over 131 innings, but he’s never been able to take the next step.

Part of it’s a dodgy injury record: Tommy John surgery to start his career, followed by an assortment of strains, a comebacker off his arm, a blood clot and a blister. The bigger issue is the lack of a reliable secondary pitch to take some of the load off his fastball.

Velasquez has had a very good fastball — so much so that he made 127 starts over seven seasons despite the lack a plus breaking ball or changeup — but it’s yielded severely diminishing returns over the last two years. He gave up 23 homers over 94⅓ innings in 2021. That was enough for the Phillies to finally cut bait in September, and the Padres saw nothing to like in four September emergency starts.

It’s possible that Velasquez has been his biggest enemy. While Velasquez was in between teams that month, FanGraphs’ Devan Fink wondered what a pitcher like Velasquez is to do in an era where even guys with good fastballs are throwing them less than ever. Velasquez has felt pressure to find another way to get bad swings, both in words and in pitch selection …

… but Fink says that if blasting fastballs is his only way back to adequacy, the White Sox might have a role model on the staff.

If Velasquez were to become a carbon copy of Lance Lynn and throw nothing but fastballs, it might not end up making him too predictable; there’s an argument to be made that it could make him better.

Indeed, when using Statcast’s similarity tool, Lynn is one of the five most similar pitchers to Velasquez in terms of velocity and movement. The former throws a fastball more than 90% of the time, offering hitters a four-seamer, sinker, and cutter; the latter only has a four-seamer and a sinker, and he’s reduced his usage of the sinker over the last two seasons. But while there’s not much to be gleaned from a sample smaller than 100 pitches, that sinker has graded out well in terms of run value in each of the last two years and seemingly has at least some seam-shifted wake that could aid in its effectiveness if thrown more often.

Or maybe that’s overthinking it, and instead Velasquez is merely the most interesting of a flawed batch of pitchers who wouldn’t hesitate to agree to the White Sox’s terms. We can project where he might fit in, but we’re probably better off waiting for the White Sox to tell us.

In the meantime, it’s a good opportunity to remember that insane 15-inning White Sox-Phillies game in 2019, in which Velasquez had to play left field and pulled off one of the damndest performances I’ve ever seen.

He’s not just starting pitching depth, but he might be a defensive replacement for Eloy Jiménez should Adam Engel be unavailable. Rick Hahn likes him some utility, after all.

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md03

Pretty underwhelming start to what was supposed to be a wild hot stove. Hope they actually pick up some pieces that get them closer to the WS that Hahn was talking about the other day. Three players on the wrong side of 30 don’t move the needle but at least we have some bodies I guess.

WHITESOX_RIGHT_SOX

Great article, Jim. I hadn’t seen that footage of VV. Wow, that’s a defensive upgrade in left for sure. First it was a first baseman showing you up, now a pitcher. Look out Eloy, you’re on the hot seat 😂😳. May want to spend a bit more time on that defensive tool, bud.

Augusto Barojas

Have the Sox been connected to ANYBODY that fans would actually want to see them sign, or trade for? I mean seriously. None of their biggest weakness have been addressed, at all.

TylerDurden

Doesn’t seem like it. Disappointed for sure. But let’s see what happens, hopefully Kimbrel is traded soon

Foulkelore

I feel their needs are: RF, 2B, SP, and backup catcher (I’m ok with some combo of Sheets/Vaughn/Burger covering DH at bats). However, I think THEY are done with 2B and are just going to go with some mix of Garcia, Harrison, and Romy, with Yolbert/Jose Rodriguez as stretch possibilities later. Velasquez helps the SP depth, and with health, they don’t really NEED a SP, and anything interesting there would have to be a trade at this point anyway. Backup catcher is cheap/easy to acquire, so I’m not worried about acquiring one, although I am worried about if they feel it is a need, which is a separate matter.

That leaves the gaping, ever-present, hole in RF. I can and will not talk myself out of that. There are various options still available that should fit under the CBT threshold (can also argue they should be willing to go above that), even after the recent signings. I will be content if they just add someone like Conforto/Suzuki/Schwarber/Castellanos.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are going hard for Freeman. The White Sox are lucky to have fans like me who are content with the bare minimum that we talk ourselves into.

TylerDurden

So they sign this nothingness to help SP get thru April due to short spring training…they will not be stretched out. Wonderful talent we are adding.

Really wanted Bassitt or even Grey. Hopefully they still add #3 SP for playoffs. They’re done at 2B, and going with cheap internal at RF/DH. Just when I was getting excited

Trooper Galactus

If you’d told me that the White Sox CBT payroll was gonna be over $200 million at this point I’d have been ecstatic. If you’d told me HOW they got to that point I’d be confused. Hahn has added about $45 million to the payroll and it’s amounted to either incremental improvements or just bringing back incumbents. It’s astonishing to me that despite the spending being there they really haven’t added a premier name to the roster and right field is still a massive question mark.

dwjm3

I agree with your larger point but where is your payroll figure coming from? I got us at 173

Trooper Galactus

CBT payroll is not the same as actual payroll because it is based off of the AAV over the life of a contract. That said, I think their actual payroll is somewhere around $190m after adding Harrison, Kelly, and Velasquez.

jhomeslice

You are right, what they’ve done is astonishing. It’s about quality, not quantity. I’d take one really cool signing like Schwarber over the 4-some of Garcia, Harrison, Kelly, Kimbrel for 34M. Schwarber would help close the gap between the Sox and Astros by partially solving their weakness vs RHP. None of those other 4 helps in that way, at all. And there would still be money left over after Schwarber to at least sign Garcia.

Trooper Galactus

Hahn’s offseason consists of two three-year deals (one of which brought back their incumbent utility player) worth a combined $40 million, a two-year deal, and a two one-year deals (one of which has an option/buyout). If this continues, then it just means Jerry’s obsession with avoiding any long-term deals remains and, hence, top free agents should not be expected.

Root Cause

Are we becoming the SAK (Swiss Army Knife) club.

PauliePaulie

After years of blame thrown at Kenny and Jerry, Rick’s got his full rebuild and near $190mil payroll.
It’s all on him now.

jhomeslice

Hahn does not have the choice to take on any long term deals to actually get good players. The total contract dollars they alloted this winter to 4 players, including a ridiculous waste of 16M for Kimbrel, is 53M. It’s not Hahn’s fault they they can’t get any above average position players if he can only give 1 or 2 year deals.

PauliePaulie

Doesn’t the Grandal deal make this a false premise?
Or Anderson, Moncada, Abreu, Lynn, Hendricks, Jimenez, Robert, Bummer, Leury, Graveman and Keuchel?
They are currently spending $190mil.
I think it’s time to stop giving Hahn a free pass. (If things go poorly)

shaggy65

Coop’ll fix ’em?