Starting pitching remains White Sox’s biggest AL Central advantage, at least on paper

It won’t affect any real games for a few more months, but the combination of good news for the Twins and bad news for the White Sox over the last week shifted the order of the AL Central’s projectable talent on hand.

With Carlos Correa returning to Minnesota after failed physicals with the Giants and Mets, and with Liam Hendriks out indefinitely as he deals with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, FanGraphs’ depth chart calculator now has the White Sox running third in the division.

Here’s how they stack up now, with the leaders in bold.

TeamC1B2B3BSSLFCFRFDHSPRPBatPitWAR
CLE3.32.74.25.33.73.43.02.92.310.04.330.814.345.2
MIN3.32.93.43.45.31.74.12.31.89.94.228.114.142.2
CHW3.62.51.92.93.32.94.02.22.711.03.726.014.740.8

The Guardians are sitting pretty, which makes sense since they won the division by 11 games with baseball’s youngest roster. There’s upside even in their lesser projections, as Josh Bell gives them a higher floor at first base/DH, and the starting pitcher sum includes a weirdly bearish number for Cal Quantrill (1.9). They have sophomore slumps to ward off in the outfield corners, but George Valera could be waiting in the wings if Steven Kwan or Oscar Gonzalez slips.

The White Sox and Twins approach their numbers from the other direction. Even the rosier numbers can’t really be celebrated, for we’ve seen too much.

The Sox’s lead in DH production is a slightly Pyrrhic victory, because it’s a product of Eloy Jiménez falling out of the outfield mix. At least it has the makings of a legit outcome, whereas the catcher projection hinges on Yasmani Grandal hitting .225/.346/.391, which everybody would take. Andrew Benintendi’s impact in left field is the only one that feels understated, because Guaranteed Rate Field should boost him to some degree with no changes necessary. Everybody else has to (re-)establish their talent or their durability to truly conquer the doubters.

The Twins aren’t much better, although Correa’s return might’ve saved their winter. Christian Vázquez shores up the catcher position well enough to keep pace with their rivals, but the only other addition of note is Joey Gallo, and he does nothing for their outfield corners in this exercise.

Starting pitching has been a sore spot for a couple years, and while there are functioning starters in Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober, they haven’t been able to acquire or develop pitchers who can work six innings or longer. Minnesota starters threw the second-fewest innings in the American League with 782.2.

It’s weird to see their rotation WAR total within reach of the others knowing these issues, but they get a boost from their extra starters. They’re projected to receive 1.2 WAR from their sixth starters and beyond, compared to 0.9 for the Guardians, and 0. 6 for the Sox. Limit the discussion to the Opening Day rotation, and the White Sox’s edge becomes clearer:

  • White Sox: 10.5
  • Guardians: 9.2
  • Twins: 8.8

You can’t entirely discount the value of marginally better depth, but the advantage only plays up in small doses. If Josh Winder, Simeon Woods Richardson and colleagues only have to pick up one rotation spot, then Rocco Baldelli can keep swapping out candidates until he finds one that sticks. If they’re needed to cover dozens of starts because they haven’t been able to keep starters healthy for 120 innings, then that pool of reserves only adds to the mediocrity.

Joe Sheehan covered the Twins in his most recent newsletter, and he sees the same problem.

The Twins’ problem is baseball’s problem. Their projected 2023 rotation made 85 starts and threw 438 innings last year. Look around the league and you find that most teams are building rotations out of pitchers who have never met the volume standards it takes to pitch in a five-man rotation, or even a five-day rotation. Again, I say, 132-game seasons and/or seven-inning games. 

Until then, the Twins will hope that all these guys stay reasonably healthy and for some surprises behind them. They tried going outside the organization on the cheap last year and got, in Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer, 54 starts and just 242 2/3 innings, with a 4.59 FIP. The Twins went 20-34 in the games the two started. They’ve eschewed free agency this time around, which will leave them leaning on Simeon Woods-Richardson, Josh Winder, and maybe fading prospect Jordan Balazovic. Chris Paddack could return from Tommy John surgery later in the year. If it goes sideways for the Twins, it will probably be because the rotation blows up.

This presents a major opportunity for the White Sox to distinguish themselves from at least one rival. The advantage Rick Hahn tried to create with excessive bullpen spending didn’t materialize even before Hendriks shared his awful news. The advantage the White Sox hold in Cy Young-finishing starters remains, but they’ll actually have to look the part. That picture doesn’t require Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito to regain All-Star form, but their presences have to be detectable. If they’re again absent or negligible, then that puts way too much stress on Dylan Cease improving upon last season, or Michael Kopech and Mike Clevinger being able to throw 150 innings themselves.

If that feels especially fragile, that’s because it is, at least in a world where Jiménez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada haven’t shown an ability to take the field at the same time, especially at full capacity. There’s upside to be found if you’re generous in spirit, but only one team earned the benefit of that doubt last year, and that explains the gap between first and second/third.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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joewho112

Today is the deadline for submitting arbitration numbers. Do the Sox have any open arb cases or did everyone settle/get cut?

Right Size Wrong Shape

They have a number of pitchers with cases still open, I believe.

joewho112

Per MLB Trade Rumors, they also have agreements with Kopech ($2M) and Cease ($5.7M) but not Giolito and Lopez

joewho112

And now Giolito for $10M

theSKOT

James Fegan says everyone will avoid arbitration.

Alfornia Jones

Only 50 pitchers in all of MLB logged more than 160 IP in 2022, obviously none by the Twins. The Sox had 3, and I think 4 in 2021. This number equates to less than 2 work horses per staff. While it is very damning that the Twins FO isn’t spending their money primarily on SP, I think the larger issue for them is how poor they are in developing pitchers who can even throw 3 or less quality innings. Eliminating the shift will probably magnify this based on their pitch to contact mentality.

Tampa Bay is a good model for getting polished arms to the MLB roster who can deliver quality innings for any variation less than 5 innings, and they are brilliant at managing that over the 162 game aggregate. It might not play well in the postseason, but it sure helps them get there.

I think this is what will keep the Sox competitive after Gio and Lynn are gone after this year. They don’t have two guys to replace them inning for inning, but they have 3-4 guys who should be able to piece it together. The Sox are historically good at developing guys like Lambert/Martin types who can fill in 3-5 innings, and there are more behind them. They need to spend more on the FA market for offense though.

bobsquad

We’ll have to wait and see how hard Grifol leans into convention when deploying his pitching staff. The past few managers have not been very creative with pitchers (save for strokes of true inventiveness like the IBB on a 1-2 count) and quite predictable with the sequencing.

Grifol did mention a commitment to transparency in regard to rest when he was hired. That could mean he’ll go to guys for more pitches depending on whose day it is to reduce back-to-backs, but it could just mean he’ll let the workhorses know they’re going to be workhorses.

GrinnellSteve

One possible silver lining in Liam’s terrible diagnosis is that it might prompt Grifol and Katz to get creative in deploying the pen. Everyone assumes Graveman will slot into the closer’s role, but what if they decide to use relievers based on the situation, saves be damned?

Bullpen usage is long overdue for a correction. Perhaps this will spur it for the Sox. Perhaps not.

As Cirensica

The Mariners kinda did that last year. It worked well for them. I would pencil Rey Lopez as a closer in place of Graveman.

GrinnellSteve

I would put Lopez first, too. I hope they toss the concept of a closer. If the big outs are in the 7th inning, put in the pitcher who is best able to get those outs.

Augusto Barojas

Who exactly will replace Gio and Lynn. Martin and Lambert? Um, I don’t think so. Let’s not forget that if Clevinger is any good at all he will opt out as well. So they are set to lose 3/5 of their rotation, with no top 100 prospects in the minors to replace any of them.

I’m sure their answer will be to bargain hunt in the free agent market, and they will get guys like Odorizzi, because hey – he was pretty good like 4 years ago.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Stay positive. If Gio stinks again this year I’m sure they can afford to bring him back.

bobsquad

Nah, assuming he stays healthy, he could have a 5 ERA and still get something like $60MM/3. He’s young, been pretty durable, and will continue to punch out batters at a high clip, so I could see him being the “prize” of whoever loses out at the top of the pitching market (a la Dallas Keuchel in 2020).

Foulkelore

The Sox own a club option for $18 million on Lynn for 2024. So, if he’s worth it, they could exercise the option and stagger having to replace both Gio and Lynn (if they don’t resign Gio).

Augusto Barojas

I can’t picture the Sox exercising an 18M option on Lynn. If he’s good, there’s a pretty decent chance he could get dealt in July. If he’s even healthy. He threw 200+ for Texas in 2019 and led the league in innings in 2020, then has thrown an average of 140 in two seasons with the Sox. Their luck is amazing. Lynn will be 36 this year so very unlikely he will be a workhorse again.

As Cirensica

My expectations for the Central

I expect the Twins to be more competitive, but that pitching staff is just….yikes. They can implode quickly if key players (Buxton / Correa) miss time. If Buxton stays healthy the whole season, the Twins will be very dangerous.

The Guardians look formidable and young. They have one of the best managers in baseball, and an enviable farm system. However, last year they needed several things to go right, and several things went right. I do not expect that to happen again.

The Guardians were incredibly healthy. They got surprising production from Andres Gimenez (6.1 fWAR, and Kwan 4.4 fWAR). Gimenez seems legit, but a 6 WAR player? I am not sure. He wasn’t projected to be better than Lindor (the player he was traded for). And Kwan? Let me remind you that Kwan is the Nick Madrigal of the outfield. He is 5’9” with zero power. He mostly slaps hits here and there, and runs very well (he had 7 triples last year). He is pesky, but hardly a threat.

And there is Jose Ramirez, who is quietly building a Hall of Fame career. I don’t know how he does it, but he keeps producing 6 WAR seasons with a curiously low BABIP. He is one of the best baseball runners out there. He will be 30 next year, but age hasn’t slowed him down one bit. Everybody else, except maybe Josh Bell, has pedestrian production. The Guardians will win less games this year.

The opposite side of the Guardians are the White Sox. Many things needed to go wrong for them to not make it to the post season, and many things (and then some) went wrong. I believe they are bound to have normal luck, which will be a big change even despite of Hendrik’s health problem. Unlike the Guardians, the White Sox were incredibly unhealthy, and unlike the Guardians, the White Sox were mismanaged by a couching staff that left a lot to be desired (I’m being generous). I expect all of that will change. We still have the same problems in RF and 2B, but the difference this time is that we don’t know how Colas and Sosa will pan out.

In summary, I expect a three headed monster in the ALC until August, then the Twins lack of pitching quality will start getting noticeable and they will fade away. The White Sox and the Guardians will fight until the last day.

roke1960

Very good summary. The key to the Twins is Buxton. They are just a different team when he is healthy. If he misses his usual 50+ games, they have no real chance unless the pitching magically improves. And the key for the Sox is keeping the 4 key guys (Moncada, TA, Eloy, Robert) healthy and productive. Those 4 plus Vaughn and Benintendi make for an above average top 6 in the order. Get even close to league average production from the catchers, and hope one of Colas or Sosa has a good rookie year. They still need to find a right handed hitting outfielder (who can also play center) to platoon with Colas. The pitching should be decent, though the big unknown is Liam. Him not being available changes things until Crochet can come back.

I expect a 2-team race between the Sox and Cleveland, unless Buxton plays 120+ games, then it could be a 3-team race.

ChiTownMax25

The White Sox were unhealthy on the position player front, but were actually fairly lucky on the pitching front, which is why the lack of depth is so concerning.

From the White Sox presumed starting 5, they missed about 11 starts from Lynn, 7 starts from Kopech (who they didn’t miss too much because he had a 4.50 FIP), and 2 starts from Giolito, and then basically subbed out Keuchel for Cueto. So they had about 20 starts from their presumed starting 5 missed due to injury.

Take a team like the Dodgers. Walker Buhler, their ace-equivalent of Cease, missed 20 starts, Kershaw missed 10 starts, and Heaney missed 17 starts. Plus Gonsolin, who began the year as their 6th SP, missed time due to injury. But not even counting him, the Dodgers missed about 47 starts from their presumed starting 5 due to injury. And the team won 111 games.

What do you think this staff would look like if they missed 40 starts (which is below the 2022 Dodgers level) due to injury?

Trooper Galactus

Kopech shouldn’t have started all the games he did. The organizational malpractice it took to fling him out there in the condition he was in was unbelievable.

OldMMJ87

So here is a dumb question: Only 43 pitchers made at least 30 starts last year. Why is that? Is it because everyone is throwing harder now and they need more rest? A better understanding of injuries? More COVID-related IL stints? I get the days of starting pitchers throwing 180+ innings are likely over for a variety of reasons, but I was surprised by the drop in the number of starting pitchers starting around 30 games. Maybe I’m just reading the information wrong too, that’s a distinct possibility.

As Cirensica

Pitchers are throwing harder than ever so they need more rest. I think that’s the main reason. Teams are leveraging more the “unofficial” 6 men rotation, and the use of openers.

GrinnellSteve

Time to start teaching the knuckleball to every failing starter. What an advantage it would be to have a guy making 49 starts like Wilbur Wood did.

Last edited 2 months ago by GrinnellSteve
ForsterFTOG

I wonder what a pitcher who posted almost 40 bWAR over a 5 year span would be worth today?

Foulkelore

I’m going to find it interesting to see how the upcoming pitch clock impacts everything. Some of these pitchers have never had to work as quickly as they are about to be made to do. Long-term, that should make pitchers ease up on the full effort throwing, and maybe have a net positive on injuries and usage, but I’m really curious to see what it does short-term. I could see it increasing injuries as pitchers either 1.) Rush through their mechanics they’ve always known, or 2.) Still try to throw as hard as they always have with less time between pitches.

Alfornia Jones

The analytics revolution is driving this. 6-7 innings means the starter needs go through the lineup three times, and there are probably only 10 pitchers in MLB that have the capability of doing this on a consistent basis. Most of the old school managers that forced their starters to go 6-7 innings regardless of the hard contact/beating are moving on. Even Dusty listens to the analytics now. The top ten pitchers in the league averaged 6 innings or a little over, so no one is letting their 4-5 starter get through the order more than 2 times.

The good organizations are trying to collect/develop enough pitchers who have the arsenal to get through the lineup at least once. You need two plus/decent pitches and a show-me pitch to keep a whole lineup guessing, and I think the Sox do a great job of having a least one of these guys emerge every year in AAA/AA that they can use in a pinch. They might not last long term, but they help you get through 162. This is where I think the Twins really fall down because they have no arms to back-up the shitty arms they started with. The fire ballers will always get to the bigs pretty quick, but developing lesser arms to eat innings is what gets you through a season. Sometimes those guys even turn into Buerhrle.

bobsquad

You need two plus/decent pitches and a show-me pitch to keep a whole lineup guessing, and I think the Sox do a great job of having a least one of these guys emerge every year in AAA/AA that they can use in a pinch.

From Sean Burke’s scouting reports, he is my pick to click as this guy this year.

peanutsNcrackerjack

Sadly, the closer and lynchpin in the bullpen will likely be out for the entire season, yet besides “next man up” strategy there has been no discussion of replacing that roster spot. The front office continues to show evidence that they have quit on this rebuild/contention plan. Middle of the pack is now sufficient.

a-t

This is silly. The guy announced his diagnosis all of three days ago, and it’s the middle of January.

vanillablue

typical treatment for non-hodgkin’s lymphoma involves 4-6 months of chemotherapy (6-8 cycles spaced 3 weeks apart) that may need to be followed by radiation. factor in time for reassessments, rehab etc and it’s more likely than not that Hendriks will miss the whole season. it could be shorter if the disease was caught at a very early stage but that’s not common. other players (Lester, Galarraga) who had NHL missed essentially a full season.

bobsquad

Even without Hendriks ZiPS projects the bullpen for 5.1 WAR, which still would have been a top 10 unit in 2022. Not concerned. Like backup 1B/DH, this is an area where this team CAN rely on “next man up”.

Augusto Barojas

The Sox bullpen ranked 12th in the AL in both ERA and WHIP last year. Graveman is solid but gives up a fair number of walks/baserunners. His WHIP 1.4 compared to Liam about 1. Maybe he can handle the closer role but he isn’t Liam. It is far from a given that he will do all that well in that role.

To whatever degree the Sox bullpen was a strength, I have my doubts that it is going to be much of one this year. I think more likely to be a problem than a strength. Liam was their best reliever, by far. I wasn’t all that impressed last year other than Liam, really.

Last edited 2 months ago by Augusto Barojas
a-t

They’re also getting Crochet back. Both Bummer and Kelly were snakebit by health and BABIP, so I think they’ll rebound. There’s also the two Katz Likes These Dudes lottery tickets Santos and Avila. Obviously they’re much weaker for losing their best RP, and there’s definitely a closer question now, but I’m not really that concerned about it. This is a pretty deep group of relievers who project as above-average to pretty good.

Augusto Barojas

That sounds good. Yet at the end of each year, somehow the rosy projections for this team and its “strengths” just never seem to come to pass. Compared to 2b and positional depth, injuries, and hitting vs RHP, their bullpen should prove to be the least of their problems, I’ll give you that.

Bonus Baby

I’m way more confident in the bullpen than 2B and 4th OF — and I’m still convinced that substantial improvements in those 2 spots are really a must for the team before the season starts. The bullpen should be fine, and might be even better than anticipated if one or more of them seems to step up into the closer role, which I would not be surprised by at all. And even if they need more RP at the trade deadline, they can get them then. 2B and 4th OF don’t feel like that at all to me. They really need to get those done pre-season to have the kind of depth and flexibility that I’m sure they’ll need through the first 4 months of the season.

chipporter

I was impressed by ReyLo. I think he took great strides towards working under pressure..and did so while working for an ass.

I don’t have the faith in Bummer that a-t has, he looks cooked and it’s not that often a BP arm that’s lost his ability to locate, finds it again.

Crochet is going to be interesting. When they dialed him back it really left me wondering if there were warning signs of problems, or was his fb just too flat at the higher velo’s? I’m excited to see how both ReyLo and Crochet do this year. I think they have the highest ceiling of anyone currently pitching in our pen.

Joliet Orange Sox

In 2022, Bummer had a BB% of 8.6%. MLB average is 8.5%.

In 2022, opponents had a 0.384 BAbip. MLB average is 0.295.

I don’t think he’s lost the ability to locate. I think he had some bad luck.

I agree that Bummer’s ceiling is solid lefty set-up man but that’s a very useful thing for a team to have.

SupportSoxFamily

How bad can a Division be if the Sox are top rated at the catcher position? If only the Sox signed another veteran starter as I believe, because of inning limits on his arm and his stuff, Kopech would be the ideal closer.