Unfortunately, the White Sox failed to sign Zack Wheeler even though they offered the most money. There are still good free agent starting pitchers on the market in Bumgarner, Keuchel, and Ryu, who would all be great mentors for the young Sox pitchers. Currently no reports connect the White Sox with the best available option in Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg came off the market this afternoon. With no additions to the pitching staff thus far this offseason, should we really be concerned about the White Sox arms?
Right now the White Sox starting pitching rotation looks like this:
There will be a lot of nail-biting by the White Sox coaching staff with this current rotation. Dylan Covey has pitched to a 6.54 ERA over 45 starts in 3 seasons with the White Sox after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Enough said.
Michael Kopech is coming back fully healthy from Tommy John surgery, which he had in September of 2018. Kopech is entering his age 24 season and is currently ranked by MLB Pipeline as the #17 overall prospect (#4 right-handed pitcher). We can’t make much of an assessment on his 4 big league starts (14.1 Innings). However, his spin rate was in the 98th percentile. Simply put, Kopech’s fastball stays up in the zone longer than a fastball with less spin. Consequently, it has a rising effect to the hitter which is very effective, especially with the launch angle revolution. His velocity averaged 95.4 mph, which was in the 85th percentile, although he took some velocity off his pitches to throw more strikes (2 BB in 4 big league starts, 4 BB in final 7 AAA starts). He can touch triple digits when he wants to, but taking a little off to throw it where he wants is more important. His fastball grades as an 80/80, which is 1 of only 2 80 grade fastballs – Hunter Greene has the other. The White Sox will limit his innings and starts probably to 150 innings and 25 starts. If his stuff looks like it did before the surgery, the only things stopping his ability to become a front-line starter are his control and command.
Dylan Cease rivaled the hype that Kopech had when he was called up to the majors in early July. Sadly, Cease did not have a good rookie showing in the bigs. He had a 5.79 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and allowed a home run in each of his first 11 starts. Scouts believe his stuff is comparable to Kopech’s. Cease threw his fastball at 96.5 mph (93rd percentile) and had a high spin rate (87th percentile). His curveball, which is a hammer curve because it has great depth and power, had good spin as well (68th percentile). So what is the problem with Cease? Well, he did fail to limit hard contact with 15 HRs and a below average hard hit rate. Just like most young flame throwing hurlers, he has struggled with throwing strikes. Cease walked 35 in 73 innings in the majors and walked 167 in 354.1 innings in the minors. Not surprising, Cease threw his pitches in the strike zone 45.7% of the time, where league average is 49.9%. Now this is where it gets interesting, Cease threw 41.6% of his pitches on the edge of the zone which is 2.6% above average. Cease should be helped more by throwing the ball on the corners with elite pitch framer Yasmani Grandal behind the plate buying him more strikes. Based on the quality of contact Cease allowed in 2019, he was most comparable to Cole Hamels and Aaron Nola. If Cease pitches like either of them, I think the White Sox have a solid pitcher on their hands.
Reynaldo Lopez had a very nice 2018 season. He made 32 starts and had a 3.91 ERA. The White Sox were looking for him to take the next step in 2019, but he fell off big time. He was the second worst qualified starting pitcher in ERA. He gave up the most runs and allowed 35 home runs. Not a good season to say the least. He is no Baseball Savant darling either. His spin rate on both the fastball and curveball are poor. His expected statistics and quality of contact numbers were not great either. Surprisingly, the metrics said about the exact same thing in ’18 as they did in ’19. Something Lopez should consider is scratching the curveball from his arsenal. While it was more effective in ’19 than ’18, there are plenty of factors that don’t make this a great pitch for Lopez. It drops 5 inches less vertically than the average curveball and 6 inches less away from a right handed batter to go along with a spin rate in the 7th percentile. While his slider’s expected stats were slightly worse than the curveball, it was whiffed at 7% more and has a better spin. His other pitch – a changeup – did have a good whiff percentage (33.5%) but when it was hit, got hit hard (.652 SLG). Lopez has a lot of work to do with his secondary offerings, and if he can’t figure it out is destined for the bullpen.
The same feeling people have with Reynaldo Lopez right now is the same feeling they had about Lucas Giolito entering 2019. Giolito went from the worst starter in 2018 to finishing 6th in the AL Cy Young award. He shortened up his arm angle which allowed him to throw the ball harder with more spin. His Statcast numbers in 2018 were not the makings of a top of the rotation starter. However, in 2019, he put himself toward the top of the big leagues.
One thing that all of the White Sox prospects will need to develop through time, like Giolito did in 2019, is confidence. That comes with experience and trusting your stuff. This has a lot to do with Jame McCann. McCann was the worst catcher in framing last year but is one of the best game callers in the majors due to his relentless preparation. With McCann’s help, Giolito has cemented himself as the current ace of the staff.
The bullpen has some interesting names throughout. Here is the projected White Sox bullpen for Opening Day 2020:
CL Alex Colome: 2.80 ERA, 61.0 IP
SU Aaron Bummer: 2.13 ERA, 67.2 IP
SU Evan Marshall: 2.49 ERA, 50.2 IP
MR Kelvin Herrera: 6.14 ERA, 51.1 IP
MR Jace Fry: 4.75 ERA, 55.0 IP
MR Jimmy Cordero: 2.75 ERA, 36.0 IP
MR Jose Ruiz: 5.63 ERA, 40.0 IP
LR Carson Fulmer: 6.26 ERA, 27.1 IP
The closer, Alex Colome, looking at simply his statistics, had a good first year on the south side. However, don’t be fooled. Colome got hit extremely hard, allowing an average exit velocity of 90.7 mph which was the 2nd percentile! His fastball spin rate and velocity are below average. He isn’t a lights out closer, as he struck out just 55 in 61 innings of work. The White Sox could benefit by trading him but right now he is clearly Rick Renteria’s 9th inning guy.
One of the biggest surprises from the 2019 season was Aaron Bummer. He started the year in Charlotte, got called up in late April, and the rest was history. He dominated and was one of the top relievers in all of baseball. Many believe that he is the future closer of the team – even though he should already be. He draws many comparison to Yankee reliever Zack Britton. Bummer throws the sinker two-thirds of the time. His sinker moves twice as much horizontally than an average sinker! His groundball percentage is 71.4% and allowed barrels in just 2.3% of at-bats (Top 1%). Simply, Bummer is no bum on the mound.
Marshall was called up three days after Bummer and experienced similar success. He will continue to set-up closer Alex Colome in 2020. He was able to limit hard contact by keeping the ball on the edge of the strike-zone (47.8%). He relied mostly on his changeup, which was very effective with a .254 xwOBA, .296 xSLG, and 31.0% whiff rate. There is nothing that suggests Marshall shouldn’t have the same success in 2020 that he had in 2019.
The next two guys – Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry – had strong 2018 seasons but couldn’t repeat their success in 2019. Herrera’s injury derailed what started out as an effective season for him, and I believe he will turn it around in 2020. He sports a good 5 pitch mix and stays around the strike-zone. Similarly, Jace Fry experienced a bumpy ride in 2019. The southpaw is able to make up the lack of velocity with excellent spin rate. What killed Fry all year was all the free passes. He had the highest walk percentage among pitchers with at least 50 innings. This leads me to believe the hard hit rate he gave up is correlated to the lack of strikes. If Fry cuts his walk rate back down to 9.3%, like it was in 2018, he should be a more valuable asset in the bullpen.
Jimmy Cordero was a great mid-season addition to the team last year. Jimmy kept the ball over the plate and was able to blow his fastball by hitters. He is old for only having two years of big league experience at 28. At the very least he provides good depth for the White Sox bullpen.
Jose Ruiz finally pitched significant time in the big leagues in 2019. The former catcher has a fastball-slider combination that is a work in progress. He struggled with walks and gave up a lot of hits. He isn’t a finished product yet but could turn into a decent middle-reliever for the Sox in a few years.
Finally, Carson Fulmer fits in as the long-relief option for the White Sox, as he has failed to impress at the big league level again. Filthy Fulmer didn’t get his nickname for nothing, as his spin rate on both his curveball and fastball are elite. With Fulmer the problem has been throwing the ball over the plate. He has walked 64 in 94.2 major league innings. He does not look confident on the mound at all but has the stuff to become a dominant pitcher in the big leagues. The White Sox should give him one more shot, because if he figures it out he can live up to hype of being a 1st round pick.
So should we be concerned about the White Sox pitching staff? Yes we should. The only for sure pitchers the White Sox have are Bummer, Giolito, and Marshall. Cease is going into his first full season, Kopech is coming back from Tommy John, and Lopez looks like he will move to the bullpen. Furthermore, the White Sox have three more guys on their 40-man roster that have undergone Tommy John surgery in Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert, and Carlos Rodon. Rodon will likely be ready by the dog days of summer. Colome leading the way in the bullpen is not what a postseason contender should want. The White Sox need to explore the free agent market or even the trade block for some reliable guys. They definitely need an experienced veteran starting pitcher like Bumgarner or Keuchel to give them quality innings. In addition, they should add a lower end starting pitcher, such as Ivan Nova or Tanner Roark. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of upside in the starting rotation, but there is too many injuries and not enough big league experience to help push the White Sox into October.
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