Mid-Season White Sox Grades - Starting Pitching

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Just like a 'social' drinker, the White Sox rotation has gotten into the groove as proceedings have worn on.

The White Sox are 49-38, are in 1st place in the AL Central, and are at such a location almost unquestionably due to the strength of their starting pitching.

Which probably makes it somewhat curious that their rotation is 16th in all of baseball with a 4.19 ERA.  That's a few spots below the 39-50 Cubs, and waaaaay behind the 35-53 Seattle Mariners.  Unless the AL Central is the worst pitching division in the league (the Twins are 22nd, the Indians are 24th, the Tigers are 27th, and the Royals are 28th, so yeah...it kinda is), then this doesn't really make any sense.

Of course, anyone who spends their time sneaking away to read White Sox blogs off sites owned by the company that has spent decades shoving the Chicago Cubs down everyone's throat, probably has followed the team closely enough to know the story.  The starters were terrible in April (5.22 ERA, 27th in MLB), still, really, quite bad in May (4.89 ERA, 27th in MLB), and didn't get off to a rollicking start in June.  Then on June 8th, the Chicago White Sox starting rotation decided to change everything it had been doing all season, and it started with Gavin Floyd, the worst pitcher on the staff up until that point.  The staff compiled a 3.39 ERA for June (3rd in MLB), and currently have a 2.20 for July (3rd).

It seems almost unfair to grade the starting staff for the half-season, seeing as only John Danks and Freddy Garcia have had a measure of consistency, but hell, let's do it anyway.

 

Gavin Floyd, 5-7, 111.1 IP, 4.20 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 111 H, 33 BB, 90 K, 7 HR, .258 BAA, 1 CG

If I have a regret about the mid-season evaluations beyond them being way too long and taking super-duper long to write, it's that I didn't start putting Wins Over Replacement in the stat heading to start, and then felt a need to stick to my template.  Gavin's WAR is super-high, a 2.9 through 18 starts, which is best on the staff and 7th in the AL.

Uh....what?  Didn't this guy have an ERA of 6.64 before his run of 7 straight-quality starts?  I understand that he's essentially been the best pitcher in baseball since then, but he also gave up 7 runs in an inning to the Cleveland Indians?  Or as I like to call them, 'Shin-Soo Choo and His Incompetent Wait Staff'...Sabermetrics can be counter-intuitive sometimes.  Well, as memorable as Gavin's disasters versus Cleveland and Texas were, they were also the only times he hasn't gone at least 6 innings this season.  Eating innings goes a long a way to helping your team win games; even if they're not the games you're playing in.

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5-7, 1.29 WHIP, 4.20 ERA, 2.9 WAR....congratulations Gavin, your stats officially make no sense.

Since June 8th, there's been no question; Gavin has been the ace of the staff.  He's gone 3-1 in 7 starts (all of them quality) with an ERA of 1.25 and a WHIP of 0.85.  If the White Sox are going to survive the loss of Jake Peavy, it's going to be because Gavin has assumed the role of the big, overpowering right-hander at the top of the rotation.  If the White Sox make the playoffs, he's probably the game 1 starter....and we need him to be.

Grade B+ (He really looked more hopeless than the stats indicate he was in April and May)

Daniel Hudson, 0-0, 4 IP, 11.25 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 6 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, .400 BAA

I've been arranging most of the grades in ascending numerical order, so that's why Hudson is oddly juxtaposed in here.  There's no proper way to analyze him; he was chucked into the fairly impossible situation of having to replace the most highly-touted pitcher on the staff for his first start of the season, with the opportunity of earning himself a permanent place on the roster for the rest of the year.

So yeah, he seemed a little nervous, didn't have any control (very atypical for him), and even admitted post-game that he couldn't seem to throw a breaking ball at all.  Hudson seems perceptive enough to know what was at stake, and while his butterflies probably blew any chance of him being labeled a phenom, he didn't eliminate the possibility that he could contribute this season in some capacity.

Grade: Extremely Incomplete 

Freddy Garcia, 9-3, 97 IP, 4.36 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 100 H, 29 BB, 60 K, 13 HR, .270 BAA

From an 'exceeding expectations' standpoint, Freddy unquestionably gets an A.  It's hard to look much more washed up than Freddy did for the past few seasons.  After a disastrous and injury-filled 2007 (a bad year for seemingly everyone who was on the 2005 White Sox roster), Freddy returned lacking his good heater, and seemed to be trying to skirt by in a weakened state where he depended on a breaking ball that remained sharp, but was not exactly a guaranteed strike. 

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Maybe the faces Freddy makes convinces hitters the ball is coming really fast

Even though Freddy's numbers for the past two years were decent, watching him didn't exactly inspire confidence.  So it took a while for White Sox fans watching Freddy as he gave up more than a hit an inning, struggled to rack up strikeouts, and sweated out 3 liters per start while still managing to be decent, to realize that this was something he was capable of doing on a nightly basis.  So while he can still get rocked every now and then, and 7 innings seems like his absolute, never-to-be-questioned max, after 9 wins and 11 quality starts; it may be Ok to trust Freddy Garcia.

That said, Hawk's claim that he should be an All-Star is rampant lunacy.  No All-Star should look like he's entering his 8th hour of police interrogation by the 2nd inning of each start.

Grade: A- (He doesn't have the most capability, but he's given the White Sox every ounce of what he does have)

Jake Peavy, 7-6, 107 IP, 4.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 98 H, 34 BB, 93 K, 13 HR, .242 BAA, 1 CG, 1 SHO

Looking back, it was kind of tortured year for Jake Peavy, and it was so even before he got struck with a season-ending, career-in-slightest-bit-of-doubt-putting injury right when he was at the peak of his powers.  Having a muscle that rarely even tears snap off his back like an undersized underwear waistband was only the last incident in a line of crazy crap that befell Jake. 

First, he couldn't throw strikes of any kind, then he couldn't throw a slider, then he lost velocity on his fastball, then his shoulder filled with fluid, and only after all that did he really start having success.  Despite suffering through an abysmal April (0-2, 7.85 ERA, 1.81 WHIP), an up-and-down May (4-2, but with a 5.09 ERA, yet a 1.11 WHIP...curious), Jake clearly displayed to fans that he was a battler.  He held himself to a ridiculously high standard in interviews, cursed at himself during starts, and gamely plowed past the 100 pitch limit to go deep into games even when he just didn't have it.

By the time Jake had his breakthrough in June; 5 starts, all quality, 3-2, 1.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and a chill-inducing complete game, 3-hit shutout in Washington with a bum shoulder, one had to wonder what toll all the weeks of beating his head against the wall had taken on him.  I guess we got our answer.  Even if the White Sox make a deal for a skilled, veteran starter to replace him, they won't find someone as competitive, or endearingly mentally deranged as Jake Peavy.

Grade: B (Most wouldn't pay 15 million for a man whose best quality is being charmingly insane)

John Danks, 8-7, 112 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 90 H, 37 BB, 86 K, 7 HR, .219 BAA, 1 CG, 1 SHO

At the beginning of the year in my increasingly absurd 2010 season preview, I said that John Danks needed to emerge as the best pitcher on the staff.  I wrote this on the assumption that even though Gavin Floyd had the best stuff on the staff, he would be too spotty to ever really put it together.  I didn't anticipate that he'd transform into the pitching equivalent of the Highlander at any point.

Seeing as Danks' last outing was a breathtaking complete game, 2-hit shutout that took less than 2 hours, maybe talk of Gavin Floyd needing to take the reins of staff ace are a little premature.  Unlike a lot of the guys on the staff and the roster, John Danks didn't undergo a massive, career-changing about face on June 8th, instead he's been plugging away, leading the staff in ERA and WHIP all-season, and had been the best pitcher in terms of WAR up until Gavin recently overtook him by a tenth (2.9 to 2.8).

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I would argue that Danks' efforts in the first two months kept the White Sox afloat except that, while he was great, the team was 9 games under; they were definitely not floating.

The difference between Danks and Floyd in style is positively seismic.  Floyd is a big, powerful right-hander who can throw at a terrifying downward angle with filthy stuff.  He could strike out 12-15 batters in a game one of these days, and the word 'effective' isn't used to describe nearly as much as 'overwhelming' is.  Danks however, is Mark Buehrle 2.0.  His stuff is better than Buehrle, but he's a control pitcher, and while he possesses a fantastic changeup, it needs to stay down for him to avoid getting knocked around.  This past week has shown that when Danks is effective, he's extremely effective, but "greatest No. 2 pitcher in the league" is probably a more reasonable ideal for John than "ace".  This is all a lot of nitpicking for someone's who been the most consistent starter on the team, and may very well lead the league in "times screwed out of a win".

Grade: A

Mark Buehrle, 8-7, 110.1 IP, 4.24 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 129 H, 29 BB, 51 K, 10 HR, .297 BAA

I was all set to start reeling off jokes about how if Sabermatricians could have one player murdered to eliminate an anomaly, they cut down Buehrle and his absurdly low strikeout rate.  But apparently the people have FanGraphs have other ways of measuring Buehrle's effectiveness, love him, and want him to make the Hall of Fame.  As always, they're smarter than I thought.

For someone revered for his consistency, Mark was extremely up and down during the early months of the season.  Throughout the blowout losses to the Rays (a face-melting 12-0 arson attack of a ballgame), the Yankees (a 12-3 public beating softened only by a meaningless Konerko HR that went really, really far), and a truly embarrassing dismantling at the hands of the Cleveland Indians (3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER in a game the Sox miraculously came back and won to get the surge started), the 'Buehrle is Buehrle' mantra triumphed.

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Wha?....uh......ummm....this was a bad picture choice

  Mark Buehrle has been knocked around so many times before, and probably will get thumped once more this season, that his indiscretions generally get a pass.

That said, what a relief it was when he finally got around to ripping off a streak of six-straight quality starts, all of which featured him actually going deep enough to register in the decision.  It's not that I never believed that Mark would turn it around, it's just that his statistics were too closely mirroring the worst season of his career.

Grade: B (His WHIP remains inordinately high, as do opponent's batting average against him, but just like everyone else, he's been on fire for over a month now)

The entire starting staff deserves a grade varying somewhere between C+, an A, and a WTF.  49-38 represents the high-end of projections for the team in wins, but 16th in staff ERA represents the low-end in expectations for this group.  I can't tell if the team is due to come back to Earth, or capable of playing even better.  Something makes me think that the guys didn't spend a second worrying about how much they were screwing with everyone's statistical projections when they went on this tear.  They never do.

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  • Yes, Garcia = A-. Floyd a B+? He's a C unless you're putting more weight on last 6 weeks. Buehrle's an A and will always be an A. He goes first in playoffs. Hudson's going to be a problem the rest of the way. Danks worries me down the stretch.

  • In reply to twoputtstu:

    I didn't envision myself giving Floyd that high of a grade until I saw that he's 7th in the AL for starters in wins over replacement, and 1st on our team. Either he's just been that dominant down the stretch, or his first two months looked worse than they were statistically.

    So Buehrle is beyond reproach, eh? He's never started a Game 1 before, why start now when he's not having his best season?

    Though his WHIP was jacked up a lot by that start in Kansas City a few weeks back. Brutal umpiring. Hawk sounded like he was going to charge down from the booth.

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