I very desperately wanted to search for another topic to cover than the last White Sox wrap-up of for the 2010 season. Ever since things like free agency, arbitration deals, and the convention that the organization itself puts on to hype up the 2011 season took place, recaps of a season that ended last October (and spiritually in September) in rapid succession just doesn't seem as topical as it used to.
In the end, I decided to pass on writing a third article centering around "Why did we non-tender Bobby Jenks if he had great advanced statistics and is still a good pitcher--Isn't winning ballgames the only real point?"
That's not only covered territory (Jenks and the front office were due for a divorce and he costs too much), but it's not going to make anyone happy either. Ideas for the posts down the road are either equally depressing (Are we setting Morel up for a fall?) or about depressants (Beer at U.S. Cellular!). So before that wave of snarkiness hits, let's take one last wistful look at the 2010 White Sox season, and wrap-up the year of the objectively best--yes, objectively best--pitcher on the team, John Danks.
Stat line: 32
starts, 213 IP, 15-11, 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 189 H, 18 HR, 162 K (6.85
K/9), 70 BB (2.96 BB/9), .274 BABIP, 3.70 FIP, 4.3 fWAR, 4.9 bWAR
What did we expect?: The choice of preference in John Danks and Gavin Floyd is like the debate between Chocolate or Vanilla, Coke or Pepsi, or perhaps Spencer Krug or Dan Boeckner as the lead singer of Wolf Parade...alright, not that last one at all. While Gavin appeals to fans who love wipeout breaking pitches, potential no-hitters, and frankly, more talented players, Danks is a cooling tonic for Nervous Nellies like myself, who simply are trying to get through the game-watch without a acid-reflux episode, and enjoy his gracefully numbing consistency (95.7% of Danks' pitches used in '10 were heaters, cutters, and changes...it...all...looks...the...same...on TV)
Even coming off a year where his walks and HRs took a crazed spike, 2010 promised a season of a Buerhle-influenced mish-mash of changing speeds, avoiding mistakes, and maybe being a bit too fly-ball oriented. I've decided to post my entire blurb from the season preview in March, because it so entirely removed from sanity, it actually makes me giggle more than cringe.
"Sometimes it feels like Danks should be ahead of these
other two guys, typically when his cutter is working and he is
displaying Buehrle's influence on him by working quickly through the
lineup. Other times his hand is purple. With his circulation issues
reportedly behind him, Danks should be the real contender of the staff
to finish in the top 5 of the Cy Young race, but it's up to him. Danks
seems to spend an inordinate amount of time in his own head, and lacks
for run support at times. With all of his talent, the absence of a
breakout season this year will raise some real questions."
Top 5 in the Cy Young race!?!? After a year of 4.59 FIP?!!? Pardon me as I check my apartment for traces of mercury.
The result: Kind of like with Alex Rios, Danks' contributions are lionized in my memory because he was at his most dominant in April and early May, when the rest of the team was un-sticking its collective tongue from a nearby lamp post. He ripped off 7 quality starts out of the first 8, and the outlier was the only game in that Yankees series the Sox didn't get housed in.
From there on out, the pace pretty noticeably slackened. Danks posted a 4.23 ERA for the rest of the season, his walks per 9 jumped over 3, and opposing OPS skipped up to a Juan Pierre-esque .688 instead of the Esteban Beltre-on-PEDS .517 it was during that stretch.
The Buehrle comparisons are really apt. Even though Danks has more heat and racks up more strikeouts than Mark would have even if he started moonlighting at the Jefferson City 12 & under after-school league, his reliance on changing speeds can seem ill-conceived when he occasionally loses the feel for his change-up, and resulted in a smattering of shellings (5 starts of 6 ER or more) that jacked up his stats.
However also like Buehrle, Danks greatest value came in the most overlooked stat--innings. Unlike a Gavin Floyd type, for whom a bad inning usually indicated that he couldn't locate his breaking pitches and was essentially dead in the water, Danks was able--and was also allowed to--work through struggles, and was able to contribute value by going deep into games consistently. He averaged a sterling 6.61 innings per start the last two months of the season, even though he was pretty much at his worst (4.76 ERA, 4.81 FIP in August, 4.22 in September).
Floyd, Jackson, and hell, maybe even Peavy if he ever gets right again, are showier and more impressive pitchers to watch, but by having a stranglehold on the very rare qualities in starting pitching of durability and consistency, Danks has become the staff ace...
....and also proof that the staff lacks a true ace.
Love him or leave him?: Paying $6 million for a 4+ WAR pitcher under organizational control for two more seasons is a luxury even the White Sox are content to hold onto. Danks will still only turn 26 at the start of the season, and that combination of youth, contribution, and cheapness have kept him out of any trade talk thus far, and will continue to unless talks around his eventual extension become stand-offish. With the status of Buehrle beyond 2011 very unclear, the lefty balance Danks offers also gives him some staying power.
Because of his dirt-low BABIP (.274) and HR/FB rate (7.4%), Danks is a pretty popular regression candidate for 2011. He started off as very fly-ball oriented in his career, prompting the low BABIP, but is steadily increasing his grounders. As such, I feel that it's more likely that one or the other (hits or dingers) goes up than a significant rise for both.
Even this bit of optimism, regards the 26 year-old Danks as a finished product. He's simplified his approach to pretty much fastball-cutter-changeup as opposed to how varied he was in 2008, but his velocity is as good as ever. If he can be more consistent with the change, why can't there be a next step for him? Perhaps he'll never finish in the top 5 in the Cy Young vote, but he can be good enough to convince some perspective-lacking Sox fans he should be.
Colin at South Side Sox breaks down the repertoire and the future of Sergio Santos
Jim Margalus investigates the fascinating tale of Mark Buehrle's rapid rise to the big leagues