There's precious little time to pump out the pitching-half of my White Sox roster overview before it officially becomes late. However, that does bring the added benefit of allowing me to work like a real columnist: rushing against a deadline, making under-researched conclusions, and writing while eating a sandwich.
For yet another year, the starting rotation needs to be the bellcow for the Sox to have success. The hope is that the offense will increase the margin of error a fair amount, but the White Sox rotation finished 2nd in the AL in fWAR last season, and if they really want to make the division race nice and tidy, they should just go ahead and steal the top spot.
Perhaps at the end of this I'll chuck all of my players projections into a WAR calculator, perhaps not.
John Danks - Buehrle is the Opening Day starter, but Danks is the best pitcher on the team. He was last season, and was in '08 as well as long as we're talking about it. Apparently he's realized it too, and that's why he's holding out for an absolute bonanza of a new contract. Danks' numbers aren't particularly flashy, as he's progressed mostly through improving his control and boosting his workload. The best velocity of his big league career in 2010 boosted the effectiveness of fastball/changeup combo. Combined with the great cutter he developed after 2007, Danks has reduced his below-average off-speed stuff to just a show-me pitch.
There's no glaring clue from xFIP, BABIP, or strand rate suggesting a further great leap forward from Danks--as in, neither a great leap forward literally, nor a disastrous campaign reminiscent of the Mao Zedong blunder that cost 20-40 million lives--but as he refines his repertoire, perhaps he can become more direct and efficient in his pitch usage, and make this 200+ inning thing a habit
Out of nowhere prediction: 215 IP, 3.65 ERA
Gavin Floyd - The title "Best stuff on the staff" has been the condescending consolation prize for Gavin the past three seasons, as the perception is that he hasn't gotten the rewards his abilities should yield. And he hasn't. He's been relatively unheralded while posting sub-4.00 FIPs the past two seasons, and in a twist, the lowest quality full season he tossed with the Sox saw him post a 3.77 ERA and win 17 games.
That said, everything is pointing up for 2011 being the year of the GLOYD. His velocity was as high as ever, he maintained his excellent K/BB ratio, and upped his groundball percentage to 49.9%, alleviating his HR troubles in the process. The key for Floyd will be increased workload. He big-inninged himself out of a couple games early last yeaar, and a back injury took away his last two starts. 200 IP could mean 5 WAR.
Out of nowhere prediction: 205 IP, 3.45 ERA (Yeah, I went nuts)
Mark Buehrle - You know, for someone who only struckout 4.24 hitters per 9 innings in 2010, Buehrle threw pretty fantastic ball. His control remained impeccable, and his inflated BABIP gives hints at some chance to improve to back under a 4.00 ERA.
The real concern here is the effectiveness of Buehrle's changeup. It was -0.76 runs below average per 100 throws last season, and the speed disparity between that and his heater was the worst it's been since his first year in the rotation. He uses this fastball/change combo 65-70% of the time, so if it doesn't get right...people will notice.
The good thing about Buehrle is that random variances in effectiveness have precedent; especially thanks to his disastrous 2006. His change and cutter were below average in 2010, but he's had pitches abandon him before and come back. No need to sound the regression siren yet.....we own a regression siren, right?
Out of nowhere prediction: 205 IP, 4.10 ERA
Edwin Jackson - The career track record says Ed is definitely the 4th starter, and more explicitly, says that he's the sort of control-hampered guy who would drive me absolutely nuts. The measure of how good Jackson will be is a matter of deciding how much of his run with the White Sox was thrilled-to-be-out-Arizona giddiness, and how much of it was long-lasting mechanical improvements.
His 95 mph-plus fastball is too straight for him to ever be an elite pitcher, but if Coop can actually get this guy to throw strikes, he's got the type of arm where--well--he's got the type of arm where he can throw an 149-pitch no-hitter. This kind of endurance is especially useful if the Sox are really going to sit with 4 starters for a while.
Out of nowhere prediction: 220 IP, 3.80 ERA
Jake Peavy - Well, since I've gone extremely hyper-optimistic for the other four starters in terms of ERA and innings, maybe I should try to be more rational for Peavy. Let's say he'll miss four stars he's due while rehabbing, then 3 more over the season for soreness or rest or dead arm, or the mumps or something. Then he'll need to be eased along, perhaps to the point of averaging only 5.5 innings per start. 25 x 5.5 = 137.5...but I'm being pessimistic, so let's round down to 137. Hell, 135!
Even then, it'll probably take Peavy a while to round into shape--as it did last season for whatever reason. Still,with his track record and ability, that's just fine for a 5th starter and quite an asset to have round playoff time. That's right, you know what I'm trying to say; he's the Alabaman El Duque.
Out of nowhere prediction: 135 IP, 4.45 ERA
Philip Humber - We trust sabermetrics, right? Well, Humber posted a 3.31 FIP last year! Hooooo! Well, Sabermetrics also values large sample sizes, and that came in 21.2 innings. This being Humber's 5th team since 2007 is a significantly larger sample size. A new cutter may provide a temporary spike of mixed results, but if he's the 5th starter all year long...well...he'll probably wind up benched for someone else then.
Out of nowhere prediction: 45 IP, 5.25 ERA
Jeff Marquez - He's better than ever, yet was cut from the team, passed through waivers and came back...so that's not a great sign. Nothing of promise has really been shown outside of Spring Training...and if I start reading into Spring Training.....ohhhhh man.
Out of nowhere prediction: 20 IP, 6.10 ERA
The top 4 of this rotation is reliable and durable enough to be in the upper third of the league, but competing for the league lead in WAR, or more importantly, just beating the Twins in WAR, is reliant on Jake Peavy coming in and securing the 5th starter slot before the Sox get mired in a disastrous rotation of Quadruple-A guys or start feeling the ill-effects of skipping the spot.