Admittedly, ever since the White Sox lucked into a pitcher with top 10 talent, threw southpaw and could hit the mid-90's, I've been pretty gaga over the idea of seeing him start. In the last decade, I can recall one hurler who has been drafted by the organization and risen up into a regular rotation contributor, and he is cherished like no other.
However, while Chris Sale's pallet of pitches, pedigree, and sterling success out of the pen constitutes a strong case for a move to the starting rotation, if Don Cooper's hesitance to anoint him indicates serious reservations about his delivery, durability, platoon splits*, or just his current stage of development, we'll just have to trust the guy who regularly turns discarded lemon Starburst wrappers into lemonade.
(Actually, in 38.2 IP vs. righties in 2011, Chris had a 3.38 xFIP. Uh, yespleasethankyou to that)
It'd be a lot harder to accept if Sale was held back out of concern for the bullpen.
Under 2011's All-In premise, and even 2010's last gasp for glory, getting immediate use from Sale out of the pen was just fine. The starting rotation was set, and the pains of Chris' youth wouldn't be welcome.
2012 isn't about that. At their current make-up, the White Sox desperately need to establish a new crop of regular contributors who aren't commanding big-time, budget-absorbing salaries. Sale could be given a shot to be a rotation mainstay, and possibly rack up tens of millions of dollars in extra value.
Or he could be a reliever, and be sort of underpaid for a reliever.
Worse, is that the bullpen doesn't need help.
Sale was great in 2011, and an argument could be made--citing his workload--that he was the best reliever the White Sox had. But the Sox weren't golden if they had a lead in the 7th because they had Chris Sale, they succeeded because they had a gang of four along with Santos, Crain, and Thornton. Removing Sale wouldn't kill that.
Addison Reed was promoted at the beginning of September, and pitching at his 5th level on the year didn't bring his K-rate any closer to the ground. He can easily slide in and play the role of the hard-throwing youngster with a terrifying slider.
But Reed is right-handed, and Mark Gonzales trots out the adage used at the beginning of 2011: The White Sox otherwise unprecedented three-lefty setup, is a necessity to tame the left-handed lions of the AL Central.
Gonzales' inclusion of Mauer and Morneau, Sizemore and Hafner in his list of terrifying ALC lefties makes the whole approach seem dated, but his listing of Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas of the Royals is spot-on. They are the new menace, and the White Sox will need to counter them.
(His inclusion of Mitch Maier is presumably a joke, and it is a hilarious one)
Only they're fine in that regard too.
Vs. Lefties in 2011
Matt Thornton (who had a fine year after he, as he put it, "stopped stinking" after April/May) - 11.77 K/9---2.08 BB/9---1.60 FIP
Will Ohman (who did his job when he was actually asked to do it) - 11.06 K/9---2.60 BB/9---3.53 FIP
Hell, even Jesse Crain struck out lefties at a 10.73 K/9 rate(while walking a ton of them)
If the White Sox really want to treat this like a problem area, the target for optimization is Will Ohman. He was brought in to retire lefties, but the glut of capable left-handers meant he wasn't used to his purpose as much as he was used like a guy who was the 5th best reliever on the team. He appeared in 59 games, and in 21 of them he came in before the 7th inning.
Holds are pretty much a useless statistic, and I probably just uninvited myself from a couple writers' conferences years in the future just by bringing it up. But if you want to determine how relievers are being used, the breakdown of holds for Thornton (20), Sale (16), Crain (24), Santos (2 - his holds tend to turn into saves), and Ohman (3), tells you Will wasn't coming in to protect many leads.
With a certified lefty-obliterator still in Matt Thornton, Ohman allows the next Pale Hose manager the luxury of picking and choosing crucial lefty-lefty matchups without worrying about exhausting his supply of southpaws for the game.
Even then, if the White Sox were to trade Thornton, or still have sweaty palms about retiring the hollowed-out husks of the Twins sluggers, or Mitch Maier, there are veteran LOOGY candidates on the market this year (Jeremy Affeldt, Mike Gonzalez, Javier Lopez, George Sherrill, hell, Damaso Marte is available!!!!), who obviously fly in the face of the no-free agents approach, but are a hell of a lot cheaper than paying a veteran starter's salary while Sale is limited to 75 innings.
There's the issue of the White Sox properly utilizing young talent in the organization, and there's the issue of making sure they're super-stocked to retire the heart of the Royals' order. One is a lot more pressing right now.
Tags: alex gordon, baseball, Chris Sale, damaso marte, Don Cooper, eric hosmer, george sherrill, grady sizemore, Javier Lopez, jeremy affeldt, jesse crain, Joe Mauer, justin morneau, Matt Thornton, mike gonzalez, mike moustakas, Minnesota Twins, mitch maier, Sergio Santos, White Sox, Will Ohman