Now that John Danks is pretty much agreed to be in the fold, the pending decision of whether to trade Gavin Floyd will say more about the direction of the franchise than any other move that relieves the unfortunate outfield logjam or sheds an expensive bullpen arm. That's less about Floyd and more about who his replacement would be; the winner of some morbid Spring Training battle between Zach Stewart and Dylan Axelrod, who both lack any real shot of being above-average.
For a team that's been traditionally unwilling to leave any of their rotation spots hanging in the air, leaving the bottom three of the rotation to be Phil Humber, Chris Sale's first year as a starter, and a two-man cycle of future relievers, would be quite a departure from normal operating procedure.
But to focus the decision on an assessment of Floyd, it gets more muddled. Danks just took a big, lucrative contract extension, which if nothing else, stated that while the White Sox were looking around to get younger and shed salary, they certainly thought him talented enough of a piece to move forward with.
Well, is Floyd not equally talented? Since 2008, when they both became rotation mainstays, it's not the easiest thing to say that they're markedly different pitchers.
Danks - 6.99 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9, 194.2 IP per year, 3.77 ERA
Floyd - 7.04 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, 1.00 HR/9, ~195 IP per year, 4.08 ERA
That split show some remarkably similar peripherals and workloads, but making conclusions off of it has some problems worth addressing. It obviously doesn't address that Danks' clear advantage is being two years younger and left-handed, and then there's the data I've excluded. Danks' first year as a starter with the Sox actually came a year before, where he was a raw 22 year-old and got knocked around without mercy. Floyd came up even earlier at age 21 with the Phillies, but threw 178.2 unremarkable innings over four years that included some time in the bullpen.
Gavin's 2008 season also seems like a bit of an outlier, but excluding it would only enhance the trend that seems to pass strong favor to Danks; that for whatever reason, Floyd cannot engineer results quite as good as his peripherals would suggest, while Danks generally can.
From that, the quick and dirty gist would be that the Sox have two essentially durable, above-average but not elite pitchers, with Danks having some crucial edges to make him more desirable going forward. And if Floyd's being signed for an under-market rate for two more years makes him a better trade chip, all the more reason for him to be the one that's dealt.
But while the White Sox will reportedly be paying Danks to be a 2.5-3 WAR pitcher for the next 5 years , chances are that if they really felt that being a reliable 195 IP guy with an ERA just under 4.00 was his ceiling, and not his relatively assured floor, chances are he's not preparing to spend his prime in Chicago right now. Perhaps the White Sox are leaning on Danks' pedigree, or maybe they are acutely aware that he paired the best K/BB ratio of his career last season with a BABIP higher than his career-norm, or they just still see the kid who spun together a helluva 2008 season at just 23 years of age.
So perhaps as crucial question as any when contemplating Gavin Floyd is whether he profiles to get better. An instinctual answer would be "yes", because every year features a handful of performances where Floyd is an eviscerating force of nature, and beg the question of what a more consistent Gavin would look like. Well, maybe it would if we hadn't been witnessing this act for four years.
More tangibly, Floyd fairly dramatically (at least for a generally successful starting pitcher) altered his approach in 2011.
Texas Leaguers indicates Floyd ramped up his use of a cutter to the point where he threw it 27.6% of the time, and it became his primary secondary pitch. Previously it was his curveball backed up by a mix of both a slider and a cutter. Floyd's slider completely dropped off the Pitch FX readings this past year, and while sliders and cutters are often mistaken for each other due to their similar velocities, the change in result was noticeable. Floyd now had a primary breaking pitch that he demonstrated impressive control of (70.3% strikes) while remaining a good swing-and-miss offering (14.6%).
Of course, Floyd still wound up with similar, if not worse, overall results, so it shouldn't be a surprise to hear that all his other offering slipped in their efficacy. His fastball continues to get hit even as it slides into Freddy Garcia-levels of usage, his curve had a terrible year, and his changeup is so bad I suspect it could be the machine misreading his hangers. In which case, whoa dude, throw less hangers, please. If Floyd is throwing more cutters out of necessity because everything else is abandoning him, that would certainly temper excitement.
However, if 2011 was simply the ups-and-downs of Floyd implementing a new approach--and his velocity doesn't indicate arm issues forcing him to adapt--there could be reasons to suspect a more sustainable alternative to relying on his volatile curveball will help him going forward.
Like so many things about Floyd, this is pretty mixed, and places Floyd in a middle ground where a personal recommendation about what he can do armed with this new cutter by Don Cooper probably means more than anything. At his age and performance level, Gavin simply needs to be more than what he is to be worth it for a team looking to the future.
But if you like Gavin in Chicago, consider how lucky it is that this team can never keep its eyes on tomorrow for very long.