Much Better Moments in White Sox History - Gavin Floyd announces his presence with authority

Much Better Moments in White Sox History - Gavin Floyd announces his presence with authority
Orlando Cabrera's BFF // Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

In the shiny new Baseball Prospectus' Annual for 2012, Gavin Floyd's player comment starts out with "Blessed with the best stuff on the staff", which is a fun little reminder since he spent most of 2011 refining his hard slider into more of a cutter, trading whiffs for control.  The comment went on to say that expecting Floyd to ever realize the full potential of his stuff is misguided at this point given his career history, but that's rationalization.

Now is not the time for rationalization, it's the time for ENTHUSIASM.  Pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday; which means everyone is going to have the career year they need, all potential is going to be harnessed into breakout seasons, Dan Johnson for MVP, and so on, and so forth.

In keeping with that spirit, I thought we would take a look at when the specter of Gavin Floyd's limitless potential first emerged in early 2008.  As the big prospect sent over from Philadelphia in return for Freddy Garcia, Floyd remained an enigma for most of his first year in the organization.  He spent most of 2007 in AAA, was shelled early on upon his call-up, and only started to show hints of being a major league starter at the very end.

In 2008, he got down to business a bit more swiftly.  By season's end, Floyd's 17 wins and 3.84 ERA belied peripherals that indicated he had much to improve, but with the flashes he showed throughout the year--initially on the dreary afternoon of April 12th which will be the focus of this journal--it wasn't hard to imagine those being repeatable figures down the road.

Hell, maybe I'll be in the mood to project Floyd breaking out by the end of watching this.

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Perhaps more than anything, it's important that this game is against Detroit.  Memories of beating Detroit should be consolidated and stocked safely for the oncoming winter.

The Tigers leadoff man on this day is Clete Thomas, in place of the injured Curtis Granderson.  Their current leadoff man isn't that much better.

Floyd nearly strikes out Thomas with a running fastball that is tipped just enough that Pierzynski can't hold on to it.  Floyd walks Thomas on the next pitch, and the next pitch sees Thomas steal 2nd base.  Ever look back on old times and realize that things were a lot more similar to the present than you thought?

For a superlative pitching performance, this is a pretty inauspicious start.  Floyd is topping out at 88 mph, and while you can see his slider has a sharp bite, he's yet to get a strike with one, three batters in.

After reaching on a fielder's choice--that saw Thomas gunned down at the plate--40 year old Gary Sheffield steals 2nd base on the Floyd & Pierzynski combination.  The inning ends on an Ordonez drive to the wall in left that Carlos Quentin gracelessly snags while colliding into the fence post.  CQ--clad in really odd-fitting hood for warmth--grimaces repeatedly while jogging in.  In 2008, everyone was exactly the same as they are now, it appears.

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How could I have forgotten that this was the crappy Verlander year?  In 2008, his velocity dropped to a 93.6 mph average, his strikeout rate cratered to around league-average, his walks spiked, he produced an ERA in the 4.80 range and lost 17 decisions. 

Even better, this was back when Verlander still possessed a cruddy record against the White Sox, and was just a week removed from a loss to them at Comerica Park.  This game really should be just played on a wall in U.S. Cellular Field for sanity's sake.

A positive-minded fan might offer: But the Sox lit up Verlander in Comerica just this past season.  Why trump this game up as impossible to repeat?

A pessimist would counter: Oh, you mean when they pounded him with singles during the middle of Gordon Beckham's no-power, entirely BABIP-fueled July "surge"?

Positive-minded: Does it make you happy to offer up all these refutations?  To tear down every kind word I have to offer?

Pessimist: I thought it was going to.

Hawk and DJ refer to Jim Thome "snapping" and being ejected the night before.  The absence of video of this impossible event is dubious.

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Floyd keeps Detroit hitless through 2 innings thanks to a diving play by Joe Crede on a hot grounder from Miguel Cabrera.  Watching Crede quickly brings back the overriding sense of security once felt about any hard smash to the left side, and also makes me wonder if his back was hurting him at this precise moment.  Could Herm Schneider have waddled out and given him a rubdown between plays?  Could Roger Bossard have inserted a secret softening compound to the dirt around 3rd base?  Stupid, torturous hindsight.

More on the 'Detroit hitless' thing to come.

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With one out in the 2nd, Pierzynski rips into a rather meaty changeup over the heart of the plate  from Verlander.  In the cold rain and sadnesss of the April weather, it sinks just in front of the wall and over Magglio Ordonez's head.  The ball then short hops the wall, and bounces over Magglio's head again, which just seems like an unnecessarily mean-spirited thing for the ball to do.

The game temperature is 39 degrees.  I looked that up as Carlos Quentin went rigid with frost halfway through grounding out to short to end the inning.

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The grinding noise I've been hearing the whole time is apparently the audio feed, not my computer.  Yippee!

Floyd is still not demonstrating great control.  He misses off the corner on 0-2 trying to finish off Ivan Rodriguez, then hangs a curveball on the next offer that Pudge crushes to deep center, only for it to die in the cold rain and into the glove of Swisher, who makes a basket catch and then cackles at his poor form.

Floyd really doesn't have great control; he flips a curve on 3-2 that leaps up over Brandon Inge's head and into the backstop.

After walking Clete Thomas, Floyd has now walked three hitters in 2.1 IP, striking out none and allowing no hits.  And yet, the first pitch to Placido Polanco is a fastball in on the hands that induces an inning-ending double play.  Maybe pitching to contact is the way to go in this weather.  Maybe Gavin Floyd is a genius.

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Swisher hits a Juan Pierre-style line drive the other way to left, only for Jacque Jones to make a diving catch on it.  Nick Swisher had a .245 BABIP in 2008.

Justin Verlander may want to scrap the changeup.  He floats one letter-high to Orlando Cabrera that O-Cab turns violently and hooks around the left field foul pole to make it 1-0 in the bottom of the 3rd.  He does all this despite looking like he's wearing a large hooded sweatshirt under his jersey.

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Floyd is so wild with his curve and slider that it may be throwing Sheffield off.  He's been late on a couple of fastballs over the plate and up in the zone.  Then again, Sheff being as old as members only jackets could be the cause.  It's irrelevant anyway, as Floyd dumps a curveball into the dirt on 3-2 for his 4th walk of the day.

They're booing Magglio?  What the hell, guys?

Another sinking fastball from Floyd induces a grounder that Joe Crede ranges far to his left to scoop up and fling to 2nd in one motion, kickstarting a gorgeous double play.  This game was specifically picked out to avoid waxing poetic about players no longer on the team, but that's what it has turned into thanks to Crede being an arthritic virtuoso in at the hot corner, and Floyd spinning a no-hitter together out of found objects and rubber cement.

Floyd actually gets a first pitch strike with his curveball against Miguel Cabrera.  Normally, I try not to ruin this for myself by looking ahead at the play-by-play results, but it's 2 outs into the 4th and he's yet to record a strikeout.  Reading that Cabrera was Gavin's first K, and then seeing him actually spot a curveball for seemingly the first time all game made me laugh out loud.  Oh look, there's another one for strike three looking.  Poor Miggy, that thing looked like it started behind his head.

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Verlander clearly isn't Verlander on this day (his velocity is down a lot), but every fly ball reveals that this isn't a day for offense--it's a day for dying alone in the wet cold, and regretting the choices that brought you outdoors.

Pierzysnki gets the idea and laces a sharp grounder through the middle, but Edgar Renteria--appearing to be wearing an arctic sleeping bag tucked under his jersey--stops it and gets the force out of Konerko at 2nd.

Into the 5th inning, with about 47 minutes of video time used up.---------

Floyd dumping sinking fastballs and changes low in the zone to get weak contact isn't the most remarkable thing to watch, but numbingly effective.  Also numbingly effective: frostbite.

It's against Ivan Rodriguez that Floyd shows some more of his intriguing breaking ball pallete, nicking the top part of the zone for a high strike to start the at-bat (and prompting an angry stare at the ump from Rodriguez), and sneaking another one on the outer half to get 0-2.

Then he hangs one, and Rodriguez hammers it to the warning track on a blast that would have left the park if it was above 50 degrees out.  Gavin pitches to the conditions!  Of course, it might not make the warning track in Comerica.

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Verlander massacres everyone in the bottom of the 5th.  Just like old current times.

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Hawk cogently remarks that the getting contribution from the back end of the rotation will be the key to the 2008 season for the White Sox.

Darrin Jackson more blandly states "Well, everyone's got to be consistent."

....

"Well, you're not wrong," Hawk replies.

 

Floyd has yet to get a strike three swinging.  His curveball is too erratic to earn a chase even from Brandon Inge on back-to-back efforts.

Instead, Gavin's second strikeout comes on another huge, snapping curveball that backdoors into the zone while Clete Thomas watches it with doubt.  The way his control is, it wouldn't be surprising if all of his K's come this way.

The shouts in response to the strikeout of Thomas indicate that the fans have picked up on what's happening here, it's almost through the 6th and there's zeroes on the scoreboard in atypical locations.  If Hawk and DJ have noticed--which they inevitably have--they're not telling.

Obviously the most important event of this inning was the umpire throwing a new ball out to Gavin Floyd, and Floyd staring off into the distance out and nearly letting it hit him in the face.  Never change, you spacey diamond.

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Verlander just threw a 91 mph high fastball by Jermaine Dye.  Sometimes you look back at the past and realize that people are nothing like what they used to be.

The White Sox offensive innings are kind disappearing into the void with little note.  So are the Tigers' innings, but thanks to gift of bias, that's more enjoyable

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The first tinges of real urgency and excitement are coming through from the fans and Hawk Harrelson in the 7th inning.  An opposite field shank by Ordonez down the line is pleaded with to go foul by Hawk, and bounces just foul to explosive cheers.  Two pitches later, the first nasty slider in the general vicinity of the zone earns a swinging strikeout from Ordonez.

Floyd starts out Miguel Cabrera with a fastball on the hands to induce a foul, then nearly knocks his teeth out with back-to-back insanely wild curves, before returning to busting him in and earning the groundout.  This is a delirious mixture of skill and unrefined insanity.

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Verlander, meanwhile is still fighting the good fight to atone for a high change-up to Orlando Cabrera.

He's mixing in an effective curveball with a fastball he's moving around up and down in the zone.  Also, nothing's carrying, so just flinging fastballs at guys and daring them to drive it works too.

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After running 3-1 to Jacque Jones with more wildness, Floyd gets the gift of an over-aggressive chase of a heater high and away, then earns his fourth strikeout of the day with a beautiful changeup low and away.  7.1 IP with no hits.

Naturally, the next batter, Edgar Renteria shanks a 1-1 inside fastball into right field to break up the no-hitter; now is the correct time to bring up Jermaine Dye's UZR.

A slow-developing standing ovation rises from the ~20,000 in attendance.  It's hampered by the cold, and sounds like many people are slapping their hands between drenched ponchos.  Ozzie completes a slow amble out to the mound in order to allow Gavin to soak it all in.  Per usual, Floyd looks like Guillen has informed him he's being taken out of the game because his parents got into a car accident and he has to sleep over at his relatives' tonight.

It would be fascinating to see Floyd react to an actual no-hitter.  I've seen him pout, I've seen him run his hands through his hair in exasperation, I've seen him strut away from the mound after a strikeout in muted satisfaction.  I haven't seen him isolated in a moment of incredible triumph.

Guillen replaces Floyd--at 107 pitches--with Scott Linebrink in order to stifle the rally.  OH MAN TIMES WERE DIFFERENT.

Other curiosity; on two separate occasions, Floyd goes out of his way to embrace Orlando Cabrera.  Strange bedfellows to say the least; the mild-mannered Floyd, the self-motivated Cabrera prone to random outbursts of poor judgment.

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Verlander is still in for the 8th inning, which immediately seems like a mistake since the first pitch is a hanging curveball that Uribe crushes down the left field line.  It dies in the levitating swamp that is the Chicago sky, and is caught by a leaping Jacque Jones at the wall.

Following that, Nick Swisher starts out 3-0.  Jim Leyland may want to handle his boy.  Especially since he's throwing the change-up again.

After walking Swisher, Verlander drills Cabrera in the back of the helmet with a fastball.  Good thing he's only throwing 91.  To his credit, Verlander looks very overtly remorseful, dropping his hands to his knees with his mouth agape.  Cabrera is too busy arguing at Herm Schneider to notice.

Ivan Rodriguez tries to argue that the ball hit the bat which is, well, absurd.  It's also amusing when two pitches later Thome fouls a ball off his mask, prompting heckling from the fans.  "That hit the bat, right Rodriguez?"

A camera shot shows standing puddles throughout the infield.  It's not particularly clear why this game is being played.  Because it's close?  Because postponing it would just prompt another April baseball game, and how many times can you force these men to come out here in this?

"Verlander still hasn't reached that 100 pitch count, so that's why he's still in the game," notes DJ.  Generally, I would imagine that his command blatantly failing throughout the 8th inning of a 1-run game would be a bigger deciding factor in a pitcher getting the hook than a pitch count, but eh, whatever.  Oh say, Thome just laced a single into right to load the bases.

Aaaaand, Verlander's still in.  It's the confidence that Leyland showed in him on this day that allowed Verlander to win the 2011 MVP.  That's the reason.  That's got to be the reason.

Konerko slices a weak flare to first base, "And Cabrera can't get there," Hawk notes.  Get used to hearing that, Tigers fans.  Get used to that, and lots of home runs.

Another Verlander fastball runs too far in, and plunks Konerko to force in a run.  Again, the thing about his command.

Verlander's still in the game.  What in cracker-jack hell?  You can still win this game, Jim!  Who cares that it was four years ago?

Dye pops out weakly to Polanco in short right field, who doesn't see Konerko inexplicably drifting waaaay off of 1st base, and throws home instead of for the inning-ending double play.

Verlander--still in the game--starts off A.J. 0-2, then fails to get the call on a close slider inside.  With the last tantalizing opportunity for Detroit to get out of the inning exhausted, Pierzynski rips a 2-run single to right field.  This entropy was a long time coming.

Quentin smacks another single through the gap between short and 3rd base, scoring Konerko and sticking Verlander with a 5-run tab.  He hit two batters, and walked another, and they all scored.

Joe Crede has completely eschewed his warming hood, and now resembles some sort of caped avenger.  This is probably also not good for his back.

In blatant disregard of the 'Don't throw Uribe anything resembling a strike' edict, reliever Francis Beltran allows a 2-run single to Juan Uribe to cap the scoring at 7-0.

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Jenks comes in for the 9th presumably after spending the last half hour standing in the rain in the bullpen feeling silly, and no longer with the opportunity for the save.

Bobby induces a grounder from Clete Thomas that he falls on his face trying to field, but recovers in time to record the out.  On this day,  Bobby Jenks slipping and dropping in a heap isn't especially less graceful than anything else that took place.

Jenks has no awesome velocity or power curves to sport in this outing, but seals up the affair with some weak contact so that everyone can get the hell out here, go home, set everything they own on fire and spend the next few weeks warming themselves.

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This wasn't the absolute carnival of delights I might have anticipated, but the recap of it is closing in on 3,000 words, so damn if it isn't going up.  Gavin Floyd on this day was blatantly an unfinished product, with his looping curveball flopping all over the place, and his control very unrefined.  Still, you don't put together 7.1 IP of no-hit ball in the major leagues against a pretty good offense without some skill.  Gavin recognized as well as anyone his breaking stuff was all acid rollercoasters, and stuck to running low fastballs into right-handers and getting grounders.  He didn't have much reason to nibble with the conditions as they were, so he didn't.

Perhaps the moment most recognizable as the Floyd we currently observe was the slider he threw to strike out Ordonez.  It started out dead on the middle in a two-strike count, virtually guaranteeing a swing right before diving sharply down and away.  It looked like a pretty sustainable tool for success.

 

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