Chicago White Sox

White Sox season preview: Starting rotation

690906.png

White Sox season preview: Starting rotation

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Be sure to check out the looks at the White Sox infield and outfield if you haven't already. Today's topic: the starting rotation.

From 2004 -- Don Cooper's first full year as the pitching coach -- through 2011, only one team in baseball has seen its starting rotation provide more value than the White Sox. Per Fangraphs, White Sox starters have been worth 142 Wins Above Replacement from 2004-2011, topped only by Boston's 143 starter WAR.

Of course, Mark Buehrle has accounted for the largest percentage of that value. Long-term, replacing what Buehrle did shouldn't be a focus -- it'll be a long time before another pitcher comes along like Buehrle.

Short-term, though, the Sox should be able to shoulder the loss of Buehrle thanks to Chris Sale's move to the rotation.

Sale shouldn't be expected to throw 200 innings -- for someone who's only thrown 94 13 in his major-league career, that's an unlikely goal to be reached. A baseline of 150 innings is likely, although don't be surprised if he throws a few more.

How Sale handles his transition to starting will have a long-lasting impact on the organization -- if he succeeds, he'll join John Danks as a long-term building block. If he struggles, he'll probably slide back into the bullpen in 2013.

If anyone is going to be expected to replace Buehrle, though, it's Danks. He'll enter the first season of a five-year deal in 2012, which, when it's over, would put him in Chicago for nearly as long as Buehrle (2000-2011 for Buehrle, 2007-2016 for Danks).

But Danks is coming off statistically his worst year since his rookie debut, with his ERA creeping over the 4.00 plateau for the first time since 2007. The good news is that Danks, if healthy, should be expected to see his ERA fall back below 4 given his 3.82 FIP in 2011.

Gavin Floyd is probably the steadiest pitcher of the bunch -- his ERA and accompanying peripherals have barely changed in the last three years. The good news is that Floyd has pitched better than his ERA, per FIP, so there's a much better chance of a positive departure from the near-4 ERAs he's put up than a negative one.

That Floyd is under contract through 2013 could make him an attractive trade target in July if the Sox fall out of contention. But that's a long way off, and even if the Sox are out of contention they may opt to wait until the winter to deal Floyd.

And that brings us to the two keys to the Sox rotation: Jake Peavy and Philip Humber.

If Peavy can stay healthy and make 30 starts, he should be effective -- his 4.92 ERA last year was a bit of a mirage. But Peavy hasn't made 30 or more starts since 2007 and he hasn't made 20 or more since 2008, so expecting the 31-year-old to hit that mark probably isn't the best idea.

Peavy has repeatedly said he's healthy. That's good, but his ability to stay healthy will be one of the key stories to follow in 2012.

Humber has kind of flown under the radar this spring as most of the starting pitching attention has focused on Sale and Peavy, but he's just as important to the success of the team. A regression back to the Humber of old could leave the Sox scrambling for a fifth starter, while a repeat of his 2011 performance would provide a huge boost.

Given the Sox starter depth beyond DanksPeavyFloydSaleHumber is essentially Dylan Axelrod and a bunch of question marks, it's paramount for those five starters to stay healthy and effective. If there's an injury to or an ERA spike from any of them, it could doom whatever playoff hopes the White Sox have.

Frustrated Derek Holland disappointed by 'unprofessional' umpire

Frustrated Derek Holland disappointed by 'unprofessional' umpire

The frustration Derek Holland has felt the past two months boiled over on Friday night in a rant against plate umpire Bill Welke after the White Sox fell 9-3 to the Cleveland Indians.

Holland said he was particularly upset with how the crew chief flinched as if he would call a strike in the top of the fourth inning (it was called a ball) and then informed the pitcher he intended to show him up for the response to the no-call.

Down a run with two on and one out, Holland threw what appeared to be a strike to Brandon Guyer on the first pitch. Holland and Welke both reacted after the pitch, which brought White Sox manager Rick Renteria out of the dugout to have a discussion with Welke. Holland allowed a run in a fourth inning further delayed by a Don Cooper visit to the mound. Cooper also spoke with Welke on the way out. Holland was knocked out after he yielded four more runs in the fifth inning. The left-hander has a 9.46 ERA over his last 10 starts and said the combination of Welke’s actions and the frustration of losing set him off. The White Sox have lost 13 of 14 overall and dropped to 39-61.

“The thing that really stands out I think and is disappointing is the way that I got shown up by the umpire,” Holland said. “I didn’t say anything. I kept my voice as calm as possible. I thought it was unprofessional to basically walk out and tell me he was going to show me up. I didn’t do anything and the only thing I said was, ‘Don’t flinch like that. You can’t do that. It’s showing me that’s a strike.’

“The way he handled it was very unprofessional, coming out. It stands out as those guys aren’t accountable for some of those things. We get charged for the wins and losses, the strikeouts, the walks, everything, and we have to face that.

“I felt it was very disrespectful. You’re supposed to be professional about it. I get it if I raised my voice or showing him attitude. I definitely did not. I did not deserve that. I’ve always been nice to him. I’ve always gone up to every single one of them. Always asking ‘where have you got that pitch?’ because I have to adjust to them. As a pitcher we’re supposed to execute our pitches, adjust to what they do. I just feel that was a huge let down, unfortunately for me, and I’m the one who suffers from that.”

Holland continued a season-long trend by the rotation of not getting deep into games. The team’s starters have completed seven innings only nine times in 100 contests this season. Last season the White Sox have 50 starts of at least seven innings.

White Sox starters have a 5.09 ERA overall. The team’s 528 1/3 innings are the third-fewest in the majors. Only the rotations of the Cincinnati Reds (511) and the Miami Marlins (517) have fewer innings pitched this season than the White Sox.

“I have to pitch better,” Holland said. “We have 20 straight games. I have to be able to go the distance a little bit longer than I have. That’s what’s frustrating. The way I pitched tonight was unacceptable on my part. I have to do a better job. I’ve got to go longer than that. We’re using our bullpen too hard.

“My execution is what killed me. That’s what takes me out of the game. I’m frustrated with the way I’m pitching. I have to do better. This is killing our bullpen. If I’m going to point fingers, I’d rather point them at me. I’ve killed that bullpen for the past few starts and I have to step my s--- up. This is unacceptable. Sorry for cursing.”

Why red hot Jose Abreu might best understand Tim Anderson's struggles

abreu-anderson.jpg
USA TODAY

Why red hot Jose Abreu might best understand Tim Anderson's struggles

Something to consider when evaluating Tim Anderson’s rough 2017 season — Jose Abreu was similarly in a bad way one year ago.

Finally clear of his own personal strife, the veteran first baseman has put together a fantastic campaign for the White Sox, well above his performance of a year ago when his mind was occupied with more than balls and strikes.

Abreu belted two home runs on Thursday night and currently is hitting .297/.352/.521 with 18 homers, 63 RBIs and a wRC+ of 130. At the same point last season, Abreu was hitting .274/.333/.426 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs and a wRC+ of 100.

While Abreu’s turnaround doesn’t guarantee anything about Anderson’s future, it provides a strong example of how much life away from the field can interfere with the one on it.

Whereas in 2016 Abreu not only longed to be reunited with his son, Dariel, he also dealt with the arrest of trainer and close friend, Julio Estrada. Abreu received immunity this March to testify in a federal alien smuggling and conspiracy trial against Estrada and agent Bart Hernandez. The slugger said Friday he can see similarities between himself and Anderson, who has struggled to cope with the May shooting death of close friend, Branden Moss.

“We’re human beings and all the things that are happening in our lives off the field are going to affect in one way or another in your performance on the field,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “You always try to be as professional as you can and endure the situation you’re passing through. But people have to understand that we are human beings and there are things that are going to have some kind of effect on us at any moment.”

As if his numbers didn’t indicate it, Abreu was out of it at this point in the 2016 season. Through 99 team games, Abreu qualified as a league average hitter. He had difficulty laying off outside breaking balls and Abreu didn’t drive the ball with any regularity.

While the White Sox always believed Abreu would rebound, they collectively let out a sigh of relief when he snapped a 32-game homerless stretch on Aug. 4 and hit .340/.402/.572 with 14 round-trippers the rest of the season.

“In all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks,” general manager Rick Hahn said last September.

Abreu attributed the uptick in performance to being reunited with his then 5-year-old son, who is currently visiting him once again. Prior to August, Abreu had only seen the boy one time in the 2 1/2 years since he had left Cuba. But having his son around again helped Abreu refocus on the positive things in his life and he quickly re-established himself as an offensive force.

“That was the turning point because everything started going better once my son arrived here,” Abreu said.

Part of Abreu’s frustration with his four-month slump derived from his inability to work harder to do something about them. A tireless worker, Abreu thought more time in the gym and the cage could help him rebound.

On the contrary, it didn’t.

“It’s tough,” Abreu said. “You know you’re doing all you can do to do your job the best way that you can and when you are seeing the results aren’t there then you can get frustrated. That’s when you have to take a step back, take a deep breath and try to go again and do your thing. But it’s not something easy.”

Anderson’s difficulties with the death of Moss have admittedly bothered him. He’s repeatedly said it’s the roughest period of his life.

Anderson entered Friday hitting .239/.261/.356 with nine home runs and also has committed a league-high 22 errors. The White Sox thought there’d be some potential for a sophomore slump from Anderson. But they think real life has played a big role in his current struggles and believe Anderson will rebound in the future.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a player in my time with the club that’s been as affected by off-the-field occurrences as Timmy has this year,” Hahn said earlier this week. “We knew as a young player still adjusting to the major leagues that there was going to be some fits and starts in his development. Everything he’s had to deal with, both with the league adjusting to him and the off-the-field issues that he’s had to endure, has made it a tough year for him. But the talent is still there, we still think he’s going to continue to improve each year with more and more repetition and very much view him as being an important part of our future.”

The hope is that Abreu’s case is a model for Anderson. Abreu said he felt like a weight had been lifted in March when he returned from testifying in the trial.

“I think he is in a better place,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he's more comfortable in his own skin and everything that's been going on.

“He's able to compartmentalize and separate things outside of the field.”

Of course, Abreu couldn’t be much happier with life away from the field. His son is in town and his wife, Yusmary, is due with the couple’s first child in October. Abreu thinks his clear head has played a large role in his success.

“I think I’m just blessed with health, I’ve been healthy the whole year, and I’m blessed because of my family and all the stuff that happened to me,” Abreu said. “I’m just blessed.”