By Joshua Chapman
When looking across the landscape of MLB contenders, one notices a very particular pattern: great pitching. From the A’s to the Dodgers, from the Tigers to the Nationals, every serious contender has a good pitching staff, from the starters to the bullpen.
For as long as I can remember, the White Sox have had good starting pitching. The bullpen? Well that changes from year to year, but the starting pitching has always been consistent. From both of Bartolo Colón’s stints with the Sox to Esteban Loaiza’s 21-9 year to Mark Buehrle’s consistency to Chris Sale now, the Sox have ALWAYS had good pitching.
This year? Not so much. They’re last in the league in team ERA at 4.79 and outside of Chris Sale and maybe Andre Rienzo, they haven’t gotten much out of their starters, specifically John Danks and Jose Quintana. And the bullpen isn’t much better either. Matt Lindstrom looked solid, but he’s out for about three months. Ronald Belisario has been far too inconsistent for this writer’s liking.
Daniel Webb looks like he needs at least another year of MLB seasoning before he may be ready for the closing gig. Nate Jones, who was the favorite to win to closer’s job, hasn’t pitched at all this year and is hopeful to pitch at all this year. In short, the Sox have seen their fair share of bad pitching this year. And despite that, their hovering right around .500, which is giving some fans hope for a postseason berth, via the wildcard.
I’d hate to be the bearer of date news, but the Sox aren’t, getting to the postseason with this type of pitching staff. They’re missing a crucial piece: an above average right hander. Confused? Allow me to explain.
Chris Sale is clearly the ace of this staff and definitively a top-10 pitcher in the game right now. Quintana, while a solid pitcher, is probably better suited as a 3-4 pitcher. Let’s slot him as the #4 pitcher for right now. Erik Johnson, who is in Triple-A Birmingham for whatever reason, has the potential to be a very good #3 pitcher and at worst a #5 pitcher. Andre Rienzo is 4-1 right now, albeit with a 4.39 ERA, and looks to be a solid back of the rotation guy. So let’s pencil him in at the #5 spot. That leaves the #2 spot open.
The Sox from here have two options.
The first would be to continue to develop their best pitcher in the minors right now, Tyler Danish. Danish, while small in stature (listed at 6’1”), is simply nasty. His fastball sits in the mid 90’s and generates a ton of movement. His slider creates problems on right handed batters and he has an above-average changeup. On top of his pitching arsenal, Danish has a ¾ delivery along with a quick step that makes him almost impossible to hit because of the difficulty to pick up on his pitch. His only problem is his arm may not hold up due to his weird arm slot (sounds like Chris Sale, no?). He’s also not projected to reach the big leagues until 2016.
That leaves them with one other option: the draft. The White Sox hold the #3 pick in this year’s draft and lucky for them, there’s a ton of good pitching at the top for them to choose from. Currently, the MLB draft pundits have the Sox taking lefty Carlos Rondon, once thought to be the first overall pick, who has an overpowering fastball and a wicked slider along with great control. However, it has been reported that they like LSU righty, Aaron Nola (fitting last name), who is one of the safest players in the top 10. Both are college pitchers, meaning they’ll likely need less time in the minors and will be ready to contribute in a season.
Whatever the Sox do in the future, it is clairvoyantly clear that they need to do something to address their pitching staff. Adding a quality starter behind Chris Sale allows everyone to move back a step in the rotation and put guys like Hector Noesi in the bullpen where they’re better suited. But the Sox need to do something, ANYTHING. Jose Abreu could bat .400 with 45 home runs and 130 RBI’s and without pitching the Sox will struggle.
In the words of the immortal Omar from HBO’s The Wire: “It’s all in the game, yo.” And right now, the game is all about pitching.