So, what will Axelrod's role with the White Sox be in 2013?
Well, if the composition of the White Sox’ pitching staff remains the same—with six starting pitchers on the 25-man roster—Axelrod (2-2, 5.47) should be the long-relief specialist to open the season.
See, Axelrod is at his best during the middle innings.
In fact, his batting average against (BAA) was at its lowest during innings three through seven. Outside of a .360 BAA in the fifth inning, it never topped .267 and was as low as .125 in the sixth.
Also, shorter stints were not very friendly to Axelrod. Opponents hit .364 in 2012 and had an OPS of 1.040 from the time he delivered his first pitch to his 25th one.
Conversely, from pitches 26-50, Axelrod struck out 17, walked five and not only held opponents to a .228 BAA, but also held them to a very respectable .705 OPS.
While he was less than effective in the first two and last two innings—yielding a combined 17 earned runs in 20 innings—he performed at a fairly high level in the middle ones. It also appears that he needs to get going in order to be as effective as possible, so extended outings seem to fit better than shorter ones.
To be sure, Axelrod’s struggles during the fifth inning (8.44 ERA, .360 BAA) must be addressed, but he appears primed to assume the role of long relief.
Now, there are many factors that may prevent this from happening.
First, if Gavin Floyd is traded, Axelrod may have a shot at the starting rotation with the loser of the Hector Santiago/Jose Quintana battle moving to the back end of the bullpen.
Axelrod would have to tighten up the above mentioned weaknesses, but he would most certainly get a look next spring to see if he can seize a spot as a starter.
Another possibility is that general manager Rick Hahn keeps Floyd and signs a veteran to be the long reliever. That may make Axelrod the odd man out.
The most likely scenario that would prevent Axelrod from becoming the long man, however, would be the emergence of a guy like Nestor Molina or Simon Castro. If one of them pitches well enough during spring training to break camp with the White Sox, Axelrod would be without a position.
If either of the final two situations occurred, the White Sox would be wise to send Axelrod down to Triple-A Charlotte. The idea would be to stretch him out for a complete conversion to full-time starting pitcher.
The White Sox are going to need a few of those in the coming seasons.