In 2013, the Chicago White Sox went into the regular season with quite a few question marks in their starting rotation.
Now, the questions were not so much about whom the White Sox coaching staff would run out there every five days to open the year; rather, they regarded the group’s ability to win baseball games.
As it turned out, they weren’t very able to. Thanks to consistency issues, injuries and trades, the starting rotation finished 2013 eighth in the American League with a 3.99 ERA and 13th with 44 victories, according to ESPN.com. To be sure, the defense did not help matters by missing cutoff men, taking bad angles and throwing to the wrong base, but the starters struggled all season to put together a string of above-average outings.
Unfortunately, 2014 figures to be more of the same. The composition of the rotation appears to be set, but how many games they can actually win is another story entirely.
Let’s take a look.
The first and second spots belong to left-handers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Those words didn’t necessarily need to be typed because they are two of the best pitchers in the American League. That is, of course, if you consider their 6.9 and 5.4 respective bWAR rankings to be the true measure of their abilities.
The facts are that almost every team—save for a select few—would love to have a pairing like Sale and Quintana at their top of the rotation. If the White Sox offense can manage to score a few more runs for the both of them, they could win 18 and 15 games, respectively.
After Sale and Quintana, the back end could shake out in any number of ways. Smart money, however, would be on Felipe Paulino, John Danks and Erik Johnson opening the season as the third, fourth and fifth respective starters.
Paulino, who was recently signed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract, fits as the third starter for a number of reasons. First, he provides some balance as a right-hander after Sale and Quintana take the mound. He also has a fantastic slider that will back up Quintana’s running fastball quite nicely and is yet another power pitcher.
Under most circumstances, Danks would be battling for a rotation spot. According to FanGraphs, for example, he gave up 1.82 home runs every nine innings and had a rather woeful 5.06 FIP (fielder independent pitching) in 2013. Couple those numbers with a 16.8 home run/fly ball ratio, and his ineffectiveness is quite evident.
To be sure, Danks wasn’t the reason the White Sox’s 2013 season went by the wayside, but he is also not good enough to be guaranteed a spot as a starter in 2014. Unfortunately, his inability to find consistent results is trumped by the $15.75 million he is owed this upcoming campaign.
Finally, if Erik Johnson does not open the season as the No. 5 starter, it would be a shock. After a meteoric rise through the minor leagues the past two seasons, the right-hander was called up last September and went 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.554 WHIP in five starts.
Now, the results weren’t all positive, but he never allowed more than three earned runs in a start and proved that he has both the stuff and the poise to assume a role as a full-time major league starter. His season will likely have its share of ups and downs, but the time is now for Johnson. He’s earned it.
Whether or not the fact that all five starters appear to have defined roles which benefit the White Sox going into next season remains to be seen. It can’t hurt, though. With clearly defined roles and rotation spots, each starter will be able to focus on the specifics of pitching, and the coaching staff will be able to get each into a cycle of toeing the rubber every five days.
As it stands, there are a lot of question marks regarding the White Sox’s rotation. Sure, there may not be much in the way of competition, but they most certainly are in production.
Simply put, how well Paulino, Danks and Johnson pitch will determine the fortunes of the team in 2014.