Early Grades for All of the Chicago White Sox's Offseason Acquisitions
The Chicago White Sox don’t seem to know when to quit.
Look no further than last Friday night for an example. Down 6-4 to the Tampa Bay Rays in the bottom of the ninth inning, following another poor outing from closer Matt Lindstrom, the White Sox staged a rally which included Adam Eaton hustling down the line on what appeared to be a game-ending double play and a walk-off grand slam off the bat of Jose Abreu.
Just another night on the South Side of Chicago.
Now, much of the excitement surrounding this team is thanks to guys like Eaton and Abreu, who were brought in by general manager Rick Hahn during an eventful offseason. Unfortunately, many of the challenges facing the team are also courtesy of newly minted White Sox contributors like Scott Downs and Felipe Paulino.
Let’s size up each of the moves that were made by the White Sox this winter, assigning a grade for each acquisition based upon their performance so far in 2014.
*Note: A player must be on the 25-man roster to qualify.
Felipe Paulino, SP
2014 Stats: 0-2, 18.2 IP, 11.29 ERA, 7.94 FIP, 23 ER, 6 HR, 14 K, 12 BB, 2.564 WHIP
Felipe Paulino had a hard time in the rotation prior to being placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 19 with rotator cuff inflammation in his right shoulder.
In his four starts, Paulino never made it past the sixth inning, and with the exception of his first appearance, he gave up at least six earned runs each time out. Finding the plate and keeping the ball on the ground proved to be quite troublesome for the right-handed pitcher.
To be fair, he was trying to recover from Tommy John surgery in 2012 as well as a shoulder procedure that he underwent last year. Pitching effectively in the big leagues is hard enough, but trying to do it for the first time in two seasons is another thing altogether.
Merkin noted that a timetable for his return hasn’t been set before adding that manager Robin Ventura said they want “to get him better where he is actually able to do a sideline and work on stuff.”
Time will tell, but the early results for Paulino are far from positive.
Maikel Cleto, RHP
2014 Stats: 9 G, 0-0, 3.24 ERA, 5.01 FIP, 8.1 IP, 4 K, 8 BB, 1.560 WHIP
Maikel Cleto is not pitching as well as his raw numbers would indicate. Sure, he has four holds and a 3.24 ERA—which is only that high because he surrendered two earned runs in less than one inning—but he has been walking a very fine line.
Consider that he is issuing 8.6 free passes every nine innings, which has directly led to an unacceptable 1.560 WHIP. More telling of his ineffectiveness is his 5.01 FIP (fielding independent pitching), which takes into consideration a pitcher’s ability to prevent home runs and walks as well as their ability to record strikeouts.
Cleto’s one saving grace is that that he has a .188 batting average against in high-leverage situations. But even that is negated by the fact that he has issued four walks in those outings. He surely has great stuff, but that means little when his walk rate (8.64) is double his strikeout rate (4.32), per FanGraphs.com.
He will need to show the coaching staff more as the season progresses.
Scott Downs, LHP
2014 Stats: 12 G, 0-2, 6.00 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 9.0 IP, 8 K, 7 BB, 1.889 WHIP
After an atrocious start to the season in which he had a 16.20 ERA after five appearances, Scott Downs has been pitching much better of late.Case in point, he has a 3.68 ERA with three walks, seven strikeouts and a .250 batting average against over his last seven outings, covering 7.1 innings.
However, the dread that accompanied his introduction early on this season has been replaced with a less vicious form of anxiety. Even though he has been throwing the ball a bit better, he is still struggling to keep inherited runners where they are. In 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position, he has given up four hits, issued four walks and has allowed a 1.171 OPS. Those are not the type of stats associated with primary left-handed setup men—not good ones, anyway.
Since he is on an upward arc, there is hope that he can be the reliever the White Sox hoped they were getting when they signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract with an option for next season.
Adrian Nieto, C
2014 Stats: .190/.190/.238, 21 AB, 1 2B, 2 R
If there is one thing Adrian Nieto does well, it’s catch fastballs and changeups from John Danks. He does it so well, in fact, that Danks is going through a bit of a pitching renaissance this season, logging four quality starts in his five outings so far.
For his part, Nieto is just having a bit of fun. He had this to say to the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane:
It helps too that I've caught him more than any other guy on the staff so far. … We're both high intensity guys, all in, passionate about what we do. It just clicks. He jokes with me. He communicates well with me and vice versa.
So there’s that. And while he did not provide the game-winning grand slam against the Rays on Saturday, Nieto did get the job done twice by moving baserunners over with a grounder to the right side of the infield and also laying down a rather nice-looking sacrifice bunt.
All told, there isn’t much to go off of with Nieto. He calls a good game and is solid at blocking pitches, but Kane did note that manager Robin Ventura said “offensively is going to be where the work's at” for the young switch-hitter.
He will prove his mettle when the temperatures start to rise and starting catcher Tyler Flowers needs some more days off during the week.
Ronald Belisario, RHP
2014 Stats: 12 G, 1-2, 7.24 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 13.2 IP, 7 K, 4 BB, 1.390 WHIP
Rather quickly, Ronald Belisario has become the most reliable arm in the bullpen. To say that is a surprise would be an understatement.
After his first six appearances, for example, he had a 15.19 ERA and had given up nine earned runs in only 5.1 innings pitched. He looked as bad as the numbers indicated, and he was getting hit to the tune of a .986 OPS against.
Since then, he has pitched to the tune of a 2.16 ERA, .526 OPS and hasn’t allowed a hit in four of his outings. Outside of a rough showing versus the Boston Red Sox, during which he gave up two runs in just over an inning, Belisario has been dominant.
His timing couldn’t have been better. The White Sox bullpen has had a rough time of it this season, and it desperately needed a veteran to step up. Belisario did just that
Adam Eaton, CF
2014 Stats: .263/.348/.363, 80 AB, 17 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 12 K, 8 BB
Sure, Adam Eaton missed five games with a hamstring injury, but he is a dynamic player in more ways than one.
On defense, Eaton provides just what the White Sox need. He can go get the ball in center, rarely misses the cutoff man and has a much stronger arm than many anticipated. And given the inept play the team got from Alejandro De Aza last year, that is a welcome skill set.
On offense, his batting average isn’t exactly where it needs to be, but he is getting on base and is making the most of each opportunity. On Sunday against the Rays, for example, he went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Marcus Semien and then scored when the infield fell asleep after an errant throw to first by pitcher David Price.
And if there was a stat for hustle, Eaton would lead the league. His play is infectious, and not just to the team; his presence—along with Jose Abreu, of course—has completely changed the excitement level amongst the fanbase.
Jose Abreu, 1B
2014 Stats: .253/.324/.606, 99 AB, 18 R, 6 2B, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 25 K, 8 BB
What can you say about Jose Abreu? The man is a beast who knows no fear and is proving capable of delivering in any situation, to any field and at any time.
He has three multi-homer games already, and including Sunday’s performance, he has collected four RBI in one game on four separate occasions as well. Wow.
And then there’s this nugget from ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla*:
Ventura had 33 RBIs in July 1991. Baines has the club record 36 in June '87. Abreu now chasing down the coaching staff.— Doug Padilla (@ESPNChiSox) April 27, 2014
Sure, there are holes in his swing at times, and he can go through five or six at bats when his timing seems to be off. But this is his first exposure to the best pitching in the world, and he is winning.
CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder put it perfectly:
Regardless of where things go from here in 2014, Abreu is having a special opening month. The odds are pretty good that he'll parlay that into a special rookie season and will be one of baseball's premier power hitters for the near future. The White Sox have themselves a burgeoning star.
Yes, Matt, that’s about right.
*Note: "Ventura" refers to White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "Baines" refers to assistant hitting coach Harold Baines.