Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mark Buehrle's jersey retirement a highlight of 2017 season

Former Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, with his wife and children
White Sox great Mark Buehrle's jersey retirement ceremony Saturday moved at a quick pace -- much like the games Buehrle used to pitch on the South Side of Chicago. The ceremony was over in less than a half-hour, but it was a fitting tribute for a man who was deserving of the honor.

Buehrle warned us that his speech would be short and sweet, and it was. He opened by telling the nearly 40,000 fans who had gathered, "I should be on the mound, not standing here in front of this mic talking to you guys." That drew a loud round of applause from the crowd -- Buehrle looked as if he was in better shape than he was in the final days of his career in Toronto, and it's not far-fetched to believe he would fare better on the mound right now than James Shields does these days.

Buehrle didn't mention many people by name in his speech, probably because he didn't want to leave anybody out. He acknowledged each of the groups in attendance -- his family, including his wife, children and parents; coaches, staff and former teammates; extended family and friends; and finally, the fans of Chicago.

Other speakers included pitching coach Don Cooper, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Other former teammates in attendance included Joe Crede, Jon Garland, Scott Podsednik, Cliff Politte, Jim Thome, John Danks and Ross Gload. Ex-managers Jerry Manuel and Ozzie Guillen also were on hand.

Thomas' speech was a highlight, and he concluded with perhaps the best line of the afternoon when he turned to Buehrle and said, "Congratulations. Stop being modest. You’re one of the greatest pitchers that ever toed this rubber in Comiskey Park, ever.”

Indeed, the Big Hurt is correct.

Who is the pitcher with the most wins in the history of the ballpark? It's Buehrle with 90. Who is only pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters in the history of the ballpark? It's Buehrle. Who is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in that ballpark? It's Buehrle. Add in the 2005 World Series championship, the three Gold Glove awards and the four All-Star appearances, and the victory in the 2005 All-Star Game, and that's why No. 56 is up on the stadium wall.

The Sox, of course, had a video montage paying tribute to Buehrle's career. The left-field scoreboard today is a mishmash of social media and other assorted crap, but for a brief moment during the tribute, they made the scoreboard look like it did the day of Buehrle's perfect game, July 23, 2009, when he was one out away with Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett at the plate.

As we remember, Buehrle finished the job by retiring Bartlett on a routine grounder to short. I still find it eerie that the Sox had five runs on six hits on No. 56's perfect day. That coincidence never gets old for me.

It was also cool that the Sox found the kid who had the ball from Buehrle's famous between-the-legs-flip play from Opening Day 2010. Buehrle was presented with that ball as part of the ceremony. The play is still the greatest defensive play I've ever seen a pitcher make. If you haven't seen it, or don't remember it, click the link. It's incredible.

And, of course, no Sox ceremony would be complete without Reinsdorf taking a subtle dig at the fans. During his speech, he pointed out to Buehrle that there normally are not 40,000 people in the ballpark, as there were on Saturday.

Yeah, no kidding, Jerry, your current team stinks.

We were reminded of that quickly when the ceremony ended and the game started. Two batters in, Shields and the Sox trailed 2-0, and fans were chanting for Buehrle to come on the mound and pitch.

Predictably, the 2017 Sox squandered the festive atmosphere, losing 10-2 to fellow last-place team Oakland. In case you were wondering, the Sox are 9-17 in the past 26 games in which they have drawn more than 30,000 fans.

The game took three hours, 22 minutes to play. It was an anti-Buehrle kind of game on Buehrle's day, which is unfortunate, but it served as a good reminder that we need to cherish the good times of the past while we suffer through the present-day problems with the organization.

One of the great things about Saturday: Seeing Buehrle and all those former players took me back to a different and better time and place, when Sox baseball was fun, and you could count on the team being serious about winning.

Hopefully, those days will return with a next generation of players -- sometime before we die.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Here's why David Robertson has plenty of trade value

David Robertson
For all the trade talk swirling around White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana, it's possible closer David Robertson will be more coveted by pennant contenders when we hit July's trading deadline.

Robertson, 32, is having a good season that will mostly go unnoticed because he pitches for a losing team. The right-hander is 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA, with 11 saves in 12 opportunities, a 0.868 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.

A closer look at Robertson's numbers reveals that he's been at his best in save situations this year. Check out his splits for save situations and non-save situations:

Save situations: 1-0, 1.35 ERA, 21 Ks, 4 BBs, 13.1 IP, opponents slash of .091/.167/.182
Non-save situations: 2-2, 5.25 ERA, 16 Ks, 2 BBs, 12.0 IP, opponents slash of .217/.294/.391

The cliches about closers being much better in save situations seem to apply with Robertson this year. This thought occurred to me when I considered the two appearances Robertson has made in the past week.

He pitched Thursday in a 5-2 Sox win over the Baltimore Orioles, and he was not sharp. He entered with a 5-1 lead in the ninth -- a non-save situation -- gave up a solo home run to Welington Castillo and needed 31 pitches to navigate a laborious inning. Even though Baltimore never got the tying run to the plate, it was somewhat irritating to watch.

Contrast that with Robertson's performance Saturday, when he closed out a 5-2 Sox win over the Toronto Blue Jays. This was a save situation. Toronto's 3-4-5 hitters were due, and Robertson carved them up on 14 pitches. He got Jose Bautista to fly out, struck out Kendrys Morales swinging and struck out Justin Smoak looking.

The Blue Jays had no chance.

I realize that by writing this blog entry, I have likely ensured that Robertson will blow a save the next time he steps on the mound. But in the bigger picture, Robertson has proven this season that he can still shut the door on the opposition in high-leverage spots.

Some team out there has to want a reliever who is holding opponents to an .091 batting average in save situations, right?

Monday, June 19, 2017

James Shields returns from DL; Miguel Gonzalez goes on DL

The White Sox had an overall good week -- they went 5-2 against two teams from the AL East, taking three of four at home against the Baltimore Orioles and winning two of three on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, the Sox (31-37) can't seem to shake their season-long problem of pitching injuries. Right-hander James Shields came off the disabled list to make his first start since April 16 on Sunday, but he was merely taking the spot of Miguel Gonzalez, who went on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Now we know the reason Gonzalez has been so terrible lately. The right-hander has a 10.34 ERA in three June starts, and longer term, he's 1-8 with a 7.32 ERA over his past nine games. His season ERA is 5.49, well above his career norm of 3.97.

As for Shields, he was mediocre in receiving a no-decision in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays. And, honestly, mediocrity is all we expect from the 35-year-old declining veteran. He went 5.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk.

Shields was one out away from getting through six innings with a 3-1 lead, but he couldn't close the deal. He easily retired the first two batters of the inning, but Troy Tulowitzki reached on a scratch infield single that hit the third-base bag. Shields then hung a slider to Russell Martin, who hit a game-tying two-run homer that hit the top of the wall and bounced over in right-center field.

That was Shields' final pitch of the day, and the Sox bullpen -- which has been solid most of the year -- was not solid on this day. Anthony Swarzak (3-2) gave up a single and a triple that allowed the Jays to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning.

Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Michael Ynoa combined to give up three runs in the bottom of the seventh as the Jays broke it open and salvaged the finale of the series.

Jennings was brought in to force switch-hitter Kendrys Morales to turn around and hit from the right side, and boy, did that move fail. Morales hit a two-run blast that hasn't landed yet. I've said it before this year, and I'll make the point again: Jennings is overused, having appeared in 32 of the Sox's 68 games. As we go along, his performance gets worse and worse.

The problem is that Jennings is the only left-hander in the bullpen, so he gets summoned to pitch to left-handed hitters on a frequent basis. Injuries have forced David Holmberg into the starting rotation, even though he is more suited to be the second lefty reliever.

Perhaps Holmberg could have kept Morales in the yard Sunday, but alas, he needs to stay in the rotation for now, with Gonzalez headed to the disabled list.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Pitching reinforcements could be coming for struggling White Sox

Jake Petricka
Up until their current road trip, the White Sox have been mostly competitive -- rarely getting blown out despite an overall losing record.

But the wear and tear of having seven pitchers on the disabled list has started to show of late. Starting pitchers have struggled to make it through more than five innings, the bullpen is taxed, and the Sox have given up 61 runs over their past eight games on their way to a 1-7 record.

At long last, the Sox are finally getting somebody back off the DL for this weekend's three-game series in Cleveland. Reliever Jake Petricka (strained lat), who hasn't pitched since the first game of the season, has been activated after pitching in three games for Triple-A Charlotte on a rehab assignment.

To make room for Petricka on the roster, right-hander Brad Goldberg was optioned back to Charlotte. Goldberg had one disastrous relief outing with the Sox and heads back to the minors with a 108.00 ERA. He was pretty much unusable, so it's much preferable to see Petricka -- who has a 3.29 ERA in 155 career big-league relief appearances -- back to work in middle relief.

While it's hard to get real excited about a post-peak James Shields (strained lat) nearing his return from the disabled list, I think we can pretty much agree that he's a reasonable bet to provide the Sox with more innings as a starting pitcher than David Holmberg.

Shields made his second rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday, allowing two runs on four hits with five strikeouts over five innings. He got his pitch count up to 72, which means he should be no more than one start away from returning to the big leagues. Then, Holmberg can go back to being the second left-hander in the bullpen, which is a more reasonable role for his skill set.

Left-hander Carlos Rodon (biceps bursitis) also is pitching on a rehab assignment. He made his first start this year at any level Tuesday with Class-A Winston-Salem. In that outing, he allowed five runs in 3.1 innings with six strikeouts. Don't worry about the results -- his fastball touched 98 mph and he seemed to emerge healthy. He gave up a bunch of runs the second time through the batting order, which is indicative of a pitcher who has been sidelined all season and doesn't have much endurance.

Rodon is scheduled to make his second rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Charlotte. We might see him in Chicago by the end of the month, if he avoids setbacks. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Former White Sox catchers are suddenly good hitters

Alex Avila
The Detroit Tigers have been on local TV a lot the past two weeks. The White Sox have played seven games against them since May 26, and Detroit's game against the Los Angeles Angels is the MLB Network feature today on "Thursday Afternoon Baseball."

When I watch the Tigers, I cringe every time Alex Avila steps to the plate. Of course, now that the veteran catcher doesn't play for the Sox anymore, he's rediscovered his batting stroke. Check out his numbers this year in Detroit, when compared with his numbers last year with the Sox:

2017 with Detroit: .324./440/.640, 9 HRs, 24 RBIs, 8 2Bs in 39 games
2016 with Sox: .213/.359/.373, 7 HRs, 11 RBIs, 8 2Bs in 57 games

Avila was nothing but injured and bad for the Sox in 2016. Now that he's back with Detroit, he's healthy and raking. He's already surpassed his run production totals from last year, and it's only June 8.

Doesn't that figure. And he's not alone in the category of former Sox catchers who suddenly know how to hit.

Would you believe it if I told you Tyler Flowers is hitting .350/.459/.455 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 41 games for the Atlanta Braves? Well, it's true.

Flowers has reinvented himself as a high-average, contact hitter:

2016-17 with Atlanta: .295/.389/.431
2009-15 with Sox: .223/.289/.376

This season, Flowers has struck out 27 times in 148 plate appearances, or once every 5.5 times he steps to the plate. During his time in Chicago, he struck out 464 times in 1,395 plate appearances, or once every 3.0 times he stepped to the plate.

Makes you wonder why he couldn't make these adjustments while he was with the Sox, doesn't it? If he had, he'd probably still be in Chicago.

By way of comparison, Sox catchers in 2017 are hitting .240/.316/.333 with three home runs and 18 RBIs. All three home runs and nine of those RBIs are on the disabled list (Geovany Soto). The Sox don't get much offense out of their catchers, and that remains a position of need moving forward.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Will Todd Frazier get his batting average above the Mendoza Line?

Todd Frazier (right) with Daryl Boston
There was an unintentionally humorous moment in the second inning of the White Sox game Tuesday night. Broadcaster Ken Harrelson was talking about how Todd Frazier had put on quite a display of home run power during batting practice, and how that was evidence that Frazier was feeling pretty good about his swing.

Naturally, on the next pitch from Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer, Frazier was totally fooled, made an excuse-me swing and hit a slow roller to first base for an easy out. It was an embarrassing result, and it went counter to what Harrelson had just said.

But give Hawk credit. He quickly recovered to note that Frazier "won't feel good about that swing."

That said, Frazier did make a good swing in the ninth inning, when he blasted a 430-foot solo home run to center field off Tampa Bay reliever Ryan Garton. That provided the final run in a 4-2 Sox victory that snapped a five-game losing streak.

The 1-for-4 night raised Frazier's batting average to a still unsightly .196. The Sox third baseman got off to a terrible start this year. He didn't get his first hit until the fourth game of the season, and the high-water mark for his batting average this year is .200.

He's reached that plateau twice, once May 2 and again May 20. Alas, both times Frazier couldn't sustain anything resembling a hot streak, and his average plummeted back into the .170s on both occasions.

I can't say Harrelson is wrong with his comments. Frazier has five hits in his past three games, and he has homered in two games in a row. In the ideal world, the Sox would trade Frazier in July and take an extended look at Matt Davidson at third base the second half of the season. But for that to happen, Frazier needs to sustain some sort of competence with the bat over the next six weeks.

There isn't a big market for a player who hit .225 last season and is off to a slow start this year. But, you take a look at the American League East, and you see a tight race developing that could involve three or four teams. And you see the two teams at the top, New York and Boston, having question marks at third base.

Might those two clubs see Frazier as an upgrade over Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval, respectively? Could the Sox create somewhat of a bidding war among the two AL East powers? Possibly. All Frazier really needs to do is hit .240 with power, and he's better than those two guys.

The question is, can he still hit .240? He hasn't done it yet since he's been with the Sox, and he needs to do it soon if there's going to be any demand for him in July. If he isn't traded, he becomes a candidate for reduced playing time the second half of the year, as the Sox will need to look at younger players during a rebuilding season.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Latest statistics for notable White Sox prospects

I didn't have time Monday to break down the White Sox's three losses to the Detroit Tigers over the weekend. And really, what is there to say? They got outscored, 32-10, in the series, and got beaten in embarrassing fashion.

So, let's move on to other things that stink, such Yoan Moncada's 5-for-40 tailspin since coming off the disabled list May 26. The Sox's top prospect is 2 for 22 in June with seven strikeouts.

The combination of the injury and this slump has slowed down the drumbeat for him to be called up to the majors. That's for sure.

Since the last time we did that exercise, I've determined that none of the hitters at Birmingham are worth following. Trey Michalczewski was demoted to Class-A Winston-Salem, and Courtney Hawkins doesn't qualify as a prospect for me anymore.

I've also knocked Alex Call off the Winston-Salem list, since he is hurt and hasn't played since April.

All statistics are through games of June 5:

Charlotte Knights (26-30, 3rd place in International League South)

Moncada, 2B: .285/.366/.436, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs, 57 Ks, 24 BBs, 12 SBs, 179 ABs
Jacob May, OF:.290/.362/.427, 3 HRs, 9 RBIs, 32 Ks, 12 BBs, 4 SBs, 124 ABs
Nick Delmonico, 3B: .282/.362/.491, 9 HRs, 32 RBIs, 40 Ks, 25 BBs, 2 SBs, 216 ABs
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP: 5-2, 3.81 ERA, 59 IP, 52 H, 30 R, 25 ER, 60 Ks, 27 BBs, 1.34 WHIP
Carson Fulmer, RHP: 5-3, 4.63 ERA, 58.1 IP, 55 H, 36 R, 30 ER, 44 Ks, 27 BBs, 1.41 WHIP
Lucas Giolito, RHP: 2-5, 4.95 ERA, 56.1 IP 55 H , 33 ER, 31 ER, 57 Ks, 27 BBs, 1.46 WHIP
Zack Burdi, RHP:  0-4, 4.64 ERA, 21.1 IP, 21 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 32 Ks, 10 BBs, 1.45 WHIP, 5 saves

Birmingham Barons (19-36, 4th place in Southern League North)

Michael Kopech, RHP: 4-3, 2.93 ERA, 58.1 IP, 33 H, 22 R, 19 ER, 80 Ks, 36 BBs, 1.18 WHIP
Spencer Adams, RHP: 3-6, 3.93 ERA, 66.1 IP, 77 H, 32 R, 29 ER, 50 Ks, 7 BBs, 1.27 WHIP
Jordan Stephens, RHP: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 0.33 WHIP

Winston-Salem Dash (19-38, 4th place in Carolina League South)

Michalczewski, 3B: .311.343/607, 4 HRs, 12 RBIs, 16 Ks, 4 BBs, 1 SB, 61 ABs
Zack Collins, C: ..230/.392/.455, 8 HRs, 26 RBIs, 56 Ks, 43 BBs, 0 SBs, 165 ABS
Luis Alexander Basabe, CF:.224/.322/317, 2 HRs, 14 RBIs, 54 Ks, 23 BBs, 10 SBs, 182 ABs
Dane Dunning, RHP: 2-0, 4.79 ERA, 20.2 IP, 20 H, 12 R, 11 ERs, 22 Ks, 11 BBs, 1.50 WHIP

Kannapolis Intimidators (30-25, 4th place in South Atlantic League North)

Jameson Fisher, OF: .290/.376/.455, 2 HRs, 29 RBIs, 49 Ks, 22 BBs, 2 SBs, 176 ABs
Micker Adolfo, OF:.277/.332/.434, 3 HRs, 23 RBIs, 54 Ks, 6 BBs, 0 SBs, 173 ABs
Mitch Roman, 2B: .267/.323/.320, 1 HR, 23 RBIs, 43 Ks, 14 BBs, 2 SBs, 206 ABs
Alec Hansen, RHP: 5-3, 2.82 ERA, 60.2 IP, 50 H, 26 R, 19 ERs, 74 Ks, 21 BBs, 1.17 WHIP