Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's hard to evaulate Erik Johnson's first two White Sox starts

No matter what happens the rest of the year, it has been a good season for 23-year-old White Sox rookie right-hander Erik Johnson.

The former second-round draft pick tore up both Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, going 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 combined starts. He earned his September callup to the White Sox.

Unfortunately, it hasn't gone well for him in his first two major league starts. Johnson has given up 11 runs and 14 hits in 9.2 innings. He has suffered losses to both the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.

But, it's really hard to determine how much of that mess is Johnson's fault. Only five of the 11 runs he's given up have been earned. The White Sox committed four errors, including three by third baseman Conor Gillaspie (pictured), during Johnson's 9-1 loss to Detroit on Tuesday night.

Rookie pitchers are always nervous their first few starts in the majors. It's human nature. But young pitchers tend to settle down much quicker if all the plays are being made behind them. Johnson hasn't had that luxury. Instead, he's had to make a lot of extra pitches and been placed in some jams that were not of his own making. He's been asked to get a number of extra outs, and he hasn't been able to do that. I've seen much more veteran pitchers than Johnson crumble under similar circumstances.

It's unfortunate, because you'd like to get a good evaulation of Johnson coming down the stretch of this season. He's dominated hitters at the minor-league level, and it's time to find out whether he can challenge for a job in the 2014 starting rotation. Two starts in, I have no read on that whatsoever. Johnson's numbers are ugly, but it's hard to cast stones at a rookie who has received no help at all from his teammates.

Speaking of bad defense

Gillaspie on Tuesday became the first Sox player to commit three errors in one game since Andy Gonzalez on Aug. 30, 2007. That's not company you want to keep.

It has been a brutal September for the Sox thus far. They are 2-8 this month and have committed 17 errors in those 10 games.

The Sox now have a major-league high 108 errors for the season, leading to 70 unearned runs. Last year, the Sox committed a league-low 70 errors. The defensive regression in one year is really hard to explain, but poor defense does explain a 58-86 record; that much I know.


  1. I think one of the more interesting choices the White Sox have to make this offseason is what to do at third base.

    Gillaspie hasn't really take control of the job. He glove has been better than advertised when he washed out of the Giants' system, but still not so good. For sure not good enough to carry his batting line.

    The defense probably isn't getting better. Do the Sox think he can take another step forward with is bat in a second full year? If not, and he is what he is, does Marcus Semien become the favorite to win and hold the job going in to next year?

    I think Semien projects as the much better player on both offense and defense. If the Sox feel the same, and think Semien can play second base, maybe they think the choice is then between Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham.

    If Gillaspie and Beckham both kept hitting like crap, Beckham's glove still makes him the better player and likely worth the raise he'd get in arbitration.

    I don't know that there's much reason to think Gillaspie can be a better hitter than Beckham. So maybe with the way this year has gone defensively for the White Sox, you just keep Beckham, put Semien at third and only hang on to Gillaspie if you need the spare part.

    The other big domino to fall is deciding if Alejandro De Aza will stick as a CF, or if he should move to LF. Preferably with Dayan Viciedo moving to DH, or maybe another team.

  2. I like Semien a lot, but I have two questions about him: 1) Would he benefit from starting next season in Charlotte? and 2) What is his best position? 2B or 3B? I don't think he's a shortstop.

    If they think Semien fits best at 2B, would they move Beckham back to 3B? I'm not sold on Gillaspie, offensively or defensively.

    I'd like to get De Aza out of CF, too. His bat is fine, but his defense is subpar. Viciedo is a tough decision. I think they were hoping he'd take another step forward this year. Didn't happen. He's been a disappointment. But, he's still young, and the Sox don't have a lot of internal options. Maybe he gets another chance next year by default. He brings nothing defensively, so he has to hit to stick as an everyday player.

  3. Viciedo may be worth another shot. He has hit better in the second half, and you don't really want to give up on a young player too soon. The Royals stuck with Eric Hosmer after he had a down sophomore season, and he's back to hitting pretty well again. Another recent example might be Justin Smoak, who the Mariners stuck with after a bad season, then a worse season. He's maybe figuring out how to hit enough to be decent player, though his cheap years are almost over.

    It's a luxury a bad team has -- giving guys playing time to see if they can work things out.

    The Sox haven't really viewed themselves as a team with that luxury in a long time. I think over the last decade, the only times they've put a young guy in and stuck with him, it's been for lack of better alternatives.

    Another shot at Viciedo might fit under both of those headings. Maybe the Sox think he can get it together. Maybe they look at a free agent like Kendrys Morales and believe they'd just be getting the older version of Viciedo at a much greater cost, so why bother?

    Maybe it just depends on what else breaks loose this offseason. If they sign a big hitter like a Carlos Beltran, do they think that and their pitching make them close enough to a contender that they can't mess around with Viciedo anymore? They've swung and missed on free agents before, but if they connect on a big one, do they make a supplemental signing or two, possibly pushing Viciedo and Adam Dunn into a platoon?

    If the Sox can't import better pieces, I guess you could look at another audition for Viciedo as fine. But this team has a problem in that there are a lot of spots where you'd look at the incumbent and in a vacuum it would be "fine" and not really any spots you'd look at and say they'll be "good" for next year. At least among position players.

  4. Yeah, among position players, who on this team would you identify as a core player over the long haul? I really like A. Garcia, but even he isn't established yet. Beckham is another guy who falls under the category of "fine," but not "good."

    With Konerko coming to the end of the line, the organization is starved for guys who can produce in the middle of the batting order. Power production is down across the board this season.

    If they are going to replace Viciedo, it would have to come from outside the organization. Who would be the internal option? Jor Danks? He gives you left-handedness and better defense and baserunning than Viciedo, but his bat doesn't have the upside that Viciedo's has. I'll admit Jor Danks has surprised me by hitting .250 with some power in his big-league at-bats this year, but I still don't see him as any more than a fourth outfielder.

    The system doesn't have any other big-league ready OFs. I can't say I'm particularly encouraged about Trayce Thompson at this point. It would not hurt my feelings if Jared Mitchell was released. Brandon Jacobs needs another year in AA. Putting Courtney Hawkins in High-A this year was a reach. No immediate help on the way from any of these guys.

  5. Maybe the Sox will be players for Jose Abreu.

  6. They usually are in the mix when a Cuban player is involved.