Showing posts with label Alex Fernandez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alex Fernandez. Show all posts

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jeff Samardzija joins list of newly acquired White Sox starters to struggle on Opening Day

Jeff Samardzija had a pretty forgettable turn as an Opening Day starter for the White Sox on Monday. Sadly, that's been the state of things throughout history when the Sox have put a newly acquired hurler on the mound to kick things off.

Here are the guys who started a season opener in their first tour with the Sox:

David Wells (2001)
Arrival: Wells, a free-agent-to-be, was the big offseason acquisition for the Sox after they won a surprising division title in 2000. Mike Sirotka was sent to Toronto in a swap of lefties in which Chicago got the better end, but only because the guy they traded had a bum shoulder and never pitched in the majors again.

Opening Day: Wells was solid, giving up a pair of runs over six innings for a quality start in a 7-4 win against Cleveland.

The Season: Wells wasn't the missing piece for the Sox's rotation. The big pitcher gave up at least four earned runs in half of the 16 starts he made that year before an injury forced him out in June, conveniently after he dogged Frank Thomas for not being tough enough to play through a torn triceps.

Postscript: It was one-and-done for Wells and the Sox when the aging hurler went back to the Yankees, where he previously had his most successful seasons and would go on to have the best of his late-career run.

Jaime Navarro (1997)
Arrival: Navarro was the second-biggest free agent splash the Sox made before this year. The other was signing Albert Belle to what was then the richest contract in baseball. Navarro, who had won 29 games over the previous two seasons with middling Cubs teams, was given four years and $30 million as the less-costly alternative to either re-signing the Sox's own free agent Alex Fernandez, or luring Roger Clemens to the South Side.

Opening Day: Navarro pitched six innings against Toronto, gave up five runs -- three earned -- on five walks and seven hits that included a couple home runs. The Sox still prevailed, 6-5, with reliever Tony Castillo getting the win and Roberto Hernandez recording the save.

The Season: The only thing that would make Navarro's first start anomalous from his inaugural campaign with the Sox is that he struck out eight batters. He was not prolific in recording Ks the rest of the time, but was pretty good at issuing walks, hits and especially home runs on his way to a 5.79 ERA in just less than 175 innings.

Postscript: Navarro was maybe the worst free agent signing in Sox history. In a classic Jerry Manuel decision, the surly right-hander was given the ball on Opening Day again the next year. The walks, home runs and attitude kept getting worse. Stints of banishment to the bullpen over the next couple years did nothing to improve his over-6.00 ERAs. The last year of his contract was dumped on the Brewers in exchange for taking back Jose Valentin and Cal Eldred, who both had great moments with the Sox.

Ricky Horton (1988)
Arrival: Then-GM Larry Himes dealt Jose DeLeon to the Cardinals for Horton and an outfield prospect named Lance Johnson. DeLeon was part of an exodus of rotation stalwarts from the previous season as Himes also traded Floyd Bannister and Richard Dotson. Horton had done good work as a swingman for St. Louis, posting a 3.12 ERA starting 36 games and finishing 53 over the previous four seasons. The Sox planned to slot the lefty right into their rotation.

Opening Day: With the top three starters from the previous season gone, the start could have gone to prospects Jack McDowell or Melido Perez (acquired in the Bannister trade). Or journeyman Dave LaPoint, acquired from St. Louis the previous year. Or scrap-heap reclamation Jerry Reuss. Instead they went with Horton, who gave up five runs -- four earned -- in an 8-5 win against the Angels, gutting his way into the ninth before putting two men on and yielding to Bobby Thigpen for the save.

The Season: Horton had a nice April going 3-3 with a 3.43 ERA, but then the wheels fell off. He was thrashed his first three starts of May before being pulled from the rotation. By July his ERA was touching 6.00. By September he was a Dodger, where he did little to impress out of the bullpen, not even appearing in the World Series that year for Los Angeles on its way to a title.

Postscript: Horton was bad and out of baseball after a couple more years. That was probably fine for the Sox, who were really after Johnson in the DeLeon trade. It was Johnson that was in center field once the Sox broke through to win 94 games two years later with McDowell, Perez and Greg Hibbard (also in the Bannister trade) leading the rotation. More pitching was on the way for the resurgent franchise that was still in transition when Horton came and went.

Ed Durham (1933) / Sad Sam Jones (1932)
Arrival: Jones and Durham share an entry because they started openers back-to-back during the darkest days of the White Sox franchise. Jones was part of a package that included Bump Hadley and Jackie Hayes for Carl Reynolds, an outfielder coming off a disappointing year, and infielder John Kerr. Durham was traded for four guys, only one of whom appeared in the majors after 1933.

Opening Day: The then-39-year-old Jones started the 1932 campaign for the Sox with a complete game in a 9-2 win against the St. Louis Browns. He got the Opening Day nod with Hall-of-Famers Ted Lyons and Red Faber not being able to take the ball until later in the season. Durham tossed seven innings in a 4-2 win over the Browns on Opening Day the following year.

The Season(s): Jones had a respectable year, going 10-15 but with a respectable 4.22 ERA in that day. That would be pretty representative of the work the Sox would get from him, more sporadically, over the next there seasons. Durham, then just 25, might have appeared to a more promising long-term piece. But after reportedly injuring his arm in his Opening Day start, he labored to a 4.48 ERA in 23 more games -- 20 of them starts -- and was gone from baseball after the season.

The Postscript: It's the popular perception that the White Sox entered baseball's wilderness after the 1920 season when eight of their players were given lifetime bans for throwing the 1919 World Series. That's partly true in that the Sox were awful in 1921, but they did bounce back to 77-77 record the year after and finished above .500 in 1925 and 1926. The gutted Sox rosters of the early- and mid-20s were overall mediocre, but with Hall-of-Famers Eddie Collins, Harry Hooper and Ray Schalk, plus solid players like Johnny Mostil and Willie Kamm, they were mostly respectable.

That changed by the end of the decade, when Collins, Hooper, Schalk and Mostil saw their careers wind down with no replacements at hand. Over six seasons from 1929-1934, the Sox had a .377 win percentage. For six years they had a worse winning percentage than they had in any single season except 1948. It wasn't until 1936 when Luke Appling hit .388 that the Sox again posted a winning record.

The Sox were grasping at straws when they hauled Jones and Durham in to help fill out pitching staffs that were among the worst in baseball for half a decade.

When the Sox added Samardzija, they were in a more enviable position, already in possession of a left-handed ace (Chris Sale), a lefty who could be an ace on many teams (Jose Quintana) and yet another lefty prospect who could develop into an ace (Carlos Rodon).

Let's hope the current state of the Sox franchise continues its divergent path from the one taken by the early 30s Sox, while Samardzija recovers to pitch better for the Sox that anybody else on this list.