Showing posts with label Erik Johnson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Erik Johnson. Show all posts

Friday, October 7, 2016

James Shields trade didn't turn out great for San Diego, either

Erik Johnson
This probably won't comfort White Sox fans who have watched James Shields get rocked start after start over the past four months, but the guy the Sox traded for Shields -- Erik Johnson -- is sidelined after Tommy John surgery.

Johnson made just four starts for the San Diego Padres in 2016, going 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA. He allowed a Shields-like 20 earned runs on 32 hits -- including nine home runs -- and five walks in 19.2 innings. He didn't pitch a single game after July 1.

According to a report in Thursday's San Diego Union-Tribune, Johnson will miss the entire 2017 season after the elbow surgery.

The Padres can at least say they got some salary relief from the deal. They paid Johnson the league minimum to sit on the DL, which is not ideal, but it's probably preferable to paying Shields $21 million to go 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

James Shields booed off the field in White Sox debut

James Shields
I was skeptical last week when the White Sox acquired right-handed pitcher James Shields from the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher Erik Johnson and shortstop prospect Fernando Tatis Jr.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not concerned about losing Johnson, who is a marginal pitcher at best. And the 17-year-old Tatis Jr. is years away from potentially making an impact at the major-league level.

Rather, I just don't believe in Shields. This is a 34-year-old pitcher with a high-mileage arm and declining velocity, and he's making the transition from a pitcher-friendly NL park in San Diego to a hitter-friendly AL park in U.S. Cellular Field.

Heh, heh, what could go wrong?

Well, plenty, unfortunately.

Shields absorbed a severe beating in his Sox debut Wednesday night, an 11-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. The NL East leaders roughed up Shields for seven runs on eight hits over two-plus innings. Shields struck out two and walked two -- and gave up three home runs.

By the time the Nationals completed their first trip through the batting order, they had hit three homers and scored six runs. Shields needed 79 pitches to complete two innings. He was removed to a chorus of boos after giving up a leadoff hit in the top of the third inning.

Gack.

If Erik Johnson had pitched this game, he likely also would have given up three home runs, but he probably would have had the courtesy to space them out over five innings. Not so with Shields. He got the struggling Sox blown out of the game before they even had a chance to bat.

This game got so bad that outfielder J.B. Shuck pitched the ninth inning for the Sox. He was more effective than Shields, allowing one run on one hit during his inning of work.

I'm not sure what that says, but dating back to his last start in San Diego, Shields has allowed 17 runs over his last 4.2 innings. And, if he does not exercise an out clause in his contract after this season, the Sox are stuck with him through the 2018 season.

Oh, boy. This is the sort of trade that could get Rick Hahn fired if Shields doesn't turn it around.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Erik Johnson's stay in the White Sox rotation a short one

Erik Johnson is back in Charlotte.
Erik Johnson's audition for the fifth spot in the White Sox starting rotation did not go well Thursday night, as he suffered a 7-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Johnson needed 81 pitches to get through the first three innings, and he was fortunate to get through five innings. He allowed four runs on eight hits, walking three and striking out six. He did retire seven of the last eight hitters he faced, and ended up throwing 108 pitches.

Still, he was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte after the game.

The Sox (19-10) still have a four-game lead in the American League Central despite losing two out of three to Boston. They'll look to get back on track this weekend with a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins.

Mat Latos, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are lined up to pitch in this series. Carlos Rodon will get the opener of a three-game series that starts Monday in Texas, but then the Sox will need a fifth starter again for Tuesday's game against the Rangers.

The guess here is Miguel Gonzalez will get his second opportunity to try to secure the spot. The right-hander allowed five runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 25, a game the Sox eventually won, 7-5.

Gonzalez most recently pitched Wednesday for Triple-A Charlotte, which would put him in line to pitch Tuesday. He's 1-0 with a 2.65 ERA in four starts for the Knights. He's thrown only 17 innings, however, as one of those four starts was cut short when he was struck with a line drive in the first inning.

In other pitching news, Sox reliever Jake Petricka has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a hip problem. Right-hander Tommy Kahnle has taken that spot in the bullpen.

With Johnson's demotion, veteran right-hander Scott Carroll has been recalled to take a spot in the bullpen, according to a tweet by CSNChicago's Dan Hayes. The Sox bullpen has worked seven innings the past two games, and Carroll is the kind of pitcher who can provide multiple innings in relief, if necessary.

The Sox also are sending catcher Alex Avila on a rehab assignment. Avila has been on the disabled list since straining his hamstring April 23.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

White Sox designate John Danks for assignnment

The White Sox on Tuesday announced their intention to designate veteran left-hander John Danks for assignment.

Danks is 0-4 with a 7.25 ERA in four starts this season, and as we've chronicled previously on this blog, he is the one guy who seems to be holding the Sox back this season. The South Siders enter Wednesday's game against Boston with a 19-8 record, which means they are 19-4 when Danks doesn't pitch.

General manager Rick Hahn indicated right-hander Erik Johnson will be recalled from Triple-A Charlotte to take Danks' spot in the starting rotation. Johnson will start Thursday's game against Boston.

“(Danks) was an important part of some very good White Sox teams,” Hahn told CSNChicago's Dan Hayes. “This is about putting us in the best position to win ballgames going forward. We feel we have a pretty special thing going on in this clubhouse right now. We have the opportunity to build off some of the momentum we already have created for ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win games going forward.”

There's no question Danks has been a momentum killer during his starts in the early going this year. His appearances have put a stop to a five-game winning streak and a six-game winning streak already. The struggles are part of a longer-term trend since Danks underwent shoulder surgery in August 2012.

He has never been the same pitcher since returning in 2013. In 88 post-surgery starts, he has gone 22-44 with a 4.84 ERA. As a team, the Sox are 32-56 in those 88 games. He's just too big of a liability for a team that is off to a good start and has every intention of trying to win this year.

Letting Danks go will not be cheap. The club is eating the remaining $11.75 million on Danks' contract, which comes as a surprise to many longtime Sox observers, who are used to seeing owner Jerry Reinsdorf insist on getting a return on his investment.

For myself and other Sox fans, the move is refreshing, because it shows the Sox are serious about winning and willing to address problems quickly. In the past, we've seen this organization stick with high-priced players despite poor performance. (Why was Adam Dunn batting third in 2011 when his batting average was well below .200?)

In the past, we've seen this organization stick with struggling players (Tyler Flowers, Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham) long after it became apparent they were never going to be solid, everyday contributors.

Whether the Sox have an internal solution for the No. 5 starter spot remains to be seen. But both the numbers and the eye test show that Danks is no longer capable of pitching at the major-league level. I commend the Sox for recognizing that and moving on.

Friday, April 29, 2016

John Danks torpedoes another White Sox winning streak

John Danks is 0-4 in four starts.
From April 9 to 15, the White Sox won five games in a row. John Danks put a stop to that by getting shelled in Tampa Bay on April 16.

The Sox won six games in a row this week. Danks put a stop to that Thursday by getting shelled in Baltimore.

The veteran left-hander was staked to an early 2-0 lead on Todd Frazier's first-inning home run, but it was all downhill from there as the Orioles clobbered the South Siders, 10-2.

Danks lasted five-plus innings, allowing six runs on nine hits. He struck out four and walked two, one of which was a four-pitch free pass to Baltimore's No. 9 hitter, Caleb Joseph, in the third inning. That walk started a four-run Orioles rally that featured back-to-back home runs by Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. By the time the fourth inning rolled around, the Sox were facing a 5-2 deficit.

Baltimore broke it open with five in the sixth. Jake Petricka, providing no relief, gave up a grand slam to Manny Machado, but realistically, the game was lost early when Danks let it get away from him.

The Sox are 16-7 through 23 games, but Danks is 0-4. His ERA has swelled to 7.25. His WHIP sits at an unsightly 1.746.

Danks' woes have created the first crisis for the Sox in this 2016 season. As we've stated before, we can't attribute this slow start to a small sample size, because Danks finished last year on a struggling note. If you combine his final 10 starts of 2015 with his first four starts of this year, you come up with an ugly 1-11 record and a 5.13 ERA.

"It's been a pretty miserable April," Danks said in this MLB.com article. "I'm just not throwing enough strikes, just not throwing enough quality strikes. There's been games where I can full on eliminate a pitch, because it doesn't have a chance."

If you can believe it, Danks' velocity is down from last year. His average fastball velocity is 87.90 mph through four starts this season. That's only six miles an hour quicker than his changeup, which sits at 81.16 on average. They say you want an average variance of 9 to 11 mph between those two pitches, so Danks' reduced velocity is really killing him. It's hard to tell the difference between the fastball and the change. To the hitters' eye, it all looks the same. Danks is easy pickings for a hard-hitting team such as the Orioles right now.

By way of comparison, his fastball velocity in 2015 averaged 89.86. Danks had 15 starts, most of them toward the end of last year, where his fastball averaged 90 mph. If he touches 90 with his four-seamer, that's at least enough to give him a fighting chance with the 81 mph changeup. Right now, those lost three ticks on his fastball have put him in a situation where he needs to be pinpoint with his command, and he has been anything but pinpoint.

The Sox have to be thinking about making a change at the back of the rotation at this point. We've already seen Miguel Gonzalez come up for a spot start. Other viable options from Triple-A Charlotte include Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

General manager Rick Hahn has addressed several problems on this team since the end of last season -- a new third baseman, a new catching duo, a new second baseman, a new shortstop, an upgraded outfield defense. The Sox have the look of a contender, and they've come too far to show too much patience with Danks.

I'd be inclined to make a change now, but at most Danks should get no more than two more starts to pull himself together. It's hard to sustain winning streaks when you've got one starting pitcher who is putting you in a three-, four-, or five-run hole in the early innings more often than not.

Monday, April 25, 2016

White Sox put John Danks on notice (finally)

We're three weeks into the season, and the White Sox are coming off a sweep of the Texas Rangers that concluded a 5-2 homestand.

The South Siders have surprised even the biggest optimists by posting a 13-6 record through the first 19 games -- that's the most wins in the American League entering Monday's play.

That said, there was some roster juggling necessary over the past week. Catcher Alex Avila pulled a hamstring during Saturday's 4-3 win over Texas, and Kevan Smith was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte as Avila was placed on the disabled list.

More notably, Erik Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte after going unused on the homestand, and Miguel Gonzalez was called up to start Monday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays -- the first of a weeklong, seven-game road trip.

Ace Chris Sale's start was pushed back to Tuesday. Jose Quintana will start Wednesday's game. For the second time this season, John Danks had his turn skipped, and he will pitch either Thursday or Friday against Baltimore.

It appears the Sox are (finally) sending a message to Danks that his spot in the rotation is not secure. The Sox are 0-3 in Danks' three starts this year, and 13-3 behind their other four starting pitchers.

Obviously, there will be some regression in those numbers as we go along, but Danks has earned his 0-3 record, which is coupled with a 6.23 ERA, a 5.52 FIP, a 1.65 WHIP and a 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His struggles cannot be attributed to a small sample size, either, given his high ERAs in the past three seasons (4.75, 4.74, and 4.71). Right-handed batters are hitting .309 against Danks this year, after hitting .294 against him last year. Sending him to the mound against Toronto would be akin to raising the white flag, given the strong right-handed hitters in the Blue Jays lineup (Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki).

Toronto hitters had a 1.021 OPS in two games against Danks last year. In contrast, Danks had one of his best starts of 2015 -- seven scoreless innings -- against Baltimore, so from a matchup perspective, this Toronto series is a great time to skip Danks.

And, in case you were wondering, here are Gonzalez's numbers against the Blue Jays since 2012:

7-3, 2.61 ERA, 76 IP, 56 H, 7 HR, 21 BB, 54 K

Having played in Baltimore, Gonzalez has seen quite a bit of the Blue Jays, and he's won his share of the battles. That doesn't mean he'll win Monday -- there's a reason Baltimore released him. The Orioles let him go because his fastball velocity had dipped from 90-92 to 86-88. The Sox say Gonzalez's velocity came back in the two starts he has made at Charlotte, and that's why they are giving him a chance.

If nothing else, it's encouraging to see the Sox are considering other options for the No. 5 starting job beyond Danks, who has simply not pitched well enough to have a firm grip on the spot. We might learn that he's still the best option they have (for the time being), but it's clear the longest-serving, highest-paid member of the Sox is now officially pitching to keep his job.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Carlos Rodon's implosion costs J.B. Shuck his roster spot

Carlos Rodon was knocked out early Monday.
White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon pitched terrible Monday night.

He fell behind eight of the nine hitters he faced. He could not command any of his three pitches. Here was the result: Single, strikeout, walk, walk, single, single, single, single, single.

The Los Angeles Angels scored five runs during an interminable top of the first inning and went on to beat the Sox, 7-0. The South Siders have now dropped three in a row to fall to 8-5 on the season.

Rodon's final line: 0.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 K, 2 BB

It was the quickest non-injury-related exit for a Sox starting pitcher since Aug. 28, 2003, when Neal Cotts got cuffed around by the New York Yankees.

For Rodon, it's only one loss, but this defeat could have repercussions for the Sox throughout the remainder of this seven-game, weeklong homestand. The bullpen had to throw 8.2 innings Monday night, and the Sox don't have another off day until May 2.

We can't say the bullpen did a poor job. Jake Petricka allowed a run over 2.2 innings and was reasonably economical, needing 33 pitches to record eight outs. Zach Putnam was even better, firing three shutout innings on 34 pitches. Dan Jennings needed 49 pitches to get through two innings of one-run ball. Zach Duke also pitched and worked a scoreless inning.

The end result is Petricka, Putnam and Jennings all are likely unavailable to the Sox on Tuesday night, and without a roster move, there would be no long reliever in place should Mat Latos struggle or get injured in his scheduled start.

So, the Sox were forced to make a roster move. Through no fault of his own, outfielder J.B. Shuck was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after Monday's game. That makes room for right-hander Erik Johnson, who was recalled Tuesday.

Johnson has a 4.22 ERA with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 10.2 innings over his first two starts in Charlotte. He is stretched out to be a starter, so he can give the Sox multiple innings in Tuesday's game should the need arise.

Monday, March 21, 2016

White Sox option Erik Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte; Carson Fulmer opening eyes

Erik Johnson
The White Sox will have one right-handed pitcher in their Opening Day starting rotation. It just won't be Erik Johnson.

The Sox optioned Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte on Monday as one of three roster moves. Pitcher Tyler Danish and infielder Steve Lombardozzi also were assigned to minor league camp.

Johnson's demotion is a sign the club sees Mat Latos as its fifth starter going into the season, although Latos is yet to pitch in a game this spring. As for Johnson, he did nothing to distinguish himself in two starts, allowing nine runs on 10 hits in six innings.

The other rotation candidate, Jacob Turner, has made three Cactus League starts, but he has looked shaky -- allowing nine earned runs on 13 hits over 7.2 innings. He allowed two runs and lasted just two innings in a struggling performance against the Oakland A's on Sunday.

Latos seems to be the leader by default for that rotation spot.

Meanwhile, Carson Fulmer continued to impress Sunday with 3.1 scoreless innings and four strikeouts against the A's. It caught my attention on the Sox broadcast Saturday when pitching coach Don Cooper said Fulmer is further along in his development now than Carlos Rodon was at this same time last year.

Cooper reiterated the point when Scott Merkin of MLB.com asked him if Fulmer could contribute to the 2016 Sox.

"Absolutely. Why not?" Cooper said. "I believe at this point, right now, compared to last year, he's slightly ahead of where [Carlos] Rodon was."

Manager Robin Ventura also praised Fulmer in a story filed by CSNChicago.com's Dan Hayes.

“He’s jumped up there pretty high,” Ventura said. “Coop’s excited about what he’s been doing down here, making some adjustments and really putting himself on the radar for a couple of needs that might arise. He could probably fill both of those. Just an impressive young guy and is very mature and is learning very quickly as he goes along.”

This is a change from what we heard at SoxFest, when Ventura and general manager Rick Hahn tried to tamp down high fan expectations for Fulmer.

The 2015 first-round draft pick is not going to come north with the Sox, but his recent performances and the latest comments from team brass suggest his stay in the minors might not be a long one.

Monday, March 14, 2016

White Sox have back-of-the-rotation questions

The White Sox had two spring training games that were hard to watch and/or listen to over the weekend -- they were beaten by the Cubs, 9-2, on Saturday and lost 11-4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

Poor performances by back-of-the rotation candidates were a common theme in both losses, with Erik Johnson looking more like the 2014 version of himself than the 2015 International League Pitcher of the Year.

Johnson gave up five runs on seven hits over three innings against a split-squad Cubs lineup that featured only three regulars (Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo). His fastball was clocked between 85 and 89 mph and had little life. Once such fastball was hit over the fence by Fowler in the second inning. Johnson was hanging his breaking ball and consistently behind in counts.

We'll forgive the hanging breaking balls, because the dry Arizona air can make it hard to snap off a good curve. But reduced velocity and poor command doomed Johnson two years ago, and those issues seem to have resurfaced early on in 2016. He's given up a combined nine runs in his first two Arizona starts, and the stuff he's featuring now isn't going to be good enough for him to make the club.

Speaking of poor stuff, John Danks got cuffed around in his third spring start on Sunday, allowing eight runs on six hits over 4.1 innings in the loss to the Diamondbacks. Danks gave up two homers to some guy named Peter O'Brien, a 25-year-old who has made 12 plate appearances in the majors in his career.

After the game, Danks said he understands his critics, but pointed out that he's trying to simplify his mechanics before the season starts. OK, I can buy that, but the problem is I feel like I've been hearing about Danks trying to make mechanical adjustments for the past four years. The bottom line is he's never been a pitcher with precise command, and now that he doesn't have the velocity he had before his shoulder surgery, it's going to be extremely difficult for him to be consistent over 30-plus starts. That's why he should be pitching for a job this spring, regardless of his contract status.

The Sox's other rotation candidate, Mat Latos, has yet to pitch in a game that counts in the spring training standings. He pitched in a "B" game Saturday, allowing three runs (all in the first inning) over four innings of work.

An American League scout told CSNChicago's JJ Stankevitz that Latos' performance was "pretty underwhelming." Sox manager Robin Ventura described it as "alright."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement on either count, so the Sox are looking for at least two of these three guys -- Johnson, Danks and Latos -- to step up before the spring is over.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hopefully, John Danks has to earn his spot in the White Sox rotation this year

John Danks
Even though it's only spring training, it was nice to hear baseball on the radio Thursday afternoon. The White Sox lost, 6-1, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The result wasn't satisfactory, but all the usual caveats about spring training being meaningless in the won-loss column apply.

The Sox were limited to just three hits, and starting pitcher John Danks gave up three runs on four hits over two innings. He walked the first batter he saw, then gave up three singles to put the Sox down 2-0 after the first inning. He also gave up a long solo home run to Alex Guerrero in the second inning.

Let me say this about Danks: I hope his spot in the starting rotation isn't secure. His ERAs over the past three years have been 4.75, 4.74 and 4.71, respectively. He's been consistent, give him that, but he's been consistently below par. In each of the past two seasons, his WHIP has been higher than 1.4 (1.441 in 2014, 1.413 in 2015).

Nothing he has done recently should be good enough to guarantee him a spot in the rotation. He should have to compete for one, and unlike previous seasons, the Sox do have other options. We know Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will be in the rotation, assuming good health. But the other two spots should be up for grabs among Danks, Mat Latos, Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

If two of those three other pitchers are more impressive this spring than Danks, then they should be in the rotation, and Danks should go to the bullpen. If Danks outpitches all of them this spring, then he can keep his spot. But I don't think it should be just handed to him.

Earlier this winter at SoxFest, a fan asked GM Rick Hahn whether designated hitter Adam LaRoche was going to keep his spot in the lineup based on his veteran status and $13 million salary. Hahn insisted the Sox do not have any "scholarship players," that LaRoche would have to earn his spot, and that manager Robin Ventura has been told to play the best players regardless of who is making the most money.

I don't know if I believe it when the Sox say they will send a high-priced player to the margins if that player is not producing. Like LaRoche, Danks is set to make big bucks in this, the final year of his contract. In fact, Danks will be the highest paid player on the team at $15.75 million.

Based on that figure, I can't shake the feeling that Danks is going to be in the rotation whether he deserves the spot or not. And based upon what I've seen the past three years, he's a good candidate to be replaced. His poor outing Thursday comes with the aforementioned caveats about spring training not mattering, but there have been plenty of times where Danks has failed miserably when it did matter.

Let's hope the Sox take that into account if Danks flounders all spring.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mat Latos vs. Jeff Samardzija: a side-by-side comparison

The White Sox created competition at the back end of their starting rotation last week with the signing of veteran right-hander Mat Latos.

We already know Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will be the top three starting pitchers on the roster. That leaves Latos, John Danks, Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner to compete for the last two spots.

Being a cynic, I'll go ahead and assume Danks' place in the rotation is safe. He's the longest-tenured player on the Sox. He is the highest paid player on the roster, and money talks when it comes to the decisions the Sox make.

That would mean the Sox would have four of the same five starting pitchers they had in the rotation last year, with Latos, Johnson and Turner competing for the spot vacated by Jeff Samardzija.

If Latos is healthy, I think he gets the job. For the sake of argument, let's assume that's the case.

Will Latos be an upgrade over Samardzija? Let's do a side-by-side comparison with last year's numbers:

Category Latos Samardzija
W-L record 4-10 11-13
ERA 4.95 4.96
FIP 3.72 4.23
WHIP 1.307 1.294
H/9 9.3 9.6
HR/9 1.0 1.2
BB/9 2.5 2.1
K/9 7.7 6.9
K/BB 3.13 3.33

Clearly, these numbers are not impressive for either pitcher, both of whom suffered through the worst seasons of their respective careers.

But a couple things to note: Latos has the excuse of not being healthy. He made only 21 starts all year. Samardzija made all 32 of his starts.

People have excused Samardzija's poor season on the grounds that he had poor defense behind him with the White Sox. I can't disagree with that point, but isn't it interesting that Samardzija's FIP (fielder independent pitcher) was worse than Latos's?

The numbers suggest that Samardzija was responsible for many of his own problems.

Now, let's compare career statistics:

Category Latos Samardzija
W-L record 64-55 47-61
ERA 3.51 4.09
FIP 3.44 3.84
WHIP 1.183 1.278
H/9 8.0 8.5
HR/9 0.8 1.0
BB/9 2.7 3.0
K/9 8.1 8.2
K/BB 3.04 2.76

Latos is the superior pitcher in every category but one: strikeouts per nine innings. And the difference there is minimal.

Which pitcher would you bet on as a bounce-back candidate in 2016? There's a strong case for Latos.

And, remember, Samardzija signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Latos comes to the Sox on a one-year deal worth $3 million.

I'd say the Giants are taking the far bigger gamble on Samardzija than the Sox are taking on Latos.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mat Latos, White Sox agree to one-year deal

Mat Latos
The White Sox moved to increase their starting pitching depth Tuesday, agreeing with veteran right-hander Mat Latos on a one-year, $3 million contract.

Latos, 28, is a three-time 14-game winner who has been limited to just 40 combined appearances over the past two seasons because of knee injuries.

In 2015, he appeared in 24 games (21 starts) with the Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels, going 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA.

The Sox will hope Latos regains the form he showed from 2010 to 2013. He made at least 31 starts and pitched at least 180 innings in each of those four seasons, going 51-35 with a 3.27 ERA during that time frame.

For his career, Latos is 64-55 with a 3.51 ERA in 177 games, 174 of them starts.

I asked White Sox GM Rick Hahn about starting pitching depth at SoxFest. The projected five include ace Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Erik Johnson and John Danks. I noted that Johnson still doesn't have many big league innings under his belt, and 30 starts and 200 innings also will be a new experience for Rodon -- despite all the promise he has shown.

So, I wanted to know from Hahn who else the Sox had to fill in when one of the younger guys needs to skip a start, or if there's a doubleheader, or if there's an injury. Hahn cited Jacob Turner and Chris Beck as guys who would be positioned to get the nod as sixth or seventh starters.

Frankly, I didn't like that answer. Apparently, Hahn also saw that as a weakness, so he's taking what I think is a low-risk gamble on Latos. The health is a big question mark, but it's worth noting that Latos has had knee problems -- not arm problems -- and he could be the No. 3 or No. 4 starter on the Sox roster if he returns to form.

If he still isn't healthy, or struggles for other reasons, it's only a one-year deal at a bargain rate. It's not something that's going to financially hinder the Sox from making other moves.

Also, this could be a precursor to another move, because the Sox now have six starting pitchers on the roster. But I think they would want Latos to prove he's healthy before trading away any of their other guys.

At minimum, this gives the Sox more options, and when it comes to pitching, more options is a good thing.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thoughts on what I saw and heard at SoxFest 2016

Me with White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton
Some people were expecting pitchforks and torches at SoxFest 2016 after the team failed to add a major free-agent outfielder this offseason. That really wasn't the case, but it's also worth noting that there didn't seem to be a lot of buzz or excitement about the upcoming season in the air, either.

It seems like most Sox fans are of the mindset of, "Ehh ... this is probably a .500 team. Whatever." Here are a few other thoughts and tidbits from the weekend:

1. Robin Ventura and Rick Hahn addressed the slow starts the Sox have had the last seven seasons before I was able to step to the microphone to ask a question Friday night. Ventura said there are "different things you can do" to try to prevent the team from getting off to a slow start, such as having the veterans play six or seven innings in spring training games, as opposed to three or four innings. The braintrust also noted that they've been talking about the trend of slow starts ever since last July or August, so it was on their radar well before it was asked about at SoxFest. Ventura also noted the importance of drilling on fundamentals and cleaning up mental mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. You'd like to think he did that last year, too, but it just didn't produce good results.

2. I asked Ventura and Hahn about accountability Friday night, and not in the sense that we typically speak about that topic. Usually when fans talk about accountability, they're talking about the need for someone to be fired when things don't go well. When I spoke, I talked about the need for players to hold each other accountable for bad play, whether that has been happening in the Sox clubhouse, and whether the Sox have a culture where that sort of thing is encouraged. Ventura acknowledged that it is important for players to police each other, and that it's different in the clubhouse now in the post-Paul Konerko era. Konerko was the leader of the team for so long, and other players were in the habit of deferring to him. Last year, he was gone, so now what? Hahn indicated some of his acquisitions have been made with the idea of adding more leadership to the room. He believes newly acquired third baseman Todd Frazier and newly acquired catcher Alex Avila can add that element. Adam LaRoche's name also was brought up during that discussion, but Hahn correctly noted LaRoche didn't have a leg to stand on in holding his teammates accountable last year, because he was suffering through a horrible season himself.

3. First baseman Jose Abreu and center fielder Adam Eaton are really good and accommodating with the fans in the autograph and picture lines. I'm not an autograph person at all, but I did have my picture taken with Eaton (see above). When you approach Eaton, he'll extend his hand and say, "Hi, I'm Adam, good to meet you." That seems like such a small thing, and let's be honest, we already know who he is and he doesn't need to introduce himself, but he doesn't assume that, and he doesn't big-time people. There are other guys who could learn from his example.

4. Ken Harrelson, as you might expect, hogs the microphone way too much when he's moderating a seminar. He stands up there and tells the same stories that we hear all summer long on the broadcasts. Yo Hawk, we really don't need to hear about Sam McDowell and his great stuff again. Let the fans ask questions and let the panelists talk. Frazier had some insightful comments during the "Big League Bats" seminar that also featured Chet Lemon and Melky Cabrera on Friday night. Lemon also was interesting. I would have liked to have heard more from Frazier and Lemon, and less from Hawk and his observations on his "seven decades in the American League." At one point, Harrelson was going on and on about the importance of protection in the lineup. Cabrera was on stage looking at his phone, apparently bored by Hawk's extended soliloquy. Suddenly, Hawk turned around and said, "Isn't that right, Melky?" Cabrera, like a schoolchild not expecting to be called on, looked up and appeared stunned for a moment before saying, "Oh, si, si, si ..." Give Cabrera credit for one thing -- he knows it's a good idea to just agree with whatever Hawk says and move on.

5. Speaking of Frazier, he was asked about his second-half struggles last year. He hit .284 with 25 home runs before the break in 2015, but slumped to .224 with 10 home runs in the second half. Frazier, of course, won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game last year in Cincinnati, and a fan asked the cliched question about whether that messed up his swing. Frazier said that is a myth, and noted if your swing is screwed up, it should only take a few sessions in the cage to rediscover it. He instead attributed his slow second half to fatigue (he played 157 games last year) and indicated improving endurance has been the focus of his offseason workouts.

6. I asked Hahn and Ventura on Saturday about organizational depth in starting pitching. I pointed out that Erik Johnson doesn't have a lot of big-league innings under his belt, and that Carlos Rodon -- for all his promise -- has yet to have a 30-start, 200-inning season in the majors. The Sox will have to watch their workloads carefully, and of course, the potential for injury and the realities of the MLB schedule make it necessary to have a couple extra guys in the organization who can make spot starts when necessary. Hahn, of course, agreed that you're not going to get through a season using just five starting pitchers, except in the rarest of cases, and he said Jacob Turner and Chris Beck were the guys who would be in line to step in and help. Gulp. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence, so I hope Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks stay healthy all year. And I hope Rodon and Johnson take steps forward in their development.

7. One thing I was disappointed about: There wasn't a lot of opportunity to ask current players questions in the seminar room -- especially the core players. Sale, Eaton and Abreu participated in "kids-only" seminar Saturday morning. Adults were allowed in the room, of course, but only children ages 3 to 14 were allowed to ask questions. I actually thought that was an excellent idea, allowing young Sox fans to interact with the star players on the team. But I would have liked it had there been an opportunity for adult fans to ask baseball-related questions of that core group. Hahn mentioned he had a difficult conversation with Sale last September, where Sale expressed his frustration with the losing the team has experienced over the past three years. I would have loved to have asked Sale about that, but the team didn't have him scheduled for any seminars that weren't "for the kids." Makes you wonder if the organization is nervous about the core players being asked tough questions by the fans.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

White Sox make additions to 2016 SoxFest roster

Jose Contreras
With the holiday season over, it's time to look ahead to SoxFest 2016, which believe it or not is just a little more than two weeks away.

The event is scheduled for Jan. 29 to 31 at Hilton Chicago.

The White Sox on Monday announced outfielders Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia; pitchers Dan Jennings, Erik Johnson, Nate Jones, Zach Putnam and Daniel Webb; and catcher Dioner Navarro have been added to list of current players expected to attend.

World Series hero Jose Contreras highlights the list of former players slated to appear. Other 2005 team members include Carl Everett and Willie Harris. Chet Lemon, who was an All-Star outfielder for the Sox in 1978 and 1979, will be in attendance, as will former pitcher Kirk McCaskill, who is best known for being on the mound when the Sox clinched the 1993 AL West Division championship.

Overall, the list of ex-players slated to attend the event is pretty good. It includes Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Bo Jackson and Ron Kittle.

Other current players who previously committed to appear include first baseman Jose Abreu, catcher Alex Avila, pitcher John Danks, third baseman Todd Frazier, infielder Tyler Saladino and pitcher Chris Sale.

If Twitter is any indication, center fielder Adam Eaton also will be on hand.

You can monitor any additional updates to the list of attendees by visiting whitesox.com/SoxFest.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

USA Today publishes organizational report on White Sox

Carlos Rodon
If you live in Chicago or the surrounding area, it can be hard to find accurate, useful analysis of the White Sox organization. Most of the local media members are obsessed with the Bears and Cubs, and listening to them talk, it sometimes seems like they haven't watched a Sox game in two or three years.

They simply don't care about White Sox baseball. They dismiss the team as irrelevant, and while it may be irrelevant to them, it's still very much a passion for many of us fans. If you're a diehard Sox fan, it's far more useful to seek the national perspective on the team than to listen to the local talking heads. The national writers tend to be more knowledgeable, in spite of the fact that they have 30 teams to cover, and they tend to be more fair, as well.

That's why I look forward to reading articles about the Sox from national publications such as USA Today's Sports Weekly, which recently published its organizational report on the Sox. Not that any of this should be taken as gospel. Like anything else, I agree with some things in the article and disagree with others, but it's just nice to read a perspective that is outside the usual local talking points.

A few things that caught my attention from this article:

1. They expect the White Sox starting rotation to be better in 2016 than it was last year. It's an interesting thought, because the Sox rotation ranked No. 4 in the majors in WAR, according to FanGraphs.com. In fact, the Sox rotation was the best in the American League a year ago, according to those rankings. The writer of this article sees the departure of Jeff Samardzija to the San Francisco Giants as addition by subtraction, and there's no question Samardzija had a poor year last season. While I share the author's confidence in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana -- and I also expect Carlos Rodon to take the next step forward in his development -- I think Erik Johnson is a question mark as a replacement for Samardzija. Sure, Johnson won International League pitcher of the year honors at Triple-A Charlotte last year, and he showed well in six big-league starts at the end of the year. But Samardzija's team-leading 214.1 innings have to be covered by somebody. Johnson won't do that alone; he has only 86.1 big-league innings under his belt to this point. I question whether the Sox have built enough depth at this point to cover back-of-the-rotation starts.

2. The author doesn't think much of the Sox's bullpen, an area that has gone mostly unaddressed this offseason. Sox relievers logged a league-low 441.2 innings last year. I attribute that to the Sox having a strong rotation, plus manager Robin Ventura's tendency to stay with his starters too long. The writer of the article agrees that figure speaks to the quality of the Sox rotation, but also says a lack of bullpen depth perhaps handcuffed Ventura last season. Contrary to local beliefs, the author notes that David Robertson delivered in the closer's role, but the arms behind him were described as merely "serviceable." We'll see if Nate Jones can stay healthy and lock down the eighth inning for the Sox in 2016. If he can, that makes a big difference.

3. The prospects list is remarkably similar to the one provided by Baseball America, with shortstop Tim Anderson, RHP Carson Fulmer, RHP Spencer Adams and 3B Trey Michalczewski making up the consensus top four. The only variance is the inclusion of RHP Tyler Danish at No. 5. Danish was No. 6 on the Baseball America list, so there isn't much disagreement on who the top Sox prospects are. It's worth noting the author thinks Fulmer is close to contributing in Chicago. I expect Fulmer to remain the minors for all of 2016, but we'll see. You still hear some people saying Fulmer projects as a reliever, and this article alludes to that possibility. I don't think that's going to happen. Fulmer has three pitches and never showed any sort of stamina problem during his college days. For me, he stands a good shot of cracking the Sox rotation early in 2017.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

If the White Sox insist on keeping John Danks in the rotation, they need to give him a shorter leash

White Sox pitcher John Danks is overpaid. Everybody knows that. But this blog entry is not going to be about money. Today we are talking about Danks' poor performance, nothing more, nothing less.

The veteran left-hander had another implosion against an AL Central opponent Monday night. He gave up nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, including three home runs, over 5.1 innings in an embarrassing 13-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on national TV. Danks getting rocked by a divisional foe is nothing new. We've chronicled those struggles here in the past.

I've heard some folks argue Danks is a "serviceable" fifth starter. Heck, I think I might have made that statement a couple times in the past. But as time goes on and I gather more information, I've come around to the opinion that this guy doesn't belong in the rotation anymore. His 5.38 ERA ranks 50th out of 53 qualifying American League pitchers. That's not serviceable. It's terrible. It's the kind of performance you can't live with if you want to think of yourself as a competitive team.

It would be one thing if the Sox didn't have other options. For instance, we can complain until we're blue in the face about the not-so-dynamic Sox catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto. But the reality is those two guys are the best the team has in its organization at that position right now. You can't do anything else but trot them out there until the front office addresses the issue.

But it's not that way with the fifth starter spot. White Sox farmhand Erik Johnson is pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte. He was just named International League Pitcher of the Week. He has not given up a run in any of his last three outings, striking out 28 batters and walking just four in 22 innings over that span.

Given what we know about Danks and his struggles against the AL Central, and just his struggles in general, wouldn't it be a better play to drop Johnson into the rotation for a week and see how he does? At the very least, he could give teams such as Minnesota and Detroit a different look. The Tigers and the Twins are not fooled by the offspeed pitches of Danks. They've faced him countless times, and they are probably fighting to get to the bat rack, knowing a night against Danks is a chance to pad their personal statistics. Minnesota did a good job of getting fat on Monday night, that's for sure.

If the Sox are going to insist on leaving Danks in the rotation, at the very least they need to give him a shorter leash. Minnesota hung a five-spot on him in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night, turning a 2-1 Sox lead into a 6-2 deficit. No, it wasn't all Danks' fault. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a crucial error behind him that opened the door for the big inning, but the Twins scored three runs after two were out, as well. Danks had opportunities to make pitches, pick his teammate up and minimize the damage. He failed to do that.

He should have been removed after that fourth inning. A four-run deficit is not good, but it's not insurmountable. The Sox's long and middle relievers were all fresh and available to use. Manager Robin Ventura should have gone to one of them. You hope a fresh relief pitcher can keep Minnesota at six runs, and then maybe your offense can come back.

Instead, Ventura trotted the ineffective Danks out there for both the fifth and sixth innings, apparently wanting him to "eat innings." Predictable results followed -- a three-run homer by Kennys Vargas in the sixth made it 9-2. Then, the game was over.

The whole thing was disturbing and disheartening. By sending Danks back out after he had been roughed up, it felt like Ventura was conceding the game. And he can't afford to concede games to division foes right now. The Sox are 30-39, 11 games out and in last place. There has to be an urgency to win right now. You can't allow a struggling pitcher such as Danks to go out there and torpedo everything for 24 other guys. There's no rule that says Danks has to stay in for 90 to 100 pitches no matter what. When he's bad, pull him and give the team a chance to come back and win. This isn't rocket science.

On Monday night, it seemed as though Ventura was managing for tomorrow when he needed to win today. The Sox skipper is running out of tomorrows, maybe a lot faster than he realizes.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Weird injury department: Gavin Floyd breaks his elbow

I've heard a few White Sox fans suggest the team made a mistake by parting ways with veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd this past offseason.

Floyd's supporters correctly note the Sox have had a revolving door at the back end of their starting rotation. The Felipe Paulino experiment was a colossal failure. Rookie Erik Johnson couldn't find the plate and had to be sent back to Triple-A. After a two decent starts, Scott Carroll showed himself to be better suited for a long-relief role. Andre Rienzo and waiver pickup Hector Noesi have been hit or miss in their combined 19 starts. There is no question the Sox suffer from a lack of starting pitching depth.

Is Floyd better than the guys the Sox are trotting out there? When Floyd is healthy, sure, he's better, but he had Tommy John surgery last summer. He wasn't going to be ready for the start of this season, and the Sox felt they had better things to spend their money on than signing Floyd to a one-year reclamation deal. I couldn't disagree with that line of thinking.

The Atlanta Braves took a $4 million flier on Floyd, who returned to major leagues on May 6. He was pitching well for the Braves. Coming into Thursday's start against the Washington Nationals, he was 1-2 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts.

In fact, he picked up his second win of the year Thursday after firing six innings of two-hit ball in the Braves' 3-0 win over Washington. Unfortunately for Floyd, he broke the olecranon -- the bony tip of the ulna that sticks out behind the elbow -- on his first pitch of the seventh inning.

Ouch.

This is a rare injury for pitchers, but it is similar to the one that ended Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya's career in 2010. At minimum, Floyd's season is over. For their $4 million, the Braves got nine pretty good starts. Maybe it was worth it to them, but it wouldn't be worth it to a rebuilding team such as the Sox.

Doctors are saying this injury is unrelated to the Tommy John surgery Floyd underwent, but one of the reasons I didn't want the Sox to re-sign Floyd was my concern that he would get hurt again.

Floyd missed some time late in 2012 with an arm problem, and then the torn elbow ligament limited him to five starts in 2013. This is a pitcher whose career is probably coming toward the end.

While Rienzo and Noesi are no great shakes, at least they are healthy and eating up innings while the Sox rebuild. Innings are something the oft-injured Floyd just can't provide right now, and the Sox do not miss him.

Friday, June 6, 2014

White Sox select LHP Carlos Rodon with No. 3 overall pick

There are few rewards that come with suffering through a 99-loss season -- other than getting a high pick in the following June's MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Accordingly, the White Sox had the No. 3 overall pick as a result a disastrous 2013 campaign, and on Thursday they used it to select pitcher Carlos Rodon, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound left-hander out of North Carolina State.

Rodon came into the spring as the consensus top prospect in the draft. An inconsistent college season caused his stock to slip slightly, but the Sox were obviously unmoved. Rodon was widely considered the best college pitcher in the draft, and quite possibly, the most major league ready pitcher in the draft.

The left-hander has a fastball that sits in the mid- to low-90s consistently and can occasionally touch 96 or 97 mph. But it is his slider that might get him to the big leagues quickly.

"When they can bury a slider on the back foot of a right-handed hitter and get it in under his hands, then you know a guy has a really good one," White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann told MLB.com. "It's a dominant pitch. That's not to take away anything from his fastball and changeup, which are also plus pitches."

Rodon was overpowering during his 2013 sophomore campaign at N.C. State, going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA and racking up 184 strikeouts against just 45 walks in 132.1 innings. This spring, his junior season was considered not quite as strong, but the numbers still look good despite a mediocre 6-7 won-loss record. Rodon posted a 2.01 ERA and fanned 117 against 31 walks in 98.2 innings.

As with all prospects, it's impossible to know for certain how Rodon will do once he signs a contract and joins the White Sox organization, but the team was smart to draft pitching in the first round. The Sox have a couple holes in their big-league rotation now, and aside from the struggling Erik Johnson, they don't have a lot of starting pitchers on the farm who are close to big-league ready.

Some say Rodon might be in the majors before this year is over, possibly in a situational relief role. Thinking optimistically, perhaps he could challenge for a rotation spot sometime in 2015.

If he does crack the rotation sometime before 2016, that would give the Sox four left-handed starting pitchers -- with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks already in place.

For some reason, the idea of having four left-handed starters is a source of much consternation among Chicago media. I fail to see why that's a big deal. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, four of their five starting pitchers were right-handed. In fact, quite a few teams have four right-handers in their rotation. If a team has four lefties, so what? How is that different and what's the big deal?

Just find me five guys who can pitch. I don't care if they are left-handed or right-handed.

Speaking of right-handed pitchers, the Sox used their second-round selection on Spencer Adams from White County High School in Georgia.

Adams was ranked the 27th-best prospect by MLB and 21st-best prospect by Baseball America, so the Sox probably felt fortunate to see him available at No. 44 overall.

The right-hander has mid-90s fastball. The slider is his second-best pitch. He also features a curveball and a changeup.

The First-Year Player Draft continues Friday with Rounds 3 through 10. The event concludes Saturday with Rounds 10 through 40.