Showing posts with label Tyler Flowers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tyler Flowers. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2016

White Sox take three out of four from Seattle Mariners

Jose Quintana
The Seattle Mariners this weekend became the latest American League contender to lose a season series to the White Sox.

The Sox took three out of four over the weekend at U.S. Cellular Field and finished 4-3 against Seattle this year. Chicago (63-66) also has prevailed in the season series against AL-West leading Texas (4-2), AL-East leading Toronto (5-1) and AL wild card-leader Boston (4-3).

Too bad the Sox can't win against their own division, where they are 20-29. Too bad 27 of the 33 remaining games are against AL Central opponents. It could be a rough road ahead, but today, let's reflect back on the weekend success against the Mariners:

Friday, Aug. 26
Mariners 3, White Sox 1: The day began with news that the Sox traded disappointing catcher Dioner Navarro to Toronto in exchange for pitcher Colton Turner.

Navarro somehow managed to be a downgrade from previous Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. We knew coming into the year that Navarro was a subpar pitch framer, and there would be defensive shortcomings. But Navarro couldn't even clear the low offensive bar set by Flowers in previous years. Good riddance to Navarro and his .210 batting average.

With Omar Narvaez behind the plate Friday, Chris Sale (15-7) pitched a complete game. He retired the last 16 batters he faced --10 by strikeout - and finished with a season-high 14 strikeouts.

Of course, he lost, because the Sox are not a good offensive team. At least this time they could say they got shut down by an elite pitcher. Seattle ace Felix Hernandez (9-4) fired 7.1 innings of one-run ball to earn the victory.

Hernandez did leave, however, with the bases loaded and only one out in the eighth. But Seattle reliever Edwin Diaz got a force at home and a popout to third to extricate the Mariners from that mess. Diaz went on to strike out the side in the ninth to earn his 11th save.

Saturday, Aug. 27
White Sox 9, Mariners 3: Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino both went 3 for 4 with a homer as the Sox pounded 15 hits to make a winner out of Jose Quintana (11-9).

The Sox scored two in the first and one more in the fourth against Seattle starter Ariel Miranda (1-1), who was removed after four innings in just his sixth career game and fourth career start.

The Mariners brought in middle reliever Vidal Nuno, and he fooled nobody. He gave up six runs on 10 hits, including three home runs, over three innings. The Sox scored four runs off him in the fifth, highlighted by back-to-back home runs by Garcia and Alex Avila. Saladino added his two-run homer in the seventh inning.

Quintana had to be overjoyed to pitch with a big lead. He went 7.2 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits. He struck out eight, walked one and lowered his ERA to a team-best 2.77.

Jacob Turner made the ninth inning somewhat annoying when he loaded the bases with nobody out. The Sox took a 9-2 lead into that inning, so the outcome was not really in doubt, and the Mariners scored only one run out of that situation anyway. Nate Jones came on to induce a game-ending double play off the bat of pinch-hitter Seth Smith.

Sunday, April 28
White Sox 4, Mariners 1: The Sox managed only five hits in this game, but they bunched them and made them count.

They went nine-up, nine-down against Seattle starter Taijuan Walker the first three innings, but two HBPs and a double loaded the bases in the fourth inning. Justin Morneau's two-run single put the Sox on top, 2-0.

The Sox did not get another hit until the eighth inning, but they added to a 2-1 lead with two more runs on three hits. Tim Anderson singled and scored on triple by Melky Cabrera. Jose Abreu followed with a sacrifice fly to account for the final margin of victory.

Carlos Rodon (5-8) continued his red-hot August with six innings of one-run ball. He allowed only a solo home run to Robinson Cano, and improved to 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA over five starts this month.

Anderson and Saladino turned a slick double play to extricate the Sox from a first-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh inning. Nate Jones worked a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts, and closer David Robertson secured his 33rd save by pitching over two soft singles in the top of the ninth inning.

The Sox are off to Detroit to start a three-game series Monday. Will they be able to sustain this momentum from a good series win and a 6-3 homestand?

Well, James Shields is starting the opener against the Tigers, so don't bank on it.

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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

White Sox remake their catching situation

Alex Avila
When the 2016 season opens, the White Sox will have two new catchers.

Tyler Flowers' three-year reign as the Sox's No. 1 backstop ended Wednesday when the team opted to non-tender him. Last year's backup catcher, Geovany Soto, signed Nov. 24 with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Sox will turn to longtime Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila as their main guy behind the plate next year. Avila signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million on Nov. 25.

When Sox GM Rick Hahn announced the non-tendering of Flowers on Wednesday, he said the move was "part of a plan," and that the club saw an opportunity to upgrade the position offensively.

Reports indicate 12-year veteran Dioner Navarro is set to sign a one-year deal with the Sox to be the second catcher.

What do we make of this? Well, assuming Avila is healthy (he played only 67 games last year because of knee issues), this is a platoon system that should work.

Avila, 28, a left-handed hitter, can't hit lefties at all. But if he achieves his career slash of .251/.358/.423 against right-handed pitching, this is a good pickup for the Sox. I don't think anyone would complain about a .781 OPS from a platoon catcher.

Even in a generally lousy, injury-plagued 2015, Avila had a .355 OBP against right-handed pitching. In case you were wondering, Flowers never posted an OBP over .300 in any of his three seasons as a full-time catcher.

Avila can't hit lefties, which brings us to the switch-hitting Navarro. The 31-year-old is a lifetime .255 hitter with a .688 career OPS, but check out the splits:

Navarro vs. LHP: .270/.336/.439
Navarro vs. RHP: .249/.305/.353

So, Navarro has a career .775 OPS against left-handed pitching. Avila has a career .781 OPS against right-handed pitcher. Platoon these guys in matchups favorable for them, and you might see some good things offensively from White Sox catchers for a change.

Flowers has a career .665 OPS, so the bar for improvement is not high. If used properly, Avila and Navarro have a good chance to clear it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

John Danks has the lowest WHIP of any White Sox starter in the second half of the season

An absurd ninth-inning meltdown by Tyler Flowers and David Robertson prevented White Sox left-hander John Danks from picking up his eighth victory of the season Monday night, but it didn't change the fact that Danks turned in a quality outing in the Sox's 8-7, 14-inning win over the last-place Oakland Athletics.

Danks went seven innings, allowing just three hits. Granted, all of them were solo home runs, but can anyone really complain about the so-called No. 5 starter giving up three runs over seven innings? I don't believe so.

The overall numbers don't look great for Danks; he's 7-12 with a 4.56 ERA this year. But I'll bet you didn't know he has the lowest WHIP of any Sox starter since the All-Star break. His ERA is the second lowest over that same span, behind only Jose Quintana, who has been the Sox's best pitcher over the last two months.

Here are the second-half numbers for each member of the Sox rotation:

1. Quintana: 5-1, 3.28 ERA, 1.369 WHIP
2. Danks 3-4, 3.60 ERA, 1.200 WHIP
3. Carlos Rodon 4-4, 4.10 ERA, 1.298 WHIP
4. Chris Sale 4-5, 5.00 ERA, 1.302 WHIP
5. Jeff Samardzija 3-8, 6.46 ERA, 1.450 WHIP

Not sure what to make of all this, other than to say this isn't the way the Sox drew it up. Quintana has done his job, but Sale and Samardzija are supposed to be the two best pitchers. Samardzija has been consistently terrible. Sale has been up and down, mainly because he keeps inexplicably getting roughed up by the Minnesota Twins.

One thing we can say: Danks is not responsible for the Sox's inability to make a second-half push. He stunk the first half, yes, but he's routinely done his job in more recent outings -- including Monday night.

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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quantifying the White Sox offensive woes

Toronto starting pitcher Drew Hutchison entered Monday night's game against the White Sox with an ERA of 6.06. Naturally, he fired a four-hit shutout in the Blue Jays' 6-0 win over the South Siders. While not feeling well.

Right now, the Sox offense is enough to make you sick to your stomach. They've lost six out of their last eight games to fall to 19-23 on the season. They've scored just 15 runs during that stretch, and have not scored more than three runs in any game during that time.

You look around the league, and you'll see that most teams have a hitter or two performing under expectations. That's baseball. Sometimes guys have slow starts, or bad years. That's just how it goes.

But the Sox? Well, they've got seven of their nine regulars performing below their career norms and below the numbers they posted in 2014. Avisail Garcia is the lone exception. For purposes of this discussion, we'll just exempt second base, because the Sox have played two rookies with little or no track record there throughout the season.

Let's take a look at the on-base plus slugging (OPS) numbers for the eight Sox regulars who do not play second base -- biggest drop-offs listed first:

Only Avisail Garcia has swung the bat well for the White Sox this year.
Melky Cabrera
2015 OPS: .558
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.250
Career OPS: .747

Jose Abreu
2015 OPS: .964
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.156
Career OPS: .929

Adam Eaton
2015 OPS: .621
2014 OPS: .763
Diff: -.142
Career OPS: .721

Adam LaRoche
2015 OPS: .682
2014 OPS: .817
Diff: -.135
Career OPS: .808

Tyler Flowers
2015 OPS: .559
2014 OPS: .693
Diff: -.134
Career OPS: .660

Alexei Ramirez
2015 OPS: .614
2014 OPS: .713
Diff: -.099
Career OPS: .715

Conor Gillaspie
2015 OPS: .683
2014 OPS: . 752
Diff: -.069
Career OPS: .714

Garcia
2015 OPS: .821
2014 OPS: .718
Diff: +.103
Career OPS: .746

So, there are basically six players in the Sox everyday lineup whose OPS is down 100 points over where it was last season. That's two-thirds of a lineup that could be characterized as severely underachieving. Remarkable.

Only Garcia is better than he was last season. Only Garcia is performing better than his career average. Everyone else is under career norms, some significantly so.

You would think these guys would eventually come back to their career levels, wouldn't you? There's no sign of that happening right now.


Friday, May 22, 2015

John Danks vs. AL Central: AL Central wins

Whatever good vibes the White Sox generated with their six-game winning streak are gone now, after the team dropped three consecutive games to the last-place Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field this week.

The latest loss came Thursday night, a 5-2 Cleveland victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The game started at 7:10 p.m. It was basically over by 7:30. Sox starter John Danks gave up four runs in the first inning, including home runs to Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles, and the Indians tacked on another run in the second to seize an early 5-0 edge.

The score remained the same until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, when Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hit the traditional, ceremonial meaningless home run to make the score look better in the paper.

The larger trend I took away from this game, though, is that Danks really struggles against AL Central division opponents. The teams than know him best tend to get to him early and often. I checked the numbers, and for the most part, they confirmed my suspicions. Danks is just plain lousy against three of the four teams he pitches against most regularly:

Danks vs. Indians: 5-13, 5.29 ERA
Danks vs. Twins: 7-14, 5.67 ERA
Danks vs. Tigers: 6-10, 5.11 ERA
Danks vs. Royals: 8-1, 2.73 ERA
Danks vs. AL Central: 26-38, 4.83 ERA

The Royals have to be wondering what they are doing wrong. For the Indians, Tigers and Twins, it's a fight at the bat rack when they see Danks is pitching. Those hitters probably can't wait to get to home plate.

Take out the stats against Kansas City, and Danks is 18-37 with a 5.38 ERA against Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota.

If you're wondering why the Sox can't seem to beat divisional foes these past few years, Danks is among the culprits.

The Sox (18-20) welcome divisional rival Minnesota to the U.S. Cellular Field for a three-game set this weekend. Fortunately, Danks is not slated to pitch in the series. Here are the weekend matchups:

Friday: Jeff Samardzija (3-2, 4.58 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.76 ERA)
Saturday: Chris Sale (3-1, 4.36 ERA) vs. Trevor May (2-3, 5.15 ERA)
Sunday: Jose Quintana (2-4, 4.13 ERA) vs. Kyle Gibson (3-3, 2.98 ERA)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Three changes the White Sox could make today that wouldn't cost a thing

Last night, we highlighted the poor defense the White Sox played in the first inning behind starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Pitiful glove work sadly has become the norm and not the exception for this Chicago team through the first 29 games of the season.

If you've been watching, you already know that, so I won't pain you with further examples of the problem.

Rather, I'd like to present three changes the Sox could make today that would improve the team and not cost a thing. Note that none of these suggestions involve firing any of the organization men in the dugout.
Carlos Sanchez

  • 2. Move Carlos Rodon permanently into the rotation. Hector Noesi is a two-pitch pitcher. Put him in the bullpen where he belongs.
  • 3. Have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche flip roles. LaRoche becomes the primary first baseman. Abreu becomes the designated hitter most days.

I've identified three major problems with this team over the course of this 12-17 start. One of them is the catching situation. Unfortunately, there are no internal solutions, other than crossing your fingers and hoping Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto play better.

The other two problems are very correctable with the solutions already available in house. One of the two is the back of the starting rotation. It's just not working out with Noesi, who hasn't won a start since Aug. 27, 2014. Rodon is ready and able, so let him pitch. Yes, he will have his ups and downs as all young players do, but I don't think having him pitch mop-up duty in the bullpen helps his development, nor does it help the Sox win games. Putting Rodon in the rotation allows him to not only develop his pitches, it will allow him to impact winning and losing. Based on what I've seen from Rodon, he will help the Sox more than he hurts them.

The biggest flaw on this team -- and it's a fatal one if it doesn't get addressed soon -- is the infield defense. The fan base is howling. They want manager Robin Ventura fired on the grounds that he doesn't emphasize fundamentals enough, and that he doesn't hold players accountable for their poor defense.

But let's take a step back and make an honest assessment of this infield: Abreu at first base, Johnson at second base, Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, and Conor Gillaspie at third base.

I'm sorry, but three of those four men are poor defensive players. All but Ramirez, who will soon turn 34 and is starting to show some regression, are subpar with the glove. People preach about accountability, but Ventura could show these guys the Tom Emanski instructional videos and drill them on fundamentals all day and they still wouldn't be a good defensive infield.

The good news is potential solutions exist, if the Sox would be willing to give them a try. Sanchez is a good fielding second baseman, and he's hitting .369/.394/.500 in Charlotte. Why isn't he in Chicago?

LaRoche is a top-notch fielder, yet the Sox are using him as their primary DH. Why? Team brass probably has a reason. I just don't know what it is.

Make LaRoche-Sanchez-Ramirez-Gillaspie your infield, and all of sudden your defense goes from pitiful to adequate, if not slightly above average. On days Gordon Beckham plays third base in place of Gillaspie, that infield is above average defensively.

Why won't the Sox try it? The organization has an annoying habit of ignoring defense when it comes to lineup and roster decisions. With the Sox, it's offense, offense, offense. Young players are promoted in the minor leagues based upon what they do offensively. Johnson is here because he's perceived as being ready for the big leagues offensively. His slow hands and poor footwork defensively are completely ignored, because the Sox are forever searching for that offensive upside.

It's backfiring, and they are too obstinate to make a change. They ought to reconsider before the season swirls completely down the drain.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Was Monday's comeback win a slumpbuster for the White Sox?

If you watched Monday's game between the White Sox and the Cleveland Indians, you know it was looking like another lifeless loss for the South Siders.

The Sox were limited to no runs on four hits over the first eight innings by the combination of Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer and two relievers, and the Indians took a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead into the ninth.

But it all unraveled from there for closer Cody Allen and the Tribe, as the Sox rallied for a 4-3 win. Chicago had six hits in the ninth inning, and it benefited from a tactical error by Indians manager Terry Francona and just poor pitching by Allen.

The key play came with one out and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth, when Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez sent a deep drive into center field. Francona had started Mike Aviles, an infielder by trade, in center field and inexplicably allowed him to remain in the game late, despite his regular center fielder (Michael Bourn) presumably being available off the bench.

I think Bourn makes the catch on Ramirez's ball for the second out of the inning, but he wasn't out there. Aviles was, and he took an odd route to the ball and seemingly didn't know where the wall was. He pulled up short, and the ball hit the base of the fence for a two-run double that brought the Sox within a run at 3-2.

Allen would completely implode from there, failing to record another out. Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera delivered four consecutive singles, with Beckham's hit tying the game and Cabrera's winning it.

The victory improved the Sox record to 5-7, which strangely sounds a lot better than 4-8, although it's only a one-game difference. The question is whether a come-from-behind win like this can get the Sox going for the first time this year.

Well, it depends a lot on Tuesday night's starting pitcher, Hector Noesi. Quite a few Sox fans had hoped Saturday's 12-3 thumping of the Detroit Tigers was the slumpbuster Chicago was looking for. Unfortunately, any "momentum" from that victory dissipated quickly when Jose Quintana gave up a grand slam to Yoenis Cespedes in the first inning Sunday. The Tigers waxed the Sox, 9-1, in that game and put any thoughts of  Chicago building on Saturday's win to rest.

After the inspired rally on Monday, the Sox are once again in position to potentially get something started. If they get a good outing from Noesi on Tuesday, maybe they will. But the joy of Monday's win won't mean a thing if Noesi goes out and gives up four or five runs early in the game.

The Sox need their starting pitcher to put up some zeroes early, and if they can score in the early innings against Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, then maybe things will start to snowball their way.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Weekend thoughts: Chris Sale, bullpen, late-game managerial tactics

The White Sox won't go 0-162 after all, after they picked up a pair of weekend victories over the Minnesota Twins. The Sox rallied from a 4-0 deficit Saturday to win, 5-4, and backed that up with a 6-2 win Sunday. Here are a few takeaways from what we saw in these two games:

1. Chris Sale looks healthy. The Sox ace was facing major league hitters for the first time this year after missing most of the spring with an avulsion fracture in his foot, but there were few signs of rust as he picked up the victory in Sunday's game.

The left-hander allowed one run on five hits over six innings. He struck out eight, walked just one and threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes. His 98th and final pitch registered 98 mph on the radar gun. The velocity and command of his fastball were both present, and his changeup was working well, too.

The exciting thing about Sale is there is still another level he can get to from here. His slider was ineffective Sunday. He threw it only 10 times, and by my unofficial count, three of the five hits he allowed came on that pitch. When a pitcher misses time with injury, usually the last thing to come back to him is the feel for his breaking pitch. That was the only component missing for Sale in this start.

Fortunately, his overpowering fastball and effective change were more than enough against a light-hitting Twins team. Sale's next start is against the Detroit Tigers, so he'll likely need the slider a little more against a better offensive team.

2. One of the better parts of this weekend for me as a Sox fan was seeing newly acquired relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke do the jobs they were signed to do.

Duke worked a scoreless eighth Saturday to keep the game tied at 4-4. After the Sox scored a run in the bottom half of the inning to take a 5-4 lead, Robertson struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth inning to earn his first save with the Sox.

Robertson overpowered the 7-8-9 hitters in the Minnesota lineup. It was an example of a dominant closer dominating hitters he should be dominating, so from that perspective the achievement probably shouldn't be celebrated that much.

But from the perspective of Sox fans, we've watched our alleged "closers" fail to throw strikes to punch-and-judy hitters and walk their way into trouble one too many times over the past few seasons. It was a refreshing change to watch Robertson go right at guys and protect a one-run lead without forcing fans to gnaw their fingernails down to their bloody stubs.

Duke also worked the eighth inning on Sunday. The defense behind him was poor -- he was forced to get five outs in the inning -- but he limited the damage to just one run. Duke left the mound with a 3-2 lead. The Sox scored three in the bottom of the eighth, and Robertson once again retired the side in order in the ninth in a non-save situation.

3. Speaking of the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday, the Sox took advantage of what I thought was a rookie mistake by new Twins manager Paul Molitor.

Minnesota relief pitcher Aaron Thompson had a pretty good series for himself. Thompson retired all four batters he faced Saturday. He retired all four batters he faced Sunday, too. He posted a 1-2-3 seventh inning and struck out Sox DH Adam LaRoche to start the eighth inning.

But I guess the left-handed Thompson was doing too good of a job. Molitor apparently didn't want him to face Avisail Garcia with one out and nobody on base in a 3-2 game, so he brought in right-hander Blaine Boyer.

Boyer faced four hitters -- all right-handed -- and he gave up a single to Garcia, an RBI single to Alexei Ramirez, a two-run homer to Gordon Beckham and a single to Tyler Flowers. All four were line drives.

Did I mention Boyer was the same guy who blew the game for the Twins on Saturday? Boyer is terrible, but Molitor wanted his righty-vs.-righty matchups, and he got them.

Personally, I felt like doing cartwheels when Molitor removed the effective Thompson from the game. It's always amazing to me when managers remove a left-handed pitcher who is throwing the ball well for no other reason than the fact that a right-handed hitter is stepping to home plate.

It's just silly, lazy managing, and it worked out nicely for the Sox in this case.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Future is now for White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers

It seems pretty odd that one of the more controversial players for White Sox fans is catcher Tyler Flowers. Yes, he was once a good prospect acquired in trade for a pretty good pitcher. No, he has never lived up to his prospect hype or the expectations his minor league resume stirred (.275/.391/.484 on the farm vs. .218/.287/.396 with the Sox).

The pent-up frustration was shuffled to the back burner this offseason with the 29-year-old receiver coming off an up-and-down, but overall solid season (.241/.297/.396). The Sox maybe inadvertently created a smoke screen when they made big improvements to other parts of the roster. A look at some of the free agent options might have convinced fans there wasn't a catcher upgrade available that didn't cost an arm and a leg. And maybe there also was the realization that Flowers isn't really holding the Sox back.

So Flowers enters this year as the unquestioned starter with the fragile Geovany Soto as his backup. But Flowers' advancing age and increasingly large salaries mean the position will almost certainly be re-examined soon.

Should Flowers bomb, he'll be non-tendered the way Gordon Beckham was once the paychecks he was set to earn through arbitration exceed his usefulness to a team, only receiving an invitation to return after agreeing to diminished pay and playing time.

If Flowers is fine again, I imagine the Sox will keep bringing him back through arbitration. They can do that potentially through the 2017 season, after which he'll be 32-years-old. When considering monetary commitments against performance, this might be the optimal situation for the Sox, even if Flowers is just "good enough."

Is Flowers the kind of catcher who will age well into his 30s?

I think the better question is are there any catchers you'd want to rely on as a starter once he reaches 30. Recent history makes that proposition seem pretty bleak.

Here are all the catchers the last decade who have started at least 90 games in their 30s by year, indicating they were at least the dominant half of a platoon. Catchers who didn't start at least 110 games have an asterisk. (That's a little arbitrary, but for perspective, the fewest games that A.J. Pierzynski started at catcher during his time with the Sox was 112 games in 2011).:

2005
Jason Kendall (31)
Mike Matheny (34)
Jason Varitek (33)
Ivan Rodriguez (33)
Gregg Zaun (34)
Jorge Posada (33)
Paul Lo Duca (33)
Mike Lieberthal (33)
Jason LaRue (31)*
Bengie Molina (30)*
Mike Piazza (36)*
Damian Miller (35)*

2006
Jason Kendall (32)
Kenji Johjima (30)
Ramon Hernandez (30)
Brad Ausmus (37)
Jorge Posada (34)
Ivan Rodriguez (34)
Paul Lo Duca (34)
Johnny Estrada (30)*
Mike Piazza (37)*
Damian Miller (36)*

2007
Jason Kendall (33)
Kenji Johjima (31)
Bengie Molina (32)
Jorge Posada (35)
Jason Varitek (35)
Brian Schneider (30)
Ivan Rodriguez (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (30)
Paul Lo Duca (35)
Johnny Estrada (31)
Brad Ausmus (38)*
David Ross (30)*
Ramon Hernandez (31)*
Gregg Zaun (36)*

2008
Jason Kendall (34)
Bengie Molina (33)
A.J. Pierzynski (31)
Jason Varitek (36)
Ramon Hernandez (32)
Ivan Rodriguez (36)*
Brian Schneider (31)*
Kenji Johjima (32)*
Rod Barajas (32)*

2009
Jason Kendall (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (32)
Bengie Molina (34)
Rod Barajas (33)
Ivan Rodriguez (37)*
Jason Varitek (37)*
Carlos Ruiz (30)*
Miguel Olivo (30)*

2010
A.J. Pierzynski (33)
Jason Kendall (36)
Carlos Ruiz (31)*
Miguel Olivo (31)*
Victor Martinez (31)*
Bengie Molina (35)*
Ivan Rodriguez (38)*

2011
John Buck (30)
Miguel Olivo (32)
A.J. Pierzynski (34)
Yorvit Torrealba (32)*

2012
A.J. Ellis (31)
A.J. Pierzynski (35)
John Buck (31)*
Ryan Hanigan (31)*
Rod Barajas (36)*
Carlos Ruiz (33)*

2013
Yadier Molina (30)
Russell Martin (30)
A.J. Pierzynski (36)
A.J. Ellis (32)*
Chris Iannetta (30)*
John Buck (32)*
Chris Stewart (31)*

2014
Miguel Montero (30)
Kurt Suzuki (30)
Carlos Ruiz (35)*
Russell Martin (31)*
Yadier Molina (31)*
Dioner Navarro (30)*
Brian McCann (31)*
Chris Iannetta (31)*

Probably nobody needed to see this list to realize catching is a younger player's position. The sampling of players is too small to make any sweeping generalizations, but it looks like the bumper crop of older catchers in the early 2000s was bolstered by a few aging Hall-of-Fame candidates (Piazza, Posada, Rodriguez), guys with occasionally big bats (Lieberthal, Lo Duca), guys who played forever because of good defensive reputations (Miller, Ausmus, Molina), and some guys who played forever I guess because they could (Kendall, Zaun). Pierzynski and Varitek are anomalies here in that they played a lot, and played well.

Even with things in baseball being cyclical, I suspect three things will keep this list from expanding again: 1) The increased emphasis on defense and pitch framing will keep guys with big bats like Piazza and Posada from catching a huge number of games if their gloves don't age as well; 2) Teams that have invested in big hitting catchers will try to keep the bat from aging by shuffling those guys to other positions, like the Twins have done with Joe Mauer, the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers did with Victor Martinez and the Yankees are likely to do with Brian McCann; and 3) Stricter testing for performance enhancing drugs will likely keep some guys from staying as healthy as they once did, a situation only unique to catching in the sense that no other position faces as much wear and tear.

So assuming Father Time remains unbeaten, the Sox will be happy to make do with Flowers, which is really what most teams do at the catcher position, anyway. Hopefully while avoiding a huge commitment to an aging receiver while they wait for a better, younger catcher to be had.

Friday, March 27, 2015

An inconvenient truth for Tyler Flowers critics

I am not a fan of Tyler Flowers. I wish the White Sox had a better catcher.

The slider-speed bat, the inability to lay off the high fastball, the strikeouts, the passed balls, the mediocre throwing arm, the lifetime .218 batting average, these are all things I dislike about Flowers.

Moreover, his .152 batting average this spring (through Thursday) doesn't give me hope that he can duplicate his modest (and career-best) .241/.297/.396 slash line from a year ago.

I'm not excited about having him as the Sox's No. 1 catcher for another year, especially since I saw him as being one of the culprits as the team struggled to a 73-89 record in 2014.

However, I read something today that gave me pause about Flowers. I don't know how much to read into it, but I think it's worth a mention.

Flowers started 120 games behind the plate for the Sox in 2014. Would you believe the Sox had a winning record in those 120 games? That's right, a team that finished 16 games below .500 overall won more than it lost with Flowers in the starting lineup.

Here's the breakdown:
2014 Sox with Flowers behind the plate: 61-59 (.508)
2014 Sox with Adrian Nieto behind the plate: 6-26 (.188)
2014 Sox with Josh Phegley behind the plate: 6-4 (.600)
Total: 73-89 (.451)

The main takeaway from this is the Sox really stunk when they played their backup catcher last year. In fairness to Nieto, he wasn't ready for the big leagues and was only kept on the 25-man roster because of Rule 5 Draft requirements. He'll be back in the minors this year to work on his skills, as he should be.

We can dismiss Phegley's 10 starts as a small sample size.

But isn't it interesting that for all the holes in Flowers' game, he didn't seem to be the guy who was holding the Sox back. Not that 61-59 is a great record; it is not. It's a mediocre record, and it certainly didn't hurt Flowers that he caught all of Chris Sale's starts last year. But in the context of what the Sox did as a team overall, 61-59 as a starting catcher is not bad.

I'm not going to draw any grand conclusions from any of this, but it's food for thought for the weekend.

Friday, January 23, 2015

White Sox reunite with Jesse Crain; add Geovany Soto to backup catcher derby

We've been talking a lot this week about former White Sox players returning to the team for a second tour of duty. It's perhaps fitting the Sox agreed Thursday to a minor-league contract with former relief pitcher Jesse Crain, who was on the South Side from 2011-13. More on that in a moment.

The other interesting name on the list of Sox minor-league non-roster invitees is former Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year has never duplicated the success he had his first season in the big leagues with the Cubs, but if healthy, he has a legitimate shot of making the Sox roster as the second catcher.

Soto, 32, was limited to just 24 games last season due to knee and foot injuries. He also was arrested on a marijuana possession charge. Obviously, these are not good things, but it's also true Soto is the most accomplished player among those competing for the right to back up starting catcher Tyler Flowers.

Here are the numbers on the four guys in that mix. We'll include Soto's 2013 season numbers, since last year was pretty much a lost cause for him.

Soto:
2013 with Texas:.245/.328/.466, 9 HRs, 22 RBIs in 54 games
2014 with Texas/Oakland: .250/.302/.363, 1 HR, 11 RBIs in 24 games
Career: .248/.334/..436, 92 HRs

Rob Brantly
2014 with Miami: .211/.263/.265, 1 HR, 18 RBIs in 67 games
Career: .235/.298/.325

George Kottaras
2014 with 3 teams: .240/.355/.600, 3 HRs, 4 RBIs in 14 games
Career: .215/.326/.411

Adrian Nieto
2014 rookie season with Sox: .236/.296/.340, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs in 48 games

If all are healthy, who would you pick of this group? I think I'd take Soto. Nieto was in the backup role for all of 2014 because of his Rule 5 status. Most observers would agree a year at Triple-A would be good for his development.

Brantly bats left-handed, which is nice, but he's never shown he can hit major league pitching at all. Kottaras is the most experienced catcher other than Soto in the group, but he's been bouncing around from organization to organization. He was only in the bigs for 14 games last season. Naturally, he had a two-homer game against the White Sox as a member of the Cleveland Indians, but his career numbers are weaker than Soto's, as well.

If Soto can stay healthy and stop smoking marijuana, he has a chance to come north with the White Sox this year.

That brings us back to the 33-year-old Crain, who was excellent in his previous stint on the South Side. From 2011-13, he appeared in 156 games and compiled a 2.10 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched.

He was enjoying the finest season of his career in 2013 -- an 0.74 ERA and 46 Ks in 37 innings -- when his shoulder started to bother him. Crain went on the disabled list, and with the Sox languishing in the standings, he was traded midseason to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Crain never threw a pitch for Tampa Bay the rest of the year and signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Astros the following offseason. Alas, he never threw a pitcher for the Astros, either, as shoulder issues continued to plague him.

Now, he's back for another kick at the can with the Sox, the last team he pitched for, on a minor-league deal. Certainly, he cannot be counted upon with his injury issues, but he would be a huge veteran help to the Sox bullpen if he could somehow regain his form.

At the very least, we owe Crain a playing of "Welcome Back Kotter":

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Flowers agree to one-year deals; White Sox have all arbitration-eligible players signed

The White Sox have agreed to contracts with their final two arbitration-eligible players, signing pitcher Jeff Samardzija and catcher Tyler Flowers to one-year deals.

Samardzija, 29, went a combined 7-13 with a 2.99 ERA last season with the Cubs and Oakland Athletics. He was acquired in December to be the No. 2 pitcher in the White Sox rotation behind Chris Sale. Samardzija, who is eligible for free agency next winter, will make $9.8 million in 2015.

Flowers, 28, agreed on a $2.675 million deal. The Sox starting catcher hit .241 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs last season. He figures to be the guy behind the plate again, unless GM Rick Hahn comes up with another move in the 79 days between now and Opening Day.

The Sox previously agreed to contracts with four other arbitration-eligible players. The salaries all came in right around where MLB Trade Rumors expected them to:

Samardzija:
Projected salary: $9.5 million
Actual salary: $9.8 million

Flowers:
Projected salary: $2.1 million
Actual salary: $2.675 million

Hector Noesi:
Projected salary: $1.9 million
Actual salary: $1.95 million

Dayan Viciedo:
Projected salary: $4.4 million
Actual salary: $4.4 million

Javy Guerra:
Projected salary: $1.3 million
Actual salary: $937, 500

Nate Jones:
Projected salary: $600,000
Actual salary: $660,000

Total projected salary for these six players: $19.8 million
Actual salary for these six players: $20.4225 million

Friday, January 16, 2015

White Sox avoid arbitration with Javy Guerra, Hector Noesi, Nate Jones

The White Sox avoided arbitration with three right-handed pitchers, agreeing on one-year contracts with Javy Guerra, Hector Noesi and Nate Jones.

Guerra, 29, will make $937,500. He went 2-4 with a 2.91 ERA in 42 relief appearances last season. He figures to work in middle relief again this year.

Noesi, 27, joined the Sox as a waiver claim last May and made 27 starts, going 8-12 with a 4.75 ERA. He agreed on a $1.95 million contract and will enter spring training as the odds-on favorite to claim the fifth starting spot in South Siders' rotation.

Jones, 28, appeared in only two games last season and is coming off back and Tommy John surgery. He will make $660,000 in 2015. The best-case scenario for Jones will be a midseason return.

The White Sox have two remaining arbitration-eligible players, pitcher Jeff Samardzija and catcher Tyler Flowers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

White Sox announce early lineup for SoxFest 2015

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and shortstop Alexei Ramirez are among the current players scheduled to attend SoxFest 2015 at the Hilton Chicago from Jan. 23-25.

In a news release and an email to fans, the team released a list of eight players who are expected to appear at the annual convention. Joining Abreu and Ramirez will be outfielders Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, catcher Tyler Flowers, third baseman Conor Gillaspie and pitchers Jose Quintana and Jake Petricka.

Sox manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper and hitting coach Todd Steverson also are scheduled to attend.

That's a good list. Chris Sale is probably the only current player fans care to see who isn't on there.

The Sox have said former players from the 2005 World Series championship team will be at SoxFest this year for a 10-year anniversary celebration. Unfortunately, we've yet to hear exactly which players will be back in Chicago.

Maybe the team just hasn't gotten those former players to commit yet, but in the interest of selling hotel packages and weekend passes, you would think the Sox would want to release that list of names sooner rather than later.

Call me crazy, but I think Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand, Scott Podsednik and the newly retired Paul Konerko, et al, would sell more SoxFest passes than any of the current players would.

We'll stay tuned to see if there's any more news on this in the coming weeks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A defense of Chris Sale in this whole 'sign-stealing' thing

White Sox ace Chris Sale is taking quite a bit of criticism for the way he handled himself during and after this whole sign-stealing, bench-clearing incident thing with Detroit designated hitter Victor Martinez on Wednesday.

The thing that amuses me most about the whole deal is the fact that few in Chicago have paid any attention to the Sox whatsoever over the past month or six weeks -- Bears obsession in this town runs deep -- but after this incident where Sale plunked Martinez and supposedly accused the Tigers of stealing signs, all the pundits have suddenly come out of the woodwork to comment on Sale's actions during Wednesday's 6-1 Detroit victory.

It's clear to me that most people did not watch this game. They were probably too busy discussing Jay Cutler's mechanics, or "breaking down" Sunday's matchup between the Bears and the Green Bay Packers. That's fine. That's where their bread is buttered, and I get that. But if you didn't see the game, let's not form our opinions based upon Sale's non-answers to the media after the game. Let's also not form our opinions based upon a few angry soundbites from Detroit manager Brad Ausmus. He's an even more biased observer than I am.

It seems that some folks have dismissed the accusations of sign-stealing as completely implausible. But something that happened in the third inning -- three innings before Sale nailed Martinez in his left shoulder with a fastball -- is enough to raise some eyebrows.

Martinez came to the plate with two on and two out in that third inning. Sale looked out toward the outfield a couple times early in the at-bat, and with the count at 2-1, catcher Tyler Flowers paid a visit to the mound. It's pretty clear what they discussed. On each of the next three pitches, Flowers set up on the inside corner, but Sale threw the ball outside.

On the 2-1 pitch, Martinez swung and missed a Sale fastball that was way off the plate. Martinez couldn't have hit that pitch with an oar. On the 2-2, Sale fired a backdoor slider that was just off the outside corner. Martinez swung and just got a piece of it, fouling it off to stay alive. The next pitch was a fastball that was high, outside and well out of the zone. Martinez swung and missed. Strike three, inning over. Sale walks off the mound and gives his now-famous tip of the cap to somebody in the outfield.

Forget about the cap-tipping for a moment. The key point here is Flowers set up inside three times in a row, and Sale threw the ball outside three times in a row. Quite obviously, they suspected someone was tipping location to the Detroit batters, and they reacted the way professional ballplayers should: They changed their strategy and got the desired result.

We don't know for sure that somebody in Detroit was trying to tip location to Martinez. What we do know is Martinez -- who has struck out just 41 times in 627 plate appearances this season -- was swinging wildly at horrible pitches like a blind man. He uncharacteristically struck himself out in a critical RBI situation, against a pitcher he has owned (15 for 29 lifetime) in the past. Isn't that interesting?

It seems likely Martinez was looking for the ball in, only to get the ball away, throughout that at-bat. Maybe he was looking for the ball in because he could sense Flowers move toward the inside corner. Or maybe, someone was signaling to him that Flowers was setting up inside, causing him to look in, only to be fooled by pitches away. It's not as implausible as Sale's critics are making it out to be. Stealing signs and stealing pitch locations has been a part of the game for decades. There are ways to combat it, and Sale and Flowers employed one such method in the third inning.

Then, Martinez comes up in the sixth inning, knowing he struck out on an outside pitch in his previous at-bat. Flowers sets up on the inside part of the plate once again, but this time Sale really is coming in with a fastball. The pitch hits Martinez, who was probably looking away. He glares at Sale. The fans boo. The Tigers say, "That's intentional!" Cry me a river.

Maybe it was intentional. Or maybe Sale figured he had Martinez looking away, so he was going to try to bust him in this particular at-bat, and the ball was just too far in. That stuff does happen, and when you're facing a guy who is 15 for 29 off you lifetime, you gotta try different things. Even if Sale did hit Martinez intentionally, so what? Again, 15 for 29. Isn't it about time Sale do something to make Martinez less comfortable in the box against him? I don't care if the Tigers' feelings were hurt. It's competitive athletics. It's not about feelings. It's about winning. If Ausmus doesn't like or respect Sale now, who cares?

And don't get me started about this lazy media narrative about the Tigers being "fired up" by the incident. First of all, the Tigers are trying to win an AL Central division title. They entered Wednesday's action with a one-game lead over the Kansas City Royals with five games to play. If they need a pitcher on a fourth-place team to do something to get them excited to play, well, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Secondly, the Tigers didn't win this game because Sale "fired them up." The game was tied, 1-1, when Sale left the mound. Detroit scored five runs after the Chicago ace departed. That's not a coincidence. Sale struck out 10 and allowed just the one run in this contest. Tiger hitters did next to nothing against him. Javy Guerra and Matt Lindstrom are significantly lesser pitchers than Sale. We've see throughout the course of the season that opposing teams don't need to be "fired up" to score runs against mediocre or less-than-mediocre Sox relief pitchers such as Guerra and Lindstrom. Poor pitches by those two bullpen guys were the deciding factor in the game, not "the fire and the passion."

From where I'm sitting, Sale did nothing wrong with any of the pitches he threw Wednesday. His biggest mistake was the cap-tipping thing after he struck out Martinez in the third. People get angry about antics like that -- maybe more than they should -- but the moral of the story is an athlete never wins in the court of public opinion if he makes a gesture of any sort toward the fans. I'll bet Sale received a talking-to from his manager about that. Hopefully, he doesn't make the same mistake again.

That said, I have no problem with the way Sale dealt with Martinez. If this bothers some folks so much, well, they can go back to breaking down matchups in the Bears-Packers game.