Wednesday, September 16, 2015

White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija turns in the worst performance of his career

The end of the 2015 regular season is less than three weeks away. It can't come soon enough for White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is enduring a baffling terrible second half.

Samardzija turned in the worst start of his career Tuesday night as the Sox absorbed a 17-6 pounding at the hands of the Oakland Athletics.

The right-hander put the Sox in a 5-0 hole in the first inning. He failed to make it through the fourth inning -- he didn't record an out in that fourth, in fact -- an inning in which the Athletics would score 10 runs.

Samardzija's final line: 3 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BBs, 3 Ks.

From June 7 through July 28, Samardzija posted 10 straight starts of seven innings pitched or more. His season highlight came July 9 when he threw a four-hit shutout against the best offensive team in the league, the Toronto Blue Jays.

But since Aug. 1, it has all gone very wrong. Samardzija is 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA since that date. On Tuesday, he became just the third pitcher in MLB history to allow nine or more earned runs in a game three times in the same season. The others are Jaime Navarro (1997) and Brett Tomko (2003).

Sox fans are all too familiar with Navarro, and he's unfortunately become a convenient comparison to make with Samardzija.

Navarro, like Samardzija, pitched for the Cubs before joining the Sox and had a respectable amount of success. Navarro went a combined 29-18 with a 3.62 ERA from 1995-96 on the North Side. In 1997, he moved eight miles south to the White Sox and put up poor numbers that rival those of Samardzija this season.

Navarro (1997 White Sox): 9-14, 5.79 ERA, 1.622 WHIP
Samardzija (2015 White Sox): 9-13, 5.27 ERA, 1.354 WHIP

Of course, Navarro was a free-agent acquisition who was making some bucks with the Sox, so that meant his spot in the rotation remained secure no matter how poorly he performed. From 1997-99, he made 87 starts for the South Siders, went 25-43 with a 6.06 ERA and stole $5 million a year from Jerry Reinsdorf. That was big money in late 1990s dollars.

The good news for Sox fans is the Samardzija train wreck won't continue on for three years like the Navarro disaster did. Samardzija's contract is up at the end of the season. You have to believe both the player and team are eager to move on.

Position players pitching in September

Another sign of White Sox mismanagement: Two position players pitched in Tuesday's debacle. Utility man Leury Garcia worked a scoreless eighth inning, while shortstop Alexei Ramirez pitched a scoreless ninth.

Sure, the Sox bullpen has been used a lot this week. Chris Sale lasted only three innings in a Sunday loss to the Minnesota Twins. Monday's game lasted 14 innings, and as we've chronicled, Samardzija was knocked out early Tuesday. But with the September roster expansion, a team shouldn't need to resort to risking the health of position players to eat up innings on the mound.

I'm baffled as to why the Sox didn't allow a Quad-A innings-eater such as Scott Carroll or Junior Guerra to join the roster for the last month of the year. Either of those two men could have saved the Sox some embarrassment in this latest loss.

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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Carlos Rodon makes fourth straight quality start

I've heard comments from a lot of White Sox fans who feel the team "rushed" rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon to the big leagues. Some believe the Sox screwed up by starting Rodon's "service clock" this year during a non-contending season.


Rodon wouldn't be learning a thing if he were in Charlotte overmatching Triple-A hitters. The best thing for his development is to be challenged by facing major league hitters. And, frankly, Rodon has had a respectable -- if not good -- rookie campaign.

Consider this: Rodon has made 19 starts this year, and the Sox are 12-7 in those games. That's not too shabby when you consider the Sox are 60-66 overall. There have been times where Rodon has been awful, such as this outing on July 31 vs. the Yankees, but more often than not, he's held up well and given the Sox a chance to win on the day he pitches.

In addition, he's trending the right way. Rodon has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last four starts. He's gone 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA during that stretch. His command has been spotty at times. He's walked 11 over his last 28 innings, but he's also struck out 29 during that same span.

But here's the thing that's most encouraging to me about Rodon's recent work: He performed well even when he was facing a team that was seeing him for a second time in quick succession.

On Aug. 11, Rodon turned in the best start of his young career against the Los Angeles Angels. He fired seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits while striking out 11 in a 3-0 victory.

Six days later, he faced that same Angels lineup. A lot of times with rookies, you wonder if they'll trip up "the second time through the league." Whatever adjustments Los Angeles made, they didn't work that well. Rodon's second start against the Angels was the longest of his career, eight innings of two-run ball. Once again, he allowed just four hits. The Sox lost, 2-1, but it wasn't because Rodon didn't hold up his end of the deal.

Next, Rodon faced the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 22. He went seven innings, allowing just one earned run and six hits with eight strikeouts. He got a no-decision in a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings.

Five days later, on Thursday, Rodon found himself looking at the same Seattle lineup. Would the Mariners make adjustments and get to him the second time around?


Rodon earned the victory in the Sox's 4-2 win, allowing just two runs on three hits over six-plus innings.

Even veteran pitchers will tell you it can be hard to face the same lineup twice in quick succession. Rodon has been in that situation twice this month and handled himself quite well. That goes to show he's far enough along in his development that the Sox's decision to bring him to the majors when they did was the right one, service clock be damned.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chris Sale closing in on White Sox franchise record for strikeouts

With the White Sox languishing at 59-66 in late August, it can be hard to manufacture much enthusiasm for the remaining 37 games of the season.

That said, Chris Sale's starts should remain appointment TV for Sox fans. Sale got the shaft from his teammates (again) Wednesday night, receiving a no-decision after firing seven shutout innings in Chicago's 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Sale struck out seven Boston hitters Wednesday to increase his season total to a personal-best 229. (He struck out 226 during the 2013 season.) Why does that matter, you ask? Well, Sale is closing in a club record that has stood for more than a century.

Hall-of-Famer Ed Walsh holds the Sox record for strikeouts in a single season. He fanned 269 hitters in 1908; that's 107 years ago. Sale's 229 strikeouts this year stand as a modern-era record, and he needs just 41 more to set a new all-time franchise mark.

We'll assume the Sox will not push Sale too hard in September with the team out of the race, but it's reasonable to believe the ace left-hander will start about six of the remaining 37 games. Sale is averaging just more than nine strikeouts per start this season, so if he continues that pace for six more starts, he would end up with about 283 strikeouts. Walsh's record would fall.

As Sox fans, we have no hope of any team glory this year, so use the rest of this season to appreciate the individual greatness of Sale. This is a team record that nobody has come close to touching in our lifetimes. It's possible, maybe even likely, that it will be broken sometime in the next six weeks.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trayce Thompson: The right-handed platoon bat the Sox have been looking for?

It's no secret the White Sox are not a good hitting team, but their offensive woes are particularly acute against left-handed pitching. Here are the Sox's team hitting splits:

White Sox vs. RHP: .255/.310/.394
White Sox vs. LHP: .240/.292/.344

The team batting average and on-base percentages take a dip against left-handers, and there's a significant drop-off in slugging percentage. The Sox could use a hitter or two who hit lefties well, and right now the hope is rookie outfielder Trayce Thompson becomes one of those guys.

Thompson went 3 for 4 and finished a home run short of the cycle Tuesday against Boston lefty Wade Miley, leading the Sox to a 5-4 win over the Red Sox. Thompson's two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning provided the winning margin.

With that performance, Thompson is hitting .522/.560/.957 in 11 games (6 starts) since he was called up. We know, of course, he will never keep up that pace, but his performance thus far against left-handed pitching is worth noting: He's 10 for 17 with two home runs and five RBIs.

It shouldn't be hard for Thompson to keep his roster spot and serve in a platoon role if he can produce above-average numbers against lefty starters.

The Sox lineup is full of guys who struggle against lefties:

Adam LaRoche vs. LHP: .163/.198/.325

Carlos Sanchez vs. LHP: .179/.225/.269

Adam Eaton vs. LHP: .227/.271/.295

Melky Cabrera vs. LHP: .230/.258/.333

Jose Abreu vs. LHP: .240/.307/.375

Even Abreu, the Sox's best hitter, is a mere mortal when he sees a left-handed pitcher. Thompson is a nice luxury for manager Robin Ventura to have, because now he can sit LaRoche on days when the opposition throws a left-handed starter. Thompson can handle any of the three spots in the outfield defensively, so Ventura has his pick of DH'ing Cabrera, Eaton or Avisail Garcia on the days Thompson plays.

We don't know yet how "real" this early hot surge from Thompson is, but it sure is refreshing to see the Sox farm system send a potentially useful position player to the major leagues.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Chris Sale makes All-Star team, bests Mark Buehrle in quick-moving game

For White Sox fans, there was little drama in the announcement of the American League All-Star team. We all knew the South Siders were only going to get one representative, and we all knew it would be the very deserving Chris Sale.

Sale's record may be a good-but-not-great 7-4, but it's solid when you consider he pitches for the 37-43 White Sox. He leads the league in strikeouts with 147, and he recently became just the second pitcher in MLB history to strike out 10 or more men in eight consecutive starts. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez is the other.

For Sale, it is his fourth All-Star selection. In case you were wondering, the record for All-Star appearances by a White Sox pitcher is held by Billy Pierce, who represented the South Siders in the Midsummer Classic seven times.

Coincidentally, Sale's mound opponent on Monday night, Mark Buehrle, also represented the Sox in the All-Star game four times.

Hours after his selection, Sale bested Buehrle in one of the better games played at U.S. Cellular Field this season. Both left-handers tossed complete games as the Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2.

Sale had "only" six strikeouts, ending his streak of double-digit strikeout games. The Toronto hitters did a lot of hacking early in counts in this game, which kept Sale's strikeout total down, but perhaps contributed to him being able to go the distance on 108 pitches.

But despite Sale's effort, he was trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Home runs by Chris Colabello and Josh Donaldson had staked Buehrle and the Blue Jays to a one-run lead.

However, the Sox capitalized on some shoddy Toronto defense in the bottom of the eighth inning. Gordon Beckham reached base after Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes let a routine grounder go right between his legs. Two outs later, Adam Eaton singled, putting runners on the corners with two outs for Jose Abreu. The Sox first baseman didn't hit Buehrle's first-pitch changeup hard, but it found the grass in center field. Beckham scored to tie the game, 2-2.

That brought up Melky Cabrera, a longtime Buehrle nemesis. The Sox left fielder smashed a two-run double down the left-field line to score Eaton and Abreu and make the score 4-2. Cabrera is now 19 for 34 lifetime against Buehrle.

Sale gave up a pair of singles in the top of the ninth, but he got out of trouble by inducing Danny Valencia to ground into a game-ending double play.

The game lasted just 1 hour, 54 minutes. No bullpens needed; no walks issued by either pitcher. What fan wouldn't enjoy that kind of baseball?

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.