Monday, December 15, 2014

White Sox sign Melky Cabrera to play left field

After the White Sox acquired pitcher Jeff Samardzija last week, we said that wouldn't be enough to make the South Siders a legitimate contender.

We said they needed to press forward and fix other holes, including the ongoing problem in left field. On Saturday night, general manager Rick Hahn addressed the outfield issue, agreeing to terms with Melky Cabrera on a three-year, $42 million contract.

Critics of this move will note Cabrera was busted for PED use while with the San Francisco Giants in 2012. I'm not too concerned about that because the switch-hitter has continued to produce since that incident, suggesting his success wasn't entirely the result of chemical enhancements.

Check out Cabrera's numbers over the past four years:

2011 with the Kansas City Royals: .305/.339/.470, 18 HRs, 87 RBIs
2012 with San Francisco: .346/.390/.516, 11 HRs, 60 RBIs
2013 with the Toronto Blue Jays: .279/.322/.360, 3 HRs, 30 RBIs
2014 with Toronto: .301/.351/.458, 16 HRs, 73 RBIs

Cabrera has hit .300 or better in three of the past four years, with the only exception being his injury-riddled 2013 season where he was limited to 88 games. If he's healthy, he's going to hit.

Here's the thing I like about Cabrera. He doesn't care if there's a left-handed pitcher or a right-handed pitcher on the mound. Here are his platoon splits over the past four seasons:

vs. LHP: 308/..350/.477
vs. RHP: .309/.352/.451

We can see there is more pop in his bat from the right side of the plate, but the batting average and on-base percentage are essentially the same from either side. This is a guy manager Robin Ventura can just pencil in every day in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, regardless of who the opposing pitcher is.

Defensively, Cabrera possesses one of the better throwing arms in the league, although his defense has regressed a bit the past couple years playing on the artificial surface in Toronto.

I think the Sox need to focus on defense when selecting a fourth outfielder, because neither Cabrera nor right fielder Avisail Garcia can play center field, if something should happen to Adam Eaton. Whoever the backup outfielder is must be able to handle center field adequately, which means Dayan Viciedo is going to be shown the door one way or another before next season begins.

We'll see if Hahn can get Viciedo out of town in exchange for the bullpen arm he still needs.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

White Sox acquire pitcher Dan Jennings from Miami Marlins

The last time I saw Andre Rienzo pitch in person, he gave up a home run to Minnesota outfielder Oswaldo Arcia that landed on the concourse beyond the right-field bleachers at U.S. Cellular Field. That ball had to travel at least 460 feet.

White Sox fans won't have to worry about seeing such horror from Rienzo any longer, as the less-than-mediocre right-hander was traded Thursday to the Miami Marlins in exchange for left-handed relief pitcher Dan Jennings.

The Sox already added Zach Duke to be the main lefty out of their bullpen, but it never hurts to have two left-handers around to pitch in relief. Perhaps Jennings can be that second guy.

Jennings, 27, worked in 47 games last year for the Marlins. He compiled a 1.34 ERA and 1.5337 WHIP. He allowed 45 hits and struck out 38 in 40.1 IP. At one point, Jennings had a stretch of 19 consecutive appearances where he did not allow an earned run.

I don't think I'd count on Jennings to be a high-leverage reliever. He gives up a few too many hits for that. However, he's a guy who can be used in the sixth or the seventh inning. He's also the type who will probably pitch in games where the Sox are trailing, so Duke can be saved to pitch in games where the Sox are leading.

It is important for manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper to understand that Jennings is not a left-handed specialist, so don't use him in that way. In fact, left-handed hitters have hit more than 50 points higher than right-handed hitters against Jennings over the course of his career:

Career vs. left-handed hitters: .289/.354/.403
Career vs. right-handed hitters: .238/.322/.389

The trend of being more successful against righties also can be seen in Jennings' 2014 numbers:

2014 vs. left-handed hitters: .299/.364/.390
2014 vs. right-handed hitters: .265/.326/.398

Modern managers love to use left-handed pitchers against left-handed hitters, but Jennings is one pitcher where Ventura will need to go against the conventional wisdom. He shouldn't bring Jennings in specifically to face a left-handed hitter unless that particular hitter is especially weak against left-handed pitching.

As for Rienzo, well, the 26-year-old will not be missed on the South Side after going 4-5 with a 6.82 ERA in 18 games (11 starts) in 2014. Maybe he will benefit from a change of scenery, but he was not in the Sox' plans.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

White Sox acquire Jeff Samardzija from A's in six-player deal

The White Sox on Tuesday signaled their intention to contend in 2015, acquiring starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and minor leaguer pitcher Michael Ynoa from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for infielder Marcus Semien, pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley and first baseman Rangel Ravelo.

From a purely baseball perspective, Samardzija is exactly what the Sox need. He's a legitimate No. 2 starter, a right-hander who can be slotted nicely in between ace left-hander Chris Sale and left-hander Jose Quintana in the rotation. One through three, the Sox can now match up with just about everybody in terms of starting pitching.

The downside to this deal from the Sox perspective? Samardzija is entering the last year of his contract. He could be here today, gone tomorrow, and if the Sox don't win in 2015, this deal is a waste.

The good news is the Sox did not include any of their top prospects in this deal. Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, Micah Johnson and Francellis Montas are all still in the organization. It would have been a questionable move to give up any of the top young guys for potentially just one year of Samardzija.

The four guys the Sox parted with are all guys you can replace. Semien is an athletic, versatile player with some pop in his bat. However, he was a player without a position. The Sox even had him play some outfield in Triple-A last year just to see how he would react. He projects as a utility player. There are plenty of those around.

Bassitt has a good arm and got a look in the major leagues at the tail end of the 2014 season. The Sox were using him as a starter, but most believe his eventual role will be in the bullpen. An interesting pitcher, sure, but not an untouchable.

The White Sox coaching staff never warmed up to Phegley, primarily because of his defensive limitations. He was not in the organization's plans. Good riddance.

Ravelo is a guy who needed to change organizations. He has some promise as a hitter, but he's a right-handed hitting first baseman. The Sox already have one of the best right-handed hitting first basemen in the game in Jose Abreu. Ravelo is not a candidate to take Abreu's job anytime soon. He was expendable.

The Sox have eroded some of their organizational depth with this trade, but you can live with that if Samardzija pushes you into the playoffs next season.

Here's the key moving forward: The Sox can't stop here. With the addition of Samardzija and closer David Robertson, this is now an 85-win team. That's a huge step forward over last year, but it's still not good enough.

You may have Sale and Samardzija at the top of the rotation for just one year, so general manager Rick Hahn needs to keep pushing and make this team a potential 95-game winner. The time to go for it is right now.

Do something to upgrade left field. There is no more time to be patient with Dayan Viciedo. Add another bullpen pitcher to set Robertson up. Maybe think about a veteran to help at the back end of the rotation. There are mediocre incumbents at catcher, third base and second base. Upgrade at one of those spots, if possible.

The White Sox are close to being a good team, but they aren't quite there yet. Hahn has now put himself in position to get to that point before the offseason is over.

White Sox agree to four-year deal with closer David Robertson

The White Sox moved late Monday night to shore up a glaring weakness, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $46 million contract with closer David Robertson, multiple sources said.

Robertson, 29, took over the closer's role in New York last year from Mariano Rivera and went 4-5 with a 3.08 ERA and 39 saves for the Yankees. He has a 2.81 career ERA in seven seasons.

The Sox were a disaster in the bullpen in 2014, so while this move might be an overpay, it is something the South Siders absolutely had to do.

Their closer by committee approach last year totaled just 36 saves, which was better than only five major league teams. Their 4.28 bullpen ERA ranked 28th out of the 30 teams in baseball. Only the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros were worse. A big move was necessary. The signing of Robertson qualifies.

What's to like about Robertson? He strikes people out.

For his career, Robertson has struck out 12.0 batters per nine innings pitched. As the New York closer last season, he fanned 96 men in 64.1 innings pitched. That's a rate of 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He struck out more than 37 percent of the batters he faced in 2014. If opposing batters can't put the ball in play, they can't get hits. That's a trait you like in any closer.

About the only concern I have with Robertson: He gave up seven home runs last year. That's a little high, but considering what the Sox had last year in the bullpen, I'll take my chances.

You figure Robertson, left-hander Zach Duke and right-hander Jake Petricka now make up the back end of the Sox' bullpen. I wouldn't be surprised if we see another relief pitcher or two added before the offseason is over. The Sox are believed to be targeting Park Ridge native Luke Gregerson, who has pitched previously with the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics.

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Here's why the Adam LaRoche signing is worth the risk for the White Sox

The deal hasn't been announced yet, but reports over the weekend indicated the White Sox have agreed to terms with first baseman Adam LaRoche on a two-year, $25 million contract. The left-handed slugger is expected to share duties at first base and designated hitter with Jose Abreu.

The signing of LaRoche, 35, has been called foolish in some quarters. While I'm not necessarily printing playoff tickets as a result of this move, I don't blame the Sox for taking the risk on the veteran middle-of-the-order hitter. I'll explain why.

To start off our discussion, let's do some player comparison. Which of these five hitters would you say is the best?:

Player A: .283/.369/.448, 35 2Bs, 13 HRs, 71 RBIs
Player B: .219/.337/.415, 18 2Bs, 22 HRs, 64 RBIs
Player C: .259/.362/.455, 19 2Bs, 26 HRs, 92 RBIs
Player D: .231/.281/.405, 22 2Bs, 21 HRs, 58 RBIs
Player E: .279/.324/.415, 26 2Bs, 16 HRs, 73 RBIs

Without knowing the names of the players (these are all 2014 stats), who would you go with? Maybe Player A? Or how about Player C? I wouldn't take Players B or D. Player B's batting average is too low, and Player D's on-base percentage is by far the worst of the group. For that matter, Player E's OBP leaves something to be desired, as well, and that slugging percentage isn't the greatest either.

For me, I'd have to take Player A. Player A hits for the best average, has the most doubles and is solid in the OBP and slugging components. But Player C is worthwhile, too, because he leads the group in slugging, home runs and RBIs, and is a close second in OBP to Player A.

Player C is LaRoche. Player A is Hanley Ramirez, who just agreed to terms on a four-year, $88 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Now, Ramirez never would have fit in with the White Sox' plans. He's a right-handed hitter, and the overly right-handed Sox were looking for a lefty bat. But, I inserted him into this discussion because you could make the case he was the best hitter available in free agency after Victor Martinez re-signed with Detroit.

Ramirez is a better hitter than LaRoche, but not drastically so, and you could argue LaRoche is a better value at $12.5 million per year than the oft-injured Ramirez is at $22 million per year.

Who is Player E, you ask? That would be the other guy the Red Sox are reportedly going to sign: Pablo Sandoval. Boston is giving out a reported $90 million over five years to a guy who had a .739 OPS last year. Good luck with that. Sandoval was a postseason hero in San Francisco, and his fans wear panda suits, but I'm not convinced he's a better hitter over 162 games than LaRoche, who had an .817 OPS in 2014. I do know that LaRoche costs about $5.5 million less a year than Sandoval on the current market.

Player B is Adam Dunn, who was the Sox' DH for most of last season and the guy LaRoche is essentially replacing on the roster. Player D is Dayan Viciedo, who was the Sox' best internal option at DH had the club not acted in free agency. I'm not going to spend any time telling you why LaRoche is better than Dunn and Viciedo. Just look at the numbers and see for yourselves.

The Sox needed an upgrade at DH, preferably a left-handed one, so they signed one. It's not an overpay when you consider the contracts other free-agent hitters such as Ramirez and Sandoval received, and LaRoche is clearly a better option than the players the Sox had internally. That makes the signing worth the risk.

Let me leave you with this parting thought: There were only seven left-handed hitters in Major League Baseball who hit 25 or more home runs in 2014. Only one of those seven was a free agent.

The White Sox just signed him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

White Sox sign left-handed relief pitcher Zach Duke

The White Sox on Tuesday took their first step toward revamping their bullpen by signing left-handed relief pitcher Zach Duke to a three-year, $15 million contract.

Reports indicate Duke, 31, will earn $4.5 million in 2015, $5 million in 2016 and $5.5 million in 2017.

Duke spent the first six years of his career as a starter with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That didn't work out so well for him. He went 45-70 with a 4.54 ERA during those seasons.

He's been with four different teams since 2011, including Milwaukee, where he re-invented himself as a relief pitcher last year. He lowered his arm slot and found success in a LOOGY role. He posted a 2.45 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 58.2 innings for the Brewers in 2014. Opponents batted just .223 against him. More importantly, he limited left-handed hitters to a .198 batting average.

We know White Sox GM Rick Hahn likes relief pitchers who keep the ball on the ground. In that context, the Duke signing is hardly a surprise. The left-hander had a 57.7 percent ground ball rate with Milwaukee last season. Duke also saw a sharp increase in his strikeout totals. He fanned 11.35 men per nine innings in 2014, a huge jump from his career rate of 5.02 per nine innings.

That strikeout rate may not be sustainable, but I think Hahn will be happy with this signing if Duke throws as many ground balls as he did last season with the Brewers.

Is this an overpay? Probably, but that's how it goes in free agency. We live in a day and age where the Toronto Blue Jays gave a soon-to-be-32-year-old catcher in Russell Martin a five-year deal worth $82 million. Heck, the Miami Marlins just gave Giancarlo Stanton $325 million on a 13-year deal.

Most baseball contracts seem ridiculous these days, and you certainly cannot blame the White Sox for anteing up to try to fix their bullpen. The Sox had nothing coming out of their relief corps from the left side in 2014. Donnie Veal and Scott Downs both pitched their way off the roster. Eric Surkamp had a few good moments, but his 4.81 ERA over 24.2 innings didn't inspire enough confidence that he could be the Sox' main left-hander out of the bullpen.

So, the club has opened up its pocketbook a bit to add Duke. I suspect this isn't the last relief pitcher the Sox will sign this offseason. The Sox bullpen was last in all of baseball with 379 strikeouts last year, and the bullpen ERA of 4.38 ranked 14th out of 15 teams in the American League.

Relief pitching has been a real sore spot, and Hahn is making a $15 million bet that Duke can help fix those issues over the next three years.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw win MVP awards

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout on Thursday was named the unanimous MVP of the American League.

The 23-year-old received all 30 first-place votes and finished with 420 points. Detroit's Victor Martinez took second with 229 points, while Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley placed third with 185 points.

Let me say this: I do not disagree with this vote. But what's funny about this is Trout didn't have as good a season in 2014 as he had in 2012 or 2013:

2012: .326/.399/.564, 30 HRs, 84 RBIs, 49 SBs
2013: .323/.432/.557, 27 HRs, 97 RBIs, 33 SBs
2014: .287/.377/.561, 36 HRs, 111 RBIs, 16 SBs

Sure, Trout's power numbers were up in 2014, but he also struck out a league-leading 184 times. The batting average, on-base percentage and stolen base totals, while good, took a noticeable dip. I feel like his best year was 2013, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera. Trout also finished second to Cabrera in 2012.

Frankly, Trout has been the best overall player in the American League for each of the past three years. What was different about this season that swung the vote in Trout's favor? For one, Cabrera regressed to the point where he was no longer the best hitter on his own team. (Martinez was.) And two, the Angels won a league-best 98 games and made the playoffs.

The Angels did not make the playoffs in either 2012 or 2013, and there is always that subset of voters that believes the MVP *must* come from a team that qualified for the postseason.

Again, Trout deserves the award. It's just funny that he finally received his recognition in his weakest season of the last three.

Clayton Kershaw wins NL MVP

It's been a good week for Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who won the NL Cy Young Award on Wednesday and the NL MVP on Thursday.

Kershaw went 21-3 with 1.77 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP and six complete games in 27 starts this year. There's no denying he's the best pitcher in the league. The debate surrounding him was whether a pitcher should win the MVP award over an everyday player.

Here's why I think it's OK for starting pitchers to win MVP:

Dodgers record with Kershaw on the mound: 24-3 (.852 winning percentage)
Dodgers record with all other pitchers: 71-64 (.526 winning percentage)

The Dodgers are a decent, but not great team when Kershaw doesn't pitch. But with him on the mound, they rarely lose. I'd say he's pretty valuable, and you can justify voting for him for MVP on that basis.

Eighteen voters agreed and named Kershaw first on their ballot. He totaled 355 points. Miami's Giancarlo Stanton got eight first-place votes and 298 points for second place. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 winner, finished third with four first-place votes and 271 points.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cy Young Awards: One surprise, one obvious

The 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner is ... Corey Kluber?

Yes, the relatively unknown Cleveland right-hander earned 17 of the 30 first-place votes and totaled 169 points, edging out Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who had 13 first-place votes and 159 points. White Sox lefty Chris Sale was third on 19 of the 30 ballots, so he placed third with 78 points.

Kluber expressed surprise to win the honor. I'm right there with him. I'm stunned. I figured Hernandez would prevail.

Let's do a side-by-side comparison of the two pitchers:

Hernandez: 15-6 W-L, 236 IP, 248 Ks, 2.14 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 2.56 FIP, 6.5 H/9
Kluber: 18-9 W-L, 235.2 IP, 269 Ks, 2.44 ERA, 1.095 WHIP, 2.35 FIP, 7.9 H/9

When I first heard the results of the vote, I thought it was flatly ridiculous, but you can see how Kluber has a case. He went 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA in September, and that strong finish put his final numbers in the same ballpark with Hernandez.

Speaking of ballparks, I think we can all agree that Cleveland is a tougher place to pitch than Seattle. I think we can also agree that Seattle has a better defensive team than Cleveland. The numbers geeks really like that FIP (fielder independent pitching) stat, and Kluber was the best in the American League in that department. He also led thel eague in strikeouts. Those were the arguments in his favor.

However, I still would have voted for Hernandez. He had 16 consecutive starts from May to August where he allowed two runs or less. He led the league in WHIP, and he allowed almost a hit and a half less per nine innings than Kluber did. Hernandez also led the league in ERA. For the final month, Kluber was the better pitcher, but for the totality of the season, I thought Hernandez was the best and most dominant pitcher in the league. As an opponent, he was the guy you least wanted to see on the mound.

Thirteen voters agreed with me. Seventeen did not. That's how Kluber won.

Clayton Kershaw wins NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award for the second consecutive year in a far less controversial vote. His name appeared first on all 30 ballots (150 points) after he went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA for the NL West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

There's really no argument with this one.

Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto placed second with 112 points. Adam Wainwright of St. Louis was third with 97 points.

Victor Martinez re-signs with Detroit Tigers

Designated hitter Victor Martinez has agreed to a four-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Detroit Tigers, according to AP sources.

Martinez, 35, is an American League MVP candidate after hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs for the 2014 Central Division champion Tigers. The switch-hitter missed the whole 2012 season with a knee injury, but aside from that, he's been a consistent offensive force for nearly a decade. He has hit over .300 in eight of his last nine seasons.

That said, the Tigers are taking a risk here with the length of this contract. Martinez will be 36 years old when the 2015 season begins. His batting average and home run total this past year were career bests, and he's unlikely to meet or exceed those numbers again. He will still be a productive middle-of-the-order presence even if he regresses to his career norms, but for how long will he be able to play at this same level? Nobody knows for sure.

White Sox fans who were hoping to see their team sign Martinez this offseason should not despair. Yes, the Sox need somebody who can swing the bat from the left side to put between Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in the middle of the batting order, but I would caution against giving a four-year deal to a soon-to-be 36-year-old who doesn't do anything but DH.

It makes more sense for the Tigers to hand out this kind of contract, because they are in their window to win. In fact, they might be coming toward the end of that window. Injuries and Father Time seem to be taking their toll on both Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter are free agents this offseason. Who knows if they'll be back? If you're the Tigers, a team with an aging core, there has to be urgency to get things done right now. If Scherzer walks away, they are going to need their offense to carry them on a lot of nights, and Martinez was their best hitter last year. For them, he was a "must-keep," and the contract they handed out reflects that.

From a White Sox perspective, they are likely a year and potentially two away from returning to legitimate contention. If they had been able to add Martinez to their lineup, sure, they would be immediately better. But he wouldn't fix the problems with the pitching staff, and by the time the Sox are ready to win, Martinez would be 38 years old and likely in decline. Unless you're ready to win right now, it doesn't make much sense to add a designated hitter at the price of more than $16 million a year.

Just in general, I think it would behoove the Sox to seek younger players who can provide long-term solutions to the holes on the roster. Martinez, to me, is not one of those guys. Much like the Tigers as a team, he's coming toward the end of his window for success. In that regard, team and player are a perfect fit for each other.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Buck Showalter, Matt Williams named Managers of the Year

So, Ned Yost guided the long-suffering Kansas City Royals to the World Series this year, but he still didn't win American League Manager of the Year.

Instead, that honor went to Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter. Can you tell the voting was done after the conclusion of the regular season, but before the playoffs?

Based upon the regular season, Showalter deserved the award. His Orioles won 96 games, an 11-game improvement over 2013, and captured the AL East title. Until Baltimore got swept in the ALCS by the Royals, it had not lost four consecutive games since May, nor had it dropped consecutive home games since June 28-29.

Avoiding long losing streaks is a good way to win a division, and that kind of consistency always reflects well on a manager. In addition, the Orioles were without catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado for long stretches of the season, and first baseman Chris Davis was a combination of bad and suspended throughout the year. Baltimore overcame all that and won its division going away.

Showalter was rewarded by receiving 25 of the 30 first-place votes on the Manager of the Year ballot. He finished with 132 points, ahead of Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels, who had four first-place votes and 61 points. Yost finished third with 41 points.

On the National League side, Matt Williams of the Washington Nationals joined Houston's Hal Lanier (1986), San Francisco's Dusty Baker (1993) and Florida's Joe Girardi (2006) as the only men to win Manager of the Year in their first seasons as a major league manager.

I thought Williams inexperience showed in a four-game NLDS loss to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Some of his pitching moves didn't make much sense to me, but again, this award is based upon the regular season.

You'd have to say Williams did as good a job as any NL manager during the regular season. He guided the Nationals to a league-best 96 wins, and his club destroyed the NL East, winning the division by 17 games.

Williams received 18 first-place votes and totaled 109 points in the balloting. Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle, the 2013 NL winner, garnered eight first-place votes and finished second with 80 points. San Francisco's Bruce Bochy was third, collecting three first-place votes and 30 points. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jose Abreu wins AL Rookie of the Year; Jacob deGrom wins NL honor

The American League Rookie of the Year voting, as expected, offered little in the way of drama.

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu became the ninth unanimous winner in the history of the award, earning the first-place vote on all 30 balllots (150 points). Los Angeles Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker (40 points) finished a distant second, while New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances (27 points) placed third.

Abreu had one of the best offensive seasons ever for a rookie. He hit .317/.383/.581 with 36 homers and 107 RBIs. That's good enough to win the award just about every year, and let's face it, the competition for this honor was not particularly stong this season. It was Abreu and everybody else among AL rookies, especially after Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka went down with an injured elbow midseason.

In fact, if you look at the first-half numbers, you'd have to say Abreu and Tanaka were at one point in a tight race for Rookie of the Year:
  • Abreu: .292/.342/.630, 29 HR, 73 RBI
  • Tanaka: 12-4, 2.51 ERA, 129.1 IP, 19 BB, 135 K
But, the injury limited Tanaka to just two starts the second half of the season. While Abreu managed just seven home runs the second half, he hit .350 and raised his overall batting average by 25 points. That made Monday's announcement a foregone conclusion.

Abreu becomes the sixth White Sox player to win Rookie of the Year. The others are Luis Aparicio (1956), Gary Peters (1963), Tommie Agee (1966), Ron Kittle (1983) and Ozzie Guillen (1985).

In the National League, New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom won Rookie of the Year. He picked up 26 first-place votes (142 points) and finished comfortably ahead of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton (92 points). St. Louis Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong (14 points) was third.

The 26-year-old deGrom had a monstrous second half, compiling a 1.99 ERA in his final 15 starts. For the season, he finished 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA. He recorded 144 strikeouts in 140 innings.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

White Sox claim J.B. Shuck, reinstate Nate Jones from 60-day DL

With the World Series over, teams are now free to start making offseason transactions.

The White Sox made a couple of minor moves Monday, claiming outfielder J.B. Shuck off waivers from the Cleveland Indians and reinstating relief pitcher Nate Jones from the 60-day disabled list.

Shuck finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, when he posted a .293/.331/.366 slash line in 478 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Angels. Injuries to other players opened the door for Shuck to play 129 games that season, and he did pretty well with the opportunity.

However, 2014 was a different story for the 27-year-old outfielder. He hit .167/.195/.250 for the Angels in April and was sent back to Triple-A, where he stayed until August. Just before the non-waiver trading deadline, he was sent to Cleveland for cash considerations. Shuck had a miserable time with the Tribe, going 2 for 26 in September. He ended up hitting just .145 in 110 at-bats in the majors for the season.

He did, however, bat .320 in 102 minor league games, so perhaps the Sox saw some signs he could regain his 2013 form. He is a left-handed hitter and can play all three outfield spots competently.

Obviously, this isn't the kind of pickup that will excite fans. If you look around the Internet, you'll find the meathead fans screaming at the sky, wondering what Sox management is thinking, asking why they would make such a low-impact move.

Those folks, as always, need to relax. I'm sure this isn't the biggest move the Sox will make this offseason. It's just the first. I'm sure the club knows it needs more impact talent, and I'm sure they know Shuck doesn't fall into that category.

However, while seeking those impact players, it's also important to try to improve your roster around the margins. You want more depth. You want more competition in camp. If you look at the Sox bench last season,  for most of the year it consisted of players such as Jordan Danks, Moises Sierra, Leury Garcia, Adrian Nieto and an end-of-career version of Paul Konerko. That's not a good bench, friends.

If Shuck in 2015 plays better outfield than Danks or Sierra did in 2014, then this is a good acquisition. Maybe this guy turns out to be the fourth outfielder the Sox need. Or, maybe he stinks, in which case he'll be spending the season in Charlotte. However, there's little for the Sox to lose in picking up guys like Shuck.

As for Jones, he's expected to miss most -- if not all -- of 2015 after Tommy John surgery. I wouldn't expect much production from him until 2016.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What if Alex Gordon had tried to score in the bottom of the ninth in World Series Game 7?

Let's start with this: Kansas City Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele made the right call when he threw up the stop sign and held Alex Gordon at third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night in Game 7 of the World Series.

Let's also give credit to the San Francisco Giants, who secured their third World Series title in five years with a 3-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. In particular, we give props to San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who fired five innings of two-hit shutout relief to earn his third victory of the Series. He is not only a worthy World Series MVP, he deserves credit for one of the best postseason performances of all-time. Who would have thought he could come back on just two days rest and pitch five dominant innings like that? Not me. That's a helluva job by him.

But, I want to focus on the play that created all the drama in the bottom of the ninth inning. Leading 3-2, Bumgarner easily retired the first two hitters, and Gordon was at the plate representing Kansas City's final hope. He ended up hitting a sinking liner toward left-center field.

Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco got caught in between. He seemed unsure whether to dive and attempt a game-ending catch, or pull up, play the ball on a bounce and concede a single. He did neither. He pulled up and tried to play it on a hop, but the ball skipped past him and rolled all the way to the wall. San Francisco left fielder Juan Perez was backing up the play, and he bobbled the ball, as well.

By the time Perez's throw back toward the infield reached Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, Gordon - carrying the tying run with him - was cruising toward third base.

Jirschele faced a split-second decision with everything hanging in the balance. Were Gordon's odds of scoring on that play better than the odds of the next hitter (catcher Salvador Perez) getting a game-tying base hit off Baumgarner? The Kansas City coach's answer to that question was "no," and I agree with him.

Crawford has a strong, accurate arm. He already had the ball as Gordon reached third base, and if he had to, he could have relayed it to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey in about two seconds. Gordon has decent speed, but not he's not a burner, and there's no way he would have been able to outrun the ball in that situation. A good relay throw, and he's a dead duck and Jirschele doesn't sleep for a month.

So, Gordon was held at third. Perez popped out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval to end the game, and now the second-guessing has begun.

Even though I agree with the decision to hold Gordon based on logic, there's a big part of me that wishes he would have been sent. On that play, the San Francisco fielders were handling the ball as if it had grease all over it. Could Crawford have executed a good relay throw under that type of pressure, with the outcome of the World Series on the line? We'll never know for sure.

Moreover, would Posey have caught the ball and tagged Gordon out without being called for blocking the plate?

It's an interesting thought: Gordon, Posey and the ball all converging on one spot in front of home plate, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series in a one-run game, with that silly home plate collision rule that nobody understands in effect. Can you imagine the World Series coming down to a replay review of a play at the plate? That would have been outgoing commissioner Bud Selig's worst nightmare.

Man, what if Gordon had tried to score? It might have created a play that would have been talked about for decades.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Royals force Game 7, have history on their side

After 2,430 regular-season games and 31 postseason games, it all comes down to one night. The Kansas City Royals will host the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 on Wednesday to determine the 2014 World Series champion.

The Royals forced a deciding game by smashing the Giants, 10-0, in Game 6 on Tuesday night. Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura was brilliant, firing seven shutout innings. San Francisco starter Jake Peavy was terrible. The Royals knocked him out of the game by scoring seven runs in the bottom of the second inning. Ventura took over from there in a drama-free victory for Kansas City.

Peavy has never pitched well at Kauffman Stadium. I remember him always struggling there when he was with the White Sox. A check of the numbers revealed he is 1-7 with a 7.28 ERA lifetime in Kansas City. This was one of his worst outings, as he allowed five runs on six hits over 1.1 innings.

When San Francisco won Game 1, I reported that history was on its side. The Game 1 winner has won 15 of the past 17 World Series. But, there is also some history working in Kansas City's favor after this Game 6 victory. Consider:
  • Home teams are 23-3 in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series since 1982.
  • The last eight teams to win Game 6 at home to tie a World Series went on to win Game 7. The 1985 Kansas City Royals are among the clubs to accomplish that feat.
  • Home teams have won the last nine World Series Game 7s dating back to 1979, when the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Baltimore Orioles.
  • The 1975 Cincinnati Reds were last team to lose Game 6 on the road (vs. Boston) and recover to win Game 7.
The other thing that's working in Kansas City's favor? It has more pitchers rested and available going into this decisive game. That's where Ventura's long outing Tuesday was key. Jason Frasor and Tim Collins both worked an inning of scoreless relief for the Royals. Neither was taxed and both should be available tonight. Kansas City's three best relievers (Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera) have all had at least two days of rest. Even James Shields, the Royals starter in Games 1 and 5, could be available should Game 7 starter Jeremy Guthrie run into difficulty.

San Francisco has more limitations. Thirty-nine-year-old Tim Hudson is the oldest pitcher to ever start a World Series Game 7, and the Giants need at least six quality innings from the sinker-balling veteran. Peavy's early exit forced San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy to use Yusmeiro Petit, Jean Machi, Hunter Strickland and Ryan Vogelsong in relief on Tuesday. Machi and Strickland likely aren't available for Game 7. Petit had been solid in relief before getting hit around in Game 6. Will Bochy go back to him if Hudson struggles early? I'm not sure. If the game is close late, we'll probably see San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner in relief. Bochy simply doesn't have as many options as Kansas City manager Ned Yost.

There are a lot of things that are pointing in the Royals' favor for Game 7. But, of course, this is baseball. All this stuff goes out the window if the Giants get an early lead. That's why we watch. That's why this game is great.

Enjoy Game 7 everybody.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Giants take 3-2 lead with win in World Series Game 5

There have been 30 games played in Major League Baseball's postseason so far this year.

That means there have been 60 starts for pitchers, and of those 60, only six times has a pitcher worked seven innings or more and earned a postseason victory. San Francisco Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner has accounted for four of those six this playoff year.

Bumgarner continued to cement his reputation as a clutch performer with yet another brilliant outing Sunday in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series. The San Francisco left-hander fired a complete-game, four-hit shutout as the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, 5-0, to take a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Kansas City.

Bumgarner is now 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA in four career World Series starts. Opponents are hitting just .120 against him in that span.

How dominant was Bumgarner on this night? In nine innings, Kansas City had only two at-bats with runners in scoring position. Those at-bats were taken by light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson and starting pitcher James Shields, so the Royals had little chance to score in this game.

I've been critical of Shields' postseason performance in previous blog entries, but he was solid in Game 5. He allowed just two runs in six innings. That's certainly a credible performance. He just got outpitched, plain and simple.

The Giants finally solved the riddle of the Kansas City bullpen in the eighth inning, too. They scored three runs off the previously unhittable combination of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to increase their lead to 5-0, a two-run double by reserve outfielder Juan Perez being the biggest hit.

The question becomes, can the Giants get a closeout victory on the road with somebody other than Bumgarner on the mound? Jake Peavy will get his shot in Game 6 against Kansas City's Yordano Ventura in a rematch from Game 2.

If San Francisco wins this thing, I think we already know Bumgarner is going to be named MVP.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Royals get even with win in World Series Game 2

The Kansas City Royals couldn't afford to lose the first two games of the World Series at home. After getting pummeled in Game 1, it was imperative they bounce back with a win in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Bounce back they did, as the Royals scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to break open a close game and defeat the San Francisco Giants 7-2, tying the 2014 Fall Classic at 1-1.

My biggest question coming into this game was whether Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura would be healthy enough to pitch effectively. The youngster exited earlier than he would have liked in his Game 2 start in the AL Championship Series with a shoulder problem, and you couldn't help but wonder whether he would suffer any lingering effects in the biggest start of his life.

Before the game, I even saw some chatter on the Internet where Royals fans were criticizing manager Ned Yost for starting Ventura. Some were suggesting the 23-year-old needed to be shut down in order to "protect his future."

Here's the thing about that: Exactly what future are you preparing for? If you are the Royals, your future is right now. This is their chance to win it all, and Ventura is one of their best pitchers. If he can go, you send him out there. What are you saving him for? The 2043 World Series?

Ventura quieted all those fears with a credible performance. His fastball touched 100 mph, as it normally does, and he fired 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits. With the bullpen Kansas City has, that's all it needed from its young starter.

And credit Yost for removing Ventura at precisely the right moment. The score was tied, 2-2, in the top of the sixth inning, and the Giants had runners at first and second with one out. San Francisco looked poised to solve Ventura, so Yost brought in flamethrowing Kelvin Herrera, who retired Brandon Belt and Mike Morse consecutively to extricate the Royals from that jam.

Kansas City then battered San Francisco starter Jake Peavy and three Giants relievers for five runs in the bottom half of that inning. Hunter Strickland had another terrible showing out of the bullpen for the Giants. He gave up the two biggest hits of the game -- a two-run double by Salvador Perez and a two-run homer by Omar Infante.

Worse, Strickland was inexplicably jawing at the Royals runners as they rounded the bases after the home run. Perez took exception to that, and the benches briefly cleared.

I can't see Giants manager Bruce Bochy using Strickland in any more high-leverage situations in this series. Yes, Strickland's fastball sits at 98 to 100 mph, but it's straight as an arrow, and his slider hasn't been good enough to keep opposing batters off balance. Both Perez and Infante delivered game-changing extra-base hits against Strickland's fastball.

This is nothing new, either. Strickland has now tied a major league record for home runs given up in a postseason with five. He's given up five home runs to the last 23 batters he has faced, in fact. He's allowed six earned runs in just 5.1 innings this postseason. All other San Francisco relievers have given up just four runs in a combined 35 playoff innings. That tells you Strickland just doesn't belong on the mound right now unless it is mop-up time.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City bullpen continues to dominate. Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland combined to pitch 3.2 innings. They allowed nothing, and the Royals coasted to the five-run victory.

The series now shifts to San Francisco after an off day. Game 3 is Friday night. Kansas City sends veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the mound. The Giants will counter with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Madison Bumgarner cools off Royals in World Series Game 1

The Game 1 winner has won 15 of the last 17 World Series, including 10 out of the last 11.

That fact bodes well for the San Francisco Giants, who cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday in the opening game of the 2014 Fall Classic.

How did the Giants cool off the red-hot Royals, who had won nine consecutive games dating back to the regular season? They did it by scoring early and allowing their ace left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, to do his job.

Bumgarner fired seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He fanned five and walked just one. His only mistake was a two-out homer by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez in the bottom of the seventh inning, and by that point it didn't matter because the Royals were hopelessly behind.

San Francisco jumped out to a 3-0 lead in top of the first inning. Hunter Pence's two-run homer off Kansas City ace James Shields highlighted the rally.

You wouldn't have expected Pence to be the guy to haunt Shields. Coming into Tuesday's play, Pence was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Shields. However, his home run was the biggest hit of the game, and he also had a double to start a two-run rally in the fourth inning that increased San Francisco's lead to 5-0.

It's no secret San Francisco has the edge in postseason experience in this series. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012. For many of these Kansas City players, this is their first time in the playoffs.

That difference in experience showed up in this game, particularly in the bottom of the third inning when the Royals had their best chance to get to Bumgarner. Down 3-0, Kansas City placed runners on second and third with nobody out after Omar Infante reached on a Brandon Crawford error and Mike Moustakas doubled.

It's the kind of situation the Royals have taken advantage of throughout the postseason, but it didn't happen this time. Bumgarner escaped the jam unscathed by getting overanxious Kansas City hitters to swing at bad pitches. Perhaps the combination of being on the big stage and facing an early deficit caused the Royals to press.

It sure looked that way as Alcides Escobar struck out swinging on a fastball up and well out of the zone for the first out. Nori Aoki also fanned after he could not check his swing on an 0-2 breaking ball that bounced in front of the plate. Bumgarner tried a similar strategy against the next hitter, but to Lorenzo Cain's credit, he laid off those pitches and worked a walk to load the bases for Eric Hosmer.

The Kansas City first baseman swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base to end what would be the Royals' last and best chance to get back in the game.

I've heard some analysts criticize Hosmer for offering at that first pitch. I won't be among them. I believe in swinging at the first hittable strike in RBI situations. Sometimes, that's the best pitch you're going to get. Hosmer got an 86 mph cutter from Bumgarner that was middle to outer half. It was a hittable pitch. The only criticism I have of Hosmer is he may have tried to pull that pitch when he would have been better served to try to drive it to left field. But, I don't fault him for swinging.

The real disappointment for the Royals in this game was the poor performance of Shields, who was knocked out in the fourth inning and allowed five earned runs. The Giants went 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the Kansas City ace, who is now just 1-3 with an 8.26 ERA in his last six postseason starts.

MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac and others need to stop with the obnoxious "Big Game James" references when discussing Shields, because he's obviously been struggling lately.

For an actual "Big Game" pitcher, look no further than Bumgarner. The San Francisco ace has started three World Series games in his career. He's 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA in those outings. That's clutch.

The Royals will try to even the series Wednesday in Game 2 behind youngster Yordano Ventura. Veteran Jake Peavy will be on the mound for the Giants.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jose Abreu named the Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu on Monday was named the AL Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News. This award is voted on by players, and Abreu received 149 of 160 votes in a landslide victory.

The honor comes as no surprise. This year, Abreu became the first major league rookie to rank in the top five in each of the Triple Crown categories -- average (.317), home runs (36) and RBIs (107).

He led the league with a .581 slugging percentage and became the fourth player ever to top 30 home runs, 30 doubles and 100 RBIs in his rookie season. The other names on that list are Hal Trosky, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols.

Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker finished second with four votes. Yankees pitchers Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka tied for third with three votes each. Amusingly, White Sox infielder Marcus Semien finished fifth with one vote.

Semien spent about half the season at Triple-A Charlotte, so you have to wonder which knucklehead player submitted that vote.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Giants win the pennant ... and Mike Matheny doesn't

Second-guessing managers is part of the fun of watching baseball -- especially during the postseason -- and we're putting St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny on the hot seat tonight.

Here's the situation: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals trail the San Francisco Giants 3 games to 1 and face a must win. The game is tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. St. Louis must hold or its season is over. And the pitcher Matheny turns to is none other than ... Michael Wacha?

Really? 

Yes, Wacha was one of the postseason heroes for the Cardinals in 2013. He won the NLCS MVP award, in fact. But that was then and this is now. It's been an injury-plagued season for Wacha. He missed two and a half months with a shoulder problem, and he wasn't good enough or healthy enough to make the St. Louis postseason rotation.

Wacha hadn't pitched in a game since Sept. 26, yet there he was to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the season hanging in the balance. Four batters later, the Giants were National League champions.

In fairness, I can't say Wacha didn't look healthy. His fastball touched 98 mph on the Fox Sports 1 radar gun. However, his command was absolutely terrible, which is exactly what you would expect from a pitcher who hadn't seen the mound in nearly three weeks. That's why he shouldn't have been out there.

Pablo Sandoval led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a base hit, and the pressure was on Wacha immediately. One out later, he walked Brandon Belt on four pitches. Then, he fell behind 2-0 to San Francisco left fielder Travis Ishikawa and was forced to challenge him with a fastball. Ishikawa answered that challenge, knocking the ball over the right-field wall for a three-run homer.

Giants win, 6-3. Series over. Season over for St. Louis.

It isn't like Matheny didn't have other options. His starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, gave him seven innings of two-run ball. Reliever Pat Neshek worked the eighth and surrendered a 3-2 lead, giving up a solo home run to pinch-hitter Michael Morse. Everyone else in the Cardinals bullpen should have been available.

Why not bring in closer Trevor Rosenthal? Or hard-throwing Carlos Martinez? A left-handed reliever such as Marco Gonzales or Randy Choate wouldn't have been a bad call in that inning, either, because Belt and Ishikawa are both left-handed hitters, and Sandoval -- a switch-hitter -- is far less dangerous when he's hitting right-handed.

If Matheny had brought in any of those four relievers, it would have been a defensible move. Instead, he went with Wacha. Terrible choice.

The San Francisco victory sets up an wild-card World Series with the Kansas City Royals. Thanks to the stupid TV networks, we have to wait until Tuesday for play to begin.

Am I the only one who thinks it stinks there won't be any baseball on this weekend? 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Kansas City Royals must be happy they traded for James Shields, Wade Davis

Wade Davis struggled with Tampa Bay.
Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore made a trade that stunned the baseball world on Dec. 9, 2012.

He sent outfielder Wil Myers -- who at the time was Kansas City's top prospect and perhaps the best prospect in all of baseball -- and pitcher Jake Odorizzi and two minor-leaguers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for veteran pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named later.

The critics howled. How could the general manager of the perpetually rebuilding Royals part with such a huge piece of the franchise's future? This was a "win-now" kind of trade, and Kansas City was coming off a lousy 72-win season in 2012. Was Moore delusional? Certainly he didn't believe Shields and Davis would vault the Royals into contention. Trading away Myers was a move that would haunt the franchise for the next decade, right?

Wrong.

Nearly two years after the deal, Moore is getting the last laugh. That's because the Royals are headed to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Kansas City finished off a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

Shields and Davis are both centerpieces of this pennant winning team. Shields is the No. 1 starter in the Kansas City rotation. This season, he led the team in wins (14), innings pitched (227) and strikeouts (180), while finishing second on the team in ERA (3.21). Teammate Yordano Ventura's ERA (3.20) was just a touch better.

The Royals converted Davis, a failed starter, to a full-time relief role this year with outstanding results. Working as Kansas City's eighth-inning guy, he fired 72 innings, striking out 109 batters and posting a 1.00 ERA and a 0.847 WHIP.  He's been lights out in the postseason, striking out 10 and allowing just one run over 9.1 innings in eight games.

In Wednesday's pennant clincher, Davis worked with surgical efficiency, retiring the Orioles 1-2-3 in the eighth inning on 10 pitches (9 strikes). It was the kind of outing Royals fans have come to expect from Davis. He's done it all year.

So, on one December night, with one trade, Moore acquired two players who would become the best starting pitcher and the best relief pitcher on an American League championship team. He paid a price for it, sure, but that celebration that's going on in Kansas City tonight would not be happening without this trade.

And Myers?

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013, but this year he compiled an ugly slash line of .222/.294/.320 with just six home runs and 35 RBIs in 87 games. Myers is only 23 years old, and there is still plenty of time for him to get his career on track, but I don't think the Royals miss him right now.

Let this be a lesson to some media and some fans who tend to overvalue prospects. No matter how highly regarded a young player may be, sometimes it does pay dividends to trade that prospect for more proven ballplayers.

Kansas City is proof of that.