One of the more difficult parts of my job is having the incredibly gloomy conversation with owners who are struggling with the decision to humanely end their pet’s suffering. No one wants to be responsible for such a powerful decision that can’t be undone, so there is hedging and hemming and long uncomfortable silences. Ultimately, the best advice you can give the person is “You’ll know when it’s time.”
John Danks‘ start against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday should be that moment for the Chicago White Sox.
Danks has been a wonderful representative of the franchise his entire career, but he simply cannot pitch at a high enough level to be given starts anymore for what is now a surprising contender, regardless of salary and past history. His fastball is averaging 87.8 mph, down a full four mph from his peak years. His cutter no longer cuts. His changeup, which was once fantastic, is no longer has the same velocity difference from his other pitches to be as effective as it once was.
Which is all pretty damned heartbreaking, if we’re being honest. Danks came to the White Sox as a Top 60 prospect, part of the Texas Rangers’ vaunted DVD trio (which is maybe the most mid-2000s sentence I’ve ever typed). He’s the only one who actually went on to have anything close to the career his hype promised. Thomas Diamond pitched 29 innings for the Cubs in 2010 and that was it. Edinson Volquez gave the Rangers 80 horrible innings before being flipped to Cincinnati for Josh Hamilton and going on to have a decent enough career as a No. 4 starter type for five other teams.
But John Danks was different. He left Texas before having thrown a single pitch for the Rangers in exchange for Brandon McCarthy. The Rangers got three years of injuries and average results from the former White Sox top prospect. The White Sox got a solid fixture in the rotation for the next five years. From 2007 to 2011, Danks was worth 19.9 bWAR and 15.5 fWAR. Not an ace, but a pretty nice thing to have from a young cost-controlled starter. Things had gone so well that the team opened up their wallet and gave out a franchise record five-year, $65 million contract. All that from a team that had forever been reluctant to sign a pitcher for more than three or four years.
And then, the following May, his shoulder exploded. Shoulders are horrible joints. Most joints work like Legos or jigsaw puzzles. Everything works because the pieces connect perfectly. Shoulders are more like a loose conglomeration of twigs, Silly Putty, and a beehive that kind of fit together until they don’t. Pitchers more often than not do not bounce back from shoulder surgery. Look at Johan Santana. Look at Mark Mulder. Your shoulders are not your friends.
Since coming back from surgery, Danks has impressively managed to be worth 1.3 bWAR and 2.6 fWAR since 2013, and I mean that sincerely. It’s an injury that should have completely ruined him. Instead, it just kind of slowly poisoned the rest of his career. After Thursday’s start, Danks has a career high in BB/9 (4.43) and a new career low in K/BB (1.45). But you don’t need to look at advanced stats or any stats at all to know that he’s toast. You just have to watch him pitch for an inning. His current approach to every hitter is to throw the ball near home plate and pray for the best. There’s just nothing left in the tank, and it’s depressing.
John Danks was a damned good pitcher for the White Sox before his arm betrayed him. His Game 163 dominance of the Twins in 2008 remains one of my favorite non-2005 White Sox memories. But that was eight years ago. It wasn’t a terrible idea to try and see if he still had anything left to offer since the team was on the hook for this year’s $15.75 million annual salary no matter what, but it’s become readily apparent that he just no longer does. If the White Sox are going to compete in 2016, it’s going to have to be without John Danks. It’s time to do what’s best for everyone involved and make the uncomfortable decision.
Lead Image Credit: Kim Klement // USA Today Sports Images