South Side Morning 5: Sox fifth starters are showing their fluidity

1. It’s hard not to feel for Erik Johnson at some point. He spent the last homestand kicking around the clubhouse waiting for an opportunity to pitch that eventually got handed to Miguel Gonzalez. He’s conquered the International League two times over and is now 26-years-old and his prospect shine is behind him, but the organization’s enthusiasm for him is obviously waning.

And then again, it’s hard to see an alternative to optioning him, as the Sox did immediately after Thursday’s loss. There’s just not much about Johnson’s complement of a 91 mph fastball with decent life, nothing resembling a significantly useful off-speed pitch and bad control to suggest he can turn a lineup over even twice without running into consistent trouble. It’s sad that the Johnson who debuted at the end of 2013 and earned himself a rotation spot is gone, but pretending he never left won’t fix that.

The Future Sox guys say Gonzalez looked sharp in his last Charlotte start, and he seems like the easy choice to be the corresponding move Friday.

2. The White Sox have been noticeably and commendably serious this past week about addressing when starters are lacking the stuff to stay in a major league rotation. That same seriousness could be directed to their lineup, as they reached a point this week with Avisail Garcia‘s hamstring injury, where Jerry Sands had to start multiple games at DH vs. right-handed pitching, which should serve as a ‘something needs to be done’ moment for a contending team.

Garcia returned to the lineup Thursday and promptly had a huge day, raising his season line to .230/.301/.446, on the year; something that would be a happy final result for him based on preseason expectations. A quick rejoinder is that Garcia’s success over his last few games isn’t based on anything new; he’s spraying fastballs he can trigger on late to right field, and clubbing hanging breaking balls to the moon. But at this point in Garcia’s development, becoming very reliable at doing what he can is a more likely path to being a major league regular than trying to be the complete player he once had the potential to be. Everyone who can command decent-to-plus velocity might own him for the rest of his career, but there’s value–as anyone who suffered through Thursday night’s game can attest–in someone who can reliably punish the Henry Owens of the world.

Yet even with that thread of (mild) optimism, I cannot really fathom dedicating full-time plate appearances toward such a project with such a low ceiling for success, especially with a team full of one and two-year commitments with a chance for postseason. Bruce Levine’s report that the Sox have been actively seeking left-handed hitting in the trade market rings very true.

3. Jake Petricka is headed to the 15-day disabled list with right hip impingement. Robin left his phrasing just open enough (“It’s something he’s been dealing with”) to imply that maybe Petricka walking a batter per inning so far this year could be the product of being physically compromised. Jake’s groundball rate tilted over 70-percent this year in a stupidly small sample of eight innings of work, and that heavy sinker has as much life as ever. But as limited as the upside of a one-pitch reliever is, the upside of a one-pitch reliever who cannot command that one pitch is even lower, and also doesn’t do much to encourage a contender to wait out cold stretches that render him completely useless.

Tommy Kahnle will come back to replace Petricka. He does not seem significantly less wild.

4. There’s an advanced pitching metrics update rolling on the BP main site. A good rule of thumb is that cFIP is better for predictive value, an DRA (and thus DRA-) is better for telling what has actually happened. A fun thing to look at here is that cFIP identifies both Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are top-10 pitchers going forward, with Quintana even being ahead, and that Mat Latos (90 cFIP) is at least solidly above-average despite DRA not liking his work very much. The downside is that Carlos Rodon is seen as very average by both metrics, but given that his 0.1 IP start is sitting in here, this isn’t that surprising.

These are our metric and we love them, but they’re hardly perfect, especially at this sample size. Wars are already being declared over Jake Arrieta‘s numbers, and cFIP thinks Wade Miley and the recently WAIVED BY THE TWINS Tommy Milone are both awesome. Metrics are tools, not verdicts.

5. After the White Sox 11-inning triumph over the Texas Rangers a couple of weeks back, Todd Frazier was sitting at his locker nearly encased in ice packs when media was allowed inside. As he lurched up to face the post-game scrum, he paused and squinted, and put one hand on his forehead in befuddlement, acknowledging in gesture what was already readily apparent to everyone: Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” was blaring far too loud in the Sox clubhouse for anyone to think, let alone record a usable soundbite.

In the two minutes of confusion that followed, as multiple voices asked in confusion where Brett Lawrie was, it was clear that there might be some downsides to having the Canadian newcomer serve as clubhouse DJ, but as Jon Greenberg’s feature on the dynamic shows, it’s apparently the rare baseball situation where we value results over process.

It doesn’t matter that Lawrie is getting the Sox pumped up before game with awful EDM, it just matters that they are getting pumped up, and it’s a lot easier watch a first-place team run out on the field to Flo Rida than to hear Chance’s music associated with 90 losses.


Lead Image Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski // USA Today Sports Images

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