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Worrying about rotation depth

One of the problems the 2017 White Sox won’t share with their predecessors is a crippling lack of position player depth. Not because they have more depth than in the past, but because gaps on the position player side aren’t really a problem if you don’t care about winning games — if you lose a couple games because you have to give a couple hundred plate appearances to Leury Garcia or Jacob May or Matt Davidson, the games that move a team from 72 wins to 70 are rather less meaningful than the ones that move a team from 88 to 86 wins.

The idea that a rebuilding team doesn’t need depth doesn’t hold in the same way for starting pitching. No matter how you slice it, a team needs to get at least 850 innings or so from its starters in a year. If it has trouble picking that many up then there’s a likely increase in bullpen injury risk from overuse — plus whatever psychic toll that many four-hour blowouts has on fans and players.

In the same way that some in this space were critical of the White Sox failure to bring in a veteran catcher who could perhaps stabilize the pitching staff and prevent catastrophe in the event of Omar Narvaez playing like PECOTA expects, there’s some room for concern — not a ton, but some — that there’s no backup plan if something befalls the Sox rotation.

This has become even more apparent after last week’s revelation that Carlos Rodon may start the season on the disabled list. Even before that injury, each of the other four starters breaking camp with the major league club either are likely to be traded (Jose Quintana, Miguel Gonzalez), have injury concerns above even a normal pitcher (Gonzalez, Derek Holland), or are quite possibly finished (Holland and Big Inning James Shields).

While the Sox have Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez waiting in the wings, nobody really wants to see them called up earlier than planned because Shields gets brutally mauled by a gopher. As Rick Hahn put it last week:

“You don’t want anyone young or any prospect pushing the issue because there is a need in Chicago. What dictates when a player is in Chicago is going to be his ability to succeed in Chicago, as opposed to a need in Chicago.”

Not counting the prospects, the next set of starters on the depth chart are a pretty unsightly batch, even by the standards of a team that cycled through Mat Latos, John Danks, Erik Johnson, and Anthony Ranaudo last season. There’s nobody bringing even the guarantee of a Scott Carroll or a Dylan Axelrod.

There’s Tyler Danish, who’s young, still has some upside, and didn’t acquit himself last year in his emergency call-up. (Hahn suggested Danish is their most likely option.) While Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey has started in the past, he’s never pitched above Double-A, and it’s not clear he’ll break camp with the team anyhow. Chris Volstad is 30 and posted an ERA close to 5 in Charlotte last year; Cory Leubke is 32 and hasn’t started anywhere in years. (There’s also the free agent market, in case you wanted an even sadder end to John Danks’s tenure with the franchise.)

Bluntly, none of those seem like good bets to make more than one start in April or May without the wheels falling off, but that doesn’t make a real catastrophe particularly likely. (It wouldn’t take a “Homer at the Bat” level collapse, but it does require at least two or three players becoming totally unusable.) Even if one or two of the front five take a hit, one of the backup options should be able to do enough to merit a couple of turns; if nothing else, giving each of the four listed above a start or two soaks up enough turns through the rotation to take care of any early DL stints. Thinking more broadly, if none of Fulmer, Giolito, and Lopez is ready by mid-June then the organization has bigger problems to worry about.

Even before Rodon went down, I was concerned about their having to rush prospects. Hopefully — maybe — if the rebuild goes as planned there can be a few years’ hiatus on articles referring to a “crippling lack of depth” on either side of the ball; God knows the White Sox have run that trope into the ground this decade.

Lead Photo Credit: Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports Images

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1 comment on “Worrying about rotation depth”

Russ

There’s no need to be concerned about rotation depth this year for the same reason as there is no concern about position depth. The 2017-18 White Sox are MLB’s Last Chance Ranch and there will be plenty of Ross Detwilers and Jon Nieses to be shuffled in and out for 3-4 game starting stints.

The bigger concern will be bullpen injuries with the increase in use. But the bullpen is Last Chance Ranch too and there are plenty of Matt Alberses available.

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