White Sox 2014 Preview: Pitching



The Chicago White Sox rotation last season combined for a 3.99 ERA, good for 8th in the American League, and managed to hold opposing hitters to a .257 average which was 7th in the AL. Despite having a starting rotation that included two pitchers who reached 200 innings (Chris Sale and Jose Quintana), along with a Cy Young Award candidate in Sale, the White Sox were merely middle of the pack when it came to results from their starters. There is one thing, however, the White Sox have that many other major league clubs do not; an ace of their pitching staff.

Chris Sale emerged in 2013 as the clear ace of the White Sox and one of the most dominating lefties in all of Major League Baseball. Sale is coming off a year in which he posted an ERA of 3.07 and pitched 214.1 innings, the most of his career. He also was 4th in the majors with 226 strikeouts and owned an impressive K/9 rate of 9.5. Sale, unfortunately, suffered from lack of offensive production as the White Sox ranked next to last in runs scored per game. Despite this, in 30 starts Sale managed to have 23 quality outings which was good for 7th in the AL. Sale managed to essentially match his ERA total from last year while increasing his strikeout and inning totals, all while lowering his walk numbers. In simpler terms, Chris Sale is really good and is getting better.

Another pitcher that’s been good and getting better for the Sox is Jose Quintana. Quintana managed to post an ERA of 3.51 in exactly 200 innings last season. With a rotation headlined by two lefties capable of posting sub 4 ERA’s and 200 innings, the White Sox suddenly find themselves in a favorable position. Continued production from Quintana, who turns 25 in January, along with expected success of Sale, who turns 25 in March, presents the White Sox with top of the rotation starters-lefties nonetheless- for years to come.

Many people may not have been excited about the numbers Johnny Danks posted after his return, but the 138 1/3 innings he threw last season were key to getting that surgically repaired shoulder back in shape. The White Sox still see something in the 28 year old as he looks to take on his first full season since signing that 5 year, $65 million dollar deal back in 2011.

Thus far there are three locks in the White Sox 2014 rotation consisting of Sale, Quintana, and Danks. After the departure of former White Sox starter Hector Santiago, there are two final rotation spots up for grabs between four players; 24 year old right hander Erik Johnson, 26 year old lefty Eric Surkamp, 25 year old righty Andre Rienzo, and 30 year old right handed veteranFelipe Paulino.

Erik Johnson emerged last year as a legitimate contender for the 5th spot in the White Sox rotation. Johnson started 5 games last year for the Sox and posted an ERA of 3.25. In three seasons in the minors, Johnson owns a career ERA of 2.21 in 43 games with a decent strikeout to walk ratio of 3.14. Johnson, along with Rienzo and Paulino, can add variety to an already left handed heavy rotation.

Eric Surkamp was aquired off waivers from the San Fransisco Giants and has an opportunity to land a spot in the starting rotation. Surkamp is ranked 11th among the White Sox top 20 prospects and combined to go 7-1 with a 2.80 ERA and 71 strikeouts over 86 2/3 innings in 16 starts between Class A San Jose and Triple-A Fresno during the 2013 season.

Andre Rienzo started 10 games for the White Sox last season and projects to be one the front runners to break the rotation in 2014. Rienzo compiled 56 innings while posting an ERA of 4.82 in 2013.

The final piece of this competitive puzzle is 30 year old right hander Felipe Paulino. Paulino was signed to a one year deal with an option for 2015 by the White Sox on the first day of the Winter Meetings this offseason.

General manager Rick Hahn addressed the possibility of Paulino breaking the rotation along with landing a bullpen spot saying, "[Paulino] has been in a variety of roles so conceivably he could end up in the bullpen but right now we’re viewing him as an option for our rotation," Hahn also stated, "That’s going to allow us to potentially not rush one of our younger guys if they’re not ready in Erik Johnson or Andre Rienzo. Or if we decide we don’t want to go with a four lefty rotation, we have an option for doing something else other than that as well."

Paulino underwent ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery in 2012 and made seven minor league rehab assignments for the Royals organization last year. In 93 career games (61 as starter), Paulino has an ERA of 4.93 and 359 strikeouts in 385 1/3 innings.

All four guys mentioned have an opportunity to break spring training on the White Sox roster and included in their starting rotation. Now that the rotation is taken care of, let’s take a look at what to expect from the White Sox bullpen going into next year.

Currently there is a huge hole to fill regarding the closer roll after the departure of Addison Reed. Reed had all of the White Sox 40 saves last season so who can step up and fill the shoes?

First among the locks in the bullpen are Scott Downs, Matt Lindstrom, Nate Jones, and Ronald Belisario. Among those four guys, Lindstrom and Jones seem to be the top candidates filling in as closer. The job is up for grabs in spring training but for now its Nate Jones’ job to lose. The 27 year old Jones has a fastball that averages in the mid to upper 90′s and he also struck out 89 batters in 78 innings last year.

Lindstrom, Belisario, and Downs seem to be the place fillers in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings while Downs is expected to face mostly lefties.

The remaining bullpen spots could be open for Daniel Webb, Nestor Molina, Donnie Veal, Jake Petricka, Charlie Leesman as a longshot, and anyone else who doesn’t make the starting rotation. It looks as though Jake Petricka is in line to be the long relief man while Daniel Webb and Donnie Veal (lefty) as the favorites to fill middle relief duties.

Petricka appeared in 16 games last season posting an ERA of 3.26 in 19.1 innings. Webb appeared in 9 games with the White Sox last season and struck out 10 in 11.1 innings in relief. Veal is almost a lock to make the White Sox 2013 bullpen as he appeared in 50 games last season with an ERA of 4.60 while striking out 29 in 29.1 innings.

The White Sox have an opportunity to enter the 2014 season as much stronger competitors compared to last season. With an improved lineup and defense, this pitching staff has the ability to carry this team out of mediocrity. In what is being called, according to Rick Hahn, "reshaping" instead of "rebuilding" its nice to have a lefty stud headline the all important pitching rotation. With the help of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and others, the White Sox pose as an interesting team to keep an eye on moving forward.

Follow me on twitter @Rankin906

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