Over the past two seasons, the White Sox rotation has been among the league’s best with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana spearheading the efforts. The White Sox have finished inside of the top seven in ERA across Major League Baseball in each of those two seasons. With Sale gone now, how will the rotation fare?
Chris Sale was traded to the Boston Red Sox in December, in a blockbuster deal that saw the White Sox bring back baseball’s top prospect plus three others, kick-starting the rebuild on the south side in one sweeping move. The White Sox will now turn to Jose Quintana to lead the rotation, for the time being any how. Here’s what the 2017 starting rotation looks like at the moment;
2017 Projected Opening Day Rotation:
LHP Jose Quintana
LHP Carlos Rodon
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP James Shields
LHP Derek Holland
As of right now, Jose Quintana is still on the White Sox roster, but that very well may change. Just today, Ken Rosenthal, back from his lengthy Twitter absence, confirmed reports that the White Sox are talking daily with other teams about trading Quintana.
But it’s very possible they retain the talented southpaw for a long time as they try to get the best deal. So, there is a good chance Quintana is the opening day starter for the Sox, meaning we might as well analyze him. NEWSFLASH: JOSE QUINTANA IS AN AMAZING PITCHER. In his entire five-year career, Quintana hasn’t finished with an ERA above 3. 76.
In the last four years, he’s pitched at least 200 innings, and in the last three years, has finished with an ERA under 3.37. While his WHIP and strikeout numbers aren’t fantastic like Sale’s, he gets the job done, and probably more consistently than Sale. He has virtually no injury history, so there aren’t concerns with his durability.
Often the victim of poor run support and therefore unimpressive records, Quintana finally received the recognition he deserved this past year when he pitched in the All-Star Game and finished tenth in American League Cy Young Award voting. So although Sale is gone, Quintana can step right up and keep the front of the rotation in decent shape. If he’s traded, the future of the rotation would likely brighten, but the immediate void would probably leave the unit in shambles as the younger hurlers still develop in the minors.
So while it’s highly unlikely he stays with the Sox past the trade deadline, he would be very useful until then. As you examine his numbers over the course of his career, most of his numbers have gotten slightly but gradually better, so I expect nothing different this year. I predict Quintana will finish the 2017 campaign with the following numbers:
3.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 210 IP, 190 K, 48 BB, 18 HR, 190 H
While his overall numbers aren’t dazzling, it’s the progression at the end of 2016, and the nasty slider that make many people believe Rodon could emerge as a top-of-the-rotation starter in 2017. His post-All Star ERA decreased from 4.50 to 3.45, while his batting average allowed and many other numbers also improved. The numbers could be misleading, however, as a similar thing happened between his 2015 and 2016 seasons. He pitched amazingly to end 2015, but went back to pitching poorly at the beginning of the 2016 season.
However, two years in, it’s more likely that Rodon is finally starting to catch on. The success of Don Cooper and Co. in developing young pitchers allows most to be confident that Rodon should start to be consistently good. He definitely has the ceiling of an ace, so if Quintana is dealt, there is hope that Rodon can replace him perfectly. Multiple baseball writers and analysts have marked the former first round pick out of North Carolina State to be a breakout star, but I won’t go that far.
It’s very possible that he has figured it out and will begin to dominate consistently, but I say he needs a bit more time. Like the last two years, I think he will start out a bit rough, but this time I believe he will figure it out earlier, say around May or June. The talent is there, but so is the inconsistency, so Rodon’s easily the hardest to predict, but I’ll stick with my May/June prediction. As for the specific numbers, obviously I expect them to generally get better, but I noted his improvements in walks, strikeouts, and innings pitched, while his worsening in hits and home runs over the past two years.
3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 180 IP, 190 K, 48 BB, 16 HR, 140 H
The Sox picked up Gonzalez early on in the 2016 season after he was released by the Baltimore Orioles. Gonzalez was a quality starter for the O’s from 2012-2014, but he dropped off in 2015 with an ugly 4.91 ERA to go with the overall deterioration of all his other numbers. So, Rick Hahn and the Sox took a chance on Gonzalez and it ended up paying off nicely for them. He seemed to get back to his old self, as he finished with a 3.73 ERA, a 1.237 WHIP, and improvements from his 2015 numbers in essentially every category.
Gonzalez is another candidate for a trade deadline deal if he continues to pitch decently, and would net a team’s top 5 prospect on most teams. While it’s possible that Gonzalez reverts back to his 2015 form, it would be unexpected because that season seems to be the outlier from the rest of his campaigns. It’s hard to factor in his trends as I did with the first two starters, since his 2016 was a huge rebound from 2015, but I’ll do my best. His skills are very under the radar, as a passionate fan like me never heard of him even in his solid 2012-2014 years, but make no mistake, Gonzalez is a good pitcher to have as your number 3. If Quintana leaves, he is an underwhelming number two, but still not bad. Here are my stat predictions:
3.70 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 150 IP, 108 K, 42 BB, 16 HR, 148 H
“Big Game” James certainly did not live up to his nickname, as his dismal output hurt the White Sox chances of ever reaching a big game in 2016. Let’s face it: Shields was abysmal. Just plain awful. He ended with a 5.85 ERA, a WHIP close to 1.60, and gave up a league worst 40 dingers.
That’s his total season roundup between his time in San Diego and Chicago. His numbers with the White Sox were even worse, making his bad Padres numbers seem pretty good in comparison. But there is some hope. The 2016 season was highly uncharacteristic of him. In his 11 major-league seasons, only one other time did he finish with an ERA over five. He was actually very good for most of his career, which may seem impossible with his 2016 numbers. So, White Sox management and fans are hoping that Shields’s 2016 was like Gonzalez’s 2015- just an off year. However, it’s likely that it’s a result of him aging and exiting his prime.
Still, I don’t see him having as bad a year as he did in 2016. I forecast a small rebound for Shields, not back to his near Cy Young-caliber numbers, but to “meh, that’s not that bad for a fourth or fifth starter” type numbers. Things to notice include his long ball struggles, which leads to surprisingly good IP numbers because one home run only takes one pitch, and his generally high walk numbers. So let’s take a look at my crystal ball of stats for James Shields in 2017:
4.58 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 205 IP, 168 K, 64 BB, 32 HR, 210 H
The recently signed free agent has struggled in recent seasons, but that’s not why the Sox signed him, despite ideas that maybe they are trying to tank. Hahn and Co. hopes that Holland can rebound just enough to fetch a quality prospect at the deadline.
While I don’t predict a big rebound, he hasn’t pitched all that much since a big injury in 2014, so it’s possible Cooper could get more out of him as he pitches more and more. Besides, if he continues with his 2015 and 2016 ERA’s of around 4.95, he won’t be too disappointing since he is just a fourth or fifth starter. Keeping in mind the fact he’ll pitch a bit more with the Sox than what he did with the Rangers in 2016, here’s what I expect from Holland in 2017:
4. 82 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 130 IP, 84 K, 39 BB, 16 HR, 128 H
If, or more likely when Quintana is traded, the White Sox will need another starter. They could go to the market, or utilize a young arm. Carson Fulmer was a bit disappointing in his 2016 debut, but is a viable option and still has time to develop. Tyler Danish has plenty of minor league experience, and could fill in. In addition, newcomer prospect Lucas Giolito, who came over in the Nationals deal for Adam Eaton, has pitched in the big leagues and could come on at some point.
Any way they go, there’s no panic if the fifth slot isn’t filled with a stellar pitcher. 2017 is not a year the White Sox expect to compete, so the focus should and will be on the proper timing and development of the young players in the system.