With baseball’s annual Mid-Summer classic finally upon us, now is as good a time as any to take stock of how the White Sox have been doing. It’s been a rough, up and down season for the White Sox, who carry a 33-62 record into the mid-July break. But that does not mean it has been all negatives for the team, some signs of key development have been seen from key pieces that the team is relying on heading to the future, and a few veterans have provided some nice surprises.
Today, we start by taking a look at where the pitching staff is heading into the break.
Simply put, Shields has been one of the most valuable members of the team this year. With almost zero expectations coming into the year, Shields has emerged as not only a key innings eater for the Sox, but a veteran leader in the clubhouse as well. Leading the Sox in innings pitched with 126 is great, but when you couple that with a 4.43 ERA that ranks as second best on the entire staff, you truly paint a picture of just how valuable Shields has been. He has pitched so well, that he has managed to become one of the most valuable trade chips the team has to offer as the deadline approaches. All things considered, an outstanding year for Shields.
Lucas Giolito has had a disappointing start to his first full season of big league ball, and that’s putting it kindly. Giolito dazzled after being called up last season, logging a 2.38 ERA in just over 45 innings pitched, but has not enjoyed nearly the same success this season. Actually quite the opposite, he’s been horrible. Prior to two good starts entering the break in which he pitched 7.1 against Houston and 6.1 against Kansas City, Giolito had the worst ERA of any White Sox starter. This stat still holds true, as his ERA stands at a robust 6.18, but his starts against Kansas City and Houston provide some optimism that the lanky righty is turning it around entering the season’s second half. Those two starts and a spattering of good-not-great starts save Giolito’s grade from being the first F on the list, but barely. Giolito simply needs to turn it around in the second half of the season.
After coming over as one of the accessory pieces to Giolito in the Adam Eaton trade, Lopez has proven himself as arguably the more valuable piece. Sporting the best ERA of any pitcher with over 50 innings on the staff, Lopez has proven he can be counted on as a mid-rotation piece in the future for this team. At times, Lopez has run into control problems and has had a few starts that were clunkers, but on the whole, he has taken the major developmental steps the Sox are looking for this year. He has also demonstrated the sort of gutsiness you hope your starting pitchers to have. Lopez should look to build on his successful first half, and continue to establish himself as a force in the rotation.
Carlos Rodon: N/A
Carlos Rodon has returned from shoulder surgery to pitch 44 effective innings for the Sox so far. That being said, with such a small sample size, he simply has not pitched enough to truly grade him on yet. But, what we have seen from Rodon has been encouraging, as the former third overall pick has pitched himself to a 3.56 ERA in his return, and appears poised for the breakout season everyone has been waiting for. Should he remain healthy for the second half, Rodon could become a very positive development for the team this year.
Meh. These two haven’t been very good. Fulmer is in Triple-A and Covey appears to have come crashing back down to earth after a string of spectacular starts immediately following his call-up in May. Covey showed flashes of maybe being the first surprise contributor of this rebuild, but most hope for that has since faded. As for Fulmer, he is beginning to work out of the bullpen in Charlotte, a move that fans have been calling for since last season. There’s reason to hope the former first-round pick can become a back end of the bullpen force though, so there is reason to watch Fulmer in the second half. Unfortunately, though, the fifth rotation spot on a team as uncompetitive as the White Sox is not going to frequently yield star players, and that is what appears to be the case here.
Joakim Soria: A+
Most teams in the White Sox position do have an “elite” closer. A closer is a luxury few teams in the league have and is usually the cherry on top of a team ready to compete. Unfortunately for the Sox, Soria appears to have come to the team a few years early. For a team with so little at the major league level, it’s almost ironic that in the back-end of a roughed up bullpen, hides one of baseball’s most efficient closers this year. Since becoming the full-time closer in mid-June, Soria has converted 10 of his last 11 save opportunities, and has allowed only two runs to score in his last 29 innings pitched. Because the timing does not match up, and Soria is 34 years old, he is likely just a trade piece. But he may end up having much more value than the Sox gave up when they traded prospect Jake Peter for him in the off-season. This looks like another win for Hahn, and one last chance to compete for Soria. A win-win.
Luis Avilan: C+
The other player to join the team in the Soria deal, Avilan has been depended as a lefty option out of the bullpen this year. A 3.95 ERA in 27.1 innings won’t raise any eyebrows, but it’s gotten the job done for the team this year. Avilan became lefty option number two after the emergence of Jace Fry and barring a trade, it will likely remain that way for the rest of the year. A fine first half from Avilan, but nothing special.
Pop quiz: Which current member of the Sox bullpen has the most innings pitched this year? Why that would be Chris Volstad! During those innings pitched, Volstad has been inconsistent. A 4.91 ERA for Volstad has been fine, and he has been the go-to SHTF innings eater for the Sox, which is worth something. But he is never to be trusted in high-leverage situations and has not done enough to make himself a trade piece. Volstad may not finish the season on the major league roster, and that should tell you all you need to know.
Jace Fry: B
Many fans dubbed Fry the “savior” of the Sox bullpen when he first came up. He pitched like it too, going nearly nine straight innings without allowing a run after being called up. He burst onto the scene and immediately became a trusted high-leverage reliever for the team. Were the All-Star break in June, Fry would likely have received an A grade. But July has been unkind to the young pitcher. Fry has allowed eight runs in the half-month of July, all coming after he allowed four total in his first two months in the league. That stretch is concerning enough to knock his grade down a full letter, and it will be up to Fry to regain the form he had entering the month.
Bruce Rondon: F
Bruce Rondon, was, well, an interesting experiment. He displayed the overpowering stuff that made him a lock-down reliever in Detroit for a spell. But he also displayed the attitude problems that led to his downfall. Rondon could be seen arguing with Rick Renteria about getting taken out of the game on a consistent basis. Rondon received an increasingly short leash from Renteria as he clearly fell out of favor with the manager. Rondon was designated for assignment and declined his demotion and was released.
Nate Jones: C-
Same story as always unfortunately for Nate Jones. When healthy, Jones is a dominant reliever, but he is usually not healthy. Jones has been on the disabled list since June 13th, and is just now beginning to throw bullpen sessions. When on the mound this year, Jones has thrown his way to a 2.55 ERA, but ultimately his continuing health issues prevent him from receiving a higher grade.
The second half of the season should see a lot of turnover in the Sox pitching staff. It will also fill in more answers about what kind of pieces the team really has. Stay tuned, and check back in at the end of the year for final grades.
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