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Entries in Chicago White Sox (34)

Tuesday
Apr102012

Chris Sale's First Start

Yu Darvish wasn't the only guy making his first MLB start last night. After two dominant years in the bullpen, White Sox power arm Chris Sale is shifting to the rotation 2012. The 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft was a starter at Florida Gulf Coast University, and he impressed while navigating the lineup multiple times against the Indians. Sale struck out five and walked two in 6.2 innings, allowing just three hits and one run. Here are some notes on Sale's first start.

- Not surprisingly, Sale's fastball sat a few ticks slower as a starter (92.3 mph average) than as a reliever (95.1 mph). The 6-5, 180 pound lefty opened the game sitting around 93 mph, reached back for more in the third inning and tailed off in the fifth, but he regained some oomph after that:

Sale's fastball velocity by inning

1st: 92.8

2nd: 92.5

3rd: 94.2

4th: 91.6

5th: 89.9

6th: 91.9

7th: 92.2

Sale's fastball didn't get a bunch of whiffs (three in 24 swings), but he succeeded by keeping the pitch low in the strike zone:

Sale's fastball location vs. Indians, 4/9/12

Cleveland's hitters went 2-for-13 against Sale's fastball, grounding out seven times.

- Sale's slider was also down a couple of mph out of the rotation (80.2 mph yesterday, 82.3 mph as a reliever). His breaking ball was a big bat-misser out of the 'pen (49% miss rate), and the Indians came up empty four times out of 10 cuts yesterday.

- Facing a lineup featuring five right-handed hitters and two switch-hitters, Sale still went much more heavily to his slider (31%) than his changeup (12%). His change (yellow in the graph below) was about eight mph slower than his fastball (orange-red) and was pretty similar to his heater in terms of horizontal and vertical movement:

Release velocity and movement of Sale's pitches vs. Indians, 4/9/12Sale rarely used his changeup out of the bullpen (seven percent of his pitches). The development of that pitch could be key to his performance against righties, considering that the slider is typically much more effective against same-handed hitters (lefty batters slugged .292 on sliders from lefty pitchers in 2011) than opposite-handed hitters (righties slugged .346 versus lefty sliders). For what it's worth, Sale's slider was deadly against both righties (.148 slugging percentage) and lefties (.133 slugging percentage) as a reliever.

Wednesday
Feb152012

Fukudome To the South Side

Prior to the 2008 season, the Chicago White Sox reportedly made Kosuke Fukudome a more lucrative offer than the four-year, $48 million deal that he accepted from the Cubs upon leaving the Japanese League's Chunichi Dragons. Four years later, Fukudome is headed for the South Side. The 34-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $1 million contract that includes a $3.5 million option for the 2013 season.

It wouldn't be fair to call Fukudome's MLB stint a "bust" -- he has a career .361 on-base percentage -- but a lack of power and issues with left-handed pitching have made him a league-average (100 OPS+) hitter. As a platoon outfielder making little cash, he could have some value. Assistant GM Rick Hahn says the Sox are looking for Fukudome to "give us quality at-bats vs. righties, play some defense and get on base."

As Fukudome's 2008-11 splits show, he has worked the count and posted high OBPs against right-handers:

Pitcher HandPABA/OBP/SLGBB Pct.K Pct.
RHP 1826 .261/.367/.405 14.1 16.9
LHP 409 .251/.328/.364 10.3 21.5

 

For Fukudome to have offensive value, however, he'll need to prove that he still has some vestige of power left in his bat. His Isolated Power dipped from .150 during his first three seasons in the majors to just .108 in 2011, and his percentage of ground balls hit climbed from 49 to 53.  He at least punished belt-high pitches from 2008-10...

Fukudome's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2008-10

...But he only drove the occasional high-and-tight pitch in 2011...

Fukudome's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

He held his own against fastballs, with a .441 slugging percentage that was a couple points above the big league average for non-pitchers. But "soft" stuff -- curveballs, changeups and sliders -- gave him all sorts of problems. Fukudome's slugging percentage vs. soft pitches fell over 100 points, and his ground ball rate spiked:

PlayerSLG Pct.GB Pct.
Fukudome 2008-10 .366 48
Fukudome 2011 .258 60
MLB Average .360 48

 

Those extra grounders came on low-and-away pitches, with changeups especially giving him fits (his ground ball rate when pitchers pulled the string increased from 51% in 2008-10 to 68% in 2011). Check out Fukudome's ground ball rate by location against "soft" pitches in 2008-10, and then last season:

Fukudome's ground ball rate by pitch location vs. "soft" stuff, 2008-10Fukudome's ground ball rate by pitch location vs. "soft" stuff, 2011With the White Sox needing a minor miracle to contend in 2012, Fukudome figures to come off the bench as Dayan Viciedo takes over for Carlos Quentin in right field and some combination of Alejandro De Aza and Brent Lillibridge handles left field duties.  Whether he provides an OBP boost against righties or plays himself out of the majors may come down to his ability to fight off breaking and off-speed stuff.

Thursday
Dec222011

White Sox Lock Up John Danks

With the free agent starting pitching market consisting of a few pricey aces and then a glut of arms with age or injury concerns (or both), John Danks' name has appeared in more Tweets, status updates and MLBTradeRumors posts than just about anyone this offseason. The 26-year-old lefty, eligible for free agency after 2012, didn't seem long for the South Side with the White Sox looking to pare payroll after losing 83 games last season and lacking much in the way of farm talent.

Instead, Chicago has locked up Danks (pending a post-holiday physical) with a five-year, $65 million contract extension covering his last year of arbitration and four free agent seasons. Whether or not the ChiSox intend to keep Danks for the long haul (there's no word of a no-trade clause yet), the deal looks eminently fair for both sides and won't be a burden if Chicago looks to trade him in future years.

The term "ace" is rather subjective, and Danks doesn't seem to fit the archetype. He doesn't spit fire in the upper-90s, possess a best-in-baseball breaking or offspeed pitch or lead the league in a particular category. But his mix of an average K rate (seven per nine innings during his career), solid control (2.9 BB/9) and durability (he has averaged about 195 innings over the past four years, though he did serve his first DL stint last summer for an oblique strain) has made him one of the best in recent years. Since 2008, Danks ranks ninth among starting pitchers in Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement:

RkPlayerWAR
1 Roy Halladay 27.7
2 Cliff Lee 23.4
3 CC Sabathia 23.3
4 Tim Lincecum 21.2
5 Felix Hernandez 21.2
6 Jon Lester 21.0
7 Justin Verlander 19.5
8 Jered Weaver 19.3
9 John Danks 18.1
10 Dan Haren 18.0

 

Danks isn't a huge "stuff" guy, but he has three solidly above-average pitches in his low-90s fastball, high-80s cutter and low-80s changeup (he also throws a high-70s curve, but probably shouldn't considering how hard it gets hit). Check out his opponent batting average, OBP and slugging percentage with those three offerings since' 08, and then the average for starters:

Fastball: .270/.348/.424 for Danks, .283/.357/.452 MLB average

Cutter: .245/.280/.367 for Danks, .260/.315/.410 MLB average

Changeup: .213/.255/.335 for Danks, .251/.293/.398 MLB average

Danks' cutter (thrown about 18 percent of the time since '08) and changeup (19 percent) are his bread-and-butter pitches.  The former Rangers farmhand, acquired in a rare prospect challenge trade for Brandon McCarthy in December of 2006, picked up the cutter from Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. Hitters have an awfully hard time laying off the Cooper cutter, especially those zipping away from lefties and in on the hands of righties:

Opponent swing rate by pitch location vs. Danks' cutter, 2008-2011

Average swing rate by pitch location vs. cutters, 2008-2011

Opponents have chased 41% of Danks' cutters out of the zone over the past four years. Jon Lester, Josh Tomlin, Jon Niese and Dan Haren are the only starters with more enticing off-the-plate cutters.

Danks also gets a bunch of chases with his changeup, as right-handed batters stretch for pitches well off the outside corner:

Opponent swing rate by pitch location vs. Danks' changeup, 2008-2011

Average swing rate by pitch location vs. changeups, 2008-2011

Hitters have chased 37% of the time Danks has pulled the string. While that's not elite, it's comfortably above the 34% league average.

Danks' contract gives him $8 million during what would have been his last year of arbitration, and then $14.25 million each season from 2013-2016. Assuming that a win presently costs about $5 million and there is 5% inflation each year, the contract basically requires him to be worth 10 Wins Above Replacement overall during the 2013-2016 period. The Hardball Times' Oliver projects around 12 WAR over the time frame, so there's a good chance he earns his cash if he stays healthy.

One could question whether an also-ran club with few building blocks outside of Chris Sale should be locking a guy like Danks up instead of turning him into trade goodies. But Danks is young enough that he could be part of the next contending White Sox team, and they won't have a hard time finding a trade partner later on if they decide to move him, considering his new deal is a market-value contract that might have some surplus value. This isn't a coup for Kenny Williams and company, but it locks up one of the few long-term assets the Sox have at a rate reasonable enough to be marketed later on.

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