In just less than two months of play this season, the White Sox have already been forced to shuffle the roster quite a bit due to both injuries and poor performance. There have been 19 different pitchers and one position player that have pitched for the team. Waiver claim Moises Sierra has made 11 starts in the outfield because of injury. There are a few guys that have been demoted due to performance who will likely still be with the team going forward and they each have had a little time to show improvement or decline. Who is taking advantage of this time to get their season straightened out and who hasn't?
Coming into the 2014 season, Erik Johnson was viewed as the top pitching prospect in the White Sox system. Between Birmingham and Charlotte in 2013, Johnson pitched 142 innings while striking out 130 and walking 40. Across both levels he never struck out fewer than 22% of the batters he faced while keep his walk rate between 6-8%.
Things changed upon his promotion to the big leagues in 2013. While his raw stuff appeared unchanged (92 mph on average with the four seam fastball and 87.7 mph average on the slider), the strikeouts nearly completely disappeared (14.1 K%). Given that his 2013 big league sample only consisted of 27.2 innings, it wasn't outlandish to think that Johnson would return to his old form after an adjustment period.
That never happened. Over 23.2 innings in 2014 Johnson only saw a 2.4% increase in his strikeout rate, which would put him in the same territory as Yovani Gallardo, Wei-Yin Chen, and Franklin Morales. Additionally, his walk rate bloomed to an alarming 13.8%. If this wasn't enough to indicate that there was a problem, he was also missing 2-3 mph on each of his pitches, barely cracking 90 mph with his fastball.
Based on FIP, he was a better pitcher in a small sample in 2014 compared to 2013 (5.40 in 2013, 4.27 in 2014), but Robin Ventura and his coaching staff could only live with an ERA of 6.46 for so long, which eventually led to Johnson being sent down to Charlotte at the end of April.
Thus far in Charlotte Johnson has pitched well. In four starts since his demotion he has significantly reduced his walk rate to the tune of 5.1% while increasing his strikeout rate to 19.1%. The increase in strikeouts is to be expected as he is now facing weaker competition but the improved walk rate is encouraging. His FIP also looks good at 2.93 over 24.0 innings. We could see Johnson back with the big league club sooner than later if Scott Carroll continues to give up six earned runs like he has in each of his last three starts.
Where do we start with Felipe? To Paulino's credit, he missed all of last season and most of 2012 because of both Tommy John and shoulder surgery so some hiccups were to be expected. However, I don't think an ERA of 11.29, which was supported by a 7.94 FIP, was what the White Sox front office had in mind when they signed him to a $1.5 million contract with an option for 2015 this past offseason. Rick Hahn was hoping that Paulino had experienced a revelation with Kansas city in 2012 where he put up an ERA of 1.67 over 37.2 innings before his season was cut short due to Tommy John Surgery. Prior to his great start to 2012, he had no track record of success despite having the raw stuff to pitch well, which would seem to indicate that his recent performance is more indicative of his true talent level than his short stint in 2012.
Paulino hasn't shown any improvement thus far in Triple-A. His FIP is nearly identical to his FIP in his big league stint, which is surprising even for him given that he is facing minor league hitters. He is actually walking even more batters than he did when he was with the White Sox (13.0% in Charlotte to 11.7% in Chicago) while only striking out 14.3% of the batters he faces. I can't see how Paulino is given another shot in Chicago any time soon and I am sure most White Sox fans appreciate that.
Veal had 13 innings of success in 2012 with the White Sox and he has been chasing that performance every since. In 2013, Veal was terrible through July but picked it up significantly in August (1.35 ERA) and September (2.16 ERA). In 2014 Veal was unable to pick up where he left off. As with much of the bullpen early in the season, he struggled with walks. Of his seven outings he walked at least one batter in four of them. Of those four outings with at least one walk, he walked at least two batters in half of them. This likely lead to the increase in fastballs thrown and decrease in curveballs compared to last season and as a lefty specialist the curveball should be his out pitch.
Veal has been alright in Charlotte since being sent down. He has an ERA of 3.48 over 10.1 innings. Given that Scott Downs is the only lefty in the bullpen at the moment, I wouldn't be surprised to see Veal up with the White Sox again at some point this season.
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