TCS Morning 10: Rodon is brilliant, the Sox are not

1. The White Sox lost 2-1 in Los Angeles Monday night because they put nine guys on base all night, hit one extra-base hit, hit into a double play, went 0-6 with runners in scoring position, and only scored because Johnny Giavotella is so bad at second that Ned Yost was probably right to play Chris Getz over him all those years. You never remember the command-change lefties your team crushes, but Andrew Heaney snaking his way around damage twice in a week tends to stick with you.

Their bottom three, spots in the order that you're often punting but hope you're not truly punting...went 0-11 with a hit-by-pitch, and Tyler Flowers striking out with the bases loaded to end the sixth really stung.

2. We bring this up because as the Sox offensive struggles rears its head again, the question of whether their larger issue is execution or creating opportunities to score. They were bad at both Monday night, but season-long stats have them awful at creating opportunities (second-worst in the AL in OBP) and slightly better when they have them (88 wRC+ overall, 92 wRC+ with runners in scoring position). 

There's been a paradigm shift since the All-Star break, where the Sox have a burly 115 wRC+; a figure actually high enough where they could be wasting opportunities, but Jim Margalus at South Side Sox reported they're still turning up their performance when it matters.

I isolated Steve Stone saying opportunities were not the problem with the Sox offense, but it's a common conclusion without verifying the numbers: a shortage in opportunities ramps up the scrutiny on each one, and the Sox haven't been doing themselves favors in the last few days.

3. Carlos Rodon was brilliant and noble in defeat, going eight innings innings in a road loss for his first MLB complete game. Two solo home runs--a fastball he didn't get in far enough to Albert Pujols and a changeup or backup slider he floated to C.J. Cron--marred a mature and economical approach. Rodon dialed down his fastball to 94-95 mph range to grab more strikes, and came away with an actually impressive 20 first-pitch strikes to 29 batters. 

Five strikeouts to three walks doesn't look impressive in vacuum, but Rodon mostly rolled with an aggressive Angels team that was content to make outs on his stuff in the zone, and pulled his vaporizing slider when the opportunity offered, such as his sixth-inning strikeout of Mike Trout with a 92 mph slider. Perhaps most encouraging, he actually notched a pair of strikeouts by nailing the corners with his fastball; a huge bonus for him.

With delirious success in his first two outings since returning to work with Flowers, he seems destined to remain with the primary pitch-handler in the organization going forward.

The White Sox keep touting the factoid that Rodon is the first Sox rookie starter since Zach Stewart to throw a complete game and ugh, well, that is a factoid.

4. It would sure be nice if Flowers could be something beyond relentlessly terrible with the bat, given how superior he is to all other current options behind the plate. He's 13-for-75 in the second half with 28 strikeouts. Soto's stewardship may grease the tracks to entropy when he's out there, but the avoidance of him has reached absurd levels when Robin has now pinch-hit for Flowers in the ninth with middle infielders in two of the last three games. At least Carlos Sanchez was a good choice to hit someplace in the ninth Monday, but having Gordon Beckham, with an OPS in the .500's against righties, hit for himself in a one-run game was just impossible to contort into a justified move.

5. Most of the time, the tortured nature of Robin's decisions are due to an inability to discern what purpose he is serving, which is due to a larger uncertainty about the direction of the team. Is he managing like a desperate manager trying to keep his team in the playoff race like his life depends on it? Or is he trying to rehab assets?

Pinch-hitting Adam LaRoche to face right-handed side-armer Joe Smith seems like the best chance to get a struggling hitter--one who is on contract for 2016--on track, but was not a particularly encouraging prospect given how uncharacteristically hopeless he's been. Lots of great ideas for using Adam LaRoche have ceased to be such. 

The plan for Soto is harder to figure. They seem to not trust him enough to aggressively use his hot year of hitting--fair enough but it's not like they're swimming in superior options--but are not particularly interested in showcasing for some desperate waiver-trade rental either.

6. Jose Abreu got hit by two pitches Monday night, the second of which came from Fernando Salas and buzzed near his face. The two HBPs were Abreu's 13th and 14th of the season, and came after he was plunked by Hector Santiago last Tuesday. None of these seemed intentional outside the realm of conspiracy theory.

But it represents a degree of recklessness around a crucial member of the team, and compels many to explore what measures the Sox can take to dissuade it.

For Hawk and Stone, the answer seemed obvious: they thought it appropriate to express disapproval by hitting an Angels player in response. On the surface, this method is brutish and self-defeating, and possibly just ineffective, as Abreu is a massive dude who crowds the plate like everyone these days. On the other hand, these are waters I've never had to navigate, and the insistence of longtime baseball men on the countermeasure gives me pause. The likelihood of retaliation blooming into a larger, needless dustup that gets a reliever's finger broken again makes it not worth effort for what seems likely to be a non-issue after everyone's had a day to let suspicion rest.

7. Here's the wRC+ for White Sox middle infielders in their MLB time this year:

Tyler Saladino: 70

Carlos Sanchez: 63

Micah Johnson: 79

Gordon Beckham: 48

Alexei Ramirez: 66

This is all bad. Johnson is the best of the lot, and is a butcher in the field. Sanchez's bat has shown the most promise recently and his season line is still worse than Ramirez's. Alexei and Gordon are the only members of this list who have sniffed league average in the past: Ramirez is putting together a solid second half and Beckham looks like he's rounding out his career. I know everyone hates Alexei because they think slap-hitting infielders need to take tons of pitches so they can somehow produce a 10% walk rate, or feel that his elite range and highlight reel plays just make routine errors more unforgivable, but I wouldn't hold out hope that the Sox are done with him after 2015 with this group set to take over behind him.

$10 million seems exorbitant for a declining 33-year-old? How does paying a 2014 All-Star $1 million to go away so you can start Johnson-Sanchez-Saladino sound? The Sox middle infield needs upgrades, but this obsession with making sure ownership doesn't spend too much, even if it means chasing out the only certified MLB-level talent...well, there's just no resolving it in my mind. Even if the Sox are really high on free agents Asdrubal Cabrera or Ian Desmond for whatever reason, they're better off keeping Ramirez and seeing what they can get for him.

8. Everyone's favorite #FollowATeen, 19-year-old right-hander Spencer Adams has been promoted to High-A Winston-Salem, where he will get to keep pitching through the Carolina League playoffs. Adams has done nothing but throw strikes (12 walks in 106 innings) and has plenty of projection left on his 6-foot, 3-inch, 171-pound frame. 

9. While we're on the topic of minor league arms, 21-year-old first round draft pick Carson Fulmer has struck out 14 batters in 13 innings at High-A over five very limited starts, stretching out to as long as three innings in his last time out. He has a 2.77 ERA overall. Erik Johnson, meanwhile, languishing in Charlotte until the Americas themselves erode into the sea, has lowered his ERA to 2.45 over 117.2 innings with 123 strikeouts. It would be nice, just saying, to see if he's capable of operating in the rotation before next Spring.

10. Staff ace John Danks (write it enough times and it stops being ironic and starts being a reflex!) starts Tuesday night. He has allowed one home run in 31.1 innings at Angels Stadium. Garrett Richards starts for the Angels. He's not quite back to his pre-knee injury form, but uh, he's is not a good matchup, folks. Richards throw mid-90's with a hard slider, and is at show-me levels with every other offering. He does lead the league in wild pitches, so #WildPitchOffense will be our salvation if there is one.