TCS Afternoon 10: It's an off-day for all of us

1. Since my despair over Avisail Garcia crested, he's both homered and walked twice in as many games, driven in five, and walked off an otherwise sad and ugly game against the Rays. Both his home runs have been on hanging breaking balls, and he still has to convince the league he can cover the inside fastball, and the level of fear he is generating leaguewide is currently "Managers will load the bases by intentionally walking both Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera just to get to him."

But Garcia is still a young player with less than 1000 PAs under his belt. I can't admit to much faith at this point, but if he's going to turn it around, positive reinforcement and results from pulling the ball to left field could do a lot to keep him on the right path.

2. If Garcia winning the game on a walk-off walk after homering wasn't bizarre enough, Robin Ventura managed aggressively and brilliantly. Perhaps he was aided by Carlos Rodon being aggressively terrible for the last month, but Ventura at least...stalled Sox pitching blowing a five-run lead by refusing to let Rodon hang himself the third time through the order. He then preserved a tie by aggressively deploying a rested David Robertson for two innings in a tie game, and was actually rewarded for a change. 

Ventura's adjustment don't constitute much more than 'play the bad players less, play the good players more' but that can make a difference!

3. Since we've given up, Carlos Rodon's performance is not too big of an issue in terms of his present uselessness, but the continued regression in command for someone the Sox need to step in and dominate in 2016 is worrisome. Clearly impatience has settled into the Sox approach to Rodon to some degree, and Robin Ventura's post-game quotes on pulling him short of five innings settle into a 'throw strikes, especially with the lead' grumbling.

Once we get that lead, you want to see a guy attacking the zone. Today, it just wasn’t quite that, so we felt it was best to start using up the bullpen somewhat. It just seemed like one of those days to get him out of there.
— Robin Ventura

This often gets boiled down into 'rookie just wants to strike everyone out, needs to learn discipline,' but I think it's a more complicated issue of him adjusting to not being to rely on everyone chasing his stuff. Rodon is closing in on 100 innings combined between MLB and Triple-A for the year, which mean he's on pace to exceed his college inning loads over the rest of the season with regular work. 150-160 innings is not exactly horrifying, but since the Sox were already interested in resting him and he's banging his head against the wall, this would be a conceivable juncture to give him a break.

4. Chris Sale, however, is not getting a break. Robin Ventura denied that he was hurt or had anything wrong with him that would be fixed by skipping him in the rotation. Previous seasons saw Sale get breaks for arm fatigue, velocity loss, ill-conceived transitions to the bullpen, etc., but with his velocity pumping, Ventura is chalking it up to just a bad stretch of command.

There’s going to be some ups and downs, but for him, when he goes out there, there’s a chance he could do something special and there’s a chance something like that could happen. So, it’s a tough couple games for him, but he’s always been able to bounce back.
— Robin Ventura

Other than acknowledging that the foot should probably come off the gas for the long-term ace as the season winds down, if no one knows of anything physically wrong with Sale, well, overcaution is not the solution to everything.

5. I barely had time to acknowledge it Wednesday, but Nate Jones, the power arm the Sox were desperately missing for all of 2014, is back in the fold after a season-and-a-half recovering from Tommy John surgery and other injuries.

When he went down, Jones was more of a promising power arm with the potential to make a big leap than a stud. He struck out 28.3% of the batters he faced in 2013, but his results got worse in front of a pantheon-awful Sox defense. As excited as I was for him to return, it's no surprise it wasn't in the middle of a close game with a Wild Card contender. It's impossible to know where Jones' game is going to be at early on. The reports of his velocity being in the 100-territory are the only numbers I would put any weight in early on, but he has a good chance to beat the pants off the value of Daniel Webb as a contributor and an outside one to  still be the eighth-inning guy he hinted at being capable of being.

6. Our friends at FutureSox debuted their mid-season top-30 prospect list. Check it out, because lists are fun, and those guys have been doing the Lord's work mining the Sox system for hope for the last several years. Matt Davidson is ranked No. 15 on their list. A lot of the fun with prospect lists is parsing out what you do and don't agree with, but I wouldn't want my quibbles to be the introduction to their work, so just check it out.

7. Alright, so let's talk about that Gordon Wittenmeyer article on Starlin Castro. Wittenmeyer wrote a piece essentially reporting denials from Starlin Castro and Joe Maddon, after he asks if there's ever been thought to testing or medicating Castro for Attention Deficit Disorder. Wittenmeyer makes a vague allusion to speculation in Castro's clubhouse about whether he has ADD, and tries to tie possibility to Castro's anecdotal tendency for lapses in focus.

That alone, seems like enough to justify some measure of inquiry. It seems like an icky invasion of privacy to bring up mental illness, but the horse is out the barn as far as invading the medical privacy of athletes. Everything that could be relevant to their performance is prodded and speculated upon. You can imagine easily enough a scenario where Castro getting diagnosed and treated for ADD is a Spring Training optimism story if the Cubs came out and confirmed it ... which is where this falls apart. Wittenmeyer doesn't get anyone to validate any of this speculation on record. Maddon dismisses it, and even Castro says he would be open to getting tested, if anyone on the team had ever broached the topic with him. This is where the story should die and not get published. And ideally, if things are this thin, hopefully it stops short of an experience as insulting to Castro as being asked if he has ADD while other reporters are around.

Instead, the only thing propping this story up is Wittenmeyer's speculation, since whatever whispers that sent him on this path are vaguely defined, and Castro and Maddon are cast in a light of failing to respond to something that doesn't have any legitimacy.

I shade defensive of journalists, especially beats who need to be prodding every angle to steer clear of utter monotony, but there's a big gulf between asking and publishing, and Wittenmeyer didn't get nearly enough to clear the standard of the latter, and with a sensitive topic where everything needs to be done right.

8. While we're pimping the work of others...

Pitch-framing, pitcher-handling, etc, Tyler Flowers is a good defensive catcher and is earning his keep there. Jim was responding to someone complaining about a lack of playing time for Geovany Soto, which I, too, questioned during Flowers' darkest struggles at the plate.

But this gets at something I was already pondering when George Kottaras got released earlier this week. Kottarras was putting up absurd offensive numbers in limited time at Charlotte: .247/.403/.505 with seven homers in 31 games. Obviously he can't draw walks at that rate in the majors, but has been league-average bat there in his limited MLB time, yet has been a vagabond, bouncing through as many as 10 organizations without even a hint at a chance to start. Kottaras is, unsurprisingly, a very poorly-regard defensive catcher, apparently to the degree where playing him regularly is a non-starter of an idea across the league despite the potential for decent-to-good offensive production.

Framing conversations have started the process, but there's still regular reminders out there that there's a big gulf between how catcher defense is valued, and how much we can see it impact the game from the stands and on TV. As I explained in No. 7, we should vigorously ask questions about the catcher position and how Flowers is proving his value over superior hitters, but this is as impenetrable of a black box issue in casual evaluation as there is.

9. Paul Sullivan thinks the White Sox would be wise to hire Dave Dombrowski. He's right, they would be, since he's brilliant. It's when he starts to put together the 'how' that the impossibility creeps in. Sullivan offers up trying to ram Dombrowski in between Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams as the President of Baseball Operations, which would probably rather violently encroach on the responsibility of both incumbents, especially considering Sullivan quotes Williams saying previously that's essentially what his current job is.

Dombrowski has actual open gigs to choose from, and ones more willing and able to pony up money for him. Also, he left the Sox because Hawk Harrelson — a transformationally destructive force in franchise history when he had hiring and firing power — dismissed Dombrowski over disagreements on how to handle younger players. Dombrowski described it as "we differed and grew apart," but given how he discussed being put out by the Tigers after 14 years, he might be the most magnanimous person alive. Probably too much so for him to be pulled in by the offer for him to be allowed to fire Hawk in a huge pre-game ceremony.

10. The Sox are off Thursday, with staff ace John Danks pitching in Kansas City on Friday. He owns the Royals (2.60 ERA in 121.1 innings), he owns the league (3.44 ERA in his last six starts). I guarantee victory.