TCS Morning: What a weekend for the tank

1. A sleepless offensive effort in New York is just what the Sox would need to lose a whole bunch of games to the still hard-charging Yankees, while not providing traumatic results during a weekend where Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon and Erik Johnson started. In other words, we knew the offense was terrible, so this weekend didn't provide any new, disturbing information. The Sox scored nine runs in four games, lost three of them dropped 10 games under .500, and are now tied for the ninth-worst record in baseball. 

Smell that? That's the sweet smell of success. Or, that's the smell of such an absence of success that league rules are compelled to provide shortcuts.

2. The Cubs won their 90th game Sunday night. I'm hesitant to draw any comparison between the two organizations, since they have different approaches, resources, and just because it turns into sheer madness and hysteria, but the last time the Sox won 90 games, their four-best hitters were all guys who have since retired, no one from their rotation save for Mark Buehrle is still in the majors, North Korea hadn't conducted any nuclear tests, Google didn't own YouTube yet, and some elements of the friggin' Enron trial were still going on (I just spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia).


When I saw Ethan's tweet, I quickly thought about the potential rotation for the 2016 Chicago White Sox as an example, which as it turns out, he was thinking too. We should start a blog together:

1. Sale

2. Rodon/Quintana

3. Quintana/Rodon

4. Johnson

5. Danks

Carlos Rodon has the most upside and the talent necessary to be a No. 2 year-in, year-out through his prime. Jose Quintana is just a steady producer with a  decent chance to produce like a No. 2 in a given year. I feel really confident about labeling the back two guys as what they are. I am unwilling to discuss the classification of the first guy.

4. Like a true No. 4, Erik Johnson has scuffled his way through five MLB starts this year without getting mercilessly bludgeoned even once. He's yet to allow even four runs in a game, and has gotten through five inning every time. These are the type of fun accomplishment s a No. 4 starter can revel in, and Johnson added a few more Sunday.

--He didn't fall to pieces when his first baseman committed two errors in the first inning, leading to a bases loaded, no one out situation.

--He somehow only allowed a single dinger in Yankee Stadium despite getting zero groundballs according to the ESPN box score, which doesn't seem right, but he would be the guy to do it.

--Did not completely wither when his manager left him out past the 120-pitch mark while the game melted down in a two-run sixth inning.

Johnson scrapping to a 3.45 ERA has been a fine start, but it sure would be nice if he could do something that looked impressive. He's been very one-note with pitch selection, with his fastball making up 70+% of his deliveries, and serving as both the only thing he can rely on for strikes and his putaway pitch. Absent are most traces of the high-80's power slider that made him intriguing intriguing in 2013, and he's pitching like David Price if he were right-handed, sat around 91 mph, and had less action on his pitches...or in other words, not very much like David Price.

Between this and his truly garish peripheral stats (25.3% groundball rate! 11.2% walk rate! A home run every four innings! 6.08 FIP!), I'm having trouble generating Johnson optimism beyond his scouting report, that his arm has not exploded, and that the bar for a No. 4 is mostly not having your arm explode.

5. Speaking of which, maybe when they talked about John Danks gaining strength in the years after his career-altering shoulder surgery, maybe they really knew it would be season-after-season of increasingly better, but below-average production. His strikeout rate is at a three-year high, his ERA is at a three-year low after six innings of two-run ball Saturday, it's been five starts since he was last shelled, and he gets to face the Royals one more time this year, and I think he's been better against them since his shoulder got messed up than before.

Most of all, Danks has eaten a ton of innings considering the biggest issues with capsule tears is the probability for recurrence, and here he is, relentlessly pitching. I used to feel it was a curse, but now it's a blessing. What has this team done to my mind?

6. Carlos Rodon wrapped up his rookie season with six sloppy, but successful innings in New York Friday. He completely lost the feel for his breaking pitches about halfway through and walked five guys, but somehow the Yankees decided to keep hitting into double plays for him. He finishes the year with a 3.75 ERA through 139.1 innings, completely healthy, throwing hard, and with a huge head of steam with seven-straight outings of six or more innings, and two runs or less to close season.

Rodon's strikeout-walk rates aren't that dissimilar to Johnson's, which is to say, I'd be way more charitable to Johnson if he could do things like 'touch 99 mph on his 100th pitch of the game' or 'throw 80-grade sliders to hitters of either hand.' 

Asking him to step in and be a No. 2 next season is obviously very optimistic, but he's got lights-out stuff, and took great strides forward in pitchability this season.

7. Of course, then Quintana is a popular target for trade speculation to land the Sox a major offensive piece. That makes sense, though with Samardzija on the outs, his departure would leave them with a pretty lackluster rotation, or one needing another infusion of some kind with Carson Fulmer not being ready until later in 2016, Frankie Montas likely a reliever, and Chris Beck not being very good.

Quintana is how the Sox make a bid at something long-term like a Pittsburgh corner outfielder (Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco), but there's really enough organizational depth for the Sox to improve for 2016 without expanding their payroll. Then again, as Ethan pointed out on Twitter over the weekend - if you have a good young core of Sale / Quintana / Rodon / Abreu / Eaton all locked up for about $35 million a year, it would be pretty indefensible to be unable to compete for financial reasons.

8. Carlos Sanchez was called up in response to a hot streak in Charlotte paired with Micah Johnson's horrible fielding driving everybody insane. He then proceeded to hit like a pitcher for two months, posting an OPS of .430 in May and .390 in June.  A strong July (.828) shifted the narrative to, "He just needed to adjust to major league pitching."  August was very much an "acceptable for a good glove MIF month" (.641 OPS).  Judging from the conversation around the team, those two months seemed to be enough for White Sox fans to consider him an adequate option at 2B heading into the offseason.  That may still be the case, but he has struggled in September, hitting .172/.250/.310.

These are all tiny sample sizes, and a ~.550 OPS month may not be all that out of the ordinary if his True Talent Level is somewhere in the mid-.600s, but it may be worth questioning whether it is wise to focus just on his good months and ignore the bad ones.

9. The White Sox finish the season on a 6-game homestand with three each against Kansas City and Detroit.  Kansas City has clinched the division, although they are still fighting with Toronto for home field advantage in the playoffs. Detroit is going Full Tank. Depending on a number of variables, the three-game set with Detroit may determine which team gets a protected 1st-rounder or not.

10. The hot story of the day is Jonathan Papelbon going nuts and attacking Bryce Harper.  While we as a people grapple with the question of, "Is it okay to physically assault a co-worker because he annoyed you?" our job here is to connect things to the White Sox. 

So here we go:

Bryce Harper's bWAR for this year is 10.2.  Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, and Melky Cabrera combine for a bWAR total of 8.8.

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