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Chicago White Sox series preview: First and slumping

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The Central leaders have dropped six of eight, and their ace Chris Sale just pitched Thursday.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The reigning World Champion Kansas City Royals head to Comiskey Park to face the first-place Chicago White Sox. After jumping out to a 23-10 start, the Pale Hoes have won just two of their last eight, the two starts in which Chris Sale pitched. Fortunately for the Royals, the early front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award pitched Thursday. Unfortunately for the Royals, they still have to face Jose Quintana.

With the Royals standing 4.5 games behind the Sox, they have the opportunity to close that gap significantly while catching the leaders at a hopefully opportune time.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Friday, 7:10 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Dillon Gee 8 26.0 21 11 3.12 4.86 4.38 4.25
Jose Quintana (L) 8 52.2 47 11 1.54 2.18 3.49 3.56

A hard-luck pitcher for most of his career, Jose Quintana has always been better than his ERA (or record against the Royals) would have suggested. Of course, luck is playing a part in his early success, largely luck related to the single home run he has yielded thus far. His 17.8 K-BB% is very good, but it hardly accounts for a 1.9 HR/FB%. In 2016, he has relied even more heavily on the heater. He's throwing his four-seamer 45.4% of the time and his two-seamer usage is up to 20.2%, the increase in fastballs coming at the expense of his curve. Both are coming in at higher average speeds than he's ever thrown them before, getting up over the 92-mph hump, while he's throwing the curve roughly 3-mph slower than he's thrown it in the past. All but his change-up have had positive value. As the third-most valuable pitcher in baseball per fWAR behind Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto, it's safe to say whatever he's doing is working.

Dillon Gee's first start as a Royal was solid, at least by the standard that he was a Royals starting pitcher and did not get shelled. As he was dealing with a conservative 75-pitch limit in that start, it probably could have gotten worse. On his career, Gee gets hit hard (.284/.360/.453) the third and (.310/.397/.483) fourth times through the order. As his pitch count passes the 75 mark, he has struggled historically. While Ned Yost and the Royals would probably be best served getting Gee out of the game at that point every time out, it seems unlikely that such a thing will happen. When he passes the 70-pitch mark, hold on to your butts.

Game Two - Saturday, 1:10 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Danny Duffy (L) 17 21.0 26 7 2.57 2.23 3.04 2.80
Miguel Gonzalez 3 15.2 11 10 5.17 5.45 6.01 5.60

The replacement in the rotation for John Danks who was designated for assignment a couple weeks back has not been very good. One quick look at his K/BB shows an ugly picture. It's just three starts, but Gonzalez looks like the same middling pitcher who hasn't been worth more than 0.6 fWAR in either of the last two seasons.

In Danny Duffy's first start back in the rotation, he looked strong even if he was stepping back into that realm in which pitch efficiency was not his friend. He made it through three innings with 48 pitches, walking two and laboring through two other three-ball counts against the 12 batters he faced. Granted, he struck out five and only allowed one hit, but he was also facing the worst offense in baseball. Duffy's increased reliance upon his fastball may be the key to success in the rotation, but he'll have to combat the same issues he's always had.

Game Three - Sunday, 1:10 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Yordano Ventura 8 42.2 31 29 4.85 5.34 5.67 5.65
Carlos Rodon (L) 8 45.2 47 17 4.73 4.49 3.67 3.76

The first of two disappointing starters in the matchup is Carlos Rodon, the third pick of the 2014 draft made his major-league debut after only amassing 34.2 innings in the minors. He has improved upon both his strikeouts and his walks from his rookie campaign, but his ERA and FIP are up from their sub-4.00 marks in 2015. His LD% is down to 19.3% from 23.4% last year. While he is doing the things well that he can control, his BABIP is up to .323 this season, and his home-run rates have shot up (19.0 HR/FB%, 1.58 HR/9). It would appear that Rodon's struggles probably owe at least a bit to bad luck

Though it might not have shown in the four earned runs he gave up, the Ventura that was on the mound against Boston, the best offense in baseball, was a step back from the cliff's edge for the flamethrower. His 5.00 K/BB in that start got his season totals back to the point where he has struck out more on the season than he's walked. That such a thing was possible - that he was dealing with a walk-to-strikeout deficit - after seven starts is still alarming. One swallow doth not a summer make. If he can string together a few more palatable starts, the Royals might be able to exhale.

The Batsmen

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Adam Eaton (L) RF 182 2 19 14 4 .312 .406 .435 .370 135
Jimmy Rollins (S) SS 125 2 19 7 3 .237 .296 .368 .291 80
Jose Abreu 1B 180 6 16 27 0 .253 .328 .418 .319 99
Todd Frazier 3B 170 12 24 32 2 .230 .324 .500 .351 122
Melky Cabrera (S) LF 168 2 20 15 0 .300 .371 .413 .344 117
Brett Lawrie 2B 167 5 19 16 2 .252 .341 .435 .338 113
Avisail Garcia DH 130 4 18 15 1 .256 .323 .427 .327 105
Dioner Navarro (S) C 95 2 10 12 0 .236 .263 .393 .280 72
Austin Jackson CF 149 0 17 13 1 .224 .293 .313 .272 66
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Alex Avila (L) C 51 0 3 1 0 .227 .333 .273 .282 73
Tyler Saladino IF 48 1 6 8 0 .261 .250 .348 .253 53
Carlos Sanchez (S) 2B 14 0 3 1 0 .250 .357 .333 .314 96
Jerry Sands OF 41 1 2 5 0 .237 .293 .316 .273 67

*Stats through Wednesday, May 18

It's kind of insane how the dongage of Todd Frazier has turned the Pale Hoes into a middle-of-the-road offense. The former Red has accounted for roughly one-third of the Southsiders' home runs. That kind of production was not present last year, and in a season in which Jose Abreu has only been league average - or at least one percent below league average - that boost to the team's production has been a key to their success. As a team, they're slashing .254/.327/.400, good for a .318 wOBA and 98 wRC+. They've been average across the board.

Of course the real story with their offense has been the early season break-out from Adam Eaton, who currently sits fifth on FanGraphs' WAR leaderboard. More could certainly be said here about him, but August Fagerstrom probably said enough here two days ago. While on the subject of guys who set off incidents with the Royals last year, the addition of Brett Lawrie to the White Sox has given them their second-most valuable position player (behind Eaton). While the season is still young, his 113 wRC+ is the best he's posted since his partial campaign in 2011.

They're no murderer's row, but with the potential for dodginess with the Royals' rotation this series, the first-place Chicagoans may not need to murder much.

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