Chicago White Sox Series Preview: 6/13 to 6/16

When you don’t have to face the Yankees (MLB.tv)

Four games on Chicago’s south side are next for the Yankees after a split with the Mets.

Their Story Thus Far

At 32-34, the White Sox are off to a surprisingly OK start to the season. They sit just four games back of the second wild card spot, thoug there are four teams in between them and Texas.

The Southsiders have a .251/.310/.399 (91 wRC+) batting line as a team, 19th in baseball. They strike out at a higher rate than all but two teams and are tied for baseball’s lowest walk rate. They, however, are first in Fangraphs’ baserunning metric.

The White Sox’s pitching staff has accumulated 4.3 fWAR, which is tied for 18th. Their 4.96 ERA is sixth-worst in the game and only the Blue Jays walk more batters. Outside of Lucas Giolito, their starting pitching has been dreadful.

Injury Report

Two position player injuries for the White Sox: Yoan Moncada missed Tuesday’s game and is day-to-day with back tightness while Jon Jay is on the 60-day IL and is on a rehab stint.

On the pitching side, top starters Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech are recovering from Tommy John surgery. RHP Dylan Covey recently went on the IL, as did lefty-reliever Jace Fry. Fellow reliever Nate Jones is out for the year, but Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr should be back later in the year, provided they don’t meet in Weehawken.

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Player Spotlight: James McCann

Gary Sanchez leads all catchers in wRC+ (149) with at least 170 plate appearances. Coming in fifth is a surprise entry, new Chicago backstop James McCann.

McCann’s start to the season was good enough to have him second in All-Star voting for AL catchers, though he’s 450,000 votes behind Sanchez. Overall, he’s hitting .329/.376/.487 after posting career-worst numbers across the board last year, which prompted his non-tender from the Tigers.

Is McCann this good? Almost certainly no. Though his expected batting average is .281, in the 79th percentile among hitters, his .410 BABIP is well north of his career marks. He is hitting hte ball harder than ever before, adding two mph in exit velocity so far in 2019.

His pedestrian strikeout and walk rates (21.8 and 6.5 percent) are both a little below league-average, but they’re both improvements for McCann. He is going to keep up his All-Star pace, but there are signs that he’s a better hitter than he was in the past.

Potential Lineup

  1. Leury Garcia, CF (.275/.311/.354, 81 wRC+)
  2. Yoan Moncada, 3B (.295/.348/.506, 128 wRC+)
  3. Jose Abreu, DH (.246/.293/.496, 104 wRC+)
  4. James McCann, C (.329/.376/.487, 133 wRC+)
  5. Eloy Jimenez, LF (.239/.289/.452, 96 wRC+)
  6. Tim Anderson, SS (.314/.343/.480, 122 wRC+)
  7. Yonder Alonso, 1B (.181/.279/.317, 61 wRC+)
  8. Yolmer Sanchez, 2B (.251/.330/.303, 78 wRC+)
  9. Charlie Tilson, RF (.271/.339/.346, 88 wRC+)

The White Sox’s bench is backup catcher Wellington Castillo, INF Jose Rondon and OF Ryan Cordell.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (8:10 PM ET) J.A. Happ (vs. White Sox) vs. Ivan Nova (vs. Yankees)

The Yankees get to face the former rotation stalwart to open the series, and that’s good news for the Bombers: Nova sports the worst ERA (6.28) among qualified starting pitchers. He has the seventh worst FIP and sports the second lowest strikeout rate. He’s allowed the most hits of any pitcher in baseball.

Despite holding the Hospital Yankees to just one run in April, Nova’s been a wreck this year. While batters have a slightly-above-average exit velocity against him, Nova still has a high expected batting average according to Statcast.

The right-hander is as sinker-heavy as usual, mixing in a changeup, curveball and slider. He throws his four-seamer less than ever before, but it’s doing him no favors.

Nova (Baseball Savant)

Friday (8:10 PM ET) CC Sabathia (vs. Whtie Sox) vs. Lucas Giolito (vs. Yankees)

From Opening Day 2018 through April 11, 2019, Lucas Giolito was the worst starting pitcher in baseball. Since that latter date, he’s been one of the best. Here’s the breakdown.

March 2018 to Apr. 11, 2019

  • 6.10 ERA -Worst in baseball
  • 5.44 FIP – Worst
  • 5.33 xFIP – Second worst
  • 16.7 K% – Second worst
  • 11.6 BB% – Third worst
  • 0.2 fWAR – Worst

Apr. 11, 2019 to present

  • 1.69 ERA – Fourth in baseball
  • 2.29 FIP – Third
  • 3.64 xFIP – 26th
  • 31.6 K% – Fifth
  • 7.0 BB% – 49th out of 86 SPs
  • 2.8 fWAR – Tied for second

How has he transformed? The 6-foot-6 starter always had the stuff, but he’s regained some velocity and refound his command. He’s relied less on his curveball while finding improvements from his 94 mph fastball as well as his slider and changeup.

Giolito’s offspeed stuff has taken his game to that next level. His slider ranks second to Justin Verlander in pitch value, according to Fangraphs, while his changeup is third in baseball.

The Yankees got to him on April 12 — hence the April 11 cutoff earlier — but he’s been nails since and carries a 22-inning scoreless streak into Friday. He four-hit the Astros in the game before the streak began.

Giolito (Baseball Savant)

Saturday (7:10 PM ET) TBD, likely Chad Green vs. Reynaldo Lopez (vs. Yankees)

While Nova has the worst ERA for a qualified starting pitcher, Lopez has the second worst at 6.21. His 5.85 FIP is more than a half run higher than any other starter.

Lopez’s main failing is a high number of walks. His 9.6 percent BB rate is the fifth worst in MLB since the start of 2018. His home run rate has been Happ-esque with 2.15 homers per nine innings. If it weren’t for a decent strikeout rate, he’d be a sabermetric nightmare.

Lopez works off a 95-mph fastball with low spin while working in a low-80s changeup and slider. He allows plenty of hard hit balls (90.7 mph avg. exit velocity) and gives up an expected slugging percentage of .517.

Lopez (Baseball Savant)

Sunday (2:10 PM ET) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. White Sox) vs. Odrisamer Despaigne (vs. Yankees)

Despaigne will be making just his second start of the season Sunday. The journeyman from Cuba is on his fifth team in as many years and took a loss in his only appearance, a quality start, for Chicago.

The right-hander works in the low-90s with a sinker and four-seam fastball, neither of which produce many swings and misses. He’s had better luck getting hitters to swing at his slider, used nearly exclusively to RHBs, and his cutter, which he throws in the mid-80s to any hitter. He has an extremely low spin changeup that can be fun to watch.

Despaigne doesn’t strike too many hitters out, nor does he feature impressive command. He’s a journeyman for a reason, and he remains hittable.

Despaigne’s 2017 numbers (Baseball Savant)

Bullpen Status

The White Sox had a day off Wednesday, same as the Yankees, so they’re fresh for this four-game set.

Veteran Alex Colome is Chicago’s closer, and he’s been effective in that role. RHP Evan Marshall, who sports a 0.00 ERA in 15 games, and LHP Aaron Bummer pitch in plenty of big spots ahead of him.

Former Royals and Nationals setup man/closer Kelvin Herrera has been a mess for the White Sox with an ERA above six. He’s joined in more nebulous roles by RHPs Juan Minaya, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Minaya, as well as LHP Josh Osich. Minaya has a 2.16 ERA and may be in line for more high leverage work.

Keys to watch:

Stopping Moncada

Moncada was a force in the final game of the April series, picking up three hits and helping knock out Masahiro Tanaka. If he can’t go, that takes some oomph out of Chicago’s lineup. If he’s in, he’s a guy to pitch around.

Tim Anderson

The White Sox’s shortstop has cooled off after a blazing start, but he has home runs against all three of the Yankees definite starters this weekend. He’s also a generally fun player to watch who has been handed a raw deal by the rest of the league this season for just being himself.

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2 Comments

  1. chip56

    I’m legitimately sad that I won’t get a chance to see Man Ban pitch. Loved that guy as a prospect.

  2. “but Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr should be back later in the year, provided they don’t meet in Weehawken.”

    Let’s face it Steven, that is the line of a lifetime. If I wrote that, I would immediately retire. It has to be all down hill from this point on.

    Congratulations and condolences.

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