Chicago White Sox preview: Pitching Rotation

In 2013, the Chicago White Sox starting rotation was the only staff in the American League with an ERA under 4.00 and a losing record. Clearly, the reason the White Sox lost 99 games was not due to their starting pitching. This season we will see the return of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks. Additionally, there will be two new faces at the back of the rotation, likely Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino. Let’s take a look at each pitcher in more detail:John Danks

Chris Sale spent last season in an unusual sort of limbo. The positive outcomes of last season were that he posted a 3.07 ERA and was in the running for the American League Cy Young Award. However, despite this success, he finished the season with a record of 11-14, which was not representative of his efforts. His record was frustrating, since this team statistic isn’t something that he can change on his own. Every time a pitcher goes to the mound, they want to bring home a victory, and the 2013 White Sox, as a team, were not able to bring home enough victories, especially when Sale was on the hill.

For 2014, I expect to see much of the same from Sale (with maybe more wins), and so does he. He explained, “I just try to do the same things that I have always done. Try to be the same person I’ve always been and not change anything. You’re here for a reason and what got you here works so why change it until need be?”

Jose Quintana comes into the 2014 season as the White Sox’s number two pitcher. He has had two successful seasons since establishing himself in 2012, his rookie season. Though Quintana doesn’t have overbearing pitch speed nor does he usually go deep into games, he has had success at the major league level. Much of this can be credited to his pitch control. Last season, the 24-year-old logged 200 innings while increasing his fastball speed, his swing and miss rate, and strikeout ratio, all of which helped him get his ERA to hover around 3.50.

Quintana had a solid rookie season and did not suffer from a sophomore slump; he continued where he left off in his rookie season. What I like best about Quintana is his consistency. Consistency is perhaps the most valuable aspects of a starting pitcher. A pitcher may not have his best stuff in every outing, but if he is able to go five or six innings and only give up three runs, he is giving his team a chance to win games. That’s what it’s all about: giving your team a chance to win. With consistent pitchers, like Quintana, you know what to expect.

The number three pitcher for the White Sox this season will hopefully be John Danks. Danks struggled last season, posting a 4.75 ERA, and walking away from the season with just four wins. It was difficult to watch because when I look at him pitch, I remember his very productive 2008-2011 seasons with the White Sox. However, much of Danks’ struggles last season were due to health. A year and a half ago, Danks underwent shoulder surgery. Last season, the shoulder was constantly ailing him, but he fought through the pain. Said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, “Looking back, I feel that John had a good year last year from the standpoint that he took the ball and was able to log as many innings as he did. Obviously, he wasn’t the same John Danks. It’s not a surprise the ball wasn’t coming out of his hand quite the way it had in the past.”

On the bright side, Danks is reportedly feeling healthier this season. “I’m stronger; not having to force things quite as much. The ball is coming out of my hand night-and-day better than it was last year and hopefully it will continue to improve. But I feel good about things and confident. I have high expectations for myself and we’ll see. We’ve got to go do it.”

Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino will likely occupy the final two spots of the rotation. Johnson was drafted by the White Sox in 2011. He tore up the minors over the course of two seasons and was a September call-up last season. In five starts, he went 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA. On Johnson’s chances of filling one of the starting roles, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said, “He’s definitely in the mix. He ended the [2013] season with us. He’s penciled in pretty firmly so if he goes out there and does what he could do, there’s a pretty good chance that he’s got an edge.”

Johnson can’t really worry about what will or will not happen. “To me, I think it’s just taking your mind to the glove,” Johnson said. “Do what you can control, and if you can command the little things and work ahead in the count, first-pitch strikes, take care of what you need to take care of on your off days, by the time you get to your game, you can just have fun.”

Unlike Johnson, Felipe Paulino has not pitched in the majors since 2012. He is in a similar situation as Danks, who just wants to finally get healthy. In 2012, Paulino was having a terrific season. Through seven starts, he posted an ERA of just 1.69. However, that season was cut short when he suffered an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery. While he was rehabbing his elbow, he suffered another blow and hurt his shoulder. Thus did not pitch at all last season.

Never fear though, Sox fans. Pitching coach Don Cooper has had some success with resurrecting careers of injured pitchers. He did this for guys like Jose Contreras and Bobby Jenks and I am sure the same will be said of Paulino. “I’ve already looked at video of him and will look at more video. I want to see when he was right, when he was healthy more than anything. He was healthy I think in 2011 for Kansas City. I want to see what he was doing,” explained the pitching coach. Cooper has a big task on his plate but I’m sure that by the fifth game of the season, Paulino will be ready to go.

When looking at the White Sox starting rotation, there is a lot of disparity. On the one hand, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have had much success over the past couple of seasons. They could be a dominant 1-2 punch for the White Sox this season. On the other hand, the back end of the rotation has some questions: Can Johnson handle a full MLB season? Will Paulino be ready come the start of the season? And more importantly, will all the guys be able to stay healthy? We can cross our fingers and hope for the best, but only time will tell.