Major league baseball teams need to cover ~1,450 innings with their pitching staffs during a 162 game season….give or take a few. It’s simple math, that gets complicated by not having to pitch an unknown number of 9th innings on the road when you are getting thumped and also having to pitch an unknown number of extra innings across the summer. The number still works though. The way we get to those numbers in the lord’s year of 2020 is a little bit different than we remember.
Remember the 1983 White Sox (some of you)….we had Hoyt (Cy Young), Dotson, Bannister, Burns & Koosman throw well over 1,000 Innings combined….what about 1993 McDowell, Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez were all 200 Innings each horses…..and who could forget the 4 complete games in 2005 in the ALCS. Starting pitching ruled the day. Have a great starting staff and you can make something happen…..
Well, for some of you that haven’t been in tune with good teams since the 2010 White Sox, yep, that’s the last White Sox team to win 54% of it’s games….finishing the season with 88 wins. You might not know how starting pitchers work these days. The 2010 White Sox starters were 5th in innings pitched with over 1,000 and they were first in fWAR. Pretty good right? That’s what we need the 2020 White Sox starting staff to do, right?
Well, things have changed a bit since then…..
2010 Top Starting Pitchers by Innings (chart via FanGraphs)
Look at two charts, one shows the top starting pitchers from 2010 by innings pitched and one shows the top starting pitchers from 2019 by innings pitched. Only 15 Starting Pitchers in 2019 even threw 200 Innings. Back in 2010 (the last time the White Sox are actually good and you thought they were good), the top 15 starting pitchers all threw at least 220 Innings (45 total pitchers threw at least 200 Innings in 2010).
What the fuck is going on? The reason is less to do with “babying” as your average middle aged baseball fan would have you think and more to do with RUN PREVENTION. Batters seeing a pitcher a 3rd time (or even a 4th time) in a game is a big advantage for the better. The batters get smarter with the available information and more easily destroy that pitcher. Now in the 1970’s and 1980’s era of spacious ballparks and squatty defensive first players, that “destroy” was usually more limited to a lined double to the gap. Now that every hitter is basically a work out monster and the ballparks are as big as your South Loop condo, those turn into home runs.
A wise man once predicted this…..
Stoney looking great in a brand spanking NEW 108 shirt….and no this isn’t photoshopped
That’s right, the one man that has been talking baseball in Chicago since the mid 80’s has been predicting a revolution for awhile. The crux of his prediction believes that starters will go shorter stints into games (that is 100% happening) and eventually teams will shift back to the 4 man rotation, because economically it is cheaper to pay 1 more bullpen arm the league minimum salary than a 5th starter of dubious quality $10M-$15M per year. (This is just starting to happen with the “opener” and other avant garde bullpen strategies).
What does that mean in the year 2019. It means starting staffs don’t pitch as much. The median amount of starting pitching innings in 2019 for a team was ~855 Innings. Just 855. The highest total in the last 3 years isn’t even 1,000 innings pitched by a starting staff, it is 993 Innings, in 2018 by the Cleveland Indians that had a monster fucking rotation. In the last 3 years the trend is increasing rapidly to a more bullpen centric one….in 2017, 9 teams Starting Pitchers threw over 900 innings, in 2018 it was 6 teams, in 2019 it was 4 teams.
What does this mean specifically for our White Sox?
It means that our rotation is probably in better shape than you or I or anyone else is really thinking right now. If we can get Giolito, Keuchel, Lopez, Gonzalez, Cease, Kopech and Rodon to cover 850 IP, the White Sox should pair a roughly league average rotation with an above league average offense. Can they do this? Will they do this? Let’s take a look….
Lopez is the perfect POST-HYPE prospect and I can feel my bullishness towards him improving as every person on the internet counts him out. Let’s be honest with ourselves, he’s the only HORSE in the group (188 2/3 & 184 IP in his first two full seasons). He’s the only dude that’s got 200 Innings in him. He just has to be not bad. The offense will help, but there have been questions about his focus. I think Ricky needs to go all Don Corleone on ReyLo like Johnny Fontaine.
Lucas Giolito is next, he’s the ace, but in his 2 seasons with the White Sox, one was as smelly as unwashed hockey gear and another one was very good, just not as good as overzealous White Sox fans would like to think. He’s thrown 173 1/3 & 176 2/3 IP, ie, he’s going to need some maintenance, he’ll get a little achy and ouchy, he’s pitching Moncada. Let’s shoot for 160 IP with him, now that he can get skipped or get the extra days around the all-star break because we have real life pitchers here that might give you a good start when he’s not throwing.
Dallas Keuchel has been durable and he hasn’t been durable, let’s give the big homey 160 IP as well. The White Sox have some teams on the docket that don’t fucking hit at all, Tigers, Royals and probably even the Indians and Keuchel can go deeper against these teams and get the quick hook when he ain’t getting extreme ground balls.
Carlos Rodon….let’s say we gets him back in time for the all-star break and he can join the rotation then, chances are we are going to need some help in this rotation, either giving Kopech a couple weeks or skipping Giolito to give him some rest. I’ll be conservative with Rodon on innings, but immediately say, I’ll bet the over on him hitting this number. Rodon often gets the rep that he’s a little doughy, a little out of shape at times or doesn’t take care of his body like he should, but this is the first, real competitive team of his stay in Chicago and I expect him to be working his balls off in rehab to be a part of it.
Gio was brought in to soak up all them innings when our young pitchers were struggling or recovering from injury. I think Gio exceeds this innings pitched total, but this is just the amount he’ll achieve as a starting pitcher. I think he slides over to long-man, beautifully. He’s Willie D…He’s the Clean Up Man.
Remember in the movie Old School when Frank the Tank says “I had an awesome time” and Beanie says “We know you had an awesome time, the whole damn town knows you had an awesome time!” That’s me talking about how I am low man on Dylan Cease. I wrote about his maladies in detail HERE. I just think if you can never really throw strikes at any level, but have great stuff, you are…..how do you say?? A RELIEVER. I expect a few nice showings, a bunch of ugly ones and a back and forth shuttle between Charlotte and Chicago as needed.
If I were a betting man…..AND I AM….I’d bet over on every GOT DAMN projection system out there on Michael Kopech, kid has elite talent, is a workout freak and a big favorite to come back and be better than the average pitcher. We’ll be conservative here on his innings, but it wouldn’t shock me if he gets 30-40 more innings than this.