If the White Sox busted out Monday morning and announced that they re-signed A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis, I imagine it would make a lot of people very happy. It might even put me in relatively good spirits. They both performed very well last season, and would immediately answer looming questions about their respective positions.
It would also completely restore the core of an 85-win team, a core that the vast majority of, has moved another year away from 30. So why bring them back together? What can they accomplish with another opportunity? Aren’t we just inviting diminished returns?
Ultimately, I believe the answer to that final question is “yes”, and that makes this middle ground between rebuilding and spending top 5 payroll-level money more understandable.
However, if the White Sox were to take a similar group and push to another level, it’s easy to identify who of the few youngsters available need, and could be expected to “breakout”, as they say.
First off, we’re leaving out Chris Sale and Gordon Beckham from this category. Sale is a fantastic, fantastic talent that I have all the faith in the world in, but a 3.04 ERA and 192 innings of work is if anything a rather bold prediction for his seasonal averages going forward. He could do better, but he could certainly do worse.
Gordon Beckham is a .245/.312/.382 in 2067 major league plate appearances. At this point, a full-blown resurgence would be more surprising than his bust has been.
A .255/.300/.444 batting line in 2012 from a 23 year-old Dayan Viciedo wasn’t an unreasonable or impossible thing to anticipate, nor was the step back from the walk rate he displayed in AAA, nor were all the wild, wrath of God swings that spiked his strikeout rate. All were perfectly reasonable bumps in the road and parts of his development.
But the big loops in the swing got him under more than his fair share crushable fastballs. It’s one thing to have a mid-2000’s Frank Thomas approach and swing for the fences, but Viciedo’s bad process is undercutting his power too. A .188 ISO is not much to write home about for someone of his raw strength playing in U.S. Cellular Field. Also, the platoon splits.
Viciedo was an unplayable .225/.271/.380 against right-handers. If he can’t shorten up to be competitive against above-average right-handed velocity, there’s a limit to how much experience will help.
If he can progress, a .275/.320/.480 line doesn’t seem too unreasonable.
Danks’ career ERA is 4.12, which certainly isn’t the number I would pull out of the air to project his talent level, but coming off of a year where his control was garbage, his cutter was flat, his velocity was shot, and ended with major shoulder surgery, expecting more than that is rich. I’m not rich. I’m a blogger.
Before last season, John Danks’ four-year average workload was 194.2 innings, even with his 2011 DL stint. If he can be a convincing representation of his former self for 190+ innings, and minimize the impact Dylan Axelrod, Simon Castro, and Nestor Molina have on the season, that’ll be very significant. If he and Floyd can solidify the middle of the rotation together, it could easily return to being one of the best in the AL.
Here’s the thing about the argument that Addison Reed converting 29 out of 33 save opportunities means he did his job–it doesn’t go any farther than the year in question. Reed managed to save 88% of his games despite not having his slider and racking up a 4.75 ERA, but I’d never trust him to do it again with the same set of rusty tools and blueprints written in Mandarin.
Also, it’s not as if he racked up those 29 saves without his mediocrity firmly acknowledged and accounted for Robin Ventura. Reed got a closer workload, but not a “best reliever” workload. His 55 innings ranked third out of Sox relievers, and was fifth in line after the All-Star break. That’s indicative of Reed not being a trusted commodity for high-level situations in general, and Ventura was even taking outs away from him to start the 9th. Reed improving doesn’t just solidify the final three outs, it takes a load off of everyone else.
He needs to find his slider again. His velocity remains suitable, his much-maligned change-up made some progress, but his whiff-rate fell off a cliff because high-fastballs work best as a mild surprise, not something you throw eight times in a row.
Hey, maybe he could be a big help, hit .270/.315/.405 with good defense, and make someone exp—alright, kidding. We’re done here.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan