Perhaps if he holds it long enough, his cutter will return. // Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

Exit Interviews: John Danks


As much as I love wallowing in sorrow and loooove making sardonic jokes about crappy baseball, we’re done with stewing in 2013. At least we’re done stewing in a way that doesn’t look forward for the new year.

These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.

The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.

John Danks – Left-handed starter that you’re stuck with

Age by 2014 Opening Day: 28, but he’s another guy who slyly hides his birthday in April.

Contract: Three more years at $14.25 million each.

Relevant stats: 22 games (all starts), 138.1 IP, 151 H, 4.75 ERA, 28 HR, 89 K, 27 BB, 3.3 K/BB, 90 ERA+

Interpretation: It was nice to see him back, but he certainly wasn’t very good.

Emblematic split: Of the pitchers who finished in the top-10 in the American League in home runs allowed (Danks finished sixth) Joe Blanton was the only one who didn’t throw at least 30 more innings than Danks. Joe Blanton had a very terrible season.

Pre-season expectations: We didn’t know what to expect, we were just prepared to be disappointed.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Danks going forward. The walks and strikeout figures from minor league ball aren’t encouraging, the velocity reports can only boast to not be any worse than expected given the injury and it’s hard to know how much room for growth there is, or how much we can expect a pitcher who was never elite to refine his game around his newfound shortcomings.

Quote of the year: “It isn’t fun stinking, trust me.”

John’s story: Danks’ season eventually ended with a September shutdown that was justified by fatigue, but even that assumes a pattern in his performance that wasn’t there. Danks’ streaks didn’t play out over months or multiple starts, but rather pairs of innings. While compiling his not-entirely-awful 4.75 ERA for the season, his best month only saw him post a 3.89 ERA in August. There was no stretch of awfulness that marred a good season, nor any streak of dumb luck that made him look better than he was. His mediocrity was stridently consistent.

When coping with diminished velocity and the loss of the ability to bust right-handers hard and inside, Danks was dependent on pinpoint command. During his best stretches, he piled up weak contact rather than overpower hitters. Not being Sandy Koufax, Danks could only be so fine for so long, and his mistakes were walloped. Opposing hitters had slugger power against Danks (.485 SLG, .208 ISO), which negated how much work he put into preventing self-sabotage. The best walk-rate and the best strikeout-to-walk rates of his career weren’t much because when he challenged hitters in the zone, they had a tendency to meet his threats with their barrel.

To his credit, Danks’ best work came during the Sox semi-hot streak in August, and he grew stronger as the year wore on if anything (Courtesy BrooksBaseball.net)

Yet when Don Cooper commented that “there was no more to be gained” by Danks continuing through the end of the season, he could have just as easily been referring to his approach rather than his  level of fatigue. John Danks proved that even as a shell of himself, he could guile and aim his way through the occasional solid start. He also proved that a shell of himself could not be mistaken for an asset.

Assessment: Danks’ contract makes almost any discussion of his role moot. He’s at least another poor season away from the franchise even considering anything besides giving him every opportunity to return to his old self and regain his old status as a reliable mid-rotation starter. That’s the only reasonable course of action given how committed the Sox are to Danks, but after a full season to build strength and adjust to his new limitations, the grace period is at an end. His 2014 campaign will be judged as the reasonable expectation for him going forward, for better or worse.

However, that doesn’t mean the standards will be especially high. Even Danks as a fifth starter is preferable to Danks not being rosterable, because the money will be spent either way. Even if he only pulls himself back to average, 80-90 more starts in a Sox uniform becomes a distinct possibility.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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