John Danks update, and smashing misconceptions with the blunt end of a hatchet


I don’t normally make a habit of scouring ESPN beat writer chats for new information but the mood just struck on Friday. And for breezing through the afternoon reader chat with Doug Padilla, there was reward.

"“Danks thinks he can be ready to start the season, but the club is prepared for him to miss at least the first two starts.”"

If you parse through that, it’s not the biggest news in the world, even if it sounds revealing. Danks certainly isn’t being ruled out of hist first two starts, and is quick to say that he expects to pitch in the first week of the season. The White Sox are simply preparing for the possibility that Danks won’t be ready. One could even infer that Hector Santiago dropping out of the World Baseball Classic might be part of those preparations.

Danks being replaced by Santiago would temporarily put the Sox in…slightly more of a precarious situation than they’re usually credited for. It was more of a concern when the Sox were pondering trading Gavin Floyd and replacing him with Santiago, but they have a lot of lefties in their starting rotation. It’s not a problem with the way that those lefties are set up, though.

First of all, Chris Sale is an elite pitcher, capable of being top 10 in the league when he’s healthy. Right-handers hit .235/.300/.382 against him last season. When someone’s that good, it doesn’t matter if they throw with a third arm that comes out of their back.

Second, Danks is the prototypical lefty who does not raise concerns about being a lefty. He specializes in changeups and cutters that bore into right-handers, his platoon split is neutral–even leaning toward being better against right-handers–and the theory about it being better to oppose lefties with good changeups with same-handed hitters is named after him.

The only real problem lefties–ones that encourage right-handed heavy lineups, at least–are Santiago and Jose Quintana. Santiago is coming along with his screwball and changeup, and Quintana is skilled at jamming his fastball inside on righties, but they’re left-handed fifth starters–they can look great against the 2012 Indians lineup, but they’re vulenerable.

Naturally, every rotation is going to have at least one of their type. Whining that the fifth starter is vulnerable isn’t much more insightful than noting that winters are cold.

While we’re on ESPN chat topics, Padilla brought up a lack of lineup protection as a reason to worry about the breakout Dayan Viciedo season that  is very much being counted on. It’s pointless  to lash out at this, because the beat writers have sources in the sport that are consistently telling them that protection exists and is important. However, recently-hired Cubs employee Tom Tango went about examining the statistical effect of lineup protection in 2006, and while he found that more walks came to those batting in front of good hitters, there was “no significant effect” on overall production. If Dayan is right, being stuck around Tyler Flowers and Gordon Beckham should not ruin it.

Finally, provided an update to the rather kooky post-season top 20 White Sox prospects list they previously had up. Charlie Leesman is no longer being called the third-best prospect in the system, Courtney Hawkins is no longer submitted to the indignity of being in second-place, and besides being among the most confident about Jared Mitchell and Erik Johnson, it can fit easily alongside other prospect lists.

However, the tool grades thrown up for players are–how to put this–overly mundane? It’s one thing to be cautious and to regress all predictions toward the middle with prospects, but when nearly every score is between four and six, it gets to the point of no longer being useful for telling us anything about the player.

Perhaps the scores are more meant to predict future production, because it’s pretty hard to figure out why the White Sox would have ever drafted Keon Barnum if he was a high school first basemen whose raw power only graded out at six. The grade doesn’t fit in with every other description of  Hawkins, either.

The White Sox, where everyone has more or less average potential, aren’t the best test for these type of complaints, but a quick round of perusing can turn up Cubs fans equally perplexed by six grades on the power potential of renown crushers Dan Vogelbach and Jorge Soler. One has to wonder what’s the point of even putting these scores up if they’re not going to be descriptive.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan