Starting rotation depth is a fleeting thing


Remember that boffo middle of the rotation of Jake Peavy, John Danks and Gavin Floyd? They’re all out until further notice, and the guy who hasn’t made a major league start in a year might have a slim chance of getting back before the two others.

Not a good chance, since Robin Ventura thinks Jake Peavy’s possibly yoga-related back issues will clear up enough for a start this weekend. But since it hasn’t cleared up yet nor received an in-depth examination, 25-to-1 odds on Danks would be a worthwhile bet.

The minor league rehab start Danks went through in Birmingham Thursday had an interesting mixture of indicators going on. Most were steps forward, but it’s the beginning of May already and “steps” not being “arrivals,” grows increasingly troubling.

  • Good! – 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, HR are good macro results since Danks couldn’t get through a spring training outing without getting hammered and an encouraging workload for someone who was only scheduled for six innings.
  • Bad – Only one strikeout and it wasn’t swinging, only six swings and misses overall. Punishment for contact gets worse by level, so his ability to miss bats has to return.
  • Bad –  Initial reports of velocity ranging from 84-87 mph
  • Good! – Initial reports of velocity refuted and bumped up to 87-90 with a 91
  • Bad – That’s still pretty reduced
  • Good! – No complaints or setbacks

But the biggest news of the night is the increasingly dire language around Gavin Floyd, who appears at this point to be looking for an opinion that will tell him his season isn’t over.

"“An MRI taken on Saturday showed Floyd didn’t have any structural damage in his right elbow but a second on Tuesday revealed a tear, he said. Tuesday’s appointment with Dr. Keith Meister also revealed Floyd has an unstable ulnar collateral ligament.Floyd said he plans to visit Dr. David Altchek in New York on Monday to receive a third opinion and see if he can possibly skip a trip to the operating table and a long recovery.”"

It’s not the straight-up UCL tear that was worried about a day before, but the odds remain starkly against Floyd pitching again this season.

Irritatingly, plenty will cheer that news, with restraint because it’s an injury, but still. Floyd had a “maddeningly inconsistent” tag back when he was delivering four-WAR season that has only ramped up along with his more sincere struggles have set in. With Hector Santiago dealing Thursday night and even Dylan Axelrod holding his own this year thus far, touting Gavin Floyd as one the top five starting pitchers in the organization is a hard sell.

But also and irrelevant once.

Floyd’s talent level, previous track record, bat-missing ability are all nice features to have in an argument, but are unnecessary for explaining why the Sox losing him hurts. In fact, the argument hasn’t changed much since the debate on whether to pick up his option ended–Would it never be a help to have him around? Since when did a starter with six years of experience of racking up ERA in the mid-4.00’s in U.S. Cellular Field become useless? You can always trade him or kick him out of the rotation, but you can’t always bring him back.

Last season, Gavin Floyd headed to the disabled list in August after two-straight starts were he failed to make it out of the third inning. Sympathy for his injury and interest in his return was even more muted then, if you can believe. Yet by the third game of final Detroit Tigers series, with Francisco Liriano a trainwreck and Chris Sale in need of a rest, Floyd was suddenly a rescuer, striking out seven over 4.1 innings without a rehab start to prepare him and allowing three runs rather than two because Hector Santiago came in and added one to his tab.

It kept the Sox in it, it was risky and self-sacrificing in a big situation, but it was also Gavin Floyd looking brilliant in the early parts of a game then petering off, which was a more common trope. His next start–seven innings with only two runs allowed for the only White Sox victory in the disastrous Kansas City series–was more explicitly great, but understandably was drowned out by later events.

It’s May 3. If Jake Peavy’s back doesn’t come around, the White Sox rotation could have their first major league debut out of necessity by the end of the week. Even if they don’t, they’ll get there eventually, and when they do, will probably regret that they can’t turn to a pitcher for whom “Has stuff good enough to get through major league lineups multiple times” is one of his attributes, or for whom heights as high as what “Good Gavin” is capable of reaching is even a possibility.

Injury has been the means by which the window of opportunity has been opened for many players, and here’s hoping that Hector Santiago leaps through it and never has cause to look back. But to view Santiago as a reward for losing Floyd would be false. There was always enough work to go around.