In a make or break year, how will John Danks fare in 2016?

Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into spring training John Danks appears to be slotted in as the Chicago White Sox fourth or fifth starter in the pitching rotation. While John Danks has had some less than stellar results over the past few years, I believe that he will have a serviceable year in the back end of the rotation in 2016.

The fact that John Danks can even pitch almost 200 innings in a single year (193.2 in 2014) given the severity of the injury that he suffered in 2012. Only 11 other pitchers, that we know of for sure including Danks have had the same injury (Torn Shoulder Capsule),  and not one of them has ever come back to be the same pitcher as before.

Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports /

According to Baseball Reference, before John Danks’ injury, he averaged a 4.39 ERA over his career which includes the year of the injury (2012) when he posted a horrible 5.70 ERA. Since the injury Danks has averaged a 4.73 ERA, which for a fifth starter in the rotation is actually serviceable. When you take a closer look at his statistics though you find a trend,  in 2013 he had an ERA of 4.75 and in 2014 he had an ERA of 4.74, followed by a 4.71 ERA in 2015. Statistics show that he has been improving his ERA in the seasons since his injury.

2015 was his best year since his injury for a number of reasons. One of those reasons might have been that Jeff Samardzija pitched so poorly in 2015. The main reason is that for almost a whole month, John Danks was the best pitcher in the White Sox rotation. This tells me a couple of things, Danks is getting stronger, and he is figuring out how to pitch around the lingering issues that the injury has left him with.

Now you may ask, “What if Danks struggles this season?”, and that would be a good question to ask.

Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

Insert Carson Fulmer, a lot of people are worried that Carson may not be able to handle the quick shot through the minors like Chris Sale or Carlos Rodon did, and my question is why not?  Here is why I think that he can handle the quick ascension to the major league. Fulmer has quickly become the best, or second best prospect in our farm system. I know our farm system is not the best out there, but that is impressive none the less. Fulmer is a kid with fire who wants to be great, and that is not something that you can teach. Either a player has that trait, or they don’t. Fulmer has already proven that he can handle pressure, as he has played in more than one College World Series Championships. Fulmer has a demanding presence on the field, and that is certainly something that you look for in a starting pitcher. You want someone that people respect, someone that hitters will respect. Now I am not saying that Fulmer is ready to pitch opening day, but with some time at the Double-A level as well as some appearances this spring, I believe that he can mirror the same type of elevation through the system that Rodon did last season. With 58 innings pitched at the minor league level, Carlos Rodon carried a 3.49 ERA into his major league debut. Carson Fulmer has a 1.96 ERA in 46 innings pitched at the minor league level. Rodon pitched in 11 games, and started in eight while Fulmer has pitched in nine games, all nine of those being starts.

The resemblance is certainly there, as far as raw talent and statistics are concerned. In both cases, 40-50 innings is not a very large sample size so as it was with Rodon in 2015, bringing Fulmer into the fold is largely a guessing game. We did not know that Rodon would pitch as well as he did in 2015, in fact I remember some having the same questions that I do in regards to Fulmer this year.  Can he handle pitching at the major league level so early in his development?  My belief is that you must trust White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, in that he can get these young arms flying early, and that the training staff which is top notch as you know, will be able to keep their young arms healthy.

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Either way it plays out, I am a believer that John Danks will surprise many in 2016, and continue to improve this season. If I had to guess who, if anyone, will be replaced in the rotation early it would be Erik Johnson. Johnson  has experienced mixed results in his opportunities at the major league level thus far, and would likely be the odd man out in 2016 or whenever Carson Fulmer is ready to play at that level.