White Sox: Analyzing The 2019 Starting Rotation
By Conor Evans
White Sox starting rotation could be a strength for the team entering this upcoming season. How many pitchers can perform well in the rotation?
The 2018 White Sox rotation went through many different faces and challenges just a season ago, but if you were to describe it in one word, it’d be easier to just say it was terrible. The combined starting rotation bWAR last season was -5.2, well below the major league average of 1.9, and the worst in the American League.
With changes and developments made in the offseason, it should be expected to see some improvement from the Sox youthful rotation. Let’s take a look at the current arms the White Sox have to offer in this year’s projected new rotation.
Carlos Rodon: It’s been pretty obvious to realize by now that the White Sox rebuild has been centered around young starting pitching with arms such as Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, and Dane Dunning developing in Sox farm system over the years. Its very easy to forget that not only was Rodon the first acquired of all these young arms, but he very well could be the best of the bunch.
Rodon has shown he has the stuff to perform at the major league level, having multiple years with his SO/9 over 9.0. The main concern with Rodon is just being healthy. This will be Rodons fifth year in the league and he has pitched over 150 innings just once in his four-year career. If all of the shoulder problems are truly gone, look for this season to truly validate it.
Reynaldo Lopez: Lopez’s 2018 campaign may have been the biggest highlight of the entire year. In his first full professional season, Lopez led the rotation in ERA(3.91), SO/9,(7.2) and bWAR(3.1). A lot of Lopez’s progression has been due to keeping his velocity down till the later innings and developing that putout slider which continues to get better. A common theme with any young pitching staff is always going to be a lack of control, but look for Lopez to improve on his 3.6 BB/9 last season, while also improving on his secondary pitches to increase his SO/9.
Ivan Nova: Nova is the first new face the 2019 rotation will see after he was acquired from Pittsburgh for Yordi Rosario back in mid-December. Nova is a right-handed veteran with a contract that completely screams rental due to him being an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year. So who this guy? As I mentioned earlier the White Sox rotation does struggle with control and command in some shape or form from top to bottom.
Nova not only is a veteran presence that without a doubt can help mature these young arms, but control is actually his main strong suit. Nova was sixth in the entire MLB in walk rate among starting pitchers last season, with names such as Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber ahead of him. Look for Nova’s veteran experience and ability to consistently keep the ball over the plate help this rotation grow.
Lucas Giolito: There really is no way to sugar coat it, 2018 was a rough one for Giolito. Giolito led the AL in Walks and earned runs last season, sported by a FIP of 5.56. As a fan, watching Giolito pitch can be frustrating but for more reasons than you would think. If you’ve watched Giolito pitch this past season, lack of composure is an obvious red flag.
Giolito is a guy who at one time was the highest rated pitching prospect in MLB, and has had brief moments of success at the major league level. It seems that one bad inning always appears to be the end all be all in a majority of his starts, which leads to him losing composure and the wheels breaking off of his command. Look for Giolito to make growth on his composure and command this coming season, a season that could make or break his major league career.
Manny Banuelos/Dylan Covey: When interviewed about the vacant fifth rotation spot, White Sox GM Rick Hahn went on to say that it would more than likely entail a spring training battle between familiar right-hander in Covey, and the 27-year-old left-hander in Banuelos.
Covey pretty much fits the narrative of what we’ve been discussing this article, and that’s more lack of control. When on, Covey’s ability to keep his sinker down and get ground balls complimented by a two-seamer that tails away on left-handed hitters can be very effective, but the control continues to lack consistency.
Banuelos was actually one of the Sox first pickups this offseason in an early trade with the Dodgers. Banuelos has very little major league experience with over six starts in his career while coming off of a 3.73 ERA in Triple-A in 31 appearances. Although there isn’t a ton of sample size for the young left-hander, Hahn seems to believe he is major league ready now, while returning to the previously acclaimed prospect he once was.
If Banuelos is able to perform well in spring training, look for him to fill a rotation that is dying for another left-hander with command. Regardless as to who wins the last spot, expect to see multiple arms to try and fill out this fifth spot all season.
If we had to narrow it down to two aspects to watch for this rotation in the 2019 season, its health and command. The White Sox had the worst walks per nine and starting pitching WAR in the entire American League last year. If you’re looking for optimism, it almost literally cannot get any worse than what we’ve already seen.