Monday, February 14, 2011

Chris Sale And The Implications Of A Four-Man Rotation

Having taken a look at the schedule, Manager Ozzie Guillen has decided that he'll try and go with a four man rotation to open the season. His team has off days on April 4th and April 14th which should allow him to easily keep his four other projected opening day starters on their regular rest cycle. He then plans to fill in the rotation with spot starters as needed. Likely candidates for that role would include long man Tony Pena, or minor leaguers Philip Humber or Lucas Harrell.

Guillen also made it plain that he views the talented young lefty Chris Sale as a reliever. Sale was the White Sox first round pick last year and was the first player from his draft class to reach the Majors after just 10 innings of Minor League work. Initially the plan for the White Sox had been to have Sale prepare for the 2011 campaign as a starter - or so said GM Kenny Williams. There were plenty of good reasons for that of course and one of them was because of Peavy's injury and his uncertain status for 2011. But the other was, or should've been, because his value is significantly greater as a potential dominant starter than as a dominant reliever.

However the White Sox all-in methodology this off season, exemplified by blowing past established payroll highs and patching together a team filled with back-loaded contracts, also appears to have permeated the plans for the teams most talented (and arguably only) high-end prospect. In order to maximize their competitiveness in 2011 it now appears that the White Sox will use Sale as a reliever.

In doing so, the team is taking a big gamble.

First of all, I think the Sox bullpen is already likely the strongest in the division. Though the return of Joe Nathan is potentially a huge positive, the team has taken significant hits to the depth of that unit this off season. And while the Tigers back-end has the potential to be strong, they don't have great depth and the pitchers forming the back-end will be a pair of relievers in Joaquin Benoit (-1.09)and Jose Valverde (-0.78) who's ERA was significantly lower than their FIP marks. Now we like to talk about regression, and it IS a fact of life, but that doesn't inherently mean those two will regress next year. Only that there is a likelihood of it in the near-term, and a near certainty of it in the long-term.

The White Sox took some lumps too with the departures of long-time closer Bobby Jenks, Scott Linebrink, and J.J. Putz. But the unit still featured a pair of solid relievers in Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos, and the team brought in former Twin Jesse Crain to work as a setup man. I also feel the team has the best Minor League depth in terms of potential 2011 bullpen arms in the division save for the Kansas City Royals.

Adding Sale to that group certainly won't hurt, but it will take away from valuable developmental time. The interruption will hinder Sale from developing his changeup which is still more of a fringe pitch at this point in time, but a key to any long-term position in the starting rotation.

Perhaps more importantly, at least as far as the White Sox 2011 season is concerned, it leaves the team dangerously thin in the starting rotation. We know who the five guys are who the White Sox would like to have comprise the starting rotation for most of the season, but in the event of a season ending injury to someone, who will the franchise turn to? Last year it was top prospect Daniel Hudson, who the team later dealt off for the mercurial Edwin Jackson. Heaven forbid two starters suffer serious injuries or ineffectiveness.

The White Sox could try and move Sale back into the rotation at that point, but then they'd be relying on a young man who's never made a professional start and who realistically lacks the ingredients to be an effective starter at this point. Something the Sox themselves are acknowledging by default by their refusal to give him an opportunity to help bolster the rotation this spring.

Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both,, and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates and random thoughts.


  1. I've been wishing the Royals would go to a four-man rotation for years now. With Greinke gone, this makes less sense, and for all intents and purposes the Royals will likely be going to the bullpen in the third or fourth anyway, so they may as well just go to a no-man rotation for 2011.

    Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen may look like they're out of their minds regularly, but few have the balls to go this far.

  2. It's not a permanent thing, just for a month or so until Peavy returns - and even then they'll be utilizing a fifth starter when there isn't an off day to keep the other four on regular rest. They won't actually be maintaining a 4-man rotation.

  3. Please do a little research before writing. To call Chris Sale's changeup a "fringe pitch" really puts a spotlight on your ignorance. Chris Sale's changeup in college was described by most scouts as his best pitch, and hailed as one of, if not THE best change up in the nation. As a reliever with the Sox he only threw it maybe 4 or 5 times the whole season. He has total confidence and command of that pitch and will throw it in any count for strikes. Sale's weakest pitch collegiately was his slider. However that slider improved dramatically in the pros (just ask Joe Mauer) and everybody knows about his fastball.

  4. A great college pitch does not a great pro-pitch make. I have little doubt that it could be an effective weapon, but as of right now, I would disagree with your assessment.

    That's not by any means the slight you seem to think - though you're certainly entitled to view my take in whatever way you'd like. It just means that, in my opinion, it's not ready yet.

    All the same, thank you for stopping by and leaving your opinion. It's greatly appreciated.

  5. Pretty hard to see how the words "realistically lacks the ingredients to be an effective starter at this point," is anything other than a slight.

    You are not only disagreeing with me (which is fine), but with nearly every scout and coach and GM in the White Sox organization.

    I just wonder where you've come up with this "fringe pitch" terminology? Do you have some kind of legitimate contact with anyone of baseball credibility who has seen his changeup? Or are you just making this stuff up on the fly without much thought?

    In fairness to you, I will say the rest of this article made a lot of sense and was a pretty good analysis of the Sox pitching conundrum.

  6. Well, between having been involved in baseball essentially my entire life - either as a player or coach - I have at least some minimalistic insight, Or so I'd like to imagine (I could be fooling myself).

    I've also seen a lot of video from his college days - here's one:

    In the final pitch of that particular bullpen he throws his changeup (it's at the 38 second mark), it's easy to spot because of it's fade and drop. It's also easy to spot because his arm slows way down when compared to the fastballs he was throwing in the session. The movement he generates, particularly with his cross-fire arm action made it a killer pitch in college.

    The problem is that in the Majors, that's not enough. Throwing a legitimately plus changeup in the Majors requires a lot of different ingredients - speed differential, consistent arm-action (probably the most important, and most difficult to develop), command and movement.

    Sale's changeup has all of the ingredients to be a legitimate plus-pitch - maybe even a 65-70 (which is a pretty strong rating) - but his command and feel for that pitch from the video I've seen, and the games I've watched, suggests he isn't there yet.

    That's my opinion of course and I definitely appreciate your thoughts on the matter. Hopefully I've at least allowed you a better understanding of my thought process and helped alleviate your concern that I might just be making things up, or might not have done my research.

  7. He throws another change, again with great fade at 2:12. But notice how much he slows his arm down? He hardly even finishes the pitch. You can get away with that in college, but in the pros, guys pick up on that, and there aren't many things worse than a changeup to a MLB hitter who spots it coming.

  8. OK fair enough. I appreciate your forthrightness and the answer.So we'll agree to disagree: I think by using the words you've chosen you're generally under-evaluating his ability and the changeup specifically.

    I think you'll be pleasantly surprised if he is given the opportunity to start this season.

    I'm pretty eager to see how he progresses under Coop's tutelage this season.

    Thankfully, we'll both learn a lot more in the coming weeks, and likely, months.

  9. Sale's changeup could be devastating, I'm torn between giving it a 65 or 70 potential rating when I do my prospect profile on him, and that's generally about as high as I feel comfortable going until a guy proves it to me in the Majors.

    His movement and speed differential are both better than Johan Santana or Trevor Hoffman ever had. And those dudes knew (and in Johan's case, still know) how to throw a changeup.

    But what made those guys two of the finest changeup pitchers of the past decade wasn't the measurables, it was the deceptiveness. Guys just could not distinguish it from the fastball, and they knew ho and where to locate it.

    I'm big into both scouting and sabermetrics, and the changeup, like catcher defense is one of those things the numbers just haven't yet found a way to effectively quantify. You need to know how to scout a change. I know a lot of pitchers who have the raw stuff to deliver great changeups, but because they never perfect the feel for the pitch don't.

    Staying at home within the White Sox, you can look at Edwin Jackson as a good example. He's got around 9mph differential (very good) and throws two different changeups, both with good movement. His straight change gets legitimate plus depth and his circle change has average/plus arm side fade with still solid/average depth.

    Great raw stuff for a changeup. Yet the pitch consistently gets hit hard. Changeups aren't made by the measurables.