Chicago White Sox: Starting Pitching Key to Early Season Success

Apr 9, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago White Sox’ starting rotation has been the key to their early season success.

Despite being in a rebuilding year that has many people picking the Chicago White Sox to finish last in the AL Central, the White Sox’ starting rotation is simply too good for them to be a complete train wreck this season. They have proven that through their first eight games, going 4-4 with an impressive series win over the AL Central-favorite Cleveland Indians.

Until the White Sox trade Jose Quintana, they have one of the most underrated pitching staffs in the American League. They might not have a Cy Young contender like Chris Sale leading their rotation, but they have five veterans, once Carlos Rodon returns, who almost always give them a chance to win.

Sure, James Shields could implode like he did in 2016 and Derek Holland‘s numerous injuries could resurface. But when healthy, it’ll be very hard to score many runs against the White Sox. It’s a testament to pitching coach Don Cooper, who seemingly has Shields’ career back on track after a horrid 2016 campaign.

After a 6.77 ERA and 1.697 WHIP over 22 starts with the White Sox in 2016, Shields has allowed just two earned runs in his first two starts to start 2017 — 10.1 innings pitched. His control has still been an issue, giving up seven walks to 11 strikeouts, and he’s still home run prone, giving up two home runs, but he’s giving the White Sox a chance to win games.

That’s a great sign considering Chicago will likely have him through 2018.

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It’s not just Shields, though. Holland took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Cleveland on Wednesday. Miguel Gonzalez only gave up two earned runs and struck out six against a very hot Minnesota Twins team.

In fact, Jose Quintana is the only Chicago starter with an ERA above 4.50. Although, he still followed his rough opening day with a quality start against the twins, giving up two earned runs over 6.1 innings. It will still take time for his 6.17 ERA to lower, though, and getting no run support, which has led to him starting the season 0-2, is nothing new.

As a team, Chicago’s ERA of 2.72 is the second lowest in the league, and they hold teams to a .202 batting average, the third lowest. The White Sox are also fifth in team WHIP.

Even more impressively, their starters’ combined ERA is 3.40 this season, which includes a terrible start from Quintana on Opening Day. If you take away Opening Day, it goes down to 2.50. Having their ERA jump by more than a point from one bad start is indicative of a small sample size and takes away from how dominant they’ve been to start the season.

The Sox only being 4-4 with the way their starters have pitched shines a light on the bad offense, too, as they rank in the bottom half of the league in hits and batting average.

With Rodon still weeks away from returning, the Sox will trust a new pitcher on Friday in Dylan Covey. He has never pitched above Double-A before, therefore the Sox might need a second straight double-digit run game to win their third straight. Although, they picked him in the Rule-5 Draft, so using him as a spot starter for a couple of weeks makes sense.

When Rodon returns, though, the Sox will have one of the most consistent rotations in the league. Just like any team, they’ll get bad starts. Their ceiling is also way lower than a team with younger pitchers or Cy Young contenders.

That said, having veterans starting every night isn’t the worst thing for the Sox. Quintana, Gonzalez and Shields each have career ERAs under 4.00, and Holland’s isn’t terrible at 4.31. Rodon has only started for two seasons, but even his career ERA is only 3.90, and he has the most potential out of the group.

Being able to pitch well deep in games will be extremely important this season. In 2016, we saw the White Sox bullpen become tired after April and lead to their May collapse after a hot start.

Through the first eight games in 2017, Chicago’s starters have lasted an average of 5.6 innings per game and have gone at least six innings four times. That’s huge for the bullpen and will allow the White Sox to stay competitive later in the season, especially when a bad start occurs.

While it might not help the White Sox make the playoffs this season, it does allow their pitching prospects in Triple-A to develop and not feel rushed to the majors. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez have each made their major league debut, but neither is ready to be a full-time arm in the rotation or bullpen, yet. Besides, giving them time to develop is what this season is about.

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For a team missing their supposed No. 2 starter and having a rough first couple of weeks from their ace, the White Sox are still faring well. Chicago might still finish last in the division, but it won’t be due to their starting pitching. It’s what will keep them in games.