White Sox should focus on four starters, not six

The White Sox have to ride this right arm until reinforcements show up.

Even though it was in vain, Jake Peavy's outstanding start against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night gave the White Sox rotation a boost it sorely needed.

Three-fifths of the rotation had owned an ERA above 5.00 over the last month entering the day, so Peavy's gem restored some semblance of balance to the rotation that has been dragged down by some terrible pitching, with assistance by die Grippe. Their ERAs over the last 30 days:

The Sox have had trouble finding three consistent starters during this stretch, which means it's a strange time to bring back the idea of extending the rotation to six pitchers.

But with John Danks on the cusp of returning and Jose Quintana showing a knack for death-defying starts, that's exactly what's happening.

First of all, let's take a quick look back at what caused Ozzie Guillen to choose a six-man rotation last year. It's easiest to look back to this post, and this chart:

Date Pitcher
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
K
May 2, 2011
Mark Buehrle
6.2
8
0
0
0
4
4
May 3 Edwin Jackson
8
6
1
1
1
1
2
May 4 John Danks
8
8
3
3
0
3
0
May 6 Philip Humber
7
3
2
2
0
3
4
May 7 Gavin Floyd
8
3
0
0
0
2
6
May 8 Buehrle
8
9
2
2
0
0
3
May 9 Jackson
7
5
0
0
0
1
5
Total 3-2, 1.37 ERA
52.2
42
8
8
1
14
24

At the time, Ozzie Guillen had a couple of unusual situations about to converge -- five starters pitching well, and a sixth candidate set to return from an unprecedented surgery. With no real drop-off from the first starter to the fifth, and Peavy requiring careful handling, expanding the rotation made a decent amount of sense. Plus, an extra day of rest usually helps a pitcher regardless of their physical status, so, what the heck.

And it could have worked, if it weren't for that meddling negligent manager! Not only did Guillen fail to stick to the plan, but he failed in the most harmful way by pushing Peavy up in the rotation, thus disabling the mechanism that was intended to protect Peavy in the first place.

The six-man rotation failed because Guillen decided to let the team manage itself. Instead of using his best judgment, he avoided conflict and accommodated everybody, and the result was an ugly compromise.

If the Sox are trying to learn from the mistakes of last season, sticking to a Five Guys pitching diet would be a nice and easy way to start. Otherwise, we would be looking at the same absentee landlord situation as last year, without it actually making the considerable amount of sense on paper.

Star-divide

Two writers have tried to mount arguments for it. Daryl Van Schouwen almost sounded sheepish about raising the topic after Robin Ventura shot it down:

The possibility was raised because the Sox have discussed keeping left-hander Chris Sale fresh in his first season as a starter. Jake Peavy has dealt with injury issues but has been healthy this season, and Danks might be a concern because of his shoulder issue.

Phil Rogers made a bolder stand, with some actual strategy involved:

Jose Quintana has been phenomenally poised and effective in his four starts, including last night’s victory in St. Louis. He’s also left-handed. There’s no way that the White Sox can take him out of their rotation.

Along with Chris Sale and John Danks, Quintana would give the Sox a starting rotation that is three-fifths (or three-sixths) left-handed. That should be a tremendous advantage in the American League Central, where three of the other four teams are much better against right-handed pitching than lefties.

But both of these arguments spend too much time dealing with the hypothetical, and not enough with the actual. The White Sox have a very top-heavy rotation at the moment -- as KenWo put it, "Peavy and Sale and hope for hail." When the rotation only has two good pitchers, Ventura shouldn't be trying to devise ways to avoid or delay them.

Sure, Sale's workload needs to be monitored, but that can be achieved more seamlessly than shoehorning in another starter. The Sox can use one of the upcoming off days to drop Sale back into the rotation, and in such a fashion that they make him unavailable for the All-Star Game in the process.

The All-Star break is about as far as the Sox should be thinking right now, because their position in the AL Central as the trade deadline approaches is crucial this season. Hell, it was crucial last year. Had Guillen and the Sox been more proactive about Peavy and Adam Dunn and Alex Rios and Juan Pierre, they could have been neck-and-neck with the Detroit Tigers instead of several games back. Instead, the early hole and the Sox's organizational malaise forced Williams to deplete his forces with a salary dump at the deadline.

The Sox should be using the next five weeks to attempt to pad their division lead. Peavy needs to make every scheduled start, and Sale's deployment should be nearly as regular. Healthy doses of Peavy and Sale make the Sox not only formidable, but interesting. An interesting team improves the Sox's balance sheet. An improved balance sheet increases the chances of improving the team at the trade deadline. An improved team creates ways to reduce Sale and Peavy's workloads more gracefully.

It might not be that easy. If either of the Sox's two reliable starters suffer a tweak or a twinge, then Robin Ventura might have to rely on spot starters more than anybody would like. But extending the rotation at this moment would only water down a team that can't afford to be less potent.

Thankfully, it sounds like Ventura is going to roll with his five best starters for the foreseeable future. And while the jury is still out on Quintana, it might be a net positive if Ventura bumped one of the Sox's struggling starters to make room for a couple more Quintana stats. Maybe regression slaps the rookie in the face with a fish, but given all the time we spent bitching about the way White Sox management flatlined through last season, it would be difficult to criticize Ventura for rewarding results, regardless of reputations or contracts.

Star-divide

While we're on the subject of rotational instability, Terry Doyle picked a somewhat odd time to bail on the White Sox to pitch in Japan (reportedly with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks).

In response to the news, Rogers picked an odd player to compare Doyle to:

Because I am loath to click on Sulia links, I gave this some thought before finally succumbing. And in the process, I infused doubt into the question!

Rogers picked Colby Lewis, who spent two full seasons pitching with the Hiroshima Carp in 2009 and 2010, discovering how to be an effective starting pitcher in the process.

I thought the answer was Carlos Torres. That's a better one, anyway, as his plight more closely resembled Doyle's. Torres had proven himself in Triple-A, but couldn't find a way to stick in Chicago, so he jumped to Japan last season, even though he was in the spot-starting mix for the Sox.

He pitched poorly over six starts with the Yomiuri Giants, but it didn't affect his major-league prospects negatively. He's back in the States, shuttling between the Colorado Rockies and their Triple-A affiliate (and talking smack about the ballpark there, too). That's the life of an AAAA pitcher, and Torres certainly fits the profile.

Doyle is making a similar move, but far sooner. He just popped on the radar last year, and he might be two pitchers or just some lucky timing away from making his major-league debut. Maybe there isn't an easy path for him regardless, since he's not on a the 40-man roster. A roster spot certainly gave Quintana an access lane to the big-leagues, and Dylan Axelrod has priority over Doyle in Charlotte, so there are some definite obstacles. Doyle certainly has the right to feel confident about breaking out, considering he's taken two no-hit bids into the late-late innings over his last three starts.

Star-divide

And speaking of the Hiroshima Carp, I saw one of their games over my vacation. I'm back home after spending the last two-plus weeks in Japan and South Korea. Thanks to Larry for more than deftly steering the ship in my absence, and KenWo, HSA, Uribe Down and SSE (and U-God, durp) for stepping up as well.

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