Going into the spring, Hector Noesi can probably be penciled in now as the White Sox fifth starter going into the 2015 season. That's, of course, assuming that Erik Johnson won't be carrying a big eraser to Arizona next month.
About this time last year, Don Cooper confirmed that Johnson was the man to beat for the fifth starter spot. In spring training, though, Johnson wasn't looking as sharp. He finished the spring with a 6.35 ERA and gave up 19 hits in 17 innings. Once we had PitchF/X watching him, the reason for the struggles became clear. Johnson had lost two mph of velocity off of all his pitches. His fastball that was a decent 92 to 93 mph topping out at 95 mph was now a bit below average, topping out at about 93 mph.
This was just the start of the falling dominos. His fastball was flatter. He stopped getting whiffs off his curveball. His cutter usage increased dramatically to about 40%. Finally, turning into a nearly two-pitch pitcher, he struggled to get through a lineup more than twice. Finally, his first pitch strike percent dropped to 49.6% (the MLB average was 60.3%).
In the end, Erik Johnson got sent down to Charlotte after a terrible April. Unfortunately, things didn't improve there. After spending the season denying there was an injury, Johnson finally was put on the DL in mid-August with "shoulder fatigue". Unfortunately, we don't really know if this was a real injury or just an early start for his offseason.
Going into this spring, Johnson obviously isn't going to be handed a starter job. With Carlos Rodon waiting until at least May to join the team, there is a window now for him to grab the fifth starter spot at the start of the season.