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Winston Salem Season Recap: Pitching

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The Dash had a potential ace and closer on their staff to end the year

Step Back: Alec Hansen started the season injured, and it showed when he returned.
Winston-Salem Dash

Here is the second part of the Dash season recap, the pitching edition.

Alec Hansen

Hansen is the first and only top White Sox prospect this year to be demoted. After a major injury, Hansen struggled with command when he returned, and was sent down from Birmingham to Winston-Salem.

In 35 23 innings with Birmingham, Hansen was particularly bad. He had a career low in K/9 at 8.83 and a high in BB/9 at a truly terrible 10.60. Along with a batting average against of .231, he had a WHIP of more than 2.00 in AA. Hansen hasn’t proven that he is not a ground ball pitcher, but a pull percentage over 40% along with a ground ball rate in the 30% range in both AA and A+ indicate good contact. A lot of of walks and good contact is not a recipe for success, and the demotion was warranted — especially with a 6.03 FIP and a BABIP right near league average.

Hansen did improve in just 15 23 innings with the Dash. His K/9 was back up to 11.49 and the walks decreased, though still abysmal, to 9.77 BB/9. With ground ball rate and pull-percentage holding steady, Hansen was still giving up good contact, but his control was slightly better. It’s a very small sample size, but improvement is important. Hansen’s FIP fell to 4.06, as the BABIP indicated he wasn’t getting unlucky, but the small amount of ground balls allowed (25%) makes it seem like it was more about good contact than luck.

It was an injury-riddled year, and maybe Hansen was just not prepared to return, but next season is big for him. He still has the great fastball and breaking pitch, but a healthy Hansen has to revert to his 2017 form next season.

Tyler Johnson

Johnson is up there with Ian Hamilton and Zack Burdi as potential closers for a championship White Sox bullpen, and he should shoot up the depth chart next season. The closer started in Kannapolis, like many others on this list, and was dominant. He had an unbelievable K/9 at 15.33, and improved his BB/9 drastically to 3.33. He earned a save in all seven of his chances, and added five wins on top of that. All of that led to a 1.88 FIP — but he was even better with the Dash.

Johnson did blow one of his eight save chances in Winston-Salem, and had one fewer win, but he looked more like a true closer. Yes, strikeouts were down — he was not going to stay at 15.33 K/9 — but the walks continued their free fall. In 2017 with the I’s, Johnson’s BB/9 was at 6.89, in 2018 with the I’s it was 3.33, and finishing up 2018 with the Dash, it fell to 1.74. The FIP fell accordingly, to 1.58. Johnson ended his season with a .170 batting average against, and should be considered a future option at closer — maybe even more so than Hamilton or Burdi.

Lincoln Henzman

Henzman had a breakout season with the I’s and was promoted to the Dash (hmm ... seems to be a trend for an 84-54 team). When he was in Kannapolis, he breezed through his innings limit, so he moved to the bullpen with the Dash and did not pitch beyond five innings on any occasion, including the playoffs. Even with that, Henzman was wildly successful.

With the I’s, Henzman was dominant with a 7.43 K/9 and a BB/9 just less than 1.00. He did have trouble with home runs, but his HR/FB rate of 11.4% seems to have been a one-off, as it fell to 3.6% with the Dash. By the time of his promotion, it was clear Henzman deserved the it with the 3.09 FIP alone, but it is tough to gauge his time with the Dash.

Because of the innings limit, Henzman averaged about 2 23 innings pitched per Dash outing, with him usually going three innings down the stretch. The strikeouts went down and the walks went up, along with his FIP, but it was a case of just too few innings, with too many short starts. However, in his last seven outings, Henzman only allowed two runs, for a FIP of 2.91, with his longest outing being just four innings. With the increase next year, Henzman should see his strikeouts and walks closer to his time with the I’s, but one thing is clear: Henzman will be a prospect to watch next season.

Honorable mentions: Blake Battenfield and Hunter Schryver