Even before the New Year brought reports of still stymied labor talks between Major League Baseball and its players union, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was fielding questions about a potentially lengthy lockout.
For instance, what if a late agreement on the CBA condensed the rest of the offseason into about two weeks?
"So be it,” Hahn said on the eve of the lockout. “Let's go. Seriously, that's fine.”
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The longer the MLB lockout drags on without progress on core economic issues, the more likely that scenario becomes. And though the White Sox are in better shape than many teams as Spring Training approaches – much of their playoff roster remains intact, leaving second base and right field among the team’s most pressing needs – they also have lofty goals.
As the White Sox try to avoid the pitfalls of their short playoff run last year, they have work to do beyond addressing those two positions. And their most glaring postseason shortcoming was, ironically, a regular season strength.
The White Sox starting rotation posted the worst postseason ERA of any team that went further than the Wild Card last year, after establishing itself as the best in the American League during the regular season.
Back in November, Hahn said he sees deepening and strengthening the White Sox’ pitching staff as a “priority.” By the end of the month, the White Sox had signed Kendall Graveman, bolstering the bullpen side of the equation.
"We view the rotation as a potential strength going forward,” Hahn said later. “If there’s a way for us to continue to improve it, we’re going to explore every option to do that. Stay tuned.”
As the White Sox weigh their offseason priorities, they have to decide whether they consider the rotation’s postseason collapse to be an anomaly. One of their All-Star starters (Carlos Rodón) battling shoulder fatigue late in the season, and the other (Lance Lynn) facing a bad matchup in Houston. But those challenges only explain so much.
The White Sox’ current roster carries the same starting group, minus Rodón, who is a free agent. Michael Kopech, 25, is slated to slide into the rotation. But the White Sox plan on monitoring his workload, and limiting it when necessary, as he makes the transition from the bullpen.
“Postseason, I think that we got some valuable experience there,” starter Lucas Giolito said. “We definitely did not perform how we wanted to, so that was a letdown, but that’s just more motivation. I think that every single guy that was part of that postseason run for us learned something, and it’s something that’s going to continue to drive us and make us hungrier for more.”
Let’s look at four numbers that illustrate the surprising postseason stumble the White Sox rotation is aiming to bounce back from, whether that’s with reinforcements or not.
10.22 – The White Sox rotation’s ERA in the 2021 playoffs. Only the Yankees had a worse postseason ERA, and because they lost the AL Wild Card Game, theirs (13.5) was solely based on Gerrit Cole’s short start against the Red Sox.
12 1/3 – The number of innings pitched by White Sox starters over four games in the AL Division Series. Lucas Giolito was the only White Sox starter who made it through the fourth inning, and he still only threw 4 1/3 frames.
6.65 – The White Sox bullpen’s postseason ERA. It, too, was the worse in MLB last year. The relievers, of course, share responsibility for this number, but the rotation’s short starts didn’t help. The bullpen was a big part of the White Sox’ only ALDS win, holding the Astros to three runs after Game 3 starter Dylan Cease exited in the second inning, including five scoreless frames to close the game. Over the course of the series, however, the bullpen pitched 21 2/3 innings, which took its toll.
1.08 – The White Sox rotation’s strikeout-to-walk ratio in the ALDS. Inefficiencies plagued the starting staff, resulting in the MLB’s worst postseason strikeout-to-walk ratio and the most pitches thrown per inning (21.57) among teams that made it past the Wild Card.