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Baseball Tue Apr 19 2011

Cubs & Sox Pitching: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for white sox.gifThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for cubs.gifEven under new leadership, ESPN's SweetSpot blog network remains indispensable reading for any serious baseball fan -- and of late, it's been chock full of goodies for White Sox and Cubs fans.

David Schoenfield cautions against getting too excited about Carlos Zambrano's brilliant start last night at frigid Wrigley: eight shutout innings with three hits, one walk and 10 strikeouts.

In the previous two seasons, Zambrano pitched as many as eight innings just three times. But there he was against the Padres, striking out the side in the seventh and cruising through the top of the eighth. He worked fast, threw strikes and even though he wasn't overpowering he struck out 10. In that seventh inning, he didn't dial up a fastball more than 90 mph until the final two pitches against Ryan Ludwick, instead relying on good movement, a nice front-door slider to catch Nick Hundley looking and a couple of 70-something curveballs. It was one of the best starts of his career -- just the ninth time he's recorded a Game Score of 85 or better.

Is Big Z back? I wouldn't say that. The hitters were hacking away in the cold (the 10-inning game lasted just 2:26, proving major leaguers can play quickly if they want to), so I wouldn't read too much into the effort, especially after three mediocre starts to begin the season. But for one night it was nice to see something resembling the old Z racking up the strikeouts.

Chicago-based blogger Christina Kahrl examined the White Sox closer situation last week, advancing a headline-grabbing solution for a bullpen that has gotten an 8.84 ERA and five blown saves from Matt Thornton, Chris Sale and new addition Will Ohman:

The answer has to come from outside the organization, and it'll be [Kenny] Williams' crew who can find him. If it's a matter of taking a chance on a pitcher struggling with staying healthy, here again, the Sox can afford a bit of risk where other teams might shrink from it, because they have the benefit of Herm Schneider's matchless training staff.

The question is whether Williams can acquire someone this early in the season, when salary dumps generally aren't the order of the day, so it's likely to cost talent -- something Chicago's system isn't rich in. Making the call this early comes across as desperate, because it is. Even so, perhaps the best fit will involve the Sox living up to their season motto -- "All In" -- and making a deal for a short-time veteran who could use the change of scenery.

So the time is now for Williams to call Sandy Alderson, start talking about Francisco Rodriguez, and see how much money the Sox can get the Mets to eat while making it happen. K-Rod may not appear to be the same pitcher he was in his Angels' heyday, but his strikeout rate last season (28.4 percent) was his best since 2007. As much as "closer mystique" is overrated, the Sox probably can't afford to keep experimenting on into May.

And finally, Dan Hennessey checks in on Daniel Hudson, the young right-hander the Sox traded for Edwin Jackson last summer, wondering if he has the same talent for out-performing his underlying statistics that has made Matt Cain an all-star in San Francisco:

Cain has been a source of frustration for some sabermetrically inclined observers, and he's usually one of the first outliers to which those who disagree with advanced metrics point. It's not completely unwarranted either; his career ERA is 0.42 lower than his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and 0.93 lower than his xFIP (which replaces a pitcher's home run rate with the league average). Since his career now totals 1,100 major-league innings (does it seem like Cain has been around that long?), it's possible that Cain possesses a certain talent that does make him somewhat of an outlier. ...

Cain isn't a perfect comparison for Hudson, but could serve as a model for watching the latter's career unfold; hopefully, Hudson wouldn't create the same stir among the baseball nerds that Cain has.

What do you think? Do the Sox need to go get another closer? What can we expect from Big Z this year -- or from Hudson in future years?

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