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White Sox Fri Feb 24 2012

Coming & Going: White Sox Starting Rotation

It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed as spring training gets underway. (Part of a series.)

    

Goodbye: Mark Buehrle
Last season: 13-9, 3.59 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 117 ERA+

Hello: Chris Sale
Last season: 2-2, 2.79 ERA, 1.113 WHIP, 152 ERA+

What Happened?

After starting for 11 years, winning 161 games, posting an ERA under 4.00, earning three Gold Gloves and four all-star appearances, throwing a no-hitter and a perfect game, and bringing Chicago a world championship, Mark Buehrle signed with Miami this winter.

The Marlins had a few special advantages to lure Buehrle over. Number one was money, as Miami shelled out $58 million over four years for the left-hander.

Number two was the Marlins' hiring of Ozzie Guillen, no doubt offering Buehrle some continuity in his new destination.

Three, the Marlins, after being small market central for the last 14 years, had a huge offseason. They were able to bring in Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Aaron Rowand and Carlos Zambrano while keeping young talent like Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison. Not a bad team.

Meanwhile, Chris Sale was moved into the starting rotation in November. The move isn't a shock, because Sale was a starter in college at Florida Gulf Coast University, and placing him in the rotation looked to be the Sox's intention all along. He gets his chance in 2012.

How Will the White Sox Miss Buehrle?

How won't they? He's either first or second among the most popular White Sox of the past decade, depending how you feel about Paul Konerko. He's a genuinely good guy and a true class act.

And he can pitch.

Since joining the Sox rotation in 2001, he's never missed a start due to injury. Never! Buehrle started over 30 games in each of those seasons, with at least 200 innings pitched as well. And other than 2006, when he finished 12-13, Buehrle's never had a losing record. From 2007 to 2011, Buehrle has averaged a 13-11 record with a 3.83 ERA, with an ERA+ of 117 (league average is 100).

A knock on Buehrle is that he allows a lot of baserunners. And it's true - he was fifth in hits (221) and he was the 16th worst pitcher in WHIP in 2011 (all stats among AL pitchers). Also, he was not a strikeout pitcher, finishing fourth-worst in K/9 (4.78). Fortunately for him, he didn't allow many walks (45), and he was 20th in ERA. Buehrle had 22 quality starts, seventh best in the AL. Batters may get on, but they don't score on Buehrle. He's still an effective finesse pitcher.

But of course, there's the contract. As has been repeated ad nauseam, the Sox are rebuilding and didn't choose to match Miami's offer to the soon-to-be 33-year-old pitcher.

What Does Sale Bring To The Rotation?

Sale was pretty good out of the bullpen last year. Among American League pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings pitched, Sale finished 8th in K/9 (10.01), 13th in holds (16), 18th in ERA (2.79) and 25th in WHIP (1.11).

The decision to turn Sale back into a starter is the right move. Sale was a starter in college and in the minor leagues, so it's not as if he's completely new to the role. Sale definitely has the tools to be a valuable starting pitcher - his fastball is usually in the mid-90s but can reach the high-90s, his changeup is in the low 80s and complements his fastball well, and his delivery and his low release point is deceptive to right-handed hitters.

Naturally, some feel that starting Sale every five days will be a problem. Some of the pitches Sale throws well are more fit for someone coming out of the 'pen - for instance, Sale won't be able to hit triple digits on every fastball he throws when he's a starter, but when he only pitches for an inning in relief, he can do that. He will have to scale his fastball back a little and rely more on his changeup.

Also, since Sale was a factor in the Sox's inconsistent bullpen last year, Sun-Times columnist Joe Cowley argues Chicago should make Sale their closer, not fifth starter. "Belief in his ability is not the problem here," Cowley wrote. "Sale can go out there every five days and dominate, and it won't mean a thing if the Sox can't find an arm to consistently close out the ninth inning, especially with the Jekyll-and-Hyde offense the Sox are expected to have... Sale has shown he can handle the ninth. He has ninth-inning stuff."

(Of course, Joe Cowley often is an idiot.)

Sale is still young though, turning 23 in late March. The Sox will happily insert him in the rotation to see if he can become their ace someday. If not, a return to the bullpen is a possibility.

Yet another time this offseason, proven talent has departed the South Side, but potential is taking its place.

 
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