A year ago, a White Sox team that was ostensibly rebuilding carried a decent rotation into the season, at least on paper. Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez, Derek Holland gave the Sox a No. 1 starter, a guy with No. 2 potential, and three starters who all deserved rotation jobs for one reason or another.
It didn’t really hold together, for reasons intentional and unintentional, and it did weird things to the team leaderboard. Quintana was traded, Rodon and Gonzalez had shoulder issues and Shields pulled his lat. Holland fell apart during the summer before the Sox cut him September so everybody could get on with their lives.
And yet because Holland was healthy enough to make every start before the White Sox cut him, he’d accrued enough time to own a share of the team lead in wins, and hold it outright in innings.
And those totals were the lowest to lead any White Sox pitching staff ever.
The White Sox pitching staff normalized somewhat in this regard in 2018 despite wildly uneven performances. James Shields gave the White Sox a 200-inning starter. He finished tied for seventh with fellow free-agent-to-be Dallas Keuchel with 204⅔. Lopez finished 24th with 188⅔, which was 14 more than Quintana delivered for the Cubs, and gave the team a sub-4.00 ERA from a qualified starter. Lucas Giolito … did not, but he got the team back into double-digits in the win column with 10.
The Sox still lack a complete game in the Rick Renteria era, and these last two seasons are the only two seasons in franchise history without one. There’s even tepid progress on this front, as Renteria pulled Carlos Rodon after 84 pitches through seven on Sept. 18, when eight innings would’ve counted as going the distance.
That said, there were enough ugly performances from starters (Gonzalez, Carson Fulmer) and relievers (Chris Volstad, Bruce Rondon) to throw a lot of categories in disarray. I won’t go through all of them because it’d be mostly redundant, but here are some ways the White Sox pitching staff broke new ground.
And by “White Sox pitching staff,” I mostly mean “Lucas Giolito.”
Pitchers used: 26
Most since: Ever
The combination of local factors (rebuild) and global factors (shorter starts) means the environment is conductive to pitching staff turmoil. Sure enough, the White Sox have used at least 22 pitchers in each of the last five seasons, which means this rebuild also dominates this particular leaderboard:
1. 2018, 26
2(t). 2015 and 2014, 24
4(t). 2016 and 1932, 23
6. 2017, 22
As you might expect, that 1932 team was one of the handful of Sox clubs to lose more games than the most recent edition, going 49-102. Say what you will about the 2018 club, but Rick Renteria didn’t have to pitch.
2018 team ERA: 4.84
Worst since: 2004 (4.91)
The end of Fifth Starter Hell and the beginning/end of the Billy Koch Era gave the 2004 Sox a chance to relapse back into aftermath of the White Flag Trade, but that 4.91 ERA came up one-hundredth of a point short of matching the 1999 version. Difference in offensive contexts also plays a part. While that 2004 pitching staff had problems, it finished with an ERA slightly below average when adjusting for the era and park (96 ERA+). The 2018 White Sox had a collective ERA+ of 87. So let’s look at it that way…
2018 team ERA+: 87
Worst since: 1976 (86)
What happened the season before the South Side Hit Men explains why those 1977 White Sox were so popular. The Sox of ’76 went 64-97, and while they struggled in all aspects, they were especially a team in transition on the pitching side. Ron LeFlore shattered Wilbur Wood‘s kneecap with a line drive, and Goose Gossage and Terry Forster went a combined 11-29 in their last seasons as full-time starters before converting for good into excellent relievers. Underneath the big names, Jesse Jefferson posted an 8.52 ERA over 19 games and 62⅓ innings, which is the second-highest individual ERA over that amount of innings (Frank Gabler posted a 9.09 ERA over 69⅓ in 1938).
Highest ERA: Giolito, 6.13
Highest since: 1998 (Jaime Navarro, 6.36)
As we remember with all the John Danks arguments, it takes a pitcher of a certain talent level to qualify for the ERA title in the first place. As we also remember, those arguments ring hollow after a certain point. Danks never drew credible comparisons to Navarro even at his worst, so Giolito will be in need of some deep soul-searching. Once again have to keep offensive contexts in mind, because Navarro got shredded alive in one of the game’s most warped statistical eras. ERA+ doesn’t bail out Navarro, because he finished with a miserable 72. However, when you look at Giolito’s…
Worst ERA+: Giolito, 66
Lowest since: 1931 (66, Pat Caraway)
… you see that his ERA+ ties for the worst in franchise history. Only Caraway, who went 10-24 with a 6.22 ERA for a 56-97 White Sox team, bails him out, and Caraway’s FIP was lower by a half-run.
Walks: Giolito, 90
Most since: 1996 (Wilson Alvarez, 97)
While those early 1990s White Sox pitching staffs are fondly remembered for delivering the goods, they walked a ton of guys. In Alvarez’s breakout 1993 season, he posted a 2.95 ERA despite leading the league with 122 walks. Jason Bere would’ve dominated this category if he stayed healthy.
Walk rate: Giolito, 11.6 percent
Highest since: 1995 (Alvarez, 12.3 percent)
Bere was at 13.2 and 15.9 percent in the strike-shortened seasons.
Team walks: 653
Most since: 1975 (655)
Three different Sox pitchers issued more than 90 walks in 2018, building a base for a team walk total that forces you go to back decades. In 1975, the Sox had a knuckleballer throwing nearly 300 innings to give them a head start (Wood contributed 92). But then they had the last season of Claude Osteen‘s career, and there’s Jefferson again. Jefferson owns the highest walk rate in White Sox history over 100 innings or more (94 over 107⅔), so he did a lot of damage in a very short amount of time.
Hit by pitches: 89
Most since: Ever
The White Sox should’ve released balloons when Thyago Vieira clipped Chris Gimenez on the jersey with a 1-2 fastball. For one, it set the team record for HBPs, breaking a tie with the 2001 White Sox, so it would’ve been funny. Also, the game was at Target field, so it would’ve been really funny.
This is another one of those stats that is reflective of the era. The last seven seasons can all be found in the top 10 of the franchise leaderboard, and it’s just as indicative of where hitters stand and how pitchers attack them as it is the lack of control (think Harold Baines, who got plunked a total of just 14 times over 22 seasons). That said, the White Sox still led the league by five, so this was a club that missed their targets in just about every way.