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1,319 words about the Chicago White Sox: An Oakland A's series preview

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The White Sox can't score. The Athletics can't stop giving up runs. What happens when an immovable offense comes up against a permeable defense?

Hello, old friend.
Hello, old friend.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox (14-17) arrive at the Coliseum riding three consecutive series wins against the Tigers, Reds, and Brewers. The Oakland Athletics (13-23) enter this series having lost seven of their last eight.

What did the White Sox do to assemble its current squad? Oh, a few things.

  • They sent four players, including Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley, to the A's for Jeff Samardzija.
  • They signed David Robertson, Zach Duke, Matt Albers, Melky Cabrera, Adam Laroche, Geovany Soto, Gordon Beckham, and Emilio Bonifacio in the offseason.
  • They claimed J.B. Shuck and Rob Brantly off waivers.
  • They called up 2014 #3 overall draft selection Carlos Rodon to join the starting rotation.

Those moves were enough to give the South Siders a preseason projected record of 78-84, a five game improvement from their 73-89 record of 2014, and a 15 game improvement from their 63-99 total just two years ago.

What the White Sox have not been this season, however, is a good road team. Even after taking two of three at Miller Park, the Pale Hose are a mere 4-12 away from U.S. Cellular Field.

Starting pitchers

White Sox starters have been the weak point so far. Until Carlos Rodon took over Hector Noesi's place in the starting rotation, all five starters enjoyed ERAs of at least 4.39, with three above 5.00. As a team, the White Sox have the fourth-worst ERA (4.88) and have allowed the third most home runs per nine innings (1.13).

Friday

Friday
Carlos Rodon vs. Jesse Hahn
2.92 ERA 4.73
3.14 FIP 3.23
4.61 xFIP 3.86
21.4% K% 14.3%
1.08 GB/FB 2.29

As a number three overall pick, Chicago White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon was one of Chicago's top prospects, #3 on the Baseball Prospectus ranking and #1 by Baseball America. The 22-year-old has struggled with allowing walks in his young career, with 14.3% of batters are getting aboard on the free pass. Only Aaron Sanchez has a worse mark amongst the 55 American League qualified starters.

Rodon is tossing a 96 mph fastball, slider, sinker, and a rarely thrown changeup, according to Brooks BaseballAhead in the count, he moves away from the sinker and throws many more sliders. The slider has induced the most swings and misses, with 20% of them failing to connect.

The A's will be sending the platoon lineup against the lefty, which means Stephen Vogt gets three consecutive days off, save a pinch hit appearance Wednesday:

What we may be seeing here is a plan to use Stephen Vogt for Saturday's game against John Danks and Sunday's game against Jeff Samardzija. Friday's day off is in lieu of taking Sunday off for the day game after the night game, when Vogt can hit against the right-handed Samardzija instead of the left-handed Rodon.

Saturday

Saturday
John Danks vs. Jesse Chavez
5.12 ERA 2.56
4.78 FIP 2.57
4.79 xFIP 3.74
16.1% K% 24.8%
0.70 GB/FB 0.92

Not since 2011 has left-hander John Danks been even an average pitcher, if you go by ERA+. He peaked in 2008, when his 3.32 ERA for the White Sox represented a 138 ERA+. His current ERA of 5.12 is in line with his years long decline. What's up with Danks? He's really dependent on his defense because his 16.1% strikeout rate is 38th out of 55 American League starters. Chicago's defense is 13th in errors (25), 15th in Defensive Runs Saved (-24), and 13th in UZR/150 (-8.6). His .317 BABIP is running above his career figure of .289.

Danks throws an 89 mph fastball, circle change, while mixing in a cutter, sinker, and curve, according to Brooks Baseball. He doesn't seem to vary his pitch selection with the count all that much this year against right-handers. Against left-handers, he's going to throw a first pitch fastball much more frequently (64% instead of 45% overall) and his sinker when he's ahead in the count (22% instead of 11% overall).

Sunday

Sunday
Jeff Samardzjia vs. Scott Kazmir
4.80 ERA 2.78
3.98 FIP 3.87
3.89 xFIP 3.81
17.7% K% 23.6%
0.98 GB/FB 1.07

The Shark returns to Oakland, and given Marcus Semien's offensive production already, it appears the A's have gotten the good end of the deal, though that obviously depends on where you see Semien's defense headed down the line. Samardzija is having the same problem as Danks this year, where his ERA is greatly exceeding his Fielding Independent Pitching.

Also down is Jeff Samardzija's strikeout rate, which at 17.7% is below his career strikeout rate of 22.2%. The balls that are going in play are a lot more line drives. 29.1% is easily a career high, and his ground ball rate of 35% is way below the 50% he had last year during his All-Star season.

Samardzija is throwing a pretty even mix of his 95 mph fastball, slider, cutter, and sinker, and he is throwing a splitter about 8% of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. That splitter shows up a lot more on two strikes against lefties, something we definitely saw when he was with the A's last year. Still, it's hard to guess what Samardzija is throwing at any time.

At the plate and in the field

White Sox AL Ranks A's
15th (3.68) RS/G 4th (4.61)
13th (87) wRC+ 7th (102)
15th (22) HR 7th (34)
7th (.255) AVG 4th (.259)
11th (.312) OBP 7th (.317)
13th (.368) SLG 8th (.401)
15th (.113) ISO 10th (.142)
15th (7) SB 7th (20)
13th (25) Errors 15th (36)
15th (-24) DRS 6th (5)
13th (-8.6) UZR/150 15th (-17.9)

The White Sox have been quite bad on offense. 428 of 1,133 non-pitcher plate appearances have been given to batters with a wRC+ below the Sogard Line of 67. That's 37.7%. The White Sox have put three Eric Sogards or worse into their lineup every game.

You can get away with that if you have someone like a Nelson Cruz to balance that out. Their best regular hitter, Jose Abreu, has taken a slight step back from his Rookie of the Year campaign, dropping from a 165 wRC+ to 131, or from a .317/.383/.581 line to .288/.349/.500.

Relievers

White Sox AL Ranks A's
14th (96.0) IP 9th (108.1)
8th (3.66) ERA 15th (4.98)
5th (3.67) FIP 14th (4.47)
3rd (3.62) xFIP 15th (4.57)

The White Sox bullpen is aided by the additions of David Robertson and Zach Duke, but the rest of the bullpen is a mixed bag. Robertson is striking out 46.6% of the batters he's facing, best in the American League amongst qualified relievers, and is walking just 3.5%, good for seventh in the American League.

There are still chances to get past the White Sox bullpen before Robertson appears, but once he's in, the game is as good as done.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA K% GB% FB% 14-May 13-May 12-May 11-May 10-May 9-May 8-May
David Robertson R 15.0 1.20 46.6% 41.4% 27.6%
O
F
F

D
A
Y
27 13 16 14
Zach Putnam R 12.0 5.25 28.6% 46.7% 36.7% 17 19
Zach Duke L 15.0 3.00 23.0% 52.6% 26.3% 14 20 22
Jake Petricka R 10.0 4.50 9.1% 66.7% 16.7% 11 10 4
Dan Jennings L 14.0 7.07 20.3% 75.0% 7.5% 39
Scott Carroll R 10.2 2.53 11.6% 68.6% 17.1% 67
Hector Noesi R 16.2 5.94 20.5% 34.0% 50.0% 3 46

The games

Time (PT) Probable starters
Friday 7:05 PM Carlos Rodon vs. Jesse Hahn
Saturday 6:05 PM John Danks vs. Jesse Chavez
Sunday 1:05 PM Jeff Samardzija vs. Scott Kazmir

With the news that all but one game will be televised on CSN California for the rest of the year, we'll drop that column from the list. Let's get some wins.