The First Ever Baines Herald Mailbag – Part 1

Michael Kopech #34 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning in his MLB debut game at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

It’s not exactly clear with this layout, but the title of my blog here is “The Baines Herald.”   I actually sorta got the personal OK from the legendary #3 himself, in the form of a hearty chuckle when I told him about it.   Getting my childhood hero, known for his stoicism, to laugh out loud is high on my list of life achievements.

With that reference out of the way, it’s time to dig into my first ever mailbag.  I’ve been lucky enough to have friends and family not only read my posts, but also send me some thoughts and questions.  If you’d like to do so as well, feel free to reach me at TheBainesHerald@gmail.com.

 – BR wrote: Will your next blog post be about Kopech’s injury?

I’m not going to dedicate an entire post, just because it’d be too depressing.  The reality is that 2019 was always going to be another throw-away year.  At best I’m hoping to not threaten 100 losses again.  If we’re near .500 it’d be a crazy awesome accomplishment.

So not having Kopech doesn’t mean a lot to our contention window, which won’t open until 2020… and really, maybe not even until 2021.

But the depression sets in when you realize that between now and his return, we’re missing out on 35-40 games where we would have been able to enjoy what the electric Kopech can do on the bump.  Instead we’re going to see 35-40 starts of bum vets and non-prospects.

I know all this losing is necessary to rebuild a consistent World Series contender.  And there is a lot of interest involved in the machinations of the rebuild, on and off the field.

But at some point you just want to watch good baseball, so it’s depressing that Kopech’s injury has robbed us of three dozen starts of one of the most hyped young arms in recent Sox history.

 – TK wrote: You have covered pitching (looks very promising), hitting (not as advanced as the pitching), but what about defense?

The extensive at-bats given to Yolmer Sanchez and Adam Engel speak to just how important Renteria finds defense… at least at this juncture.  It’s possible that once more reliable bats are on the big league roster, defense won’t be viewed as importantly.

In fact, I fear the Sox approach to defense will be more “hopefully this guy is good enough to not hurt us” rather than specifically targeting plus defenders as a cornerstone of their contending rosters.

For example, while Anderson and Moncada are athletically gifted enough to eventually become strong gloves up-the-middle, certainly neither is there yet nor guaranteed to ever be.  If either emerges as an offensive star but proves lacking defensively, how will Renteria and/or Hahn handle that?

Will they consider a position move?  Anderson’s pure athleticism might play better in the outfield (where his 20 HR power would be fine even in a corner), while Moncada’s offensive ceiling is more than enough to work as an everyday 3B.

Or would Hahn consider a trade of one of his cornerstones?  The Cubs had a promising young arm to build around in Andrew Cashner, but Theo and Jeb were willing to move him for a struggling minor league 1B named Anthony Rizzo.  Will Hahn have the same awareness and stones to swap the potential at hand for someone who fits better?

I can’t say I have any real sense, but I certainly do hope the organization views a strong defense as something worth building toward.  And not just with guys who won’t hurt you defensively, but players who really contribute to winning with their play in the field.

Two encouraging trends – first, that the Sox have loaded up with centerfield-capable outfielders in their system.  In fact, aside Eloy, all of the Sox best OF prospects are CF types.  They may not all stick in center, but it bodes well that they’re starting from a place where their glove is somewhat of an asset.

The second is that despite having Moncada and Anderson already showing themselves mostly big league capable, Hahn still spent the #4 overall pick this draft on a middle infielder, Nick Madrigal.  One whose game really doesn’t translate to playing anywhere but second or short.

Throw in that Madrigal profiles as a possible Gold Glove caliber second baseman, and maybe this is Hahn’s way of saying that he wants to have options ready if either Anderson or Moncada don’t look up to the defensive challenge.

There are other reasons he may have chosen Madrigal, but it’s still nice to see that Hahn added an elite bat that can also be a plus defender at one up-the-middle spot.  Maybe defense is a bit of a priority in this rebuild – it’s definitely something I’ll be on the look-out for in the coming years.

– JM wrote: Looking at his game log, Giolito’s numbers are very inconsistent, but very promising.  I like that it seems like he can bounce back!  I think he is working through things but I like what I see in the second half.

With an ERA of 6.13 and WHIP of 1.48 over 32 starts this season, Giolito has to be one of the biggest disappointments and concerns on the pitching side.  Remember, this is a kid who was the #1 pitching prospect in baseball at one point.  And then impressed with a 7-start conclusion to 2017 that featured a 2.38 ERA and .95 WHIP across 45 IP.

Yet in over a third of his 2018 starts, Giolito gave the Sox no chance to win.  We’re talking around an earned run per inning in a large collection of very bad outings.  Generally stinking it up in the early going, putting the game out of reach after the first inning or three.

It’s pretty easy to see why he was so bad, as Giolito’s control was abysmal.  He’s averaged a walk every other inning, which is brutal.  His lack of control can also be seen in the quality of hits against – the sky high doubles and home run totals he’s allowed.  Giolito is missing and then getting punished for it.

But my buddy is right that a deeper look into Giolito’s game log shows something that gets lost in the overall.  That when he’s not totally crapping the bed, this kid has made a lot of starts that put the ChiSox in a good place to win.

In fact, Giolito has spun 20 quality starts in his 39 career White Sox outings.  That’s a 51.2% rate, compared to a league average of about 42% in that same timeframe.  And while his K/9 rate is pretty middling, that’s a Sox-wide thing, as even Rodon and Lopez, guys expected to have big K numbers, are right around the same level as Giolito.

On the flip side, despite his command struggles Giolito is still getting guys out.  Opponents have only hit around .240 or so off him during his Sox tenure.  As to my friend’s other point, the big righty is showing some real mental fortitude.

He’s displayed it in-game, where in a number of appearances Giolito has gotten rocked early but fought into the 6thinning without letting things get worse.  He’s also repeatedly followed up a tough outing or two with a strong performance.

You’ll hear it repeated over and over for quite a while, “Development is not linear.”  Giolito has already been up and down a lot, going from that #1 pitching prospect designation to struggling with the Nats, getting traded, then scuffling pretty bad at AAA with the Sox.

Following that great 2017 finish with a horrible start to 2018, then cycling through repeated ups and downs is nothing new to Giolito, nor anything abnormal.  Many high-end prospects take their time putting it all together.

So yeah, I’d have liked to see Giolito prove himself to be like a Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Jon Danks, or Gavin Floyd.  Not an ace, but still a frontline guy who will pitch 200 innings of plus baseball and who will be ready to come up big when it matters.  But while that clearly didn’t happen this year, there still were just enough silver linings to hope that 2019 is when it all comes together.

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.