White Sox Wishlist: An Extra Arm
As we head to the 2020 season, one area the White Sox can and should still look to improve is their pitching staff.
Last week, I took some time to talk about ways the Sox could fill out their roster around the edges to add depth and value to the club. Since then, the hated, and I mean HATED, Twins have added Josh Donaldson to man the hot corner. While this move in and of itself doesn’t sink the 2020 White Sox, it certainly does widen the gap between the two teams whether people want to admit it or not. I touched on my belief the Sox should add depth/platoon pieces at 2B and RF to compliment the roster and give them additional Major League competency, while not hoping and praying that inexperienced back-of-the-roster players can help a team that is on the periphery of contention.
The final area the 2020 White Sox can still make tangible improvements is with the pitching staff. No matter how many times everyone tries to tell me they have enough guys coming back from an injury that will be able to fill spots and log innings, I’m not convinced. There is simply too much variance with the pitchers that are looking to comprise this roster on March 26th. There is no question that starters Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and even Carlos Rodon have extremely high ceilings. But the latter two are coming off of Tommy John surgery and will have their respective workloads managed in 2020.
Their bullpen is a place of even more uncertainty. Alex Colome defied his peripheral stats to log a quality 2019 season based on his ERA and save percentage, but there are troubling signs underneath. Jace Fry showed remarkable inconsistency, while newcomers Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero showed promise but also lack Major League pedigree to be reasonably counted on for a contending team. The minor league system is filled with some intriguing options in Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Burr, and Caleb Frare. However, all these names struggled with health or performance in 2019, leaving them as anything but sure things.
If we look at the rest of the division to see where the Sox stack up, things are pretty clear.
Despite the significant upside with some of the names mentioned above, this team is still short when it comes to pitching. So how can they address this deficiency? I was seemingly the conductor of the Alex Wood bandwagon, but that option is no longer possible as the southpaw decided to return to Los Angeles and join the Dodgers for a mere $4 million guarantee. Wood served as a quality Major League option that should’ve challenged Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease for their rotation spots, and at worst been a deadly weapon similar to Aaron Bummer out of the bullpen.
So with Wood off the board, where can the Sox turn? I believe the best option at this time on the free-agent market is 32-year-old Collin McHugh. McHugh has spent the last seven seasons with the cheaters down in Houston, the last two of which McHugh functioned mainly out of the bullpen aside from eight starts in 2019 necessitated by injuries to the Astros’ rotation.
McHugh’s versatility could give the Sox added flexibility to go back and forth between the rotation and bullpen if needed. That said, I think his best utility would be in the bullpen for the 2020 White Sox. Since transitioning to the bullpen, McHugh has done a solid job of limiting hard contact and has seen his fastball/curveball combination play up in shorter stints.
As you can see above, McHugh has performed admirably in his short time coming out of the pen. His 2019 season numbers showed similar splits:
There was a noticeable uptick in BB/9 overall for McHugh in 2019, particularly as a reliever. This is something worth monitoring going forward as the Sox already have plenty of reliever options that love to issue free passes. If he could get back to his career norms, this is a pitcher that would be a viable option for our Sox.
McHugh is unique in that he doesn’t represent your prototypical reliever in 2020. He’s not going to come in and blow hitters away with an upper 90s fastball/slider combination. What he lacks in velocity, McHugh makes up for with high spin rates on his fastball up in the zone and a hard, biting overhand curveball. Statcast metrics are pretty favorable for this pitch mix:
Overall, this data is pretty encouraging. His expected metrics would look even better if you extract his eight disastrous starts made in 2019. All things considered, McHugh does a terrific job of limiting hard contact, which is something that the Sox could use coming out of the bullpen in 2020.
Given the volatility of the Sox 2020 pitching staff, adding another competent pitcher with a track record of success in the league would be optimal. Collin McHugh represents one such option that the Sox should work to bring in to complement their current group of hurlers. His addition could help to provide a little bit of reasonable certainty to the staff and help to close the gap within the rest of the division.