The 2021 Chicago White Sox won 93 games on their way to an AL Central Division title, one which they won by a wide margin. There are a few things that stand out when looking back on 2021, most notably their collective pitching performance. Sox hurlers led the American League with the fewest runs allowed, making them arguably the best pitching staff in the Junior Circuit. When examining the 2021 and 2022 White Sox, it’s puzzling to see such a stark contrast in their record from one year to the next. It is mostly the same team, but there is one missing piece that really stands out. That piece was one of the best performers in the starting rotation — none other than Carlos Rodon.
Rodon was undoubtedly the biggest departure from the 2021 team. Unfortunately, the White Sox did not extend Rodon a qualifying offer and he ended up signing with the San Francisco Giants. This decision drew a great deal of criticism, but players can be replaced.
However, the White Sox front office did not replace him in a meaningful way. A quick glance at the pichers filling those starts this season will tell you so. This is why I believe that the 2022 White Sox would be in a much better position to contend for a division title with Rodon in the mix.
Where It All Started
Carlos Rodon came to the White Sox as a first-round draft pick in 2014. He was the best pitching prospect to emerge from the collegiate ranks that year. Projected as the No. 1 overall pick entering the season, his stock dropped slightly (and when I say slightly I mean just two spots) because he was too heavily reliant on his slider. Nevertheless, it worked out for the White Sox as they selected him third overall.
Rodon quickly moved through the Sox minor league system. In 2014, the year he was drafted, he made the jump from High-A Winston Salem all the way to Triple-A Charlotte. It was reasonable at that point for White Sox to call him up because he was in fact ready, but they chose not to. Rodon started the 2015 season in Triple-A and quickly earned a promotion to the big league club after two starts.
Injuries Pile Up
During his White Sox career from 2015 through 2020, Rodon displayed flashes of brilliance, looking unhittable at times. However, he was still a bit of a work in progress while he refined his game. And multiple trips to the injured list stunted his development.
Rodon’s 2017 campaign ended with shoulder surgery. Things took a wrong turn in 2019 when he needed season-ending Tommy John surgery. In any case, the sum of the good and bad showed that Rodon could be, at the very least, a solid No. 3 or 4 starter at the MLB level — if he could stay healthy.
Rodon was non-tendered after the 2019 season but the Sox re-signed him to a one-year deal. He pitched to an ERA over eight in just four games (two starts) during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. The White Sox brought him back on another one-year deal in 2021 with minimalized expectations. That time around, the combination of good health and a new pitching coach in Ethan Katz reversed the trajectory of Rodon’s career.
It All Comes Together
Carlos Rodon was a revelation in 2021. He was able to consistently throw strikes with his fastball and slider, the latter of which is amongst the best in the game. Pairing that with a 90s fastball that can reach triple digits was almost unfair. No one could’ve expected a turnaround of that nature from Rodon. I certainly didn’t. His no-hitter on April 14 was a clear sign of things to come from the lefty.
Rodon made 24 starts, pitched to an ERA of 2.37, and recorded a 5.1 bWAR during his resurgent 2021 campaign. When he became a free agent in the offseason, the White Sox decided against extending him a qualifying offer.
A Front-Office Misstep
Rodon’s qualifying offer would have cost the Sox $18 million for the 2022 season. With their decision to move on, the White Sox forwent a chance to receive any draft compensation and also lost one of their best pitchers. There is some reasoning behind that decision when evaluating his lengthy injury history. And it is easier to stomach the loss when replacing that pitcher with an equal or close to equal player.
But the White Sox did not do that either.
The Ripple Effect
Nevertheless, the Chicago White Sox chose to keep Dallas Keuchel in the 2022 rotation for eight starts before DFA’ing him. Let’s be honest, we all knew Keuchel’s season would end that way.
The club also turned to Michael Kopech, who had never pitched more than 70 innings in a season, to step into the rotation. We knew going into 2022 he would have innings restrictions.
Magnifying the problem was an injury to Lance Lynn, who missed the first two months of 2022. Adding insult to injury, quite literally, the White Sox failed to land Sean Manaea via trade. Prior to the former A’s starter landing in San Diego, the rumored asking price for Manaea was Andrew Vaughn, which is a trade not worth making. The Sox proceeded to sign free agent Johnny Cueto, who missed Spring Training and needed time to ramp up.
In the meantime, the White Sox turned to the likes of Vince Velasquez, Davis Martin, and Jimmy Lambert to fill in. Add the well-past-his-prime Keuchel to the mix and the results were not pretty. Keuchel made eight starts, pitching to a 2-5 record and 7.88 ERA. Velasquez has also made eight starts, notching a 2-3 record with a 5.35 ERA. Lambert is 0-2 in two starts with a 5.40 ERA. Davis, a rookie, is 0-2 in his two starts with a 4.35 ERA.
The Plan Backfires
I can understand some of the reasoning behind the White Sox’s strategy this season. They would try to get by with a collection of starters until they found a more viable long-term solution, which they now have in Johnny Cueto.
Most assumed the White Sox offense would be much better than they have shown to this point. Simply put, they aren’t producing. Instead, the unit has been nothing short of abysmal over halfway through the season.
A lack of scoring from the offense and quality outings from their starting pitchers have hindered the White Sox significantly. I find it hard to believe that they would not be in a much more favorable position with Carlos Rodon in the fold at this point.
This is further illustrated in Rodon’s 2022 results thus far. The 29-year-old southpaw has been exceptional despite all the health concerns surrounding him. In his most recent start, he pitched a complete game for his eighth win of the season. The radar gun hit 99 MPH on his final pitch, which resulted in his 12th strikeout. His ERA now sits at 2.70 on the season.
Unfortunately, the San Francisco Giants have endured a similar fate to that of the Chicago White Sox this season. Coming off a 107-win 2021 campaign, the Giants are only two games above .500 at this point.
Second Half of 2022
The Chicago White Sox have finally stabilized their rotation. Now that Lance Lynn is healthy, he joins a group that features Johnny Cueto, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, and Dylan Cease. These names comprise a strong starting five, but they didn’t fully materialize until mid-June.
Going forward, the South Siders can only hope that they have finally found a long-term solution to the starting rotation’s biggest hole, the departure of Carlos Rodon. Hopefully, we don’t look back on a lost season that may have been caused by just one error in the offseason plan put forth by the White Sox front office.
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