To say the 2021 Chicago White Sox have been injury-riddled would be a gross understatement. From season-ending ailments to extended absences to bumps and bruises, the South Siders have endured a litany of injuries to key contributors so far this season.
The long-term absences of Eloy Jimenez, Adam Engel, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, and Yasmani Grandal have been well-documented. Add in highly-touted bullpen arms Aaron Bummer, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet, and Evan Marshall missing various stretches of action, and the White Sox began to look more and more like the Charlotte Knights at certain junctures before the All-Star break.
Despite running up a novel of an injury report throughout the first half of the season, one White Sox position group has remained sufficiently healthy: the starting rotation. In fact, the White Sox have only placed two starting pitchers on the injured list all season.
On April 14, the White Sox placed Dylan Cease on the injured list as a precaution due to COVID-19 protocols. The young right-hander did not test positive for the virus and returned to the club to make his regularly scheduled start at Boston on April 18.
Also on April 18, Lance Lynn landed on the ten-day injured list (retroactive to April 17) due to a strained right trap. The big righty missed just two turns through the rotation, during which time Michael Kopech filled in admirably. Lynn returned to the mound on May 1, recorded a victory over the Cleveland Indians, and hasn't been sidelined since.
The only other ailment among the White Sox rotation did not involve an injured list stint. On April 12, Carlos Rodon was scratched from a start against Cleveland due to an upset stomach. Dallas Keuchel slotted into Rodon's spot and the White Sox walked off the Indians for a series-opening victory. Things turned out just fine for Rodon too, as he threw a no-hitter against Cleveland when he returned to the mound just two days after his initally scheduled start.
Health = Wealth
Anyone who has followed the White Sox this season knows the starting rotation has been a huge component of the team's success to date. The numbers support that notion as well.
White Sox starters have provided the most value of any rotation in baseball this year, accumulating 11.5 fWAR before the All-Star Break. The Milwaukee Brewers rank second with 10.6 fWAR from starters and all remaining clubs have gotten under 10 fWAR from their rotations. Additionally, White Sox starters rank sixth in ERA (3.39), fifth in FIP (3.57), second in K/9 (10.29), and seventh in innings pitched (486.1). Simply put, the White Sox starting rotation is getting the job done at an exceptional clip in 2021.
Carlos Rodon is putting together one hell of a breakout season (3.6 fWAR) after overcoming past injury issues and improving his delivery with help from pitching coach Ethan Katz.
Lance Lynn provides tremendous reliability (1.99 ERA) and an imposing mound presence that instills fear in opponents and confidence throughout the White Sox clubhouse.
Even in a down year compared to his breakout 2019 campaign, Lucas Giolito still has adequate strikeout potential (29.4 K%) and has eaten the most innings on the staff (104).
Dylan Cease has provided 2.0 fWAR and possesses the pitch arsenal to miss even more bats (29.5 K%) as he continues to grow during his first full 162-game MLB season.
Dallas Keuchel is far removed from the 2015 Cy Young-winning version of himself, but a veteran southpaw who induces groundballs 56.3% of the time isn't too shabby for a fifth starter.
The Best Ability is Availability
Despite the flood of injuries the White Sox have suffered among position players and bullpen arms, maintaining a healthy starting rotation is one of the main reasons the South Siders hold the best record in the American League at the All-Star Break. Good health has allowed each member of the rotation to pitch on a consistent basis, work through any struggles, and give the White Sox a chance to win on any given day.
While the injury report is highly unlikely to remain spotless as the "dog days of summer" set in, White Sox starters must continue to take care of their bodies and avoid the injured list as much as possible during the second half of the season. Michael Kopech has proven he can step in to fill a rotation spot effectively, but saving his bullets for high-leverage situations in crunch time come October is a much more appealing option than having to stretch him out in mid-August to cover starter-level innings against a non-playoff team.
Furthermore, the White Sox top trade deadline priority will likely be adding bullpen arms. Those potential acquisitions bode well for the banged-up and underperforming relief corps, but it also means the rotation likely won't receive reinforcements. Beyond utilizing Kopech, the White Sox would have to tap into unproven minor league arms to fill the void should a current member of the starting rotation land on the injured list.
Unforeseen accidents, minor pulls or tweaks, and downright unlucky afflictions will always persist as risks of the job for professional athletes. But if there's any sort of karma in the sports world, the White Sox deserve a realitively healthy home stretch after enduring more than their fair share of injuries in the first half of the season. Here's to hoping the White Sox starting rotation maintains good health while injured position players and relievers work their way back to help push this club into Soxtober.