Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale: fantasy ace or pitfall pitcher?
The electric southpaw's 2012 was a tale of two halves, obviously. There was really no better hurler prior to the All-Star break (2.19 ERA, 8.59 K/9, 2.19 BB/9, 0.44 HR/9 and .255 BABIP against). After it, few were tougher to stomach (James McDonald comes to mind), considering the credibility they'd built up (4.03 ERA, 9.47 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 1.41 HR/9 and .338 BABIP against).
Recall that his heaviest workload as a pro, prior to last year, came as a reliever in 2011 (71 frames), and that he pitched only 103 innings as a starter in his final season at Florida Gulf Coast University, in 2010, along with 33 2/3 stanzas in relief as a pro that year. There were bound to be some corrections of his phenomenal first-half rates, and the potential effects of burnout were only going to compound them. The scare caused by elbow tenderness he experienced in May didn't help matters. The White Sox gave him an occasional extra day or two of rest in the dog days of summer, but they didn't shut him down.
Fantasy owners are probably taking a bigger risk than necessary if they're willing to entrust Sale with their top pitching spot in his age-24 season. The Verducci Effect is a fable, but the lefty's innings total did increase by more than 120, not 30, from the previous year. We can't know how Sale's arm and body will react until they do.
Still, it's worth noting that Sale's peripherals didn't take a nosedive the way his results began to do so last season. The aim of his offseason workout regimen is to increase his endurance, and it's definitely not a bad thing that he'll be skipping the World Baseball Classic. His superb control rate contributed to a 15.72 pitch-per-inning rate, making him one of the majors' more efficient starters, in a vein similar to Cole Hamels'. Sale has the skills of a future Cy Young Award-winner, so one can't pass him up easily.
How long will Paul Konerko defy the decrees of declining productivity?
The South Side first baseman may have begun to succumb to them prior to last season, but his 2012 results - a .298 average with a mere 26 home runs and 22 doubles in 533 at-bats - sounded an alarm. His extra-base power, along with his fly-ball rate (from 45.0 percent to 40.6 percent to 36.5 percent), has been on the lam for two years.
The easy thing to do is excuse his output because of a wrist ailment caused by a bone chip. For the second time in as many seasons, Konerko had a minor procedure to displace the fragment, which simply alleviated most of the pain he was experiencing. He had the bone chip surgically removed after last season, so it should no longer be an issue. But according to Konerko, he'd dealt with it from 2009 on without much of a problem; it didn't affect his swing other than during the time frame around which he had last year's in-season surgery.
The good news regarding the slugger's falling numbers: The health of his wrist is, more than likely, no longer part of the equation. The bad news: It's impossible to determine precisely how much age and health are each responsible for the drop-off. Given the performance record of other players at his age who didn't have synthetic assistance, Father Time has to carry a good portion of that burden.
Konerko is entering his age-37 and perhaps last campaign with the ChiSox; his contract expires after this season. As part of his last hurrah in Chi-town, he may deliver that good value at first base fantasy owners have come to expect. If they're wagering their seasons on it, though, they'd better have good insurance.
For Dunn, 41 home runs at U.S. Cellular Field a couple of years ago would've been no problem. His .204 batting average, on the heels of a career-worst .159 mark, suggests that he hasn't ended his descent so much as delayed it. The dispersal of his batted balls and his terrible hit rates from the past two seasons are becoming the norm. His control of the strike zone hardly improved from 2011 to 2012; about 30 percent of his fly balls became souvenirs, and that might be the biggest statistical difference.
Obviously, some of that success is rooted in Dunn's ability to go deep, which he proved hasn't evaporated. But the stats also indicate his skill base's erosion, which means that his devolution will continue, albeit perhaps slowly, and the 33-year-old's playing time will be at risk because of it. Don't overbid.
For Rios, good health and a new approach, which emphasized the use of all fields, worked wonders. For prospective 2013 owners, the former is never a given, obviously, but the latter should provide some comfort that he won't slip back into this every-other-year pattern that has pushed some roto players into "I won't touch him" territory.
The soon-to-be 32-year-old has long carried with him a poor disposition, calling into question his dedication to the game. Rios isn't in it for the championships, or at least it has seemed that way for most of his career. But his commitment to improve his approach last season gives rise to hope that he's maturing, and there's no reason to believe he's lost the ability to bat .280 and go 20-20 yet. Don't pay for last year's numbers and Rios may not disappoint quite like he has in seasons past.
Why was Addison Reed's stint as closer so frustrating?
The right-hander gave up hits at an alarming rate (.261 BAA, .323 BABIP against) last season on his way to a 4.75 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He's been unable to translate his outstanding command rate from the minors to the majors. With roughly two-thirds of his pitches resulting in strikes and his phenomenal minor league record, it seems safe to deduce that he's around the plate plenty often, so what is the problem?
As 2012 wound down, reports surfaced that Reed's velocity was dipping, and a knee-jerk reaction might be that, physically, something wasn't right. But he was throwing a lot of stressful innings (in terms of batters faced and number of pitches), so it'd be understandable that by August and September, he'd be worn down.
Judging from PitchFX data, Reed's repertoire needs refinement in order for him to have success against MLB competition. His infrequent use of his changeup (roughly one-tenth of the time) probably didn't do much to keep the opposition from catching up with some of his fastballs, which are otherwise superb weapons. Fangraphs writer Bradley Woodrum discovered that the big culprit might be Reed's easily punishable slide pieces, though. The 24-year-old lives around the zone so much that it's kind of a problem.
Reed doesn't figure to end fantasy owners' disappointment until he dictates to hitters more often. He may have a ways to go to understand that a pitch which ends up outside the strike zone has a purpose. Roto owners will have to put some faith in outside forces like Don Cooper, one of the more respected pitching coaches in baseball, if they're to invest. Reed may be elite closer material, but, as 2012 showed, he's not close to arrival. It could come quickly, but if it doesn't, the upside is tempting enough that he may warrant a bit of a reach to be a roto manager's second reliever.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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