Monthly Archives: December 2020

Dylan Cease Jersey

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CHICAGO — Dylan Cease provided a very real and honest perspective when asked about his 2020 season. Real and honest, but with great hope for the immediate future.

“I consider it to be bad,” Cease said. “I competed so there’s that. But yeah, I wasn’t happy with it. … Last season was pretty disappointing for me, but I’m not going into 2021 with a negative attitude by any means. I’m looking forward to it.”

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Cease, who slotted in third or fourth after Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, finished 5-4 with a 4.01 ERA over 12 starts and 58 1/3 innings in 2020. It was the 24-year-old’s second season in the Majors, but he has yet to make a full season’s worth of starts, with just 26 combined.

So, there’s nothing but development ahead for the right-hander whose 97.5 mph average four-seamer velocity ranked him fifth highest in 2020, per Statcast. Cease already has begun work with new pitching coach Ethan Katz, starting with a 40-minute talk during the first week Katz was hired.

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They believe a great deal of Cease’s struggles were related to his lower half.

“Just pretty much not utilizing it correctly,” Cease said. “If you are not using your lower half correctly, everything else is going to be off.”

“We’ve all seen the flashes of what his stuff is capable of doing when it’s all aligned,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “And quite frankly, I’m excited to see him after a period of time working with Ethan Katz and seeing where that leads us.”

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Before the 2020 season even started, it seemed the White Sox would go as far as the starting pitching behind the reliable 1-2 punch of Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel would allow them to.

And that’s exactly how things played out, the White Sox ousted from the playoffs in three games without a third starting-pitching option to depend on.

The front office has already done significant work to solve that problem ahead of a 2021 campaign with World Series aspirations, trading for Lance Lynn, about as dependable a veteran arm as you’ll find in the game. But again, the difference between a strong top three and a championship-caliber rotation will rest on what the arms behind those three can deliver.

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RELATED: Ethan Katz: Garrett Crochet will be big part of Sox in 2021

That’s where new pitching coach Ethan Katz comes in. His main objective in his first year as a major league pitching coach? Taking some of the White Sox young arms from unproven to guys new manager Tony La Russa can confidently call on for starts in the postseason.

Though Katz has multiple pupils, including Michael Kopech and Reynaldo López, perhaps no one will be under a bigger microscope in 2021 than Dylan Cease.

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Cease shouldn’t be expected to be a finished product at this point. He doesn’t even have a full season’s worth of big league starts on his resume, with just 26 of them over the past two years. But Cease’s 2020 campaign was marked by struggles. He kept his ERA down — finishing with a 4.01 mark that was a vast improvement from the 5.79 number he finished with in 2019 — but spent the entire year getting into too many jams, issuing too many walks and giving up too many home runs.

Those are the problems Katz needs to solve if the White Sox big three in the rotation is going to turn into a big four.

Well, Katz and Cease have already started working toward accomplishing just that.

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“He’s working extremely diligently right now. Our communication right now, we’re going back and forth almost every day or every other day. He’s working, he’s putting in the work to put himself in that position. … I think he’s very close,” Katz told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I have a lot of things, but I also know I don’t want to (be) like, ‘Bam, here’s everything,’ and I lose him. So we’re kind of working on that delivery right now as the main focus to be able to propel his stuff and be consistent, and that right now is our main focus.

“As he continues to get better and better and he feels good about it, we’ll add on another layer and another layer and another layer, and it’s just going to keep going and going.

“When we see a product where everyone’s going to be like, ‘That’s the guy we’ve been looking for,’ I don’t have an answer. But I’m going to strive to make that happen right away.”

If Katz can do that, if Cease can match his tantalizing stuff with consistent on-field success, then the White Sox rotation would take another huge step toward being championship caliber, making the team’s World Series hopes for 2021 all the more realistic.

• What’s next for White Sox? Hahn: ‘We’ll see’

Doing drills with the core velocity belt, a tool adeptly employed by Giolito, is just one of the changes that Cease and Katz have discussed.

“Ethan is very analytical and up to date with all the new technology,” said Cease, who also praised the work done with Don Cooper, the previous White Sox pitching coach since 2002. “He’s got a lot of ideas and he’s got a track record. Those two things right there make it very exciting.

“He sent me video. As soon as I get core velocity, I’ll be FaceTiming him. There’s a pretty good chance I’m going to go out to him at some point this offseason so he can be a little more hands on and I can work with him in person.”

Fastball command became Cease’s biggest issue in 2020, as he ranked second in the Majors with 34 walks against 44 strikeouts, and he had an especially rough finish to the season by allowing 14 earned runs on 19 hits and 16 walks over 22 1/3 innings in five September starts. Cease had a particularly strange outing on Sept. 20 in Cincinnati, in that he didn’t allow a hit and struck out five over three-plus innings and 80 pitches, but he also walked seven, hit a batter and yielded three earned runs in a 7-3 loss.

It was the sort of finish erasing Cease from the possibility of a Game 3 start in the American League Wild Card Series in Oakland.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t know where the ball is going, it’s not a great feeling,” Cease said. “So, in those moments, I’m just competing and trying to focus and do the best I can.

“You have to be realistic. I can’t have a start like those and just be happy and pleased with it. I know I have to execute my pitches and I have to find a way to do that. I try to take that objective view of it. Just really try to figure out what I have to do to improve. I’m excited to work with Ethan and figure out some solutions.”

The acquisition of Lance Lynn takes pressure off young starters such as Cease, Michael Kopech and even Reynaldo López. Cease certainly has the stuff to excel, but he’ll be working to find the execution to optimize his mound work.

“The kid’s got a great arsenal,” Hahn said. “If we were so inclined to put him out there, he’d be a very popular trade target because the industry sees very similar to what we see. We look forward to him developing as a White Sox here over the coming months and years.”

“This offseason is really important for me. Like I said, I’m not super thrilled with last year’s performance so I plan on putting in work,” Cease said. “Really, it comes down to just executing and being able to throw my pitches for strikes. I’ve got the pitches. I’ve got the stuff. Now, it’s just molding it and using it.”

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The better case for Hendriks is what he can do for the bullpen’s big picture in high leverage situations. Both the White Sox (32-0) and A’s (24-0) were undefeated with ninth-inning leads in 2020. Hell, the Indians were in between them at 28-0, but that didn’t stop them from releasing Brad Hand, rather than paying their closer a previously reasonable net amount of $9 million for his option (he was in line for a $10 million salary, but Cleveland had to pay his $1 million buyout).

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The separation comes innings earlier:

Leading after White Sox Indians Athletics
Seventh 27-3 28-2 25-0
Eighth 30-2 28-2 24-0
Ninth 32-0 28-0 24-0
Perhaps the White Sox could promote Codi Heuer to the closer role, and he could be just as successful as a more proven option for a fraction of the price. Were that to happen, I wouldn’t question whether Heuer has the mettle for the last three outs, but whether the Sox have the depth to compensate for his absence in earlier innings.

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And they might! When healthy, Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet are as tough as it gets from the left side, and it’d be hard to ask for more from Evan Marshall the last two years, or Matt Foster in his rookie season. If Tyler Johnson or Zack Burdi can finish the development on their sliders at the highest level, depth shouldn’t be a problem. It’d be nice to add a right-hander with a track record, but he wouldn’t necessarily have to come at Hendriks’ cost.

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Health just happens to be a sizable caveat. Four of those six players spent time on the injured list the last two years, and Game 3 of the wild card series pivoted toward disaster on Crochet departing with forearm issues. That adds a little more urgency to the idea of reinforcing the bullpen.

So what about cost? Again, Hendriks seems like overkill at a four-year commitment, but here’s where Hahn’s ugly free agent track record looms over the proceedings. In each of the last two winters, Hahn has tried to introduce one of those proven righties to add bulk to Rick Renteria’s medium- and high-leverage options, and both were disasters. Kelvin Herrera came to the White Sox on a two-year, $18 million deal after the 2018 season. He posted a 6.54 ERA over his White Sox career, which ended early in the 2020 season when every appearance only made him come closer to his vesting option.

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The White Sox made a similar, less costly move in signing Steve Cishek for one year and $6 million, but he too was designated for assignment before the end of his contract after delivering the exact opposite of his profile.

The Sox’s issues with the bullpen are the same as the rest of the roster, in that they struggle solving problems with free agents unless they spend a problem-solving amount of money on free agents. Hendriks would require that kind of investment, which at least gives increased assurance that he’d give the White Sox something over his time on the South Side.

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I still don’t think Hendriks is necessary, at least at the expense of upgrades at DH or starter depth. The White Sox aren’t a year away from contending, but they are a year away from being rock-solid in their projectability, so I’d rather see those kind of resources directed to their most acute pain points. Lynn is great because he addresses the issues with rotation depth and innings. Adam Eaton doesn’t quite do the same for right field, or their issues hitting right-handed pitching, due to his injury history.

If the White Sox’s problem-solving money is limited, I’d rather use it to solve the active problems, rather than speculative sore spots. Just like clutch-hitting woes can be offset by increasing the number of scoring chances, any potential issues stemming from the lack of a name-brand closer can be first softened by generating more leads, then revisited at the trade deadline.

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It’s been a long, slow ascent for Burdi after his post-surgery velocity tanked into the low-90s (he had TJ in 2017). Once parked in the 97-102 range, he was living 90-92 early on in the 2018 Fall League and was shut down with fatigue. In 2019, he was back in the 94-97 range, topping out at 99, then sat 96-99 and touched 100 during his 2020 big league debut. Burdi was knocked around in a limited major league jaunt and his velocity slowly declined (though always remained good) during that stretch. Just based on his — and perhaps unfairly, his brother’s — injury history, I think the industry will always value Burdi a little lower than his talent, which is that of a late-inning reliever.

It’s odd and perhaps a bit of a yellow flag that he was hit so hard in 2020, but I’m still betting on the combination of velocity and two good secondary pitches and project Burdi as a third bullpen banana. His slider is short and cuttery but it’s really hard, in the 88-92 mph range, and it has biting two-plane movement when it’s located right. His low-90s changeup also has bat-missing tail. All three pitches are capable of missing bats, Burdi just needs to execute more consistently. During his big league action this year, I noticed he’d alter his position on the rubber depending on the handedness of the opposing hitter. I don’t know how long Burdi has been doing that or if it’s a thing he’s yet comfortable with, so perhaps he experienced a learning/feel curve in 2020. (Alternate site, MLB)

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The Chicago White Sox are in great shape with Aaron Bummer going forward.
Aaron Bummer is, when you think about it, one of the best players on the entire Chicago White Sox roster. He is a very good pitcher that has only gotten better as his career has gone along here. He made his debut with the White Sox as a 23-year-old in 2017. Here in 2020, he is 27 and probably the best relief pitcher on the team. He can be one of those relief pitchers that you use in all situations which makes him even more valuable.

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His issue in 2020 was an injury. In the few games he got in he was amazing. He appeared in nine games where he had 9.1 innings pitched. It is not a great sample size at all but he did have a 0.96 ERA and a 1.071 WHIP. He had a remarkable 14 strikeouts in those 9.1 innings which is a very good number. He wasn’t credited with a save at any point but he did earn a win to have a 1-0 record. The fact that his WAR was 0.3 says a lot about how good he is when he is in there.

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The biceps strain injury had Bummer on the 45-day IL. It was an injury that hindered his season in terms of games played but he was awesome when he was in. It is something that we have to hope doesn’t happen regularly because the White Sox bullpen is that much better when he is involved.

Final Grade: C
Bummer gets a C and that is probably fair in the eyes of most people. It isn’t an A because he barely played and it isn’t anything lower because he was so good when he did play. If he would have played all year long, he might have probably been in the A to A+ range based on his pace.

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RELATED STORY: Three reasons for the White Sox to go for Kris Bryant
2021 Outlook:
You can expect more of the same if Bummer is healthy in 2021. He is going to be in his age-27 season so there is a whole lot left in the tank. We don’t know if Alex Colome is going to be back to be the closer but if he is not, Bummer might assume that role. He is also the perfect setup man or long reliever if the White Sox need a few outs. No matter what, he is going to be in the bullpen for the Sox and making an impact in a good amount of games. If they make the playoffs, he is going to be one of the biggest keys to success.

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The Chicago White Sox saw Codi Heuer have a fantastic rookie season in 2020.
Codi Heuer attended Wichita State University before he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the sixth round of the 2018 MLB Draft. Now, at 24 years old, he already has his MLB debut behind him which went very well for him. He was so good in his first year with the White Sox and they now believe he is a big part of their future. Hopefully, he can learn from what went well in 2020 and advance himself even further in 2021.

Heuer had to make his debut during the 2020 60-game season that existed because of COVID-19. He probably didn’t anticipate doing that in an empty building with no fans but it is better than nothing. He managed to get into 21 games with 23.2 innings pitched. It was a great start for him to get his feet wet in the league.

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In those 21 games, he threw 25 strikeouts and had a WAR of 0.8. He accumulated a record of 3-0 and had one save throughout the season. His ERA was 1.52 and his WHIP was 0.887 which are both phenomenal. It wasn’t the biggest sample size in the world but it was certainly enough for people to be excited about his future.

2020 grade: A
The Chicago White Sox didn’t expect Heuer to be this good. He exceeded any expectations that you should have for a young pitcher going into his first season. His numbers were off the charts good and he showed no signs of slowing down in the regular season. He has great stuff and it should continue for many years.

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HOT: Losing James McCann to the Mets is tough
2021 outlook:
The Chicago White Sox are hoping to have a very good bullpen in 2021. We don’t know what the closer situation is going to be but there are a few options. They might bring back Alex Colome, add a guy like Liam Hendriks, or promote someone from within. They will also have great pitchers like Evan Marshall, Jace Fry, and Aaron Bummer to lead the way.

With all of that talent around, Codi Heuer should be able to succeed again. If he is able to put up similar numbers in 2021, this bullpen is going to be scary good. We expect the offense to score a lot of runs so if the pitching can keep up they will be a World Series contender. Heuer is going to be a big piece of that puzzle.