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John Dewan's Stat of the Week

Stat of the Week: White Sox Bolster Their Pitching Staff

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The 2020 White Sox snapped a streak of seven straight losing seasons by making the playoffs, where they lost to the Athletics in the Wild Card Round.

While the Hot Stove has been largely cool this winter, the White Sox have made an aggressive push to better their 2020 showing. In addition to a managerial change that resulted in Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa taking the helm, they have made two marquee pitching acquisitions, trading for Lance Lynn and agreeing to a three-year deal with free agent Liam Hendriks.

What Lynn Brings

Lynn recorded back-to-back top-six finishes in the AL Cy Young race for sub-.500 Rangers teams the last two seasons. He has made at least 30 starts five times, pitched at least 200 innings three times, and finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA four times. He led the majors with 84 innings pitched in the shortened 2020 season, posting a 3.32 ERA.

Lynn is heavily reliant on his fastball, which he typically throws 93 to 94 MPH. He threw it 68% of the time in 2020, a percentage that ranked highest among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched but was actually a career-low for him. He’s thrown it 70% or more in every other season in his career. The payoff for heavy usage is that Lynn’s 244 strikeouts with his fastball the last two seasons are easily the most in the majors. Gerrit Cole ranks second with 215.

Lynn joins a White Sox starting rotation that ranked fourth in the AL in ERA last season. He’ll team up with Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito to form a top-three that could rival almost any team in MLB.

The Bill James Handbook 2021 projects a decline in effectiveness for Lynn, who turns 34 in May. He’s projected for 33 starts, a 3.98 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 204 innings.

One other potential concern: He doesn’t field his position well. Over the last three seasons, Lynn ranks next-to-last among pitchers in Defensive Runs Saved (-10), ahead of only Noah Syndergaard (-12).

What Hendriks Brings

Hendriks was an elite closer the last two seasons. He recorded 39 saves, pitched to a 1.79 ERA, and averaged more than 13 strikeouts per 9 innings. The White Sox experienced Hendriks’ dominance in the Wild Card round as he finished both of Oakland’s wins against them, with eight strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings combined in those two contests.

Similar to Lynn, Hendriks is predominantly a fastball pitcher. He’s thrown it better than 70% of the time in each of the last five seasons. Hendriks’ fastball can be a dominant pitch (opponents hit .200 against it last season; MLB batting average vs fastballs was .269) but his curveball and slider can also function as outstanding putaway pitches. Last season, opponents were 2-for-27 in at-bats ending with a Hendriks curveball or slider. They missed on 29 of their 54 swings against those pitches.

Hendriks steps into the role filled by Alex Colomé last season. Colomé, also a free agent, was likewise a top closer last season, recording 12 saves and an 0.81 ERA for the White Sox.

Hendriks’ projection in The Bill James Handbook 2021 is for a jump in ERA to 2.86 with 36 saves in 77 innings pitched. Much like with Lynn, there is hope that he can match his past performance, but the most realistic expectation should temper that a little bit.

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