Chicago White Sox starters are going down but we shouldn’t be surprised

On Opening Day, with the Chicago White Sox boasting a 3-0 lead, starting pitcher Lucas Giolito prematurely left the game after four innings pitched. Over the weekend, it was discovered that Giolito suffered an abdominal strain and will miss at least the next two starts as he heads to the Injured List.

Giolito joins a growing list of White Sox pitchers, particularly starters, on the Injured List.

Lance Lynn was the crushing blow to the rotation as the ace will miss multiple weeks, needing knee surgery while Garrett Crochet, will miss the 2022 season with Tommy John surgery. Already, the White Sox are missing their top two of their top three starters from last season, and considering Carlos Rodon departed in the offseason, the team is without their top three pitchers from last season.

The pile-up of injuries puts the White Sox at a disadvantage to start the season and could ultimately be the team’s Achilles heel in April and beyond. However, the injuries shouldn’t be shocking. The loss of starting pitchers should have been anticipated by White Sox fans and baseball fans alike.

Shortened Spring Training

This is the most direct and explainable reason for injuries across baseball to starting pitchers. The MLB lockout ending in early March forced the abbreviated spring training with only four weeks to prepare for the season rather than six or more.

For the second time in three years, the MLB shifted to a shortened spring training. The last time, it was in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic preempting the shortened training window and a 60-game season. This time, however, the lockout is the culprit, and the consequences are eerily similar.

Spring training, for the most part, helps the pitchers. It’s no coincidence that pitchers and catchers report early. Starting pitchers use all those weeks to slowly build up to prepare for the marathon that is a 162-game season. The limited weeks left pitchers unprepared, especially early on for this season and it’s showing across the league.

The New York Mets lost Jacob deGrom right before the season. Likewise, the San Diego Padres starter Blake Snell is heading to the injured list with an adductor injury while Tampa Bay Rays starter Luis Patino will miss multiple weeks with an oblique strain.

The White Sox injuries, at least to Lynn and Giolito, are not arm-related. Lynn is having knee surgery while Giolito is dealing with aggravation in his abdomen. However, the White Sox starting pitching injuries are not an exclusive issue, within the context of the MLB at least. The next reason however likely explains why the White Sox lost their two primary starters early on this season.

White Sox Age in Rotation

Oftentimes, starting pitchers start to decline and face a surplus of injuries once they reach 30-year-old and beyond. Yes, there are pitchers like Satchel Paige, Randy Johnson, and Charlie Morton that can pitch for years and age gracefully. Overall, starting pitchers start to decline in their 30s and injuries eventually cost them their careers.

Lynn is 34 years old and turning 35 midway through the season. Despite rediscovering himself in a Cy Young caliber season last year, he’s in the twilight of his career. The veteran pitcher didn’t suffer a throwing arm injury but after dealing with right knee inflammation last season, the right knee injury is starting to cost him.

Lynn will have to start throwing on flat ground before returning to the mound just to come back to the team this season. This is the 11th season in Lynn’s career and one where the White Sox have to be cautious about rushing him back to the rotation as another setback would be costly.

While Giolito is 27-years-old and in the prime of his pitching career, the White Sox possess multiple pitchers in their 30s along with Lynn. Dallas Keuchel is 34 while relievers Liam Hendriks and Joe Kelly are 33 and 34 respectively. The White Sox, like many teams, were running the risk of injuries to pitchers in the latter half of their careers with the Lynn injury being the one that stands out.

Where The White Sox Go from Here

For starters, the White Sox will now rely heavily on Dylan Cease to step up as the ace in the rotation. Cease had a strong opening start and will be the number one starting pitcher with Michael Kopech joining him in the rotation, as he did in the opening weekend series against the Detroit Tigers. However, the injuries instantly put the back end of the rotation and the starting pitching depth to the test.

A Quick Glance At The Other Starters

This is where Vince Velasquez, Dallas Keuchel, and Reynaldo Lopez play a major role in the White Sox roster. Velasquez is the only new face of the three but has the most to gain in the rotation.

Velasquez was acquired in the offseason after a brutal 2021. The former Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres starter finished a season where he had a .471 expected opponent Slugging Percentage (xSLG) and a .368 weighted opponent On Base Average (wOBA). Both stats were among the worst for starters in the MLB. However, Velasquez has the opportunity to find his pitches again, notably his fastball which he threw only 49% of the time last season.

Keuchel is the veteran in the rotation who used to be one of the best pitchers in the American League. However, Keuchel is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. As a result, he will likely remain a back-of-the-rotation starter that won’t take a lot of innings.

With Lopez likely playing a hybrid role, going from starter to reliever, it’s likely the White Sox will move him into the rotation for the next month. Lopez however needs to expand his pitch arsenal as he hopes to establish himself in the rotation. In one inning of relief against the Tigers, Lopez allowed a run but notably only threw fastballs and sliders in his appearance.

With the three available starters for the White Sox all having their glaring question marks, the backend of the rotation suddenly becomes a weakness in the roster. This could prompt the White Sox to bring Johnny Cueto up to the rotation sooner than anticipated. Cueto is not going to be anything special in the rotation but will help the team deal with injuries.

White Sox Bullpen

Moreover, the injuries bring the bullpen to the spotlight. The White Sox bullpen was already going to be relied on with their starters on inning limits, especially Michael Kopech. However, the bullpen is now an essential part of the White Sox success this season.

The 162-game season always tests the depth of every roster. Injuries are a part of the game and the White Sox have seen firsthand how the injuries can impact the roster. However, the White Sox also have the depth to compensate for the injuries and a bullpen that can accommodate a questionable rotation.

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