White Sox excited about 2010 rotation
But Cooper cautions it's all hype until the work is done
CHICAGO -- To listen to the White Sox glowing reviews concerning their starting rotation entering 2010, it sounds as if this bunch assembled might be as understatedly spectacular as the front five from 2005.
And there's a parade through downtown Chicago -- in front of an adoring 2.5 million fans, along with a World Series trophy -- as a testament to that particular group of talented arms.
"I've never had this feeling before going into an offseason," said general manager Ken Williams of the high-quality starting rotation he already had in place entering October. "You are as good as you can possibly be, one through five. Actually, one through six."
"I don't know if I've ever been as excited as I am going into a season with the starting staff we have," White Sox left-handed ace Mark Buehrle said.
"Jake Peavy and [Mark] Buehrle, [John] Danks, [Gavin] Floyd and [Freddy] Garcia?" said Gordon Beckham, listing off the rotation he will be supporting at his new second-base defensive position. "Come on. They all can pitch."
The Red Sox starting trio of John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett has a more powerful presence than the White Sox main three of Peavy, Buehrle and either Floyd or Danks. The Yankees' trio of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte is coming off an impressive World Series championship run during which they started all 15 postseason contests, and now adds Javier Vazquez to the mix.
In terms of absolute rotation talent, though, adding "Big Game" Garcia and rookie Daniel Hudson to the opening four gives the White Sox one Cy Young winner, eight combined All-Star selections and the deepest rotation in all the American League. At least, it looks this way on paper.
That mysterious paper doesn't seem to be as impressive to pitching coach Don Cooper as it is to others. He'll want to judge these early kudos in late October or early November, if things go as planned.
"Are you asking me if I buy into this best staff stuff? Absolutely not," said Cooper during a recent phone interview. "It's for experts and magazine writers and columnists to voice their opinion.
"Our best staff was in 2005, and why? Well, it's because we won a championship. Our second best was in 2008, when we won the division. If we don't get into the playoffs, none of it is worth [anything]."
Plenty of reasons for ultimate optimism do exist. Peavy posted a 3-0 record with a 1.35 ERA in three starts after coming to the South Side of Chicago in 2009, exhibiting the impressive sort of movement on his pitches needed to survive at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. Remember, Peavy found this limited excellence with far less than 100 percent arm strength due to a strained tendon in his right ankle and taking a line drive off of his pitching elbow during a Minor League rehab effort limiting him to a career-low 16 starts.
Buehrle explained how part of his excitement was derived from Peavy already planning at the end of last year the amount of starts and victories this rotation will need for 2010 success. Williams, in turn, likes the influence Peavy will have on the younger part of the rotation in Danks, Floyd and even Hudson.
"For Danks and Floyd, he's a true No. 1 guy," said Williams of Peavy. "Buehrle is a No. 1 on any given day, but it's hard to emulate what Mark does. Jake pushes the limit of intensity and has a controlled aggression.
"Listen, there's a reason why we went out and were as aggressive as we were and gave up good players. We believe in him."
Chicago's left-handed ace, Buehrle, stands as the only pitcher in baseball to record at least 10 wins, 30 starts and 200 innings pitched in each of the last nine seasons. Buehrle has one losing record among those nine and one season checking in at .500, leading to a career mark situated 38 games above .500 for a hurler with a fastball in the high 80s on a fast gun.
Danks reached 200 innings for the first time in his career in 2009, winning a career-best 13 and finishing with a sub-4.00 ERA for a second consecutive year. Floyd can take no-hit stuff to the mound on any given start, while Garcia as a fifth starter stacks up with the best of them in the most pressurized situations.
A 20-game winner or a Cy Young winner might not exist in this group. But much like Buehrle, Garcia, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy in 2005, there will be tough, durable competitors giving the White Sox a chance to win more often than not.
"Our starters will get you to the back of the bullpen with quite a bit of regularity," Williams said.
"We like added pressure and expectations," Danks said. "All of us thrive off of each other and push each other as the team's backbone and solid foundation."
Staying healthy will be the key for these pitchers, with injuries to the starting five having the ability to break down even the best of staffs. And by the way, this staff, from top to bottom, is even better with the addition of J.J. Putz to the back end of the bullpen.
Just don't try to convince Cooper it's a group already at the top or one with the ability to win a title on its own.
"Sure, this is a pretty good staff, but it's all on paper," Cooper said. "It takes defense and timely hitting, more than a good pitching staff, that total combination. If you want to read something that's not conjecture or opinion, then put that down on paper."
"If guys do what is expected, don't go above and beyond but sit where you are normally in your career," White Sox reliever Matt Thornton said, "our starting rotation and our bullpen have a chance to be tops in the game."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.