Credit where credit is due: White Sox fans have been patient with Dylan Cease through his struggles this season, unlike the treatment of Yoan Moncada and other prospects. Still, a small number of fans have openly voiced their doubt, and I’m sure many others were thinking it in the back of their heads.
However, a deeper dive into Cease’s 2019 statistics prove that he is due for positive regression, some of which came last night in Chicago’s dominant 10-1 win over Detroit. Cease finished with an impressive result of 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, and 8 K. Following a good outing vs. Cleveland, he’s given up just one run in each of his last three starts, though going just 3.1 and 5.0 innings in the first two games, respectively. Those numbers aren’t fantastic, but certainly demonstrate progress. As of today, Cease’s standard stats read: 5.79 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 9.99 K/9, and 4.32 BB/9.
Behind walks, hits, and ERA lies a deeper story about Dylan Cease. The biggest anomaly in his game has been the absurd number of home runs on fly balls, as his HR/FB rate is 21.4%. Considering the league average is around 10%, it’s evident that Cease is getting very unlucky on this type of contact. Fangraph’s xFIP exists to adjust for this, and Cease’s number of 4.60 is still poor, but much better than you might think with a 5.79 ERA.
Now that we’re at xFIP, we’re fully into the World of Sabermetrics. However, let’s take it one step further and go into xFIP-, which is basically Sabermetropolis. xFIP- takes a pitcher’s xFIP and adjusts it for stadium and league considerations, essentially judging a pitcher’s value on if they all performed in an average ballpark in the same year. Cease’s xFIP- is 97, which means he is three percentiles above the league average.
I’m not crazy. One statistic saying Cease has been an above-average pitcher doesn’t erase the ten saying he hasn’t. However, the xFIP- and HR/FB rate are convincing enough to prove that Cease is much, much better than a near-six ERA. If you need further proof, look at Baseball Savant’s analysis of different peripherals on Cease.
We already knew Cease has a deadly fastball and solid curveball, so that’s not much of a surprise. But a look at the performance metrics shows he’s within 9% of league average in all his worst stats. If you showed me that graphic at the beginning of the year and told me this would be Cease’s final numbers on the year, I would have been satisfied. You simply can’t expect the world out of a rookie pitcher, no matter his prospect ranking.
From Scott Merkin of MLB.com’s recap, Cease also feels he has made significant strides.
“‘I feel not even close to the same pitcher I was when I first got called up,’ said Cease, who is expected to make his 15th and final start of the 2019 season at home during the season’s final week. ‘There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I feel good with where my stuff is.'”
Looking ahead to 2020, I firmly believe the Sox are in good shape with Cease. The South Siders will, barring injury, have Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, and likely one new acquisition to anchor their rotation. Let’s say one of those guys underperforms, which means Cease would be a fourth starter. I would project Cease to have a floor of a 4.80 ERA, and a ceiling close to 3.20 given his pure talent. In today’s MLB, that’s absolutely acceptable for a fourth starter on a competitive team.
The dark clouds have parted and the worst days are behind Dylan Cease. In 2020, he will make good on the promise of a bright future.
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