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The 2024 White Sox rotation is a mix of “fun” and “bad”

by Jordan Lazowski

Following the news of Mike Clevinger’s signing with the White Sox on Monday afternoon, the club will now have 20% of its rotation back from last season. With Garrett Crochet leading some combination of Michael Soroka, Erick Fedde, Chris Flexen, Nick Nastrini, and the aforementioned Clevinger, there are plenty of question marks about the rotation not only this season but into the future.

With new pitching coordinator Brian Bannister in the fold with Ethan Katz, on top of Chris Getz’s stated emphasis on wanting pitchers to want to come to Chicago, a simple question will arise throughout the season: is any of this working? Otherwise put: is the current coaching staff creating an environment pitchers will want to come to – and get better in?

Today, we take the first steps toward answering those questions. There will be some statistics to follow, but to keep this interesting, we’re creating our own metric. The basis of this exercise will be a Fun-Bad Matrix, structured as follows:

Seems easy enough, right? A first start is just a first start, but a lot that can be learned from one. At the very least, each start gives an opportunity to discover what we should all be watching for in the next one.

One quick note: the Stuff+ calculations below largely come from Eno Sarris’ calculations that can be found on FanGraphs. As with all “+” statistics, 100 is average, and every number above and below 100 is a percentage point above or below average, respectively.

With that, let’s begin.

Garrett Crochet: Fun Fun

Predictive Statistics: .179 xBA, .242 xSLG, .196 wOBA, .201 xWOBA


The least surprising result of the four names on this list, Crochet’s start was highlighted by a few key takeaways:

  1. A slight uptick in his velocity on average, but that also got as high as 99.8 mph
  2. The introduction of a cutter that separates itself as a new pitch
  3. An average changeup that, like the cutter, is a distinct new pitch from his main arsenal – but it moves A LOT
Data from Thomas Nestico (@TJStats) on Twitter/X

The data above from Thomas Nestico (@TJStats on Twitter and worth the follow) displays a distinct four-pitch mix that helps me get excited about Crochet’s viability in the rotation – his sweeper/slider is devastating is going to be deadly pitch and both his changeup and cutter can be used to keep hitters off of his average-ish fastball (movement-wise, not velocity-wise). There was no real change in the shape of his fastball from last season, but his slider featured more horizontal run than last season – which was rewarded in the Stuff+ calculations above. Overall, talking about pitch movement is fun, but the credit for Crochet’s successful first start goes to attacking the zone consistently with powerful stuff.

If there is any concern for Crochet moving forward, it comes in that he threw two pitches nearly 88% of the time. Additionally, his fastball thrives on velocity with only average to slightly above-average movement, so it will be worth monitoring Crochet’s fastball velocity as the season goes on – especially if hitters start ruling out other pitches in his arsenal based on a lack of usage. However, these concerns get nullified by the fact that his third and fourth pitches look like they’ll be legitimate offerings – meaning it’s likely that he will use them more than 12% of the time combined moving forward if he wants to build on his success.

TLDR: Crochet looks like he could be an ace in the making. This could be a fun season for him.

Michael Soroka: Fun/Meh Meh/Bad

Predictive Statistics: .373 xBA, .546 xSLG, .442 wOBA, .435 xwOBA


Only on my second player and I’m already breaking my childish graphics. Soroka probably falls more on the “meh” side of things from his last start, as it really was the tale of two different parts of his outing.

Overall, while it’s just one start, consider me among the Michael Soroka skeptics (sorry Beefloaf – listen to our latest podcast for context). The stuff itself didn’t wow me – and it didn’t wow FanGraphs’ Stuff+ metric either. The slider is probably better than it looked in his first start, based on historical trends, so that’s something to watch there. Additionally, to Soroka’s credit, he made a change to his changeup that has improved the pitch shape (approximately 5 fewer inches of vertical break and two additional inches of horizontal break). That led to the only significant improvement in his Stuff+ and is another pitch to monitor moving forward.

Interestingly enough, the comments above from Soroka and Grifol spell out what limits my excitement about Soroka. Guys without overwhelming stuff really can’t afford to not have their best stuff at all times. The problem lies in the fact that it is completely unreasonable to expect a player to have their best stuff at all times. But, when you don’t have your best stuff – on top of the fact that your stuff isn’t overwhelming in the first place – it places a lot of pressure on you as a pitcher to be perfect.

So, the sinker, changeup, and slider are all pitches to watch moving forward in hopes of improvement and consistency. The slider and changeup are most interesting here because both have been plus pitches for him in the past, and finding success with those pitches will be critical. I’d like to see how the changeup develops and what the slider looks like on a better day.

What works in Soroka’s favor is the fact that a lot of his stuff still appears to be moving very similarly to the way it did in 2019 when he was with Atlanta and was in Cy Young and Rookie of the Year conversations. In many ways, he is the same pitcher in terms of stuff and usage as that season. The problem is that, even back then, the stuff was never overpowering and relied on strong work defensively from the Braves throughout the season. The other problem is that it is no longer 2019, and what worked for him then isn’t likely to work for him now. He’s a different pitcher, and this is a different league.

TLDR: I’m not convinced yet, but if I squint hard enough, I can see why people are optimistic. I’d like to be there with the rest of you optimists.

Erick Fedde: Fun Fun

Predictive Statistics: .253 xBA, .488 xSLG, .371 wOBA, .331 xwOBA


Erick Fedde is legitimately fun to watch. He’s not overpowering, which usually leads me to be skeptical. However, his east and west arsenal works so far east and west that I can’t help but think it’s going to work.

Fedde has completely reinvented himself – if you’re not aware – since his last extended time in the majors in 2022. The curveball has turned to a sweeper, and his splitter replaces a changeup that was never really effective in the first place. The sinker hasn’t changed much, and the cutter didn’t grade out well his first start but was primarily used as a pitch deep in counts to keep hitters off of his sinker. The jury is still out on his cutter though, with some other sites rating it among the best cutters in baseball

via their own Stuff+ calculations. At the end of the day, it comes down to smart pitching with a little extra velocity compared to some of his other east-west colleagues in this rotation. The seven strikeouts were also encouraging.

Data from Thomas Nestico (@TJStats) on Twitter/X

If there is something to look out for with Fedde, it’s that a sinkerballer gave up two home runs in his first start. That being said, both home runs came on rolling sweepers, not sinkers, which leads nicely into my next point. If I have any complaints about his arsenal, it would be the following:

  1. I’d like his sweeper to move more horizontally and less vertically, which would help it separate from his cutter. It’s a little too loopy right now – just one man’s opinion.
  2. I’d like to see him use his splitter a bit more than he did the first time. I’m not the biggest fan of his sinker – though it is a very effective pitch. I think a better split between the sinker and splitter would be ideal.

Overall, the backdoor sinkers were fun to watch to RHP all day – that’s an effective pitch when located down in the zone. He’s not going to overwhelm anyone, but everything he throws moves a lot, and he can get to a high enough velocity (topped 95) to get away with pitches here and there. In terms of the three pitch-to-contact guys in the White Sox rotation, my ranking would go Fedde > Soroka >>>> Flexen.

TLDR: I think Fedde ends up being a true number three starter for a few seasons. That will keep him around at least throughout 2024 for the White Sox – though that may also allow him to build up enough value to be moved next year.

Chris Flexen: Bad Bad

Predictive Statistics: .307 xBA, .501 xSLG, .393 wOBA, .396 xwOBA

2023 (SEA)106135798360124
2024 (COL)8189935447119

That was, uh, not a great start to the season for Flexen. Things started off fine, but as with most guys who are primarily pitch-to-contact, things can go south in a hurry. In Flexen’s case, the stuff doesn’t move dramatically and has never been overwhelming. A lack of velocity was an across-the-board trend, as he saw decreases in spin and velocity across every pitch he threw on Monday compared to 2023 – and there was never a lot there. That’s probably the biggest takeaway for Flexen: there might be more in the tank that can keep things a *bit* more manageable, but not much.

If I look at his pitch arsenal a bit, I’d suggest a few things:

  1. Stop throwing the fastball. At the very least, he needs to stop making it his primary pitch (41% usage!) when it’s arguably his worst one. Throw your best stuff more often – which leads to #2.
  2. Throw the slider more. In terms of movement profiles, it’s always been either his best or second-best pitch, yet he throws it less than 10% of the time. He threw it just three times on Monday. He would probably be better if he went with a Cutter/Changeup/Slider/Curveball arsenal and ditched the rest.

However, there is still limited upside here. Steve Stone mentioned it during the broadcast on Monday, but Flexen’s best pitch is his changeup. I typically struggle with pitchers who have a good changeup but an underwhelming fastball, especially having watched the change in Lucas Giolito’s career (as a side note, this is also a big reason why I’m so low on newcomer Drew Thorpe – listen to Episode 46 of our podcast for more on that).

When your changeup is your best pitch, it puts additional pressure on your fastball to be above-average to elite. When it’s not, there is not enough of a difference between your changeup and fastball to make it an effective offering. Hitters can more comfortably sit on your changeup without worrying about you blowing a fastball by them – if they guess wrong, they simply foul off your fastball. It’s part of why, in my opinion, Lucas Giolito’s career turned for the worse when he lost his well-above-average fastball velocity – he no longer could blow fastballs past hitters consistently, so they respected the pitch less and started sitting on his best one more. Plus, if they got his fastball, it was far more hittable.

The above is exactly what happened to Chris Flexen today: he struggled to find his changeup, and his fastball isn’t nearly good enough to make up for the changeup’s shortcomings. If you need more proof of my theory, just look at how hitters hit Giolito’s changeup in 2019-2021 compared to 2022-2023.

With underwhelming stuff and matching predictive statistics, I just don’t see any world in which things get better for Flexen. Well, I mean, I do see one: if he doesn’t use sticky stuff, he should probably consider it.

Of all the offseason signings, this is the one I understood the least. At least through one start, I was reminded of why that was the case for me.

TLDR: Mike Clevinger shouldn’t be replacing Nick Nastrini as SP5. He should be replacing Flexen as SP4. I don’t see the upside here and would prefer not to waste innings trying to find something I don’t think exists. Happy to be wrong.

A friendly reminder here from the beginning: all of this is based on one start. This is a fun deep dive, but it’s the smallest of sample sizes and can change drastically with just a start or two of data. If there is anyone among these starters who I believe has the best chance to see their fortunes change – either positively or negatively – from their first start, it’s Michael Soroka. Though one time through the order, I understand why Pedro Grifol decided on starting Garrett Crochet on Opening Day – he will absolutely be the team’s most exciting starter throughout this season.

With Mike Clevinger and possibly Nick Nastrini on the way, the starting pitching staff will remain the most interesting thing for a White Sox team that seems allergic to scoring runs. Hopefully, they’ll be able to keep the games close, because I don’t see many seven-run outbursts in the White Sox’s offensive future.

To Getz’s credit though – and perhaps the credit of Bannister and Katz – this rotation is enough to keep me interested in what is a horribly lost season.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more throughout the season!

Featured Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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