When tasked with picking out which team in the majors has the best top three starting pitchers, one might throw out the Mets. It's a good pick. Probably the correct one if we're looking at upside for this season. The Indians, Giants or Cubs might get some votes.
After a 3-0 victory over the hapless Twins on Wednesday evening, the White Sox have jumped out a 6-2 start on the young season. The offense hasn't been anything special, but the pitching has been the driving force. The team ERA of 2.41 is the best in the American League.
I'm not even basing the sentiment regarding the "Big Three" in the rotation on what we've seen, but instead on what we very well could see.
What we've seen is pretty good, of course. Sale (3.86 ERA) could be better -- and he will be moving forward -- but he's an established ace and might well be the best pitcher in baseball who hasn't won a Cy Young (he's finished in the top six in each of the past four seasons). Quintana (2.31) and Rodon (2.57) have been very good thus far in their own right.
In fact, Quintana has a good argument in the nebulous category of the "most underrated" starting pitcher in baseball.
He's worked at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons and posted a 3.40 ERA (116 ERA+). Last season, he struck out 177 (ninth in the AL) compared to only 44 walks, which was good for a 4.02 K/BB ratio (sixth in AL). Part of what makes him underrated is this lingering obsession with pitcher W-L record, which is actually a team stat masquerading as an individual one. Quintana is an even 34-34 in his career, but he's better than that. He's just played for teams that aren't that good.
This season could be different, with Quintana and Rodon being part of the turnaround.
Rodon worked six scoreless innings Wednesday while only allowing three hits. Two caveats are needed here:
- He was facing the Twins.
- He walked five.
The control has been an issue and is a work in progress for sure, but he's only 23 and has made just 25 starts in his career. Plus, his raw stuff could eventually put him up there with Sale. The fastball works up into the mid-90s, with the changeup being a major part of the "work in progress." It's his slider -- some call it a "wipeout slider" though he actually throws several varieties of it -- that is his out pitch and will make him special should he harness the change and command all three pitches.
Continuing on the "work in progress" front, Rodon was roughed up several times last season in his first stint in a big-league rotation. There were three outings in which he allowed at least seven earned runs in in four or fewer innings. Something seemed to click in a dominant outing on Aug. 11 against the Angels, though. Rodon struck out 11 while only walking one in seven scoreless innings. Beginning with that outing, Rodon had a 1.81 ERA in his last eight turns of 2015.
Sure, he walked more than one would like but, again, "work in progress." He's an ultra-talented 23-year-old lefty. Give him the time to grow and join up with Sale.
Though Quintana is very underrated, he likely never gets to "ace" level, but it's a bit of an arbitrary term as popularly applied. Rodon, though, has that potential, and Sale is more than comfortably above any reasonable cutoff point.
In the three, the White Sox could prove to have 2016's best "Big Three" in a rotation in the American League, if not all of baseball. If they make a run toward October, it'll be due in major part to these three left arms. It's far too premature to start dreaming of such things, of course, but we aren't forbidden to say "keep an eye on this top three." We can say that. I am saying that.
This trio can be special for the South Siders, most notably if Rodon keeps growing and hones in on that control.