White Sox Engaging In Grand Experiment

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Phil Humber #41 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 25, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

So, this is like super-duper interesting. So interesting that if today were the 1st of April, I would just assume somebody was fooling. But I did some checking and I'm 93-percent certain that CSNChicago.com's Brett Ballantini is perfectly serious ...

The Chicago White Sox are about to embark on a pitching odyssey that no team has ever taken, a sustained engagement with a six-man starting rotation.

This story hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as it deserves.

Or will deserve, if this thing actually happens. I'll be skeptical until it actually does, because talk about the six-man rotation has come up occasionally in recent years, but it's never actually happened. Not for more than a turn or two, anyway.

For the moment, though, here's the White Sox rotation, beginning Friday night in Oakland: Phil Humber, Gavin Floyd, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, John Danks, Jake Peavy.

Granted, all six of those pitchers have, in various ways, staked their claim on rotation slots. But this is such an extraordinary situation, there must be an extraordinary explanation.

And so there is, in the form of two numbers ...

    2.67

    37

    That 2.67 is Humber's earned-run average. Barely an afterthought just a few weeks ago, the 28-year-old entered this season with two victories in his major-league career, both in relief. He had started only twice in his career. But there was an opening for a No. 5 starter this spring, thanks to Peavy's unavailability, and Humber -- the third pick in the 2004 amateur draft -- grabbed it. And now, against fairly long odds, he's got the lowest ERA among White Sox starters. It's hard to yank a guy with a 2.67 ERA from your rotation.

    That 37 is the number of millions of dollars the White Sox must pay Peavy from 2011 through 2013, and includes the $16 million this season that makes him the franchise's highest-paid player. There's another $17 million next season, plus a $4 million buyout in 2013 (unless management instead opts to pay Peavy $22 million that season, which at the moment seems exceptionally unlikely).

    So it's hard to yank Humber, and almost impossible to yank Peavy, who made his first start of the season Wednesday night in Anaheim. And you're certainly not going to yank Buehrle or Floyd or Danks or Jackson, all of whom have established themselves as better-than-average major-league starting pitchers.

    And that, my fellow Milky Way Galaxians, is how you wind up with a six-man rotation.

    Granted, this still doesn't make real sense unless there's not a large difference between your best pitcher and your sixth-best pitcher or the general performance of the starting pitchers will benefit from an extra day of rest.

    Regarding the first of those, it's actually hard to figure who the White Sox's best starter is. Might be Danks. Might be Buehrle. Might be Floyd. Which is sort of the point; the White Sox don't have an obvious ace, which means they're not losing starts from a pitcher who obviously shouldn't be losing starts. It's also hard to figure who the White Sox's worst starter is. Humber or Peavy, presumably. But it wasn't so long ago that Peavy won a Cy Young Award, and of course Humber's got that 2.67 ERA.

    Will the starters benefit from five and sometimes six days of rest?

    The data's all over the map, but then the data's probably not extensive enough to mean anything anyway. This thing's going to last until somebody gets hurt, or until Phil Humber remembers he's Phil Humber (unless he's become someone else, in which case all bets are off and the White Sox might make some serious history).

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