Saturday, April 20, 2024

The White Sox Were Wise To Hang Onto Dylan Cease 

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Dylan Cease has admittedly had a down year. But on Saturday he provided everyone a reminder of just how good he is. 

Cease tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just six hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts against the Red Sox. In the process, he notched his third consecutive 200-strikeout season. Cease joined Ed Walsh and Chris Sale as the only three White Sox pitchers with three plus 200-strikeout seasons. Not bad company to be associated with. 

Cease now has 17 double-digit strikeout games, which tied him for the second most all-time with Walsh. Chris Sale is the only pitcher who has produced more in a White Sox uniform with 35. 

Sale, who was sitting in the opposing dugout had nothing but good things to say when asked about Cease. 

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“He’s a big arm,” Sale told MLB.com before the game. “Good stuff, like true power pitcher. He looks like he pitches with confidence.” 

Stuff Still Plays

Cease had everything working on Saturday. He threw 72 of his 108 pitches for strikes and generated 20 swinging strikes. The 27-year-old right-hander produced seven strikeouts with his fastball and four with his slider. 

“He’s 97 with 21 inches of pop” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He’s not easy to hit, with good offspeed pitches. He’s a good one. There’s a reason they kept him. Whatever they are going to do in the future, everything is around him and Robert. He’s very tough.” 

After finishing runner-up in the American League Cy Young Voting a year ago, Cease has looked mortal. His ERA has shot up from 2.20 to 4.66 and his opponent’s expected batting average has gone from .184 (which ranked in the top four percent in baseball) to .238. 

However, as Alex Cora alluded to the White Sox were wise to hang onto Dylan Cease. There were rumors that the Orioles were prepared to offer a package for Cease’s services at the trade deadline. They were not the only ones were showed interest either. A pitcher of Cease’s caliber could have netted the White Sox a hefty haul. 

But any prospect the White Sox got in return would have been hoping to reach the level that Cease is at now. The fact of the matter is there are very few pitchers who possess the stuff that he has. Pitchers with a fastball in the upper 90s fastballs and a slider that produced a Run Value of 36 last year don’t grow on trees. Simply put he is an ace even if the numbers don’t show it. 

Reasons For Regression

While this season may have been a mediocre one from a numbers standpoint, there is still plenty of reason to believe that Cease can return to form. 

According to Baseball Savant his fastball velocity ranks and strikeout rate rank in the 77th percentile of all MLB pitchers. Meanwhile, his whiff rate places him in the 84th percentile while his barrel percentage ranks in the 76th percentile. These are all signs that Cease stuff still plays and that he didn’t just forget how to pitch. 

Part of the issue is that after putting the league on notice a year ago, opponents are more locked in when facing Cease. He is no longer catching people by surprise. 

“If I had to guess, there’s probably a high level of scouting and preparation for my starts. But if I go out and execute like this, there’s only so much you can prepare for. The biggest thing is just finding a way to be consistent as I was today. If I take that into every start it’s going to be good,” Cease said. 

Chris Sale knows a thing or two about this after multiple seasons of dominance on the mound. 

“You have a good year, and people notice it. You have two good years and people are on you, right?” Sale explained. “Scouting reports are different. When we are facing Verlander guys are locked in. It’s a little bit different when you are a guy that guys notice.”

Cease hasn’t made life any easier for himself. Walks have also been an issue for him all season. His 77 free passes are the sixth most in the MLB. His 10.1% walk rate is down slightly from his 10.4% mark last season but still higher than both he and the team would like. 

Not only was Saturday’s performance a positive step in the right direction but Cease also called it his best start of the season. 

“Off the top of my head, I think this was probably number one,” Cease said when he asked where Saturday’s start ranked in his 2023 campaign. 

It has been a season that everyone would like to forget on the Southside. But one down year doesn’t mean you should sell all of your Dylan Cease stock. The White Sox are banking on him to anchor the rotation as they try and build towards contending again. As Saturday’s performance showed, he has all the tools to do just that.

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