Do you remember when you were a kid and you’d go to the local carnival, and at that carnival, there would always be some rendition of the “fun house.” A maze that almost always featured a section with distorting mirrors.
Those mirrors were designed to make your eyes see something that wasn’t in fact quite real. That’s what it’s like watching the 2020 version of White Sox right-hander, Dylan Cease.
On the surface — looking into those distorting mirrors — Dylan Cease’s 2020 version looks like a major step in the right direction for the young hurler. But once you take a look at the peripherals behind the standard counting numbers, you see that you’re staring right into an illusion.
You see that Dylan Cease has been more lucky than good this season.
Take Cease’s most recent start against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night as an example. On the surface, Cease allowed just three earned runs on four hits over five innings and went on to earn his fifth victory of the season compared to just two losses.
That’s good, right? Especially for a kid who went 4-7 with a 5.79 ERA in his rookie season in 2019.
Not so fast.
Despite an aesthetically pleasing 5-2 record with a 3.29 ERA in 8 starts in 2020, Cease isn’t all that much better than he was when he posted an ERA just shy of six last season.
Take Cease’s short but sweet post-game comments from Thursday night as our ‘Exhibit A’ per se. “I have to do a better job filling the strike zone,” Cease said to reporters after the game. Cease issued a pair of walks in the victory against Kansas City and has issued 20 free passes in just 41 innings of work this season. In 2019 he walked 35 opposing hitters in 73 innings pitched, but his walk rate is actually up in 2020 (4.39 compared to 4.32 in 2019).
In 2019 he Cease threw 60.1 percent of his pitches for strikes and comparatively, he’s thrown just 58.1 percent of his pitches for strikes in 2020.
But believe it or not, his walks and lack of command aren’t the most troubling development in 2020, rather what happens to his pitches when contact is made is the real concern here. Cease has already allowed 12 barrels in 2020 compared to 13 in all of 2019, a 3.3 percent increase. His average exit velocity on balls batted is up nearly two miles per hour, and he’s allowed nine home runs in just eight starts.
In the strikeout department — an area that is supposed to be Dylan Cease’s bread and butter — he’s seen a significant drop. In 2020 he’s striking out just 15.9 percent of opposing hitters, a steep nine percent decline from his 24.9 percent mark in 2019.
His walks are up, his strikeouts are down, and balls in play are getting hit harder and farther than they were in 2019, so how is Dylan Cease sitting pretty with a 5-2 record and a sub-four ERA?
Simple. His offense is otherworldly.
Here’s what the offense has done in games started by Dylan Cease in 2020:
|July 28||Cleveland Indians (Loss)||3|
|August 2||Kansas City Royals (Win)||9|
|August 7||Cleveland Indians (Win)||2|
|August 12||Detroit Tigers (Win)||7|
|August 18||Detroit Tigers (Win)||10|
|August 23||Chicago Cubs (Loss)||1|
|August 29||Kansas City Royals (ND-Loss)||6|
|September 3||Kansas City Royals (Win)||11|
In eight starts the White Sox’s offense has scored 49 runs (6.1 runs per game), and in Cease’s five credited victories on the mound the team has scored 39 (7.8 runs per game). In his five wins, the White Sox have made it nearly impossible for their starting pitcher to lose, scoring a whopping 7.8 runs per game. In the two Cease’s two credited losses on the season, the offense has scored just four runs combined.
Cease has also benefited greatly from a defense that has 24 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) which is second best to only the Los Angeles Dodgers who have 25 DRS. Cease’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is sitting at 6.31, nearly twice that of his ERA which takes into account the efforts of his defense behind him.
It doesn’t take much to see that Dylan Cease has been more lucky than good this season, and while the offense has bailed him out with massive run production, those peripherals are not likely to hold up in the postseason. As it stands right now the White Sox would hand Dylan Cease the ball in game three of the opening round of the playoffs (if said game three is necessary with the two teams splitting the first two games of the best of three series) and that doesn’t bode well.
Right now the White Sox have the No. 4 seed in the American League as the second representative from the American League Central and they would be matched up with the fifth-seeded Houston Astros. If the White Sox have to hand Dylan Cease the ball against a vaunted Houston Astros lineup in a deciding game three in the opening round of the MLB Postseason, well, it will have been fun while it lasted.
That right there is possibly the biggest flaw that the 2020 White Sox face, the lack of real starting pitching depth. Beating up on the Royals and Tigers is one thing, but doing it under the pressure of the playoffs against the real competition is another, and Dylan Cease’s ‘Fun House’ numbers likely won’t stand up to that test.
Featured Photo: USA TODAY SPORTS