Monday, July 9, 2012

Sox's Cy? Peavy, by a Bark

Some kind of happiness is measured out in miles.
What makes you think you're something special when you smile?
John Lennon, "Hey Bulldog"


Mound Presents: Sale (L) and Peavy (R) in Glendale,
on the cusp becoming the best 1-2 punch in baseball.

With any experience and/or luck, Chris Sale would be starting tomorrow's All-Star Game.


But the most important pitcher--and the most important player--on the Chicago White Sox in the first half has been that the prodigal son of mound bulldoggery, Jake Peavy.

I get that Sale has been otherworldly for the White Sox. Pick a metric, any metric, and there's a case effortlessly made for the big pimpin' stringbean as the AL's Cy Young winner, especially if his nonsensical start to May (Robin & Don's Excellent Closer Adventure) is burned away.

But Sale has merely been the White Sox's best pitcher. The team's most important pitcher is another kettle of snuff entirely. Without completely falling under the spell of the Bulldog and his inanely grindy catch phrases and utterly abandoning my saber, Peavy has been that, by any measure.

Giving a first-half MVP to Peavy is no consolation prize, either, as I am not attaching a caveat of Well He's Not Dead Yet or He's Sort of Earning His Money to the honor. Indeed, Peavy has far outperformed even the brightest projections, somewhat hilariously turning the instant-decline his $22 million, 2013 option once was into Something to Bug Ken Williams About this offseason.

Straight out, Peavy has been the most important member of the first-half White Sox. The rotation is two-fifths banged up/implausibly ineffective. Groovy Gavin Floyd is farther out into Saturn's rings than at any time since initially securing his place in the Chicago rotation. Sale, for better or worse, begets babying; whether injecting an 11-day rest by stunningly naming him the closer in May, denying him an All-Star Game start by insisting on a one-inning max, or selectively skipping him for a start or two in August and September, the White Sox will fall over themselves to protect the best arm $500,000 ever bought.

Peavy, clearly, has no such limitations, evoking Drysdale or Gibson in his distaste for bullpen help. While such bluster led to his undoing in all three of his South Side seasons previous, this year the Bulldog undeniably has manned up.

And Peavy's games are no misremembered Hawk malaprop of Sam McDowell throwing 250 pitches per outing. The Bulldog's hurled a staff-high 1,827 pitches so far, but his 3.88 pitches per batter slots in comfortably between Jose "Who's He" Quintana (3.69 ppb) and Sale (3.93 ppb). No, the Bulldog ain't messing around this season, when the White Sox have needed him to ascend to ace; his 5.5% walk rate is a full two percent less than the South Siders' 7.5% team average.


Finally walking the walk that the flappity-flap of his confident lips long promised has not been lost on Peavy's White Sox teammates. In prior campaigns, team leaders like A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Buehrle would scrutinize the swagger from across the clubhouse, straining to hear what Peavy's latest post-injury platform promised.


Buehrle was not without an agenda, as he remained a mellow-down good ol' boy through his decade as the de facto pitching captain. Peavy has seized that phantom captaincy in Buehrle's absence, leading by example and bluster alike. Sale is learning under him in a way different than he did from Buehrle; whereas the fellow lefty was expert in lessons off the mound (exceedingly important stuff for a phenom), Peavy now proffers over the fights on the mound itself, in a style as far from pusillanimous as possible.

The White Sox, boasting a staff ERA 3.91, with two wins from Peavy and Sale in five starting to feel like effervescent afterthought in the second half, owe an enormous debt to the leadership of the righthander. Peavy, after all, could have given up on the team, and even his career, at more than one juncture since arriving on the South Side.

That the White Sox were mere grinders in that gilded season of 2005 is a universally-acknowledged misnomer, those South Side slogging sluggers and surgical hurlers victimized by a most expert marketing campaign. But within this season's slogan "Appreciate the Game," there is nonetheless room to exalt one expletive-spewing, batter-chewing, core grinder of Rowandesque proportion.

Craftsman or Caveman? It matters not, as Peavy is wont to kick batters in the teeth either way.


It may be unfashionable to admit, but it's the locomotive-tugging drive of Peavy that has positioned these White Sox as improbable favorites to win the AL Central. Never before have craftsman and caveman collided so deliciously.

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