posted 8 years ago
I've seen a lot of revisionist thinking in the last week regarding the Rangers' trade of the new White Sox ace, John Danks, a deal that two years later has left Texas with almost no return in exchange for one of the 10 best starters in the American League this year. This line of thinking completely ignores the state of the two pitchers at the time of the deal.
Danks was primarily a two-pitch lefty without a good breaking ball and who had just given up 22 homers in 140 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. That lack of a plus curveball or slider meant he fared worse against left-handed hitters than a typical left-handed pitcher might, allowing nearly as much power to lefties (an "isolated power" figure, equal to slugging percentage minus batting average, of .176) as he did to righties (.202) during 2006. With Texas' home stadium a good hitters' park and particularly friendly to left-handed power hitters, it didn't appear Danks would be a good fit. Danks was still a top prospect at the time Texas traded him (I ranked him as the 24th-best prospect in baseball before the 2007 season), but there were valid reasons for Texas to be concerned.
After the White Sox acquired Danks, they added a cutter to his repertoire, and the cutter is the difference between the high-probability fourth-starter prospect he was at the time of the deal and the top-of-the-rotation starter he is today. The cutter is effective against hitters on both sides of the plate, helps him miss more bats, and has made him less of a flyball pitcher and thus less homer-prone. The White Sox have made teaching the cut fastball an organizational core competency, and more than half of the pitchers on their major league staff throw cutters. Identifying Danks as a pitcher who could learn the cutter, and who would become a more complete pitcher by doing so, is to their credit, but he is not the same pitcher whom Texas traded in December of 2006.