Farewell, John Danks

May 3, 2016 was the end of an era. John Danks was DFA’d by the Chicago White Sox. With that, another part of my childhood has died away.

I am not a Chicago White Sox fan. I am not even a fan of John Danks. But for the past three years, John Danks has been an terrible starter for the Chicago White Sox. There was simply no way to remove him from the equation. The White Sox were unable to trade, develop or sign a free-agent that could deliver better than John Danks’ production. He was remarkably consistent in his awfulness. His ERAs over the last three seasons were 4.75, 4.74 and 4.71. His FIP dropped over those three seasons, from 5.06 to 4.49.

However, this year has been different. Danks has been downright terrible over his first four starts. I wrote that Danks would finally leave the White Sox in my 2016 Bold Predictions piece, and that has already come true. In fact, I was 100 percent correct in my prediction:

…no one has been able to unseat Danks from his fifth-starter spot on the White Sox rotation! Seriously, all you have to do is be slightly above replacement level, and the job is up for grabs. Maybe the White Sox will make a deal, or perhaps someone like Erik Johnson could unseat Danks from the spot.

Lo and behold, Erik Johnson has been called up and John Danks has been DFA’d. Johnson started yesterday against the Red Sox.

ACTUAL FANTASY ANALYSIS:

I like Danks’ replacement, the longtime fringe White Sox rotation piece commonly known as Erik Johnson. He was actually really good in AAA last year. He had a 2.37 and 2.57 FIP to go along with 9.23 K/9 across 22 starts in the minor leagues last year. While he has proved absolutely nothing in the majors, his gaudy minor league numbers from last season make him somewhat relevant in deep AL-only leagues like the one I am about to wax nostalgically about. There is a good chance that MLB hitters will just refuse to swing at Johnson’s stuff like the minor league hitters, but he could stick as a decent starter. He should be able to post an ERA under 7, unlike Danks.

Johnson’s first start against the White Sox was far from a disaster. He did enough to record a quality start and struck out six batters. He also walked three. He has to keep his walks down if he wants to succeed, which I realize is obvious advice. He doesn’t have the raw velocity to overpower people, so walks are a total no-no. His upside tops out at a guy like Mike Fiers, and his numbers will realistically look like Nicholas Tropeano.

END OF ACTUAL ANALYSIS

Danks was barely above replacement level for those three seasons by fWAR. He accumulated 2.o bWAR over three seasons, but the stat also claims that most of the good work he did was completely undone by his -0.7 bWAR in four starts of 2016. That’s actually really sad. John Danks took a very long time to rehab from a shoulder injury and threw over 500 innings over the last three years, and yet bWAR argues that he has negated over half his value to the White Sox over just 22 innings in 2016. It was time to go for Danks, as the White Sox are contending and need to find someone better than replacement level as their fifth starter. But man, you have to feel for the guy.

But there was once a time in which John Danks was great. He was the next big thing. He was the elite pitching prospect of my youth. John Danks was the ninth overall pick in the draft. His debut was treated with great fanfare. And for three seasons, John Danks was actually very good. He accumulated 11.9 fWAR between 2007 and 2010. He pitched many quality innings. Then he blew out his shoulder and was never the same pitcher.

John Danks’ rise coincided happily with my burgeoning love of fantasy baseball. My first fantasy baseball season was 2007, in which I stupidly decided to join a competitive AL-only H2H points league on CBS, which is basically the most complicated league you can join. This was my first fantasy team. I was confused why I couldn’t add any New York Mets to the roster. John Danks was on that team.

I won three matchups the whole season with that team. One time, Mark Buehrle threw a no-hitter and racked up enough points to earn me a stunning victory. Another time, Garrett Anderson had 10 RBIs, which granted me a second victory. The final time, a little-known young pitcher for the Royals named Zack Greinke pitched 8 shutout innings and struck out 10 batters against the White Sox. Those were the only moments of success for the entire year.

I rotated through many terrible AL players that season. I vividly remember Jose A. Contreras being absolutely terrible. I added his teammate John Danks, and he was also terrible. That league has disappeared into the depths of the Internet, but the names still live on in my head. Kenji Jojhima was my catcher. I drafted mega-prospect Alex Gordon to play third base without knowing who he was. For some reason, I liked having Royals on my team and Brian Bannister made quite a few starts for me. I also thought that having Carlos Silva and Kevin Slowey would help my rotation depth.

So yes, my first-ever fantasy pitching staff had Buehrle, Greinke, John Danks, Jose Contreras (who was eventually dropped), Carlos Silva, Brian Bannister and Kevin Slowey. It is no surprise I was the worst team in the league.

John Danks leaving the White Sox means that the entirety of the original Jung Fantasy Baseball Class of 2007 is now pitching for another team. In fact, I’m pretty sure every player and pitcher I had on that team has either retired or switched teams. There is no remnant of that team remaining in Major League Baseball. I’m amazed it took this long, actually, but the departure of John Danks means that it is all over.

 

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