Reckoning for sports betting draws near; time for change in Chicago?


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Where have the Latin American aces gone? Plus: Ken on Pedro Grifol’s hot seat, more on gambling in baseball and an introduction to Cleveland’s Baseball Comet: David Fry. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal, welcome to The Windup!


Exploring what happened to the Latino ace


Ranger Suárez, who is from Venezuela, became a starter to stand out in a sea of position players. (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

We lead with a thought-provoking one today from Chad Jennings and Andy McCullough. Approximately 25 percent of position players in Major League Baseball are from Latin America, but among starting pitchers, it’s only about 15 percent. Why?

Much of the issue stems from how Latin American players enter the professional ranks. American-raised players have the runway of their highly formative high school and college years to develop as pitchers before they’re drafted. In Latin America, kids are eligible to sign at 16.

Predicting pitching development is hard enough with college pitchers. In the early-to-mid teens, it’s a crapshoot at best. Increasingly, teams are more inclined to take the safer bet — position players. Factor in the buscones, the handler-agents who receive a portion of the players’ signing bonuses, and it becomes almost a given: The logical move is to get them off the mound and into the batter’s box.

It’s not the most questionable thing about the league’s system for acquiring international talent, but it is one angle I hadn’t considered before. How many potential Pedro Martinezes and Felix Hernándezes are playing shortstop because it’s a safer bet?


Ken’s Notebook: How much longer does Pedro Grifol have in Chicago?

The test of White Sox GM Chris Getz’s patience with manager Pedro Grifol likely will come later in the season, when the team is ready to promote some of their top prospects. At that point, Getz will need to decide: Can top young players such as shortstop Colson Montgomery, catcher Edgar Quero and right-hander Drew Thorpe thrive in the environment Grifol has created? Or might the entire team benefit from a change, right then and there?

The choice might not be entirely Getz’s, just as the return of Grifol after last year’s 61-101 cratering might not have been entirely the GM’s choice, either. Nothing with the White Sox happens without owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval, and Reinsdorf operates according to his own whims, no one else’s.

If the White Sox make a change, the logical move would be to elevate bench coach and former Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo as an interim, then conduct a full search at the end of the season. Tony La Russa, back with the team as a senior advisor after serving as manager in 2021 and 2022, almost certainly would not be the replacement. Not at age 79 and not when he stepped down at the end of the ’22 season because of health issues.

Grifol is not the sole reason the White Sox are 15-46. He might not even be the fifth- or sixth-biggest reason. Getz traded the team’s best pitcher, Dylan Cease, in the middle of spring training. Injuries to key hitters such as Luis Robert Jr., Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez again proved crippling. Veterans such as Andrew Vaughn and Andrew Benintendi have been massive disappointments. No manager could win with this team.

One White Sox player, granted anonymity for his candor, viewed Grifol’s “f—— flat” comment as simply an attempt to motivate the club, adding, “It’s really hard to judge him when you have a team made up like this and all these injuries.” Another player, however, said Grifol’s misstep was going public with his message after delivering it to the players directly in a team meeting behind closed doors.

The timing, too, was questionable. Grifol issued his complaints after the White Sox faced Kyle Bradish, who finished fourth in the American League Cy Young voting last season. Bradish shut the White Sox out for seven innings, striking out 11. The way he pitched that day, he could have made any team look “f—— flat.”

Some fans approve of such outbursts, preferring confrontation to coddling. The New York Yankees’ Aaron Boone, in particular, frustrated fans in past seasons with his refusal to rip players. Managers, though, generally refrain from public excoriations because players react to them poorly. Doesn’t matter if some fans think today’s players are soft compared to those in previous generations, a debatable assertion. Managers generally know not to cross a certain line.

More White Sox: Padres have “recently shown strong interest” in White Sox starter Garrett Crochet. It might be a tricky fit.


Where do we go from here?

As legalized gambling continues to stomp a larger footprint on the sports landscape, how close are we to a reckoning?

We got one this week, with the lifetime ban of Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano, along with one-year bans for four minor-leaguers. But as Ken writes here, while leagues can dole out punishments to relatively unknown players to maintain the line of “the system works; it’s all under control,” the problem is trending in the wrong direction. What happens when the culprit is a big star?

The league would have to stick to their guns, of course. They did so with Pete Rose, the all-time leader in hits. But the Rose saga has long been a black eye on the sport.

And yet, while the league is adamant about its messaging to players, coaches and other personnel about the consequences, it still maintains official partnerships with legal sports books (as do the other major sports leagues).

It’s hard to say exactly what the solution is. Maybe these suspensions will serve as sufficient warnings, deterring other players from attempting to circumvent the rules in an increasingly clandestine cat-and-mouse game.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

More on the gambling scandal:


Meet David Fry, who is lucky and good

Last week, we examined “Diff”, which is meant to show how “lucky” a batter is getting based on his results vs. (exit velocity, launch angle, sprint speed, etc). I identified David Fry as the “luckiest” player in the league, with the biggest positive difference between his xwOBA and his wOBA.

That was — and remains — true. But it’s also incomplete. Fry is getting lucky, but he’s also been very, very good. As of last night, his .392 xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average) was tied for 13th-best in baseball, sandwiched between Corey Seager and Yordan Alvarez.

As for his wOBA (weighted on-base average)? It’s at .477, best in the league. In more traditional terms, his 1.092 OPS and .355 batting average would lead the league if he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he’s currently 42 shy) and his .479 on-base percentage would be more than 50 points higher than the current leader (Jurickson Profar, .424).

Fry didn’t magically transform into this player when Steven Kwan went on the IL on May 4 — his line for the season was already .327/.453/.469 (.923 OPS)  in 64 plate appearances — but when the opportunity arose, he was ready.

Zack Meisel has a great introductory profile for readers who aren’t yet familiar with the super-utility sensation. In it, he talks about Fry’s success, and the adjustment the former “PTBNL” made to become an essential cog in one of the best lineups in the league. (And yes, a little bit of luck, also.)

More Guardians: Remember Steven Kwan’s streak of plate appearances without a strikeout? It was at 72 when he went on the IL. He came off the injured list Friday … and promptly struck out looking in his first plate appearance.


Handshakes and High Fives

Gerrit Cole pitched 3 1/3 innings and touched 97 mph in his first rehab start, and he says he feels close to a big-league return.

Royce Lewis did it all, including hit a home run, in his return from a quad injury. (His Twins still lost.)

Monday: Astros starter José Urquidy may need his second Tommy John surgery. Tuesday: Cristian Javier will also be undergoing the procedure.

In very similar news, Alek Manoah is meeting with Dr. Keith Meister after a UCL strain, and his absence has highlighted Toronto’s lack of starting pitching depth.

Mark Vientos of the Mets is having a breakout year. I’m sure Mets fans will want to thank the person who gave him the career-changing advice: uhhh … Bryce Harper?

No longer in a platoon after Ronald Acuña Jr.’s injury, Jarred Kelenic of the Braves has broken out of a slump.

Andrea Arcadipane’s scouting notebook starts with recent call-ups Spencer Schwellenbach of the Braves and Connor Norby of the Orioles.

I’m not a big rewatch guy, but if you have access to MLB.com’s condensed games, there were a few extremely entertaining games last night:

• Pirates starter Jared Jones hitting 101 mph in the first inning as his team beat the Dodgers, 1-0.

• The wild ninth inning in Oakland — the Mariners’ 4-3 win gives them their biggest division lead (5 1/2 games) since July 9, 2003.

• The Nick Castellanos walk-off was the headline, but the entire Brewers/Phillies game was peak Beautiful Baseball™️ — packed with great defensive plays. My highlight: this play by Colin Rea, who did this after the ball hit him in the shin!

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You can buy tickets to every MLB game here.


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(Top photo of Pedro Grifol and Eloy Jiménez: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images)



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