Danks' consistency a key for the Sox

Jake Peavy has a Cy Young Award, Mark Buehrle has a World Series ring and a perfect game, and Edwin Jackson even has a no-hitter of his own.

Yet it stands to reason that John Danks will likely be the White Sox starting pitcher the club leans on heavily during the 2011 season.

Steady as they come, Danks has continued to show improvement throughout his young career. Another leap in that development could make the White Sox starting staff an even bigger force to reckon with.

“If you look at it, we have guys who have done great things, but John Danks was our best starter from start to finish last year,” Peavy said recently. “I don’t care how much money you make or what you have done, Johnny has come so far.”

A 15-11 record to go along with a 3.72 ERA in 2010 was very similar to Danks’ 13-11 mark in 2009 and his 3.77 ERA. He pitched a career-high 213 innings last season while lowering his home run total (18) and his walks (70) from the previous year.

And while it was really the 2008 season that Danks set the standard for himself with a 12-9 record, 3.32 ERA and a 2.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 195 innings, what 2010 showed is that he can still deliver on a consistent basis as expectations on him grow.

Comparing last season to 2008, he did show microscopic improvement in WHIP (1.216-1.226) and hits per nine innings (8.0-8.4).

Another way to look at it is with the sabermetric statistic Wins Above Replacement. According to baseballreference.com, Danks was the top White Sox pitcher last season with a value of 4.9, meaning the club was nearly five victories better last season than they would have been had somebody else assumed his outings. Buehrle was next highest at 3.5.

“Hopefully it’s another good season,” Danks said. “My goal is to give us a chance to win every time I go out, 33 times a year. Hopefully I can stay healthy and do that. I’m feeling good and we like our team. It’s just about us going out and playing baseball now.”

It’s not like the expectation is for Danks to take over as staff ace, and the mild-mannered Texan isn’t necessarily clamoring for the role. But there is something about his impressive run of consistency the past three seasons and the guts and determination he has shown over that time that suggests he is the rotation’s leading man, at least until Peavy finds his top form again.

“Johnny is so eager to learn and has a great mindset of having fun but taking it serious when he talks to me and Buehrle and Gavin [Floyd],” Peavy said. “I love all the guys we have and if I am able to jump in, stuff wise we have an amazing amount of potential and experience.”

What is perhaps an underrated aspect when it comes to the White Sox's rotation is that their mix of left-handers and right-handers can potentially keep a team off balance.

One night it could be the left-handed Danks, followed by the right-handed Jackson and back to the left-handed Buehrle before moving to the right-handed Floyd. Until the right-handed Peavy returns, the left-handed Sale could get a crack at starting.

The idea is that opposing teams won’t be able to get into a consistent groove with the same lineup night after night. This will essentially be the fifth consecutive season the White Sox have been able to alternate righties and lefties and Danks has certainly done his part to make the combination work.

But showing improvement against the left-handed loaded Minnesota Twins lineup will be key. Danks was just 2-2 against them last season with a 4.39 ERA in six starts. Over his career he is just 6-7 against them with a 5.06 ERA in 19 starts.

Danks can’t beat the Twins alone, though. General manager Kenny Williams’ moves of adding Adam Dunn to the offense, re-signing Paul Konerko and getting Jesse Crain for the bullpen could all play its part as the White Sox battle the defending division champion Twins and the revamped Tigers in the upcoming season.

“We know Kenny’s going to do something every year,” Danks said. “We’re excited about the team we have. We think we have a good shot of being one of the teams to beat. The ball is in our court. We have to go out and play good baseball and I like our chances.”