Last Updated: 2019-03-04
The Chicago White Sox train left the station early this offseason and people were frantically trying to chase it down and climb aboard. I couldn’t remember a time seeing this much hype and excitement about a team that lost 100 games the previous season, but there we were.
Then Manny Machado signed with the Padres.
All of that buzz. All of that hype. All of the clickbaity stories about the White Sox signing Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso to court Manny Machado. Gone. Pessimism now rules the roost about this team.
The White Sox did have a fairly strong offseason, despite missing out on Machado, but this is still one of three teams that lost 100 games last season. There is some media sensationalism in the sense that the AL Central is remarkably boring with four teams that aren’t on Cleveland’s level and the idea of a challenger to make the division somewhat interesting is very appealing. At least the Twins are getting there.
The rebuild orchestrated by Rick Hahn hasn’t really paid huge dividends yet. Yoan Moncada, one of the prized pieces in the Chris Sale deal with Boston, is coming off of a two-fWAR season, despite a .311 wOBA, which ranked 106th out of 140 qualified MLB hitters per FanGraphs. Eloy Jimenez destroyed Triple-A pitching in 228 plate appearances and could very well start the year in Chicago. Steamer projects a three-win season.
There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the White Sox, but also a lot of reasons to be a wet blanket about the team. Michael Kopech, the other of the prized pieces in the Sale trade, is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. With Kopech out, oft-injured Carlos Rodon will battle it out with Reynaldo Lopez, Ivan Nova, and mostly-a-bust prospect Lucas Giolito for the designation as the de facto ace of the staff.
The bullpen seems better with Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera. Maybe second-year skipper Rick Renteria can right the ship quickly. Maybe all of the offseason activity will be the difference.
I’ve mentioned this before about certain teams around the league, but this season isn’t about wins and losses. It is about individual development and about finding out who can be a long-term solution and who won’t be. It’s about letting players try and fail. From a season win total standpoint, that makes the White Sox a tough handicap because the talent level is much higher, but there are a lot of question marks littered through the roster.
In a lot of ways, these are my favorite types of teams to profile because there is a wider range of outcomes. With reeeeeeeeeeally bad teams, we simply have to gauge how bad they will be, but we know that they will be bad. With really good teams, we simply have to gauge how good they will be, but we know that they will be good. The White Sox won’t be good, but how bad will they be?
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 62-100
Run Differential: -192
Pythagorean W/L: 62-100
BaseRuns Record: 67-95
BaseRuns Run Differential: -135 (4.18/5.01)
3rd Order Win% Record: 61.3-100.7
Record in One-Run Games: 15-25
Additions: Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso, James McCann, Brandon Guyer, Ivan Nova, Ervin Santana, Manny Banuelos, Kelvin Herrera, Alex Colome, DJ Peterson, Ryan Goins, Chris Johnson, Donn Roach, Randall Delgado, Evan Marshall, Jacob Lindgren
Losses: Matt Davidson, Avisail Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez, James Shields, Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Santiago, Justin Yurchak, Omar Narvaez, Yordi Rosario, Alex Call
The courting of Manny Machado didn’t work out, but at least Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso are solid big leaguers. All in all, the White Sox had a pretty decent offseason. They lacked Major League-caliber talent last season and picked up guys like Jay and Alonso and bolstered the bullpen with cats like Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome that are plenty comfortable with working in high-leverage.
The losses are nothing of significance. The James Shields albatross contract is finally gone and Avisail Garcia’s offensive profile wasn’t something that a team would want to bet on year in and year out.
Ivan Nova returned to the AL and James McCann moved from one big city to another, while staying in the AL Central.
None of this moves the needle a lot for me and falling short on Machado, who, understandably, wanted to play for an up-and-coming team, really changes the outlook for a lot of people on this team.
BA: .241 (22th)
OBP: .302 (26th)
SLG: .401 (21st)
wOBA: .304 (24th)
wRC+: 92 (20th)
BABIP: .304 (5th)
K%: 26.3% (30th)
BB%: 7.0% (29th)
Making contact is important. The White Sox had the highest strikeout rate in baseball and also had the highest strikeout rate in baseball with runners in scoring position. Their .304 BABIP fell to .299 with RISP and their .304 wOBA overall fell to .293 with RISP. When we look at why the White Sox had a five-game gap between their actual record and their BaseRuns record, this drop-off in key situations is a big reason why.
The fact of the matter is that this wasn’t really an accident. This is simply a bad offensive team. How bad? Eloy Jimenez, who has never stepped in a big league batter’s box, is the highest projected player in fWAR by Depth Charts. Let’s hope that Jimenez starts with the big league club, as he has very little to prove in the minors, but the idea that a team’s best player is a 22-year-old that hasn’t set foot on the field in an MLB regular season game is pretty telling.
Last season’s leading fWAR man was catcher Omar Narvaez, who was traded to Seattle for Alex Colome. Yoan Moncada was second, despite posting a .311 wOBA and a below average 97 wRC+. He struck out 33.4 percent of the time. Third was Tim Anderson, who did hit 20 homers and steal 26 bases, but he had one of the worst 20/20 seasons ever with a .281 OBP, a .294 wOBA, and an 85 wRC+.
Jose Abreu did have a down year, going from a .304/.354/.552 slash with a .377 wOBA in 2017 to a .265/.325/.473 slash with a .337 wOBA in 2018. Abreu posted an average exit velocity of 91.3 mph with a Barrels/PA% of 6.5 percent. His average exit velocity was up from 90.5 in 2017, but his Barrels/PA% fell from 7.1 percent. Tentatively, I would expect a mild bounce back, especially since he’ll be splitting time at first base and DH, so he should stay fresher.
With Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso in the top half of the lineup, the offense should be better. Those guys make contact and are professional hitters. Alonso even walks a little. Moncada walks a fair amount and his development path should continue. This isn’t an offense that will make a big leap, though. While they’ll make more contact, their team BABIP will likely drop with the larger sample size and not much of a discernible increase in contact quality.
ERA: 4.85 (26th)
FIP: 4.73 (28th)
xFIP: 4.88 (30th)
K%: 19.9% (26th)
BB%: 10.3% (29th)
LOB%: 69.4% (30th)
This is why I’ve never gotten the hype about the White Sox. Even if they had won the Manny Machado sweepstakes, the last time I checked, Manny Machado doesn’t pitch. The White Sox were putrid defensively and didn’t really help out the pitching staff, but this is a group that didn’t help itself either. In no way could I ever buy a team that finished in the bottom five in both K% and BB%.
Remember that this is a White Sox team that faced one legitimate offense in its division last season and even had a Twins team decimated by injuries and poor performance. Is Ivan Nova really coming to save the day? What, with his career 4.40 FIP as a member of the American League? At least he fits right in with this pitching staff.
Add Ervin Santana to the mix of mediocrity after his 24.2 innings with an ERA north of 8.00 last season.
There are some regression signs for Reynaldo Lopez, who posted a 3.91 ERA, but a 4.63 FIP and a 5.22 xFIP. Even with the altered grading scale for extreme fly ball guys like Lopez, another season with an ERA under 4.00 seems like a long shot. Carlos Rodon was healthy enough to throw 120.2 innings, but posted a 4.18 ERA with a 4.95 FIP and a 5.40 xFIP. He posted an 11.6 percent BB% in the second half with a 16.7 percent K%. I’m not sure he’ll ever figure it out or stay healthy enough to do so.
Former prized prospect Lucas Giolito made 32 starts and worked 173.1 innings, but did so with a 6.13 ERA, a 5.56 FIP, and a 5.46 xFIP. He was much better with his control in the second half, as he went from a 63/60 K/BB ratio in the first half in 103.1 innings to a 62/30 K/BB ratio in the second half over 70 innings, but also saw his HR/FB% increase four percent to 16.1 percent.
At least the bullpen looks decent with the additions of Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome. The White Sox will protect some leads this season, though Herrera missed the entire second half with injury. Nate Jones also missed the second half. Jace Fry was a nice find for the White Sox late in the year.
The biggest bummer for this pitching staff is that Michael Kopech had to go under the knife for Tommy John and will miss the entire season. He would have been a reason to watch this pitching staff.
Positives & Negatives
Well, the White Sox are still in the AL Central, so there’s that. The Tigers and Royals aren’t very good. The Indians are still the top dog and the Twins should be better, but both are flawed teams. The division can allow the White Sox to bank some wins.
It does seem like some positive developments were happening late last season in Rick Renteria’s first year at the helm. Covey and Giolito showed flashes of being Major League-caliber pitchers and it was a big year for Moncada’s development. Fry looks like a decent bullpen weapon. There are some signs in the right direction.
Missing out on Manny Machado really hurt. This White Sox rebuild feels like it has taken an eternity because Rodon has never stayed healthy enough to morph into that front-of-the-rotation starter. Giolito was also billed as having front-line starter potential. It doesn’t appear to be happening, though he still isn’t 25 years old. Carson Fulmer won’t be that guy. The White Sox are yet another example that not all prospects are going to live up to their projections.
Pick: Under 75.5
I’ve never understood the hype about this team. I haven’t gotten it from Day One, with or without Manny Machado. The offense just isn’t good enough and the pitching staff ranges somewhere from well below average to terrible. The bullpen will be much better, but the starting rotation is still going to be one of the worst in baseball.
Help is coming, slowly but surely, with Eloy Jimenez, Luis Alexander Basabe, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, and Nick Madrigal, but it will be a while before all of those players are there together and are all productive together, if it happens at all.
If you couldn’t tell already, I’m looking at the under for the White Sox. Part of this has to do with the fact that I do think that the Tigers and Royals will be more competitive than people realize, but a lot of it has to do with a pitching staff that has no depth and no margin for error and an offense that is littered with placeholders for prospects that are still a year or two away.
On a scale of 1 to 10, this play ranks somewhere in the 7 range. I’ll wait it out a little bit before making a final determination because I’ll be curious to see if Jimenez breaks camp with the White Sox. There is no reason why he shouldn’t, except to extend his service time. If the White Sox go that route, that means we’ll see Jimenez sometime in May or June and they’ll be able to be bad enough until then to give us a head start on the under.
<< Previous PostNext Post >>