by: Ryan Waldis
Over the next 30 days (March 1st through March 30th), I’ll be previewing each of the 30 MLB teams in reverse order of the 2017 league standings. The series will conclude on March 31st, when I’ll be releasing my predictions for the 2018 season. With that said, let’s jump into the 4th team preview of the series, featuring the Chicago White Sox.
Manager: Rick Renteria (2nd season)
2017 Record: 67-95, 4th in AL Central
Run Differential: -114
Top Position Player: Jose Abreu (4.7 WAR)
Top Pitcher: Anthony Swarzak (1.8 WAR)
The 2017 White Sox were an odd team. Outside of one month, they played like a respectable group. Their top pitcher in terms of WAR was a reliever, which is even more impressive when you take into account that this pitcher was traded at the deadline to the Brewers, meaning that he wasn’t even with the team for the final two months of the campaign. Four of their position players had above average seasons at the dish according to both OPS+ and wRC+, and yet the team was in the bottom eight in the league in terms of OPS. Perhaps more surprisingly, they were first in their division as late as May 4th, a division that includes the Indians and Twins. The end result? The 4th overall pick in the 2018 First Year Player Draft.
That one month of the season turned out to be July, when the White Sox struggled to the tune of a 6-18 record. They allowed 144 runs while plating just 88 in the month. They started July winning two of their first three games, and ended July on a two game winning streak. In the middle, an ugly 2-17 stretch took place. During this period of time, there were 12 instances when the White Sox allowed at least six runs in a game. There were losing streaks of three, five, and nine games, and from July 4th to August 6th the team won just six of their 29 contests.
Outside of that stretch, the White Sox were not terrible. They went above .500 in April and September, and won 11 games in May, June, and August. They had a positive run differential in each of the first two months of the regular season, and were just one run off of an even run differential in the final month of the campaign. All in all, it’s fair to wonder what the team could have done had they received more help from their pitching staff.
Chicago utilized a catching platoon for much of the 2017 season. Omar Narvaez was the left-handed side of the platoon, and statistically was exactly league average at the plate. He slashed .277/.373/.340 and finished with a wRC+ of 100. He walked a fair amount (12.9 walk percentage) and didn’t strikeout a lot (45:38 strikeout-to-walk ratio), but was a negative behind the plate, posting a -9.4 FRAA_ADJ per Baseball Prospectus. Kevan Smith was the right-handed side of the platoon, and while he was slightly better defensively (-5.4 FRAA_ADJ), he was below average offensively, finishing with just an 85 wRC+ and walking only 3.1 percent of the time.
Jose Abreu had his best offensive season since his 2014 debut, slashing .304/.354/.552 and clubbing 33 home runs. Looking at his batted ball profile, his 36.4 percent FB% was the highest of his career by more than three percent, and he posted career lows in LD% and GB%. He made less soft contact than ever before (15.8% soft%) while setting a career high for hard% (40.5). Abreu even improved defensively, posting the first positive UZR (0.5) of his career.
Yolmer Sanchez somehow hit 12 homers after never reaching five in his previous major league seasons, and posted the best offensive season of his career, finishing with a triple-slash of .267/.319/.413 (94 wRC+). He’s getting on base more than ever before, but his main value is with his glove. Sanchez played four different positions for the White Sox in 2017, and was a positive at each of them. He finished with UZR’s of 3.9 and 2.7 at second and third base, respectively, while positive a 3.1 UZR/150 at shortstop. He also played a couple innings in the outfield, further showcasing his versatility.
The 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Tim Anderson was not able to replicate the success he had in his rookie year. Sure, he hit 17 home runs while swiping 15 bags in 16 attempts. Those were about the only positives in Anderson’s game, as he fell off in each of the triple-slash categories and finished with a below average wRC+ (78) and wOBA (.288). Tim’s major flaw is his plate discipline; he struck out 26.7 percent of the time, and only drew a walk 2.1 percent—that second stat was the worst mark in the league. He finished with a 6.4 UZR at third before his trade to the Yankees, which was the third-highest mark he’s posted in his career.
Todd Frazier will probably never match the 122 wRC+ he put up in 2013, a season when he slashed .273/.336/.459 and hit 29 home runs while driving in 80 runs and stealing 20 bases while providing plus-defense at the hot corner. The player he’s turned into is still a pretty solid one, though. Frazier had another above-average season at the plate in 2017, and while the .207 average with the White Sox might not jump off the page, the 16 home runs and 14.3 walk percentage look extremely appealing.
A former top prospect of the Red Sox, Yoan Moncada logged 54 games in 2017, racking up 231 plate appearances. He finished with a 104 wRC+, slashing .231/.338/.412 while contributing eight home runs. He struck out way too much (32 percent K%), but the 12.6 BB% was appealing, and if he can start making just a little more contact, the .231/.338/.412 slash line will look a lot better. With potential 60-grade hit and power tools and potential 70-grade speed and throwing tools, Moncada provided the White Sox fanbase with a small glimpse of his talent in 2017.
As a whole, the White Sox outfield in 2017 was whelming. It wasn’t overwhelming or underwhelming, just whelming. Melky Cabera slashed .295/.336/.436 with Chicago over 98 games, which is essentially right in line with what he’s done over his career. He also hit 13 home runs and maintained a respectable 5.4 BB% and an 11.1 K%. Cabrera was awful in the field, however, posting a -6.4 UZR. Avisail Garcia finally had the breakout year that everyone has been waiting for, OPS’ing close to .900 (.885) and finishing third on the team in home runs (18). His BABIP being at .392 probably helped a bit, but at age 26 it seems like the former Tiger finally found his footing at the plate. Adam Engel, to put it kindly, wasn’t great. He slashed just .166/.235/.282 over 336 plate appearances, striking out 34.8% of the time. However, with his 80-grade speed and 60-grade fielding ability, Engel showcased just enough to earn as much run as he did. Special shoutouts to Leury Garcia and Willy Garcia, who on April 14th allowed the White Sox to start a Garcia-Garcia-Garcia outfield, which was an MLB first.
26-year-old Matt Davidson earned a lot of playing time as the DH for the White Sox in 2017 and matched his age by hitting 26 home runs. That is about the only positive thing that can be said about the corner infielder’s performance. His triple-slash was just .220/.260/.452, his wRC+ was a below average 83, and when he was asked to play the field he wasn’t very good (-1.5 UZR at first base, -2.1 UZR at third base).
The 4.78 ERA that the White Sox pitching staff finished with is actually quite remarkable when you take into consideration just how bad some of their arms were in 2017. Jose Quintana was the de-facto ace of the staff, and even he had a down season before being traded to the Cubs after 18 starts. Quintana pitched to an unsightly 4.49 ERA, which was odd considering the improvements he had been making year after year. Control issues arose (career-high 3.45 BB/9), balls were flying out of the park (career-high 1.21 HR/9), and the 42.9% GB% was lower than his career average. After getting traded to the Cubs he turned his season around, but the first several months were definitely rough for Quintana.
Six other pitchers made double-digit starts for the White Sox, and it would be easier to start with the two that weren’t god-awful. Intriguing young southpaw Carlos Rodon didn’t make it up the The Show until late June due to injury, and had a rough start to his 2017 campaign. After five innings of three run ball in his first start, Rodon allowed at least four runs in three of his next four starts. However, in the seven starts he made from July 30th to September 2nd (which was his final appearance of the season), he allowed two runs or less six times. The upside is clear and the potential is tantalizing, but Rodon still had some issues putting it all together. Miguel Gonzalez also wasn’t awful for what he was brought in to do, as he pitched to a 4.31 ERA and ate up 133.2 innings during his time with the White Sox before getting traded to the Rangers and falling apart.
As a sidenote, Lucas Giolito started only seven games, but was able to showcase the potential that made him a top prospect for several years. He pitched to a 2.38 ERA, and while the 4.94 FIP is concerning, Giolito was nevertheless impressive in 2017. The 92.0% LOB% isn’t ideal, but Lucas flashed two plus-pitches (the fastball and curveball), and utilized a potential plus changeup and solid slider.
The rest of the staff was laughable:
James Shields – 5.23 ERA/5.83 FIP
Mike Pelfrey – 5.93 ERA/6.35 FIP
Derek Holland – 6.20 ERA/6.45 FIP
Dylan Covey – 7.71 ERA/7.20 FIP
Without going into any more detail, just know that the above quartet was bad.
Chicago’s bullpen was actually middle-of-the-pack in 2017, finishing 18th in the league with a 4.28 ERA. While several arms were eventually traded to contenders, it doesn’t take away from the contributions they made with the Sox. Tommy Kahnle was probably the highlight of the ‘pen and it was easy to see why he was so highly regarded by so many contending teams. He pitched to a 2.50 ERA (1.49 FIP), and struck out 60 batters while walking just seven in 36 innings of work. David Robertson finished with a 2.70 ERA (3.07 FIP) in his 33 innings of work before going back to the Yankees, while Anthony Swarzak, as previously mentioned, was the top pitcher on the team in terms of WAR. Greg Infante pitched to an ERA just over three, while Nate Jones and Tyler Clippard posted ERA’s of 2.31 and 1.80 during their brief time in the White Sox bullpen. Even Danny Farquhar wasn’t awful, as he tossed 14 innings and finished with a respectable 3.65 FIP.
As a team still in the middle of their rebuild, the White Sox were pretty quiet over the offseason. Their biggest additions probably came in an early January trade with the Dodgers and Royals, when they received a pair of solid and reliable relief arms in Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria. If nothing else, the two relievers will be able to stabilize the bullpen for a few months before being traded in July to a contending team in need of bullpen help.
The organization didn’t really lose anyone of note over the offseason, so the “biggest” departure was probably Mike Pelfrey if for no other reason than that the fanbase won’t have to watch him start a game in 2018.
All Additions: Luis Avilan, Joakim Soria, Wellington Castillo, Bruce Rondon, Jeanmar Gomez, T.J. House, Hector Santiago, Gonzalez Germen
All Departures: Mike Pelfrey, Geovany Soto, Rymer Liriano, Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam
Best Case: On the backs of their group of young and intriguing talent, the White Sox get back into the 70 win club and finish with around 75 victories. Castillo provides some much needed stability to the catcher position, Abreu and Garcia lead the way offensively yet again, Moncada impresses in his first full major league season, and the duo of Rodon and Giolito prove they can be two of the top three arms in the rotation for a while. The organization adds more talent to their already deep farm system via the 4th overall pick and some in-season trades, and the White Sox are all but set to start playing meaningful September baseball in 2019 and beyond.
Worst Case: Abreu and Garcia heavily regress, Moncada struggles against a full season of major league pitching, the offense has no punch, and the young pitchers in the Chicago rotation get shelled more often than not, hurting their confidence. The return for their intriguing bullpen pieces at the deadline isn’t as good as it could have been, and the White Sox lose 100 games for the first time since 1970.
PECOTA Projected Record: 71-91, 737 RS, 841 RA