Last offseason, the Chicago White Sox appeared to be going into the 2015 season in “win-now” mode. They signed Jeff Samardzija. They signed Melky Cabrera. They signed David Robertson. Adding those three guys with the incumbents of Jose Abreu and Chris Sale meant that they were going to have a bit of a “stars-and-scrubs” team, because other than those players, they didn’t really have all that much, especially on the position player side. How did that work out? Not great, Bob.
|CHW||Record||wRC+||SP ERA-||RP ERA-||DRS||UZR||BsR||Pay – $M|
|2013||389 (28)||85 (28)||98 (12)||99 (23)||-55 (25)||-25 (23)||-14 (28)||111 (12)|
|2014||451 (22)||98 (12)||110 (23)||114 (29)||-57 (27)||-39 (26)||-14 (29)||97 (20)|
|2015||469 (21)||86 (26)||101 (12)||90 (12)||-39 (28)||-40 (30)||-16 (27)||119 (16)|
The good news for the White Sox is that this division seems to be fairly wide open. PECOTA loves the Indians, the Twins could wind up being this year’s Astros, and the Tigers could still be dangerous. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the teams in this division made the playoffs, either as the division winner or as a wildcard. Oh, the Royals? Yeah, about that PECOTA projection….
On the position player side, last season they got almost nothing from 4 positions: second base, third base, left field, and right field. In fact, according to BP’s Visual Depth Charts, no team in baseball got less from second base than the Pale Hose. This has been addressed with the acquisition of Brett Lawrie from the Athletics, and as a plus, since Lawrie can also play third it gives them some versatility in case injuries strike in other positions. It’s not a sexy move, but PECOTA likes them to improve 3.4 WARP for that position, and that’s fairly significant.
Moving on to third base, only one team had less production from their third basemen in 2015 than the ChiSox, and that was that due to that horrendous Pablo Sandoval performance in Boston. This has also been addressed with the acquisition of Todd Frazier from the Reds. Frazier had a bit of a breakout first half, making his second all-star game and somewhat famously putting on a show for his home fans at the Home Run Derby, before cratering in the second half. He increased his power, going from a slugging average of .459 in 2014 to .498 in 2015, but that was at the expense of his average and his OBP, with his OBP dropping from .336 to .309. He’s also been a plus defender at third, according to both DRS and UZR, but if he would ever have to slide over and play first base he’s not fared quite as well over there. But again, like Lawrie, he can play multiple positions. PECOTA also thinks that this position is much improved over last season, to the tune of 2.9 WARP.
Melky Cabrera didn’t perform in 2015 like the White Sox had hoped, given the fact they gave him a 3 year deal worth 42 million before the season, and he was basically replacement level (-0.1 at BP, -0.3 at Fangraphs, but 1.4 at BBRef, who actually liked his defense, but seeing as they are the outlier, not sure I’d put much stock in that one). Cabrera returns, of course, given his contract status, and the Sox are hoping for a bounce back, and he’s done it before. His wOBA graph, courtesy of Fangraphs, looks a bit like a roller coaster.
Until 2 days ago, the White Sox didn’t do anything to address the hole in right field either, before signing Austin Jackson. Avisail Garcia was previously expected to receive the bulk of playing time once again. He’s still only 25, despite seemingly being around forever, and he had a shoulder surgery in 2014. Shoulder injuries are notoriously slow to recover from, so there’s upside there, but it’s probably “put up or shut up” time for Garcia, as another year of below average offense from a corner outfield spot likely means your time as a regular is coming to an end, and he’s absolutely not a center fielder, so the bat has to play for him to be a productive player. Jackson, at this point in his career, profiles largely as maybe a fourth outfielder, but the Sox needed depth. Now, if Garcia is bad, Adam Eaton could slide over and play right, as Jackson would likely play center. Adam LaRoche is likely to get the bulk of DH at bats, except on those days where Jose Abreu gets a day off from playing the field, and he did not have a good first season on the south side, and at 36, might be done. If LaRoche falters, there’s also wiggle room there, as the addition of Jackson means Cabrera could DH and Eaton could slide into a corner in that scenario as well.
The starting rotation returns 4 of the 5 most frequent starters from last season, with the fantastic Chris Sale, solid if not spectacular Jose Quintana, promising youngster Carlos Rodon, and consistently mediocre John Danks. Jeff Samardzija is gone, getting a big deal from the Giants, but he actually wasn’t very good in 2015, with his FIP jumping a full run and his ERA jumping almost two full runs from the previous season, combined with the decrease in strikeout rate, and it just wouldn’t have been a very smart move to bring him back. What is a smart move, however, is the signing of one of my favorite low risk/high reward players of the offseason, that being one Mat Latos. He’s been injured, and he’s been a knucklehead, but when healthy, he’s also been quite a good pitcher. With his signing only costing 3 million dollars for just a single season, there’s almost no risk involved here, because if he’s ineffective, or a knucklehead, you can just tell him to go pound sand, and other than last season, he’s been a better pitcher than Jeff Samardzija has.
Last season the bullpen was middle of the pack, and look to be projected to be about the same. David Robertson is a serviceable closer; he’s not one of those sub-2 FIP closers like the elite ones, but he’s good enough. Nate Jones should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery after returning to throw 19 innings late last season. Zach Duke is probably a LOOGY in a setup role, and his walk rate ballooned last season (career high 4.7 per 9), so that’s something to keep an eye on. Possibly Matt Albers can finally get a save. Nah.
Defensively, the White Sox were deficient in 2015 (only 3 teams had a worse Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency) and PECOTA doesn’t see a whole lot of improvement. The entire outfield grades as below average, but the new infield additions Frazier and Lawrie are both plus defenders. (Last minute note: the addition of Austin Jackson could change things there.) Tyler Flowers is gone to the Braves, and offensively that’s no big loss, but his framing runs prevented might be (16.7 in 2015). They will likely get an offensive bump from Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, but neither one of those players are known for their defense. PECOTA isn’t very high on the new catching staff, forecasting a loss of 1.0 WARP, mostly on the framing side of things, so the offensive production is going to have to be higher than expected to make up that difference.
To conclude, the White Sox did a pretty good job of addressing some of their weaknesses in the off-season, clearly upgrading at 2 positions, and possibly having Jimmy Rollins keeping a seat warm for their top prospect SS Tim Anderson at some point during the summer. The corner outfield spots appear to possibly be a problem, but Melky Cabrera has always been an up and down player, so you’ve got a good chance of a swing to the good side of things. They seem to be willing to roll with Garcia in right, but unless he improves his plate discipline (he swung at 60% of pitches in 2015), that might not be the best idea. Austin Jackson seems to be a perfect fit, and at this point in the spring, would probably come at a good price, and where the Sox are on the win curve, that’s a move that probably should be made. (You know what, I’m leaving this in. I’m a genius!)
PECOTA and Fangraphs are both right in the same range for the win projection, PECOTA being at 82 wins, and Fangraphs coming in at 80, and that’s right around where I see it. But, since Darius Austin has ordered all the writers to put a number in all these previews so we can compare here on the site at the end of the season (yo Darius), and I don’t want to be the guy who just picks the easy number, I’m going to go with 85-77, coming a few games short of a wildcard spot.
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