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  • A Check-In on the Chicago White Sox


    Matt Braun

    With baseball awakening from its slumber, join us on a trip through the AL Central, observing what each team has done—and still needs to do—in order to claim the division crown.

    Image courtesy of Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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    How did last season go?
    With clowns to the left of them and jokers to the right, the White Sox finished… 2nd in the AL Central—not quite stuck in the middle, but close enough to make the difference negligible. 

    There’s something eternally frustrating about a .500 team; the Lord considers their lukewarm nature repulsive and spits them out of his mouth while we baseball enthusiasts have to sift through mediocrity to properly analyze the roster. It's a movie with brilliant visuals and a meandering plot; a book with an empty subtext. Yes, Dylan Cease is inarguably the best non-Bieberian starter in the division, but what do we make of the likes of Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert? Will inconsistency ever make way for undeniable greatness?

    The answer, at least in 2022, was no. The team made a solid push for a Wild Card spot but lost eight straight games in late September to seal their fate. 

    What did they do in the off-season?
    Chicago had a perfectly normal, cromulent off-season. They signed Andrew Benintendi—a sum-of-his-parts outfielder capable of boring production—to a $75 million contract while bringing back Elvis Andrus and acquiring Mike Clevinger on ancillary deals. 

    For Benintendi, the move makes sense; Eloy Jiménez has yet to prove that his defense isn’t an active hazard to his health while the new guy's bat can help add oomph to a lineup losing some lumber. Clevinger can ideally toss about 120 innings, although in a far less efficient manner than he could before his second TJ surgery. Andrus is back because Chicago couldn’t afford to ignore the second base position as a concept anymore.

    In a vacuum, it’s a fine haul, but it's easy to second-guess Chicago’s strategy. So easy, in fact, that I’ll do that right now.

    In a division with the consistently-competent Guardians and a Twins team gearing up to earn a playoff spot, Chicago’s moves appear tepid, made to satisfy a bottom line and work as proof that the team is Trying to Win, not an actual attempt to carry out an effective plan. 

    Letting José Abreu walk so that the youngster Andrew Vaughn—he of a 102 career OPS+—could take over first base full-time makes sense, but, man, is it wise to allow the team’s heart to walk without an effort to retain his services? For a franchise that staked its identity in Cuban stars, losing one of the finest players the island ever developed seems guaranteed to make a negative impact. Teams need leaders. 

    To their credit, the White Sox realized this and canned mutually agreed to part ways with manager Tony La Russa. Often criticized, and never appreciated despite a 2021 Division victory, La Russa endured overwhelming negative noise for his decisions. From intentionally walking a hitter in a 1-2 count to being so pissy over his own player hitting a home run that the New York Times got involved, the game seemed to have passed him by, maybe literally. Former Twins draftee and Royals coach, Pedro Grifol, will man the ship now. 

    What should we expect in 2023?
    The good news for the White Sox is that this is largely the same team that won the division in 2021. The bad news for the White Sox is that this is largely the same team that won the division in 2021. Remaining stagnant only invites atrophy as your competition increases their talent. 

    Sure, they could present new breakout players, but Chicago in modern times has utterly failed to create an environment for internal player development. Their best players are bought, not altered. That may seem like a strange criticism—who cares where you get your players from—but when a team can only capitalize off their most valuable resources, then they aren’t doing their homework. 

    Take a look at the roster: the team is nearly entirely made of 1st-round picks, expensive international signings, trades including significant major-league players, or free-agent acquisitions. Aaron Bummer—a 19th-round pick made nearly a decade ago—may be their only true success story in elevating from the muck. They robbed Cease and Eloy Jiménez from the Cubs and Lucas Giolito from the Nationals, but those were highly-regarded prospects, not invisible potential; those success stories aren’t examples of outstanding talent identification. For a team that refuses to live outside meager means, not finding hidden ability is a death sentence, a ticket to mediocrity that cannot be upgraded no matter how hard they try. 

    That issue shows up in their depth, or, really, a complete lack of it. “[T]he Pale Hose are fairly dangerous if they enjoy a very good injury scenario but fall off very quickly if they don’t,” wrote Dan Szymborski after his ZiPS machine spat out a disappointing projection for the White Sox. Seby Zavala, Gavin Sheets, Jake Burger, and the inexplicable, unkillable Leury García represent the best of Chicago’s backups. It’s better to leave the topic there. 

    Still, it’s impossible to ignore the talent. Luis Robert Jr. could be a legitimate top-5 center fielder in MLB, Tim Anderson is an All-Star talent, Yoán Moncada probably isn’t as bad as he was in 2022, Lucas Giolito has multiple 4+ fWAR seasons under his belt, Lance Lynn was elite in 2021, and Dylan Cease is a Cy Young candidate. That’s more upside than most .500 teams. 

    But upside doesn’t promise wins, and baseball is a game of depth. Without tremendous, potentially historic injury luck, it’s difficult to see the White Sox maintain their top-tier talent throughout the entire season; those games started by the Davis Martins and Jonathan Stievers of the world appear ripe to tank their season. Whether that happens will be a game of fortune, and Chicago already knows what it's like to be burned by the odds.

     

     

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    I wouldn't think the ChiSox fanbase is feeling all that great about their offseason (other than dumping LaRussa). Clevinger is still under investigation, wasn't good last year, and has been healthy basically once in his career. Abreu was easily their 2nd best hitter last season and Benetendi seems unlikely to come anywhere near replacing that for a team that was below average on offense to begin with. Better health might make a difference with Jimenez, Robert, and Anderson but I wouldn't expect Grandal to play a lot more games at 34.

    But as much as their 2022 season was hurt by their injuries on offense, their pitching staff was pretty healthy overall. But already Hendriks is going to miss time (good luck to him on his fight), Clevinger might miss time (and based on his track record will miss time even if he's not suspended), Lynn is old enough that you always have to wonder and last season pitched fewer innings in any non-COVID year since he was a rookie. 

    the depth looks thin, the system hasn't been super productive, and they're spending a lot of money on the bullpen when they need some help on offense. They were definitely a bit lucky last season (27-16 in 1 run games is part having a guy like Hendriks slamming the door, but it's also a little luck. They were outscored last season but finished .500 that also some luck)

    ZiPS and other projection systems are seeing this too.

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    1 hour ago, jmlease1 said:

    I wouldn't think the ChiSox fanbase is feeling all that great about their offseason (other than dumping LaRussa). Clevinger is still under investigation, wasn't good last year, and has been healthy basically once in his career. Abreu was easily their 2nd best hitter last season and Benetendi seems unlikely to come anywhere near replacing that for a team that was below average on offense to begin with. Better health might make a difference with Jimenez, Robert, and Anderson but I wouldn't expect Grandal to play a lot more games at 34.

    But as much as their 2022 season was hurt by their injuries on offense, their pitching staff was pretty healthy overall. But already Hendriks is going to miss time (good luck to him on his fight), Clevinger might miss time (and based on his track record will miss time even if he's not suspended), Lynn is old enough that you always have to wonder and last season pitched fewer innings in any non-COVID year since he was a rookie. 

    the depth looks thin, the system hasn't been super productive, and they're spending a lot of money on the bullpen when they need some help on offense. They were definitely a bit lucky last season (27-16 in 1 run games is part having a guy like Hendriks slamming the door, but it's also a little luck. They were outscored last season but finished .500 that also some luck)

    ZiPS and other projection systems are seeing this too.

    FYI, MLB announced they won't be suspending Clevinger.

    MLB’s statement: “The comprehensive investigation included interviews of more than 15 individuals, in addition to Mr. Clevinger and the complainant, as well as a review of available documents, such as thousands of electronic communication records.  The Office of the Commissioner has closed this investigation and, barring the receipt of any new information or evidence, the Office of the Commissioner will not be imposing discipline on Mr. Clevinger in connection with these allegations.

    As part of his path forward, Mr. Clevinger has voluntarily agreed to submit to evaluations by the joint treatment boards under the collectively bargained policies, and to comply with any of the boards’ recommendations.  MLB will continue to make support services available to Mr. Clevinger, his family, and other individuals involved in the investigation.”

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    Having lived near Chicago for the past almost thirty years, I can attest to the unpredictability of the White Sox with regard to projections, predictions, payroll, motivation, and every other variable you can think of.  If sometimes you think that the Twins are maddening, just try figuring out the White Sox.  Even in 2005, when they wound up winning it all, no one really saw it coming -- Frank Thomas didn't even play most of the season including the WS.  They got hot at the right time and rode some amazing pitching performances through the series.  They stayed "OK" for a bit but never really put it together again.

    The 2021 version that came from nowhere to win the division arrived at least a year earlier than they were expected to and probably overachieved because they didn't know they weren't supposed to be that good yet.  Last year, injuries and ineffectiveness crept back in and they were a sub-.500 team (OK, they were actually 81-81, but they seemed worse!).  On paper, with everyone healthy, they are pretty dangerous, but over the course of the season and minus Jose Abreu, things could go South pretty quickly. I think that no matter what kind of year Andrew Vaughan manages to come up with, the Sox will miss Abreu's presence in the lineup immensely.

     

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    Matt, you've produced a solid analysis for sure. While we can't know WHICH players succumb to injury or continue to under-perform against expectations, we know two things: first, that they simply can't overcome the inevitable injuries to the 26-man roster, and secondly, they simply do not have any minor league reinforcements that are good or MLB ready if they are good.

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    The White Sox are not a team that I expect to have good year.  They have some good hitters, but their defense is not good at all.  Cease is one reason to feel good, he is legit Cy Young guy.  Their offense should still scare people, if healthy, but that is big if with them.  Roberts has the talent, but yet to grow from what he showed in 2020, and has really not been healthy much, I could be wrong but believe most have been muscle injuries which tend to linger. 

    Using Vaughn at 1B may be a terrible idea, and should just keep him DH.  He had OPS+ of 111 last year, but still a negative war because his defense was that bad.  He had negative 2.6 bWAR.  That is crazy for a first baseman.  Baseball reference projects if he played a full 1200 innings at first he would have cost his team 19 runs.  That is crazy for a first baseman. 

    Outside of Cease I do not expect a ton from any of their staff.  Giolito has been good but not great his career and is aging with a down year.  Lynn is in his mid-30's and coming off of poor year, could he rebound, maybe but would not expect a ton from him.  

    Unless the sox can score a ton of runs, they will not do well because their defense and pitching will not be holding teams down. 

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    On 3/14/2023 at 9:46 AM, TCSquad said:

    It really embiggened the entire article.

    Post made my mind's day!

    My broken ribs, sternum and scapula want to kill you...

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    6 hours ago, rusty boots said:

    ALC this season feels like a 2 horse race between CLE and MIN. This is speculation of course.. looking forward to a fun summer

    I hope it's a one-horse runaway for the good guys.

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    On 3/14/2023 at 8:22 AM, miracleb said:

    Matt,

    Nice use of the word...."cromulent!"
    :)

    Had to look it up. Sounded like something stinky. I guess that’s part of the Simpsons subtext of cleverness underneath the bro humor.

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