Chicago White Sox
2014 Finish: 73-89 (Fourth Place)
Projected Batting Order
CF Adam Eaton
LF Miguel Cabrera
1B Jose Abreu
DH Adam LaRoche
SS Alexei Ramirez
RF Avisail Garcia
C Tyler Flowers
3B Connor Gillespie
2B Emilio Bonifacio
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
LHP Chris Sale
RHP Jeff Samardzjia
LHP Jose Quintana
LHP John Danks
RHP Hector Noesi
CLOSER David Robertson
The White Sox have had one of the most exciting off seasons of any team in the game. They added Adam LaRoche, Jeff Samardzjia, David Robertson and Emilio Bonifacio. After struggling for the last four years, they decided to go out and make some noise. Now is an especially good time for that, as the Cubs have also made moves and want to take hold of the city’s baseball focus. While the White Sox may never be the Cubs, I think they could be the better team this year.
Many are picking them to be an upset team to take the AL Central title this year. But let’s not forget how far this team would have to go from last year. 79 Wins is not at all good. Outside of sitting 5th in HR, this offense was average across the board. The pitching staff was below average ranking third to last in team ERA. There is no question they got a lot better. But that may have only made them as good as the teams they are trying to beat.
The White Sox offense was a very middle of the road group last year. If not for the emergence of Jose Abreu, they would have been straight up bad. The only area where they were pretty good was the power department where they were tied for fourth in the league with 155 HR (their ballpark deserves an assist on that stat). The Sox made some additions to hopefully help them improve offensively this year.
The White Sox offense had a new leader step up last season in the name of Jose Abreu. Abreu was a Cuban expat who immediately came over and started raking in the major leagues. He hit 317 with 36 HR, 107 RBI and 80 R. He won the AL Rookie of the Year in a landslide and had he stayed healthy could have won the HR title, falling four short of Nelson Cruz. You always worry about second year players in the league, but this isn’t a traditional rookie. He’s older and has played professionally in Cuba for years. That’s part of the reason that he was so good in his first season. And while Cespedes and Puig haven’t impressed in their second seasons, I think Abreu can. Perhaps his AVG drops, but I still like him for 280 with 30-35 HR and 100 RBI.
Last year, Paul Konerko was the protection for Abreu. With his retirement, the White Sox went out to improve that protection and signed Adam LaRoche to be their primary DH. It’s interesting, because LaRoche is a far better defensive first baseman than Abreu. But Abreu is younger, makes more money and wants to play in the field. So expect LaRoche to DH and give Abreu the occasional day off at first. Perhaps they even move Abreu to left occasionally as a way to rest their corner outfielders. But if that affects his hitting, then that won’t happen and the White Sox will be left with the best fielding DH in baseball. Long under-appreciated, LaRoche has started getting recognition for being a good player in recent years, especially after his great year in 2012 and Gold Glove season. Last season he hit 259 with 26 HR and 92 RBI. Outside of an injury shortened season in 2011, LaRoche has hit over 20 HR every season since his rookie year in 2004. Moving to the launching pad in U.S. Cellular field, I think LaRoche can threaten for 270 again with 30 HR. I’m guessing 268 with 28 HR and 90+ RBI.
One of the other major additions this offseason was left fielder Melky Cabrera. After missing the end of the 2012 season on a PED suspension, Cabrera has been very good. He has missed some time due to injuries over the last two years for the Blue Jays, but played in 139 games last year hitting 301 with 16 HR and 73 RBI. He may not be the best fielder, but it’s not for lack of ability. He is a great number 2 hitter who hits for plus AVG (career 286) with some pop and speed. If he plays a full season, I’m thinking 280 with 15 HR and 10 SB. Add in 70 RBI/R.
The White Sox actually started their rebuild last year, with the addition of new leadoff man Adam Eaton. In the healthiest season of his short 3-year career, Eaton played in 123 games hitting 300 with 15 SB. He’s a good leadoff man who does a great job working the count with a career 350 OBP. He runs a lot, but isn’t great at it (15 SB, caught stealing 9 times). If fully healthy, he could swipe 20 bags, but I don’t know how good his percentage will be. That being said, he could threaten for 300 again and get on base as a 350 clip. I’ll put him down for 290 with 18 SB and 90 R.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez had one of his best years in the majors. He hit 273 last year with 15 HR, 74 RBI and 21 SB. He’s either hit for AVG or power over his career, but last year was the first year he combined the two and had a very strong season. I think he’s another 270 guy with 15-20 HR potential, not to mention 20 SB.
Young right fielder Avisail Garcia is hoping for the breakout that many predict. I am unsure. He swings and misses too much and struggles with breaking pitches. If he plays a full year, he could stumble his way into 15 HR and 8 SB. But that may be paired with a 240 AVG. If he is in a spot to hit a lot of fastballs and lay off breaking pitches, he can have a big year and help the Sox contend. But I don’t see him breaking out.
Speaking of all or nothing hitters, catcher Tyler Flowers brings his blend of power and nothing else back to the South Side. His 241 AVG was helped by a healthy 355 BABIP, which denotes that he was quite lucky. He hit 15 HR with 52 RBI last year, which I think is a good barometer for him. He played in 123 games, by far his most in the majors. I might expect that AVG to drop a bit towards 220, but think he can still contribute his 15 HR.
Emilio Bonifacio is another new addition who can be a real sparkplug. At this point in his career, he is viewed as more of a utility guy who can bring his great speed to multiple positions. For the most part, he plays OF, 2B and 3B. But he can also play short in a pinch. The goal is about 400 ABs and the ability to rest other regulars. That being said, I feel like he is so much better than the other second base options for Chicago that he will find his way into 500 ABs. He will never be a 300 hitter, despite his ability to put the bat on the ball. But I think he can hit 260 again (259 last year) with 20 SB in limited time.
Connor Gillespie and Carlos Sanchez make up the rest of the offense. Neither is very exciting and that is part of the reason Bonifacio was signed. Sanchez had shown power and speed in the minors, but nothing in limited time last year for the White Sox. Gillespie hits for a decent AVG, but with limited pop and no speed. Gordon Beckham is still around, but lost the starting job. Matt Davidson was supposed to take the third base job, but is struggling in Triple A.
That is the offense. It has talent at the top and potential in the middle. While some of the Sox hitters are one-trick ponies (Flowers), many of the others have the ability to hit for decent AVG and lots have power. There is speed sprinkled throughout the lineup, even if the leadoff man needs to work on his base running. If Eaton can continue to get on base at a 362 clip like he did last year, then Cabrera, Abreu, LaRoche and Alexei Ramirez will have no trouble knocking him in. Even if he can’t get on base, Cabrera and Abreu will get on enough that LaRoche, Ramirez and maybe Flowers/Garcia can clean it up. This offense should score runs. Maybe not as many as the Tigers, but more than the Royals.
The defensive picture isn’t as promising. Flowers is not good behind the plate and allows a lot of balls in the dirt to get away. Abreu is maybe a little above average at first, which wouldn’t be as noticeable if there weren’t a Gold Glover DHing. Sanchez and Gillespie are fine defensively at second and third and Bonifacio is as good when he plays. Alexei Ramirez has lost a step defensively at short and his range was totaled at -6 runs. Cabrera has all the skills in the world in left, but often looks disinterested in the field. Eaton and Garcia are fine in center and right, but not great. Bonifacio has the range to play well in all three outfield spots, but his arm is lacking, especially when he plays right. Gordon Beckham is on the bench, but backs up two of the better defensive positions the White Sox have. These guys may hit well, but they aren’t as good with the leather.
While the White Sox offense was only average last year, their pitching staff was decidedly below average. They had the third worst team ERA, were tied for the worst WHIP and led the league in walks. Obviously, they needed to improve on the mound, so the White Sox added a quality starter, a strong closer and another solid bullpen piece in the hopes that it would be enough to support what looks like a very strong offense.
Chris Sale is still the ace of this staff. He is one of the three best lefties in the game today and has been lights out for the Sox the past few years. A converted reliever, Sale had his best season last year since moving to the starting rotation. He went 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA and 208 Ks in 174 IP. Unfortunately, he only made 26 starts due to injury and was shut down early in a lost year for the White Sox. His 0.97 WHIP is downright nasty and his 205 BAA shows how unhittable he is. There has long been concern that his mechanics will lead to him breaking down, but he’s been fairly strong for the last three years, even missing time with light injuries. He is getting over a foot fracture and is scheduled to make his season debut late, April 12th. But if he can stay healthy from that point on, I like him for 15+ Wins, 200 IP, 210 Ks and an ERA around 2.75.
The new addition to this starting staff is Jeff Samardzjia who will couple with Sale to create arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league, certainly in the division. Samardzjia was excellent in his split season with the A’s and Cubs, despite his 7-13 record. He struck out 202 batters in 219 IP with a 2.99 ERA. While he will give up hits, its not a crippling amount and he doesn’t beat himself by allowing a lot of walks. Leaving Wrigley field for O.Co Coliseum helped his numbers, and he hopes a return to a hitters’ park won’t hurt him too badly. I think being the number 2 man for the Sox will help him deal with the pressure and he’ll have a strong season with 12-15 Wins and an ERA around 3. Add to that 220 IP and 200 Ks.
Jose Quintana quietly had a great season last year. Despite a 9-11 record, he was very good with a 3.32 ERA and 200 IP. As a number three starter, those are excellent numbers. He’s not a strikeout guy (178 Ks….not bad though) and will allow some base runners (1.24 WHIP is average….257 BAA is a little worse than average). But he can buckle down to get out of jams and keep his team in games. I think he will have another solid season with double-digit wins and an ERA a little south of 3.50.
John Danks and Hector Noesi make up the rest of the rotation. They are a significant step back from the top 3 starters. Danks went 11-11 with a 4.74 ERA last season. Right now, he is just shooting to be an innings eater who will keep the White Sox in games. I think he can have another season of around 200 IP (196 last year) with a sub 5 ERA. Noesi saw the most starts in his career last season when he arrived in Chicago after being a bullpen piece for the Rangers and Mariners. In Chicago, he went 8-11 with a 4.39 ERA. He is another guy who is just looking to throw some quality innings in a tough league and tougher ballpark.
The bullpen got two major pieces added this offseason. After using a closer by committee approach last season (which predictably failed), the White Sox signed David Robertson, fresh off his very strong year replacing Mariano Rivera in the Bronx last season. Robertson went 39 for 44 in Save opportunities with a 3.08 ERA. He loves the strikeout as he notched 96 in 64 IP. But he also allowed 23 BBs, something coaches wish he’d work on. The ERA is high for a closer, though he does a good job limiting base runners even with the walks. The real culprit was the 7 HRs he allowed. Moving out of the new Yankee Stadium will help with that some, but U.S. Cellular Field is a launching pad as well. I’ll put him down for 35 Saves with a 2.50 ERA and another 90+ Ks.
Converted starter Zach Duke is in line to be the primary setup man after a great season with the Brewers. He logged 12 Holds in 74 games with 74 Ks in 58 IP. He also pitched to a 2.45 ERA after making a tweak to his delivery in Milwaukee. The results were fantastic and I expect another strong season in Chicago for Duke this year.
Javy Guerra and former top prospect Kyle Drabek highlight the remaining bullpen pieces. There are some live arms, but few proven commodities. However with strong starting pitching at the front of the rotation and enough solid names at the back of the bullpen (Robertson, Duke, Guerra), the hope is this bullpen won’t have to carry the team too far.
This pitching staff is significantly improved from last year, even though just 3 big pieces were added. Having three strong starters has them ahead of Cleveland and Minnesota. Having a strong bullpen has them ahead of Detroit. But Kansas City is still the class of the division on the mound and you can argue that Detroit has more depth with their 4 solid starters. The pitching staff will be better, but it needs to have strong seasons from the back of the rotation and front of the bullpen if it wants to be considered a playoff team.
As a team, the White Sox have improved across the board. Looking at the additions they’ve made the last two off seasons, they certainly look no worse than the third best team on paper in this division. But is that enough to make the playoffs? They need to at least finish in second, in my opinion, to be in the wildcard conversation. While they likely have the second best offense in the division, they may only have the third best pitching staff. I’ll say it’s a toss up between them and Detroit on the mound. When things are that close, I generally pick the team with the experience and winning pedigree. And in recent years, that means the Tigers.
The White Sox offense looks more formidable than the Royals, but the Royals pitching is far better. I’m keeping them in first and having Detroit edge out Chicago for second in the division. But I do think Chicago can make enough noise to make sure that only one team from their division tastes October baseball.
I’ll put the White Sox down for 83 wins and third place in this division. It will be a massive improvement from last year and will have them nipping at Detroit’s heels enough that both miss the playoffs. Not what they had in mind, but a clear example of improvement on the field.