Team Preview: Chicago White Sox

After a coming in 6 games out of first place last year, the White Sox decided that they needed to add some power to their lineup and signed Adam Dunn to a 4 year, $56 million contract. Besides bringing in Dunn and a few changes in the bullpen, the 2010 and 2011 White Sox won’t be that much different in their personnel.

Starting 9

1.Juan Pierre LF
2. Gordon Beckham 2B
3. Adam Dunn DH
4. Paul Konerko 1B
5. Alex Rios CF
6. Carlos Quentin RF
7. A.J. Pierzynski C
8. Alexei Ramirez SS
9. Brent Morel 3B

As a whole, the White Sox lineup stands up pretty decent after being 10th in the league last season in runs scored. I am a little envious of the lineup since I will be watching the Royals run out a lineup with Jeff Francoeur batting cleanup every night this season. The White Sox were able to substantially upgrade last season’s DH position and its 0.728 OPS with Adam Dunn and his lifetime OPS of 0.902.

There were some holes in the offense last season, Carlos Quentin (more on him later), A.J. Pierzynski (he gets a pass because a bunch of teams have to play bad catchers) and the rotation that was the 3rd basemen. When your best 3rd basemen during the season was a 43 year old converted SS, the White Sox needed to find an upgrade. Instead of going out and getting a 3B, the White Sox looked internally and filled the position with Brent Morel. All reports state that Brent’s glove will be one of the best in the league, but there are questions surrounding his bat. He hit decently in the minors in 2010 (0.322/0.359/0.480), but was aided by a BABIP near 0.370. How Brent performs will be a key to helping the White Sox score a few more points.

Even though the new lineup should produce more runs, the defense looks to stay fairly stagnant. The White Sox’s fielding was the 5th wost in the majors according to UZR totals and it doesn’t look to be much improved in 2011 with the exception of adding Morel’s glove.

The Pitching Staff 

Starting Rotation

LH Mark Buehrle
RH Gavin Floyd
LH John Danks
RH Edwin Jackson
RH Lucas Harrell /RH Jake Peavy

The White Sox’s starting staff is basically back from 2010. The core of the staff, Danks, Floyd and Buehrle, average 32 starts each. Edwin Jackson made 11 starts after coming over from the Diamondbacks and Peavy made 17. This group of pitchers are very “Twins-ish” in that they are not a spectacular group with no true ace, but they will go out every night and give the offense a chance to win. Each of these starters is capable of putting up a 4 WAR season if they are able to stay healthy for the entire season.

The major question to ask about the staff is who will be the 5th starter if/when Peavy goes on the DL this season. Lucas Harrell currently looks to be the next person in line to move into the starting rotation. Also there is a chance that Chris Sale may eventually be moved to the rotation.

Bullpen

LH Matt Thornton – Closer
RH Jesse Crain
LH Chris Sale
RH Sergio Santos
RH Tony Pena
LH Will Ohman
RH Jeffrey Marquez

The bullpen for the White Sox is definitely revamped for 2011. Gone are both Bobby Jenks (55 games, 27 saves – signed with Red Sox) and J.J.Putz (60 games – signed with Diamondbacks). Jesse Crain and Will Ohman were signed in the off season to fill in for Jenk’s and Putz’s innings.

To start the season, it looks right now that Matt Thorton will get the first shot at taking over the closer role after putting up a FIP of 2.14 last season. Jesse Crain and Chris Sale seem to be his two set up men depending on batter handedness. There has been some talk that Sale may eventually be used as the team’s closer. I can not get into Kenny William’s head (pretty sure I don’t want to), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kenny try to transition Chris to a starting role. The move to starter would happen if Matt Thorton is able to hold onto the closer role and the starting staff has a couple players on the DL. If Thorton stumbles as the closer, Sale may then get a shot as the closer.

Tony Pena and Sergio Santos are not exactly scrubs and will give Ozzie decent options if one of the starting pitchers is run from the game early. Finally, Jeffrey Marquez or Lucas Harrell look to be the long relief guys this season

The Guy Who Matters

For the White Sox to make a move to win the AL Central this season, they will need a better season from Carlos Quentin. In 2008, Quentin had a career season where he accumulated 4.7 WAR and the White Sox won the Central in a playoff game with the Twins. Since 2008, he has basically gone missing with 0.0 and -0.4 WAR in 2009 and 2010.

The main problem is that his batting average is down considerably (from 0.283 to 0.238 and 0.243). The drop was caused by a huge drop in his BABIP (from 0.278 to 0.221 and 0.241). Looking at the players with over 750 PA over the past two seasons, his BABIP was tied for the lowest in the majors (0.232) with Rod Barajas . His xBABIP (discussed here) suggests that his BABIP should be closer to 0.270. The White Sox don’t need 2008 production from Carlos, but it would be helpful if they were able to get 2 to 3 WAR from him

Talent wise, the Sox should be able to compete with any team. Another advantage they have is that they have been able to stay relatively healthy over the past few years. From 2002 to 2010 (here and here), the White Sox have had the fewest days and trips to the disabled list compared to any other team. The exact cause of this discrepancy is not exactly known, but it looks to be centered on the conditioning of the players.

The Wite Sox didn’t make a ton of moves in the offseason, but the addition of Adam Dunn was a significant improvement to the lineup. They have a nice balance of good hitting and pitching to make a run at the 2011 AL Central title along with the Twins and the Tigers. There is good reason to believe they will be playing meaningful baseball late into the season.



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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


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