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.

29 Responses to “Team Preview: Chicago White Sox”

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  1. larry says:

    considering lucas harrell was amongst the first cuts from major league camp, he certainly isn’t next in line for the starting rotation.

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  2. Christo P. Ney says:

    Please edit.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      You mean the sentence with a triple negative was incorrect?

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        I’m sorry, but this is a terribly written article. These two sentences were particularly poor:
        “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.”

        Did you even bother reading this before posting?

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    • Adam says:

      I only got 3 words into the article before crinkling my nose. I agree.

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  3. GTW says:

    I’m a big fan of Dunn’s ability to blast off and I look forward to seeing him take over the Cell this year. However, the change of leagues has me wondering how well he will adjust to new pitchers. Do hitters tend to struggle out of the gates in new leagues? I haven’t been able to find any recent research on this topic so any insight would be appreciated.

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  4. MikeS says:

    Good analysis overall. I actually think the defense will be better. Beckham has a full season at 2B under his belt and Morel is likely to be an upgrade over Vizquel who got by at third on reputation and comparisons to Teahan. RF will remain an adventure since Quentin can’t be moved to DH but if/when he gets hurt his replacement is likely to be at least a superior defender, even if it turns out to be Milledge.

    Overall, I don’t see why this group can’t challenge the Twins for the division.

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    • Sox2727 says:

      I agree, I’m operating under the assumption that Morel will be the starting 3B. If that’s the case, the areas of defensive weakness are Quentin in all facets, AJ throwing out baserunners, and Paulie’s non-existent range. I don’t think Paulie’s ability to pick balls and save errors from the likes of Alexi and Teabag gets enough credit, I know UZR sure doesn’t look at it. Overall, I don’t think Paulie’s defense will keep this team from playing in October. With regards to AJ’s inability to throw out base runners, with stolen bases decreasing league wide, again, I don’t see this being something that will prevent this team from winning the Central.

      With regards to Quentin, as bad as his defense is he really needs to hit 30-35 homers and have a wOBA of close to .360 to not be a minus overall. I have very high expectations for this team this year, and I look forward to watching playoff baseball at the corner of 35th and Shields this October.

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  5. Pat says:

    Perhaps I missed it in the article, but while Will Carroll’s piece points to the White Sox as a team with a medical staff advantage, he doesn’t seem to mention anything about conditioning. Is there another source that you were thinking of that connects team conditioning with a decrease in DL time?

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    • Stephen says:

      The Sox have one of the better staffs in the game in general. The Medical Staff, led by herm Schneider has kept a team that relies on veterans very healthy.

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  6. David M. says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but why should we expect Carlos Quentin’s BABIP to get any better? His flyball rate has increased every year he’s been in the majors, his line drive and groundball rates have decreased every year. Last year he was in the 90th percentile in highest FB%, and the 90th percentile of lowest LD% and GB%. This screams low BABIP to me, and I haven’t seen any indication that anything should change. I’d say, if anything, that his 2008 BABIP is starting to look like the major outlier. I’m not going to hold my breath for a .270 one this year.

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  7. Paulie L. says:

    I think Beckham is getting overlooked a little. He was hampered by nagging injuries much of last year. If he hits more like he did his rookie year or the second half of last year where he put up a .310/.380/.497 line, along with replacing Kotsay with Dunn you are looking at an elite offense with or without Quentin returning to his ’08 form and the expected regression of Konerko.
    As far as fielding, you have a plus defender in LF, a plus defender in CF, a potential plus defender at 3b (Morel), a plus defender at SS, and at worst an average defender at 2b. The real holes are in RF and 1B and Konerko is only terrible because he has no range, but anything he can get to he will take care of.
    The pitching staff on paper should be just as elite last year when they lead the AL in WAR and FIP. I think this team has fewer holes than both the Tigers and Twins right now and should easily surpass the 82 win PECOTA projection.

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  8. walt526 says:

    “How Brent performs will be a key to helping the White Sox score a few more points.”

    Points?

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  9. OzzieGuillen says:

    Please add in something about the manager being awesome. Thanks.

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    • MikeS says:

      The manager is awesome.

      Don’t be fooled by the national reputation. The White Sox frequently outperform their pre-season predicitions. Not always, but more often than not. Maybe it’s just a fluke but the more often it happens the less likely that is. Either the players are better than people think or the manager is getting more out of them than expected.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Is there a manager/GM combo that gets LESS credit than these two?

        I fully admit that I am a KW supporter, even though I don’t always agree with the approach, and he has made some clunkers. But, he has also made some tremendous rip off trades that have set the Sox up nicely for a 3-6 year span, which to me far trumps a bad deal lasting 2-3 years.

        I am not a fan of Ozzie, but he likely deserves more credit than he gets. His personality likely takes away from his managerial ability (or the perception of it).

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      • Sox27 says:

        I think part of the problem with the amount of recognition/respect the tandem get/don’t get is based upon the constant soap opera between the two. All things considered, I believe Kenny has done a solid job with this team in his 10 years. I am middle of the road on Ozzie, I personally don’t like the way he uses his bullpen and his approach of constatnly try to steal bases if your name isn’t Konerko, Pierzynski costs the team a lot of outs. There certainly are better managers in my eyes, and worse ones too.

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      • mister_rob says:

        10 yrs and only 2 postseason appearances in a very winnable division, and with a very competitive budget

        how has kenny set them up? They are currently very expensive, not clear cut favorites for anything, and have baseball’s worst farm system

        color me unimpressed. Just because he managed to get career years out of like 10 guys all at the same time doesnt mean he is a good GM.

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  10. durf81 says:

    Rob Neyer, is that you? Seriously, Royals fans sure do hate the Sox.

    Are we talking batting average on Fangraphs, really? Quentin had a wOBA of .356 and an OPS of .821, both in the top 10 of RF’s.

    There is only one reason that Quentin’s WAR is crap and that’s b/c he was a butcher in RF last year. I expect him to be a little better this year (b/c you can really get any worse).

    And as others have pointed out, you failed to mention Beckham’s disaster first half last year that he most likely will not repeat (along with his defense improving at 2B). AJ should revert back to his career norm (but so should PK).

    Also, I fail to see how Liriano is not an Ace. I hope that Danks and Floyd can take another step up this year after being 21st and 22nd in WAR last year of all SPs.

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  11. Sophist says:

    Quentin’s biggest problem is between his ears. If he gets a new therapist, or starts doing yoga, or starts smoking pot, or stops smoking pot, or does something else to tone it down up there, he could be a monster. But this is the third year in a row he showed up to Spring Training talking about how things are going to be different and he won’t be so intense (and then Joe Cowley finds him inside his locker practicing his swing).

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      When TCQ smokes marijuana, the weed gets intense.

      I think we’re all being too nice by not calling him “Nuckin Futs” or just plain ol bat-poop crazy. He is.

      Intense has to do with focus and concentration. Intense is not a lack of self control.

      These guys are to intensity what fake hustle is to effort.

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  12. Mike H says:

    This is definitely a better team than last year. I like their chances, especially if the Twins pitching finally comes down to earth.

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  13. Irony says:

    It’s fun to look back at these previews to see what a complete and utter mess the 2011 team turned out to be. If Dunn and Rios do not turn it around at all, expect more of the same from these White Sox.

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