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AL Central Preview: Chicago White Sox Edition

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The White Sox were only marginally better than the Royals in 2018. Will anything change in 2019?

Chicago White Sox v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

We started our trip through the AL Central yesterday in Kansas City and we move a little over 500 miles northeast into Chicago, Illinois to check in with the Chicago White Sox. If the Kansas City Royals were a raging dumpster fire in 2018, then the Chicago White Sox were a raging dumpster fire with four more wins. The offense had no one with an OPS over .800 and none of the starters had a FIP under 4.00 (two of them, including their “ace”, had a FIP over 5.00). The bullpen had a few good players, but there wasn’t a lot to get excited about. How will 2019 go for Chicago’s forgotten team?

Key offseason transactions

Acquisitions

  • Traded for RHP Alex Colome
  • Traded for RHP Ivan Nova
  • Traded for 1B Yonder Alonso
  • Signed C James McCann
  • Signed OF Jon Jay
  • Signed RHP Kelvin Herrera
  • Traded for LHP Manny Banuelos

Departures/Injuries

  • RHP James Shields became free agent (unsigned)
  • LHP Hector Santiago became free agent (signed with New York Mets)
  • RHP Danny Farquhar became free agent (signed with New York Yankees)
  • OF Avisail Garcia became free agent (signed with Tampa Bay Rays)
  • 3B Matt Davidson became free agent (signed with Texas Rangers)

The White Sox certainly had a busy winter. Probably the biggest hits are James Shields and Hector Santiago, who combined to eat over 300 innings for the Sox in 2018. That’s a lot of innings to replace. Thankfully, the White Sox have options. With the additions of Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome, the bullpen is shored up. In the rotation, Ivan Nova will step in and take over a good portion of the Big Game James innings. The White Sox had holes and they got players to fill them. The acquisitions may not work out, but at least they tried something (*cough* Cleveland *cough*). From a position player standpoint, James McCann can serve as a backup to Welington Castillo, Jon Jay can take over in right field now that Avisail Garcia is gone, and LGFT Yonder Alonso can give Jose Abreu a day off every now and then if Daniel Palka is getting regular reps as the DH. See? It IS possible to trade for and sign players to fill team needs *glares in Cleveland*.

Lineup

There was a time a few years ago that Cleveland fans winced at the thought of Jose Abreu, a power hitting first baseman, stepping in and taking over Miguel Cabrera’s title of “AL Central player who destroys the Cleveland Indians 19 games a season”. And looking back at his rookie season (.317/.383/.581 with 36 home runs), it’s easy to see why. And while he was the best hitter on the White Sox in 2018 with a .265/.325/.473 slash line, he wasn’t nearly as prolific as he has been in every other season of his career. He did get hit with an injury last season, so he played fewer games than in any other season so far.

Daniel Palka made his MLB debut last season and he did well. He split time at the corner outfield positions and DH, and across his 449 plate appearances, he slashed .240/.294/.484 (wRC+ of 109). He strikes out a lot (34.1%), but he also hit 27 home runs in his first season, which was most on the team. You can expect Palka to make some noise this season when he starts with the major league club to begin the year.

Yoan Moncada had his first full season in the majors last year, and he was able to hit at right around the levels that he had done in 2017, just over an entire season. The one area that was a bit concerning was his strikeouts. He struck out 33.4% of the time, or 217 times. He’s only 24 this season, so there’s still some room for improvement, but his high K-rate really dampened his offensive performance.

Tim Anderson had another year of average defense at shortstop and a lot of home runs. He hit 17 in 2017 and 20 last season. He also got his strikeouts down by a couple of points, so it seems that he is continuing to get better as well (he will be 26 in 2019).

Pitching

While James Shields was the #1 starter for the White Sox in 2018, it was Reynaldo Lopez who was the best pitcher in the rotation. In his first full season in the majors, Lopez made 32 starts and threw 188.2 innings for Chicago. He had a lot of success in 2018, but there are some signs that point to some struggles going forward. While he kept his ERA under 4 (3.91), his FIP (4.63) and his xFIP (5.22) seem to indicate that he had a decent amount of luck on his side and that things may go south. He isn’t striking out a lot of hitters (7.22 K/9), he’s walking more than 3.5 hitters per nine innings, and he’s giving up a home run on 9.5% of his fly balls. He’s got an upper-90s fastball that he relies on more than 50% of the time; if he wants to have any sort of sustained success, he’s going to have to mix his pitches more efficiently.

Carlos Rodon had another year of average pitching. Seriously, his ERA+ numbers from 2015-2018 are 104, 100, 104, 101. He’s a fairly known entity for the White Sox: he’s going to eat some innings and he’s going to look okay doing it. In 2018, he struck out fewer hitters than usual (6.71 K/9), he walked a lot of batters (4.10 BB/9), and he gave up home runs right in line with what he’s done his entire career (1.12 HR/9 in 2018; 1.11 HR/9 in his career).

Ivan Nova becomes the veteran leader of the rotation with his arrival. Unfortunately, it’s not 2013. Like James Shields before him, Nova is several seasons removed from what was considered his most successful season. He had some flashes of greatness again in 2016 when he went to Pittsburgh, but he hasn’t sustained it over a full season since 2013 with the Yankees. He did undergo Tommy John surgery in 2014, so it’s possible that the injury and recovery time contributed to his struggles. Now five years removed from that surgery, the White Sox are hoping that there are no lingering effects and Nova can get back to where he was pre-TJ.

One of the biggest signings for the White Sox this offseason was RHP Kelvin Herrera. He may not be the same pitcher he was in 2014 when he was part of the Royals’ bullpen of death, but he is still incredibly effective. In 2018, for example, he pitched in 44.1 innings and allowed just 12 earned runs while walking 10 and striking out 38 (ERA+ of 177). Now, Herrera is still recovering from surgery that he had to reapir a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot last August. It’s unclear as to whether or not he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

In the meantime, other newcomer Alex Colome will be the closer for the White Sox. He wasn’t as good as Herrera was last year, but he was still solid. In 68.0 innings between Tampa Bay and Seattle, Colome went 68.0 innings and allowed just 23 earned runs while walking 21 and striking out 72 (ERA+ of 136). He survives with his 4-seam (96 mph)/cutter (91 mph) combo.

Summary

Similar to the Royals, it’s not likely that the White Sox are going to be very good in 2019. The main difference is that the White Sox have embraced their rebuild whereas the Royals have been hesitant to fully commit to it. There are a lot of young guys on the White Sox this season and they will be with the team for the foreseeable future with some even younger players (such as Eloy Jimenez) waiting in the wings to step up to the major league level. The White Sox are probably still a season or two from being legitimate contenders for the AL Central. But with enough things breaking the right way for the White Sox, it’s not unreasonable to think that they could squeak in to a wild card. It’s not likely given the teams they would have to get around (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Twins to name a few), but if the youth movement pans out the way that the White Sox are hoping it does, they will be an exciting team in the very near future.

Poll

Where will the White Sox finish in the AL Central this season?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    First place
    (32 votes)
  • 16%
    Second place
    (56 votes)
  • 44%
    Third place
    (147 votes)
  • 23%
    Fourth place
    (77 votes)
  • 6%
    Fifth place
    (22 votes)
334 votes total Vote Now