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2022 AL Central Preview: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are well equipped to defend their division crown in 2022

Division Series - Astros v White Sox - Game Three Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox’s rebuild is complete. After fighting their way back from irrelevancy for nearly a decade, Chicago’s American League team finally returned to the top last season. If you’ve been paying attention, it was only a matter of time before their crop of talented youngsters made their way to the big league club. That time is now and the youth movement has paid off for the White Sox, even with noted curmudgeon Tony La Russa at the helm.

2021 in review

After collapsing down the stretch in 2020, the White Sox finally broke through in 2021, finishing the regular season with a 93-69 record to claim their first AL Central crown since 2008. They boasted a lineup that was middle-of-the-pack in terms of power but knew how to get on base, ranking fourth in the league in walk percentage (9.6%) and third in on-base percentage (.336). The starting rotation was rock solid, with Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, and Lucas Giolito all providing at least 4.0 fWAR. But the White Sox’s bats were silenced by the Astros in the ALDS, save for a 12-run outburst in Game 3. Houston also hammered their rotation, roughing up Lynn, Giolito, Cease, and Rodon in the early innings to cut short the White Sox’s season.

Additions and subtractions

Key addition: OF A.J. Pollock
If you had asked me a couple days ago about Chicago’s biggest offseason addition, I would have assumed you were referring to relief pitcher Kendall Graveman, who was signed to a three-year, $24 million contract last November. But that was before the White Sox decided to start April with a bang, trading closer Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers in exchange for outfielder A.J. Pollock on Friday. Pollock slashed .297/.355/.536 last season, slugging 21 home runs and posting 3.1 fWAR. He brings a veteran presence to the White Sox outfield, where he’ll likely plant his flag in right field.

Other additions: Graveman, RP Joe Kelly, RP Vince Velasquez, and 2B Josh Harrison

Key subtraction: SP Carlos Rodón
You may recall that Rodón pitched a no-hitter against Cleveland in April of last year, which ultimately paved the way for the best season of his career after signing a one-year deal with the White Sox following several injury-plagued seasons. He was worth a career-best 4.9 WAR, finishing the year with a 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIp, and 12.55 K/9. This offseason, Rodón signed a two-year, $44 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Other subtractions: Kimbrel, 2B César Hernández, RP Ryan Tepera, and OF Billy Hamilton

Projected lineup

  1. Tim Anderson, SS
  2. Luis Robert, CF
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Eloy Jimenez, LF
  5. Yasmani Grandal, C
  6. Yoan Moncada, 3B
  7. A.J. Pollock, RF
  8. Gavin Sheets, DH
  9. Josh Harrison, 2B
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

Much like the Cleveland Guardians, the White Sox bring back a lot of familiar faces from last season. The difference being that Chicago had good reason to keep their lineup intact.

In addition to being one of the most fun players in Major League Baseball, Tim Anderson is also among the best shortstops in the league, posting a career-high 4.3 fWAR last season. Right behind Anderson in the lineup, center fielder Luis Robert bounced back from a lukewarm rookie season by slashing .338/.378/.567 and posting 157 wRC+, giving the White Sox one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. With one exception (ZiPS), all projections have Robert pegged for 4.2 fWAR or more this season, with Steamer going as high as 4.9.

Jose Abreu will likely continue to do what Jose Abreu does in the three spot, slugging 25+ home runs and getting hit by pitches. But Chicago does need more out of left fielder Eloy Jimenez. He looked like he belonged in Cleveland’s outfield last season, posting 101 wRC+ and 0.2 fWAR. Most projections are expecting more consistent production out of him this year, considering even ZiPS’ conservative projection of 1.9 fWAR would be a career high.

Even with Jimenez struggling to find his swing, the White Sox are loaded from top to bottom, considering the White Sox can afford to have Yoan Moncada, who was good for 122 wRC+ and 4.5 fWAR last season, in the back half of their lineup.

The only new additions from a season ago are Pollock and Josh Harrison. Signed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract, Harrison takes over for César Hernández at second base, a position the White Sox originally had reserved for Nick Madrigal before trading him to the Cubs last season. The 11-year veteran brings a decent bat to the bottom of the order after producing 103 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR between the Nationals and the Athletics in 2021.

Projected pitching staff

  • SP1: Lance Lynn
  • SP2: Lucas Giolito
  • SP3: Dylan Cease
  • SP4: Dallas Keuchel
  • SP5: Michael Kopech
  • Bullpen: Liam Hendriks, Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer, Vince Velasquez, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Ruiz, Ryan Burr, Brandon Finnegan, and Bennett Sousa
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

Not much new to report here. Lance Lynn continues his late-career revival, posting a career-best 2.69 ERA last season. His 4.2 fWAR is also the second-highest of his career. He supplanted Lucas Giolito as the White Sox’s ace, though that is no fault of Giolito’s. He has really come into his own these last three seasons, and ZiPS expects even more from him, with a projected 3.36 ERA and 4.5 fWAR. Let’s hope the Guardians have figured out his change-up.

Dylan Cease is coming off a breakout season, and Michael Kopech will begin his transition from back-end reliever to fully stretched out starter this year.

The biggest question mark is likely the veteran Dallas Keuchel. He was the weak link among White Sox starters last season, as his ERA ballooned to a career-high 5.28. His 0.6 fWAR was his worst mark since his rookie season in 2012. Projections expect him to improve this coming season, but unfortunately for Chicago his best days are probably behind him.

The White Sox bullpen won’t be at full strength to start the season. Garret Crochet is expected to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, and free agent signing Joe Kelly is still working his way back from a right biceps nerve injury he suffered during the 2021 postseason. That said, this could be a formidable bullpen. Liam Hendriks will serve as the closer, having finally found some consistency the last three season. Behind him, Kendall Graveman will try to build on a career year, though projections are not quite sold on his turnaround. Left-hander Aaron Bummer, who has been a reliable setup man for Chicago, rounds out their top three relievers.