Chicago White Sox – 2013 Season Preview
Projected Record: (76-86)
Last season, the White Sox surprised a lot of people. In CBSSports.com Expert Predictions for 2012, 4 of the 8, picked the White Sox to finish dead last. To give credit where credit is due, C. Trent Rosencrans and Scott White both were spot on with the White Sox in 2nd place. Well done gentlemen. From the looks of things, the White Sox won’t be spending much time this year in first place, and definitely not a good portion of the season.
My biggest question about the White Sox lineup is, “How long can Paul Konerko play effectively?” I think their offense hinges on him. Konerko is 36 and has played in 2142 major league games. Over the last 5 years he’s averaged 143 games, a .287/.371/.506 slashline, 29 HR and 88 RBI. What am I worried about. The guy is a stud. He has a long track record of dependability too, since coming to the White Sox in 1999 his fewest games played was 122 in 2008. So maybe my PK anxiety isn’t exactly founded in facts. I think I’m more just nervous about the White Sox. They just don’t have much else.
Adam Dunn came back last season and showed that he isn’t completely washed up. Although he did post a .204 batting average. Even with that abysmal AVG he was still able to get on base at a .333 clip. That’s impressive. The other major offensive wildcard is right fielder Alex Rios. The thing with Rios is that he’s consistently inconsistent. He hasn’t put up consecutive season batting averages within 40 points of each other since 2007-2008. Last season he hit .304 with 25 HR and 92 RBI, so the White Sox can count on a .250 average and 13 HR. That has to be infuriating for teammates and the front office.
The White Sox lost last years starting catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, via free agency to the Texas Rangers. The White Sox will need to figure out how to replace his production in the the lineup. Last year he had an OPS+ of 118, compared to his career OPS+ of 96. Tyler Flowers has been being groomed to be the White Sox starting catcher for years. This year he’ll get his chance. He’s only played in 108 games over 4 major league seasons, and his offense has been below league average. He does bring some power to the table, paired with inability to get on base and subpar defense, I don’t think Flowers is the answer, long term, behind the plate for the White Sox.
One addition that the White Sox made to improve their ability to get on base was to bring in 32 year old, journeyman utility infielder Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger hasn’t seen regular playing time his whole career. He’s only logged over 400 at bats twice in his career. Last year with the Rays he was able to log 385 ABs and hit .325/.367/.439. You don’t love the power numbers, but you also aren’t expecting Keppinger to be the big bat in your lineup. He can serve as a table setter and get on base for Konerko, Dunn and Rios (every other year) to drive in. I really like the move to get Keppinger and I hope they give him plenty of playing time at third.
The rest of their infield is the Infield of Broken Dreams. Alexei Ramirez, once dubbed the Cuban Missle, has seen his numbers steadily decline since his breakout rookie campaign. Thankfully for the White Sox, Ramirez plays pretty good defense. His UZR of 6.1 puts him 8th in MLB. His Broken Dreams brethren Gordon Beckham can’t lean on his UZR (-0.7 – good 15th in MLB) as a saving grace. He did contribute more offensively than Ramirez, .234/.296/.371 with 16 HR, it’s still pretty horrifying to look at. And all of this after a rookie season in 2009 with a slashline of .270/.347/.460 and 14 homers in 103 games.
The remaining outfieders, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo would make a really respectable player if they melded themselves into one player. But each on there own are very one note. De Aza has empty speed and Viciedo has empty power.
The top end of the White Sox pitching staff is headed up by two guys with question marks around the health of their pitching arms, lanky lefty Chris Sale and 2007 NL Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy. The questions about the 2 are different. According to talent evaluators, for Sale, it’s a question of when, not if, his arm is going to break down. And for Peavy, the question is more about ability to stay healthy after battling injuries for years.
Sale’s delivery is violent. I’m not the pitching mechanics guy, but even I can see that the way that Sale pitches will lead to a blown out elbow. In the meantime, Sale has dominant stuff. He struck out a batter per inning last year as he notched a 17-8 record and 3.05 ERA. The difference in his xFIP (3.24) and ERA tells us that he got a little lucky last season, but that difference is negligible. With all of his success, Sale did see his innings total jump from 71 innings in 2011 to 192 innings in 2012. That kind of jump can add a lot of wear and tear on a pitching arm and shoulder.
|Pitcher Abuse Points|
One stat that I think can give a glimpse into the health of a pitcher is Baseball Prospectus’ Pitcher Abuse Points. PAP takes into account the increased “abuse” for each pitch over 100 pitches. It’s not a crystal ball to see what pitcher is going to injure his pitching arm, but PAPs can be good indicators of when a pitcher will wear down. Unfortunately for the White Sox, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd all are in the top 25 in total Pitcher Abuse Points for 2012. It seems like that should be a red flag for GM Rick Hahn about how Robin Ventura handles his pitching staff. In 2011, the top White Sox in PAP was John Danks at number 43 on the list. That is a monumental shift in how a pitching staff is managed and cause for concern amongst White Sox fans.
Even with their increased PAP, John Danks and Gavin Floyd are innings eaters that give the White Sox some stability. Neither one of those guys is going to blow your hair back, but they both will give you around 200 innings of serviceable major league pitching. Either Jose Quintana or Hector Santiago will round out the starting rotation. I think that Santiago will break camp as the #5 guy. He misses more bats and can provide another lefty to the rotation. Either way, I have low expectations for the middle and bottom of this rotation.
Coming out of the bullpen, the White Sox feature closer Addison Reed and set up man Matt Thornton. Reed’s rookie season can be seen as a success. He won the closers job in his age 23 season. But I think the 29 saves and nearly a strikeout per inning mask some serious flaws. His ERA was 4.75 and his WHIP was 1.36. Those are terrible numbers for a reliever. Thornton’s numbers are a bit better, but he was responsible for 10 losses when he only logged 65 innings. There isn’t much help further down the bullpen bench or in the minors. The White Sox are stuck with their mediocre bullpen.
Paul Konerko may be getting long in the tooth, but no one in the game comes up to the plate with a better approach, and that adds years to a hitters career.
Adam Dunn doesn’t keep any secrets. You know what you’re going to get with him. If you play in a league that counts OBP instead of average, Dunn is truly elite.
Jeff Keppinger is a guy who may not even get drafted in your league, but if you’re looking for someone to shore up your AVG category or if you need position flexibility, Keppinger can help.
Jake Peavy Pitcher Abuse Points aside, I think Peavy can regain something close to his Cy Young winning form. He won’t put up the numbers he did in cavernous Petco, but look for Peavy to follow up his strong 2012 with an even stronger 2013.
Addison Reed is still super young, so he might be settling into being a dominant closer for the next 10 years. I’m going to let someone else buy that lottery ticket. Same rules apply, Never Pay for Saves.
There’s no question the White Sox played over their heads last year. I don’t think that will happen again. They don’t have the offensive fire power and their starting pitching is extremely top heavy. I think the 2013 will end up close to the bottom of the AL Central and they have a lot of work to do to get better.