SSHP Podcast 21: baseball bracketology

Pick to click: A Schoenfeld Cinderella for 2020? Reylo. (Chicago White Sox)


Baseball bracketologist Owen Schoenfeld hops on with Brett Ballantini to talk about his recent piece, breaking down the sleepers of the 2020 season, as well as the core pieces of the club. Additionally, there’s speculation on the length of the coming season and the status of the 2020 draft.

Damn straight, we’re on Apple Podcasts.


Baseball bracketology: 2020 White Sox’s Final Four, Cinderellas, Upsets, and Bubble Watch

 


Selection Sunday has now come and gone, with gone being the operative word, as the entire Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments were outright canceled due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

Pair that with the fact that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now has no definitive start date, with the initial two-week being delay usurped by the CDC’s recommendation to not conduct nationwide gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks. That would make the soonest that Opening Day could theoretically happen May 11.

My “bracket” is a little dubious on that date being a reality, but you never know. With all that said, with everyone self-quarantined, working from home, running to the stores with more raw speed than Adam Engel, and finding themselves with more free time than ever, we all could use a respite and also a way to fill the void.

From where I sit behind my keyboard, there’s no better way to do that than fill the vacuum of both no baseball and no March Madness with one composite article.

This clocks in at just more than 4,500 words, but we all have some free time on our hands and we have an itch for White Sox baseball, March Madness, and sports in general. And if not sports, then even text on a screen about sports. So this is broken into sections. Read it in full, or parse it out, consume it in bits, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water for each hot take in-between sections (especially after the Upset section, as you may need to cleanse). We don’t have sports, but we have the game of words and through that we can have some strange version of White Sox March Madness –– in a real world that currently doesn’t have either.

With that said, I’m going to lay out my picks for the Chicago White Sox’s Final Four –– a core of players that will be the most valuable in 2020 –– who may surprise (Cinderellas) or underperform (Upsets), projected regression that may not happen, (think the annual trendy expert upset pick), and outline which prospects will see the big lights this season (“on the bubble”).


I tried my hand at a similar piece over at another publication back in 2016. Like any bracket, I had my share of red (losses), but also some notable prognostications in the green (wins) as well.

My Final Four consisted of Chris Sale, José Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana.

Sale made it to the final weekend, turning in an 3.34 ERA All-Star season and setting career highs in wins (17) and innings pitched (226 ⅔) that may have been driven by his league-leading six complete games. He’d ultimately finish fifth in Cy Young voting and notch MVP votes despite being on a non-playoff team. 

Abreu got bounced after the Sweet 16. He had a decent enough year, but it took a potent second half to bounce back from a fairly dreadful first two months to salvage his season. He failed to hit the 30-home run mark or make the All-Star team but still ripped 100 RBIs for his fourth straight season and finished with a respectable .820 OPS.

Frazier didn’t make it out of the Sweet 16, either. He made a lot of shots –– 40 home runs, to be exact –– but overall did not live up to expectations or his seed line. His final line was .225/.302/.464, with clear shortfalls in average and OBP. He was worth 2.8 fWAR, which fell short of a projected four-win season.

Quintana, my outside Final Four pick, delivered in earnest. He joined Chris Sale at the All-Star game, put together a 3.20 ERA over 200-plus innings, got a 10th place Cy Young vote and had what to date has been the best season of his career.

I also identified two Cinderellas: Adam Eaton and Carlos Rodón.

Eaton surely did not disappoint. He actually edged Sale and led the 2016 White Sox in fWAR with a 5.9 mark. He got on base at a .362 clip, swiped 14 bags, but most importantly flashed an absurd glove after a position shift to right field –– propped up by an arm that could hit triple-digits on release and nail runners like clockwork. He also led the AL in triples and garnered a 19th-place MVP vote at years end.

Rodón didn’t quite have a “breakout” year, but he did have what unfortunately remains the best season of his White Sox career thus far by racketing up 168 innings over 28 starts while posting playable numbers in a 4.04 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in what was really his first big-league season as a full-time starter.

For upsets, I thought Adam LaRoche would be downed by a back injury. It turns out he got “upset” by something entirely different: His 14 year-old son Drake LaRoche not being allowed in the clubhouse. This set off what was quite truly an international firestorm when he retired over the matter, and it oddly sparked a broader discussion about the place of children in the workplace. You can’t make this stuff up, and no my bracket did not have the details –– only that he’d have an early exit.

I had Jacob Turner upsetting John Danks for a rotation spot, predicting that the White Sox would actually eat Danks’ contract midseason in the midst of contention, a bold call considering the conventional Jerry Reinsdorf behavior. I was dead wrong about Turner, who was absolutely atrocious during just two starts and 24 ⅔ innings pitched in a starter/bullpen hybrid role. Turn down the backlight on your screen so as not to burn your eyes when you read about his 6.57 ERA, near 2.000 WHIP, and a 5.8 BB/9 to just 6.6 K/9. Chicago did release and eat the rest of Danks’ $15.75 million salary in May, so this pick was mixed.

My two players on the bubble, Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, both made it to the majors, so there’s that.

Now that I’ve proven at least a modicum of credibility in my baseball bracketology, here’s a similar exercise for 2020. It is going to be semi-challenging given the uncertainty of baseball this season and how disrupted conditioning and a late and shortened season may impact performance and sample sizes, but here goes.


Final Four

C Yasmani Grandal

This was a move White Sox fans have been waiting for ever since A.J. Pierzynski was forced out of town only to be supplanted by the polarizing Tyler Flowers. Not only was the four-year, $73 million dollar Grandal deal the largest free agent outlay in White Sox history, but the backstop has been an absolute turnstile for essentially the last four seasons. There’s not better way I can demonstrate how much of an upgrade Grandal will be than this:

That 5.2 fWAR made Grandal the second-most valuable catcher in the majors last year and would have also made him the second-most valuable player in Chicago by that same metric. He posted an absurd 17.2% walk rate, per FanGraphs, which helped him achieve a .380 OBP.

Pair that with a career-high 28 home runs and a glove that gets rave reviews from both the pitch-framing eye test and advanced metrics, to say nothing of his ability to be a beacon for a staff, and Grandal looks like he’ll be a linchpin for the White Sox and deliver a massive season. If we weren’t looking at a truncated year, I’d say 25-30 home runs would be in the cards.

Either way, Grandal will provide pop and on-base percentage from both sides of the plate and be the perfect steward for Chicago’s rotation. He’s what we’d call a blue-blood No.1 seed –– a lock –– and your best bet to reach Chicago’s Final Four from a composite value perspective.

LF Eloy Jiménez

Jiménez had his first taste of big-league action from the jump last season after signing a winter extension. He ended up missing some time with a pair of IL stints, one for a right ankle sprain and another one for sustaining a nerve contusion in his arm during an outfield collision.

Through 122 games, Jiménez still managed to break the 30-home run mark with 31 bombs, and some of them were truly tape-measure shots. There was a little swing-and-miss to his game (26.6% K-rate) but he slashed .267/.315/.513 on the whole with a .246 ISO.

Jiménez is like that upstart program that is suddenly elevated with a slew of top recruits but is felled by injuries and exits earlier than expected. Not in 2020. The roster of prolific batting tools will be coming back, so to speak, and with an expectation of health.

Jiménez barely tapped into the value of Guaranteed Rate Field as a hitter’s park last season (.748 home OPS compared to an .892 away) which is an aberration that is unlikely to be in play again. His torrid pace to end the season (.340/.383/.710 slash line with nine home runs in September) could very well be a prelude of what’s to come. Eloy will simply mash in 2020.

SS Tim Anderson 

Anderson had a breakout campaign last season in a full-fledged attempt to #changethegame You could call it akin to mid-major that ends up leaving a lot of red in its wake and rubs teams and their fans the wrong way in its run to the Final Four; but at the same time also exhilarates a whole new brand of play and ends the tourney with much more name recognition. Anderson invented the “Javelin Bat Flip,” after all.

In 2020, he’ll make good on last year’s run and be a favorite to repeat the performance. Anderson got his title game of sorts last season by leading all of baseball with a .335 batting average. That hardware came with 32 doubles and 18 home runs in just 123 games, as the shortstop battled an ankle sprain.

Had he not missed the time, he likely would have produced his second consecutive 20/20 season. Anderson ended up being worth 3.5 fWAR last year despite the injury bug and the fact that he was actually negative on the other side of the game, committing a league leading 26 errors –– many of the throwing variety.

Expect the Chicago shortstop to clean that up this season as defense has been mentioned publicly as a priority for him, and no one on the club has a more tenacious work ethic. People looking for an upset might point to the fact Anderson walked at just a 2.9% clip and posted an unsustainable .399 BABIP.

But Anderson has proven that he’s going to play his game, from the javelin bat flips to his aggressive approach at the plate. Net-net, his game plays up due to plus raw speed, plus plate coverage, and the fact that he hits the ball to all fields with minimal infield fly outs –– all ingredients that will aid in his maintaining at least an above-average BABIP.

Regression there could be offset by someone who hasn’t even turned 27 yet and likely still has more playable power in his game. Once again, if this were a full season, a 25/25 year could have been on the table, with an outside shot at a 30/30 year if he really broke out.

Given Moncada’s in-game speed has not played as much in the way of base stealing, Anderson along with Robert could be Chicago’s best shot at a 30/30 player. The shortened season makes it much more unlikely, but expect Anderson to be a star nonetheless and both cut down the errors and the nets as his visibility as a face of the game becomes even more high-profile.

3B Yoán Moncada

Moncada was like Anderson last season in the sense that he was more of a No. 3-to-4 seed that made his way to the final weekend. Imagine a very talented team that doesn’t see things click as a group until their junior season.

That’s what happened for Moncada last year as he slashed .315/.367/.548 en route to a team-leading 5.7 fWAR, in part thanks to a glove that played up at third base as opposed to the keystone. He cut his strikeout rate from an abysmal 33.4% in 2018 to a very playable 27.5% in 2019.

Moncada smashed 25 home runs, 34 doubles, and five triples despite missing a chunk of time with a hamstring strain. There are some regression worries due to a high BABIP, which will be addressed later, but there’s more ceiling for Moncada in 2020 — and that should be a scary thought for opponents.

He showed a solid walk rate during his pro ball days in the minors and in his 2017 debut (12.6 %) which fell to just 7.2% in 2020. With excellent plate discipline, there’s certainly reason to believe that number reverts a little closer to above-average range or at least the double-digits, which will raise his OBP. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old will likely continue to show even more in-game power, as he can certainly hit moonshots and the long ball should come with more regularity.

Finally, someone with 70-grade speed should quite frankly be swiping more bags. Moncada made just 13 attempts last year despite a 76% success rate. Moncada should be swiping 20 bags with ease in a full season and possibly even in a shortened season.

So tapping into more in-game power, more playable speed, and just natural growth for the White Sox’s most tool-ridden and physical specimen outside of Robert, Moncada will have more than “One Shining Moment” in 2020 and potentially make an MVP bid. He is the odds-on No. 1 seed for 2020.

Cinderellas

SP Reynaldo López

López makes for a very interesting cinderella pick as he could very well “bust” some brackets in 2020, especially brackets that are labeling him a “bust.” Will 2020 truly be the year of “hindsight is 2020” for these fans and pundits alike? Here are a few reasons why the slipper, or rather cleat, may fit for López.

He absolutely has the former prospect pedigree. Coming up with the Nationals, some evaluators painted López as even more of a star than his often more-touted teammate Lucas Giolito. That seemed to prove true as he flashed nastier stuff than a struggling Giolito and ended 2018 –– his first full season as a big league starter –– on a high note.

Rather than López carrying that over into 2019 for a breakout, it was instead Giolito who had a surge, and López ended up being an unmitigated disaster –– “good” for a 5.38 ERA over 33 starts and an unforgiving FIP of 5.04 that wasn’t noticeably better.

López quite frankly was all over the plate, even showing lack of concentration at times. His HR/9 clocked in at 1.71, which is eye-popping bad, while he also walked more than three batters per nine innings. There wasn’t obvious bad luck either, as he had a pretty in-line .316 BABIP against and a 69.2% strand rate.

So what could possibly be the positives? Well the raw stuff is certainly still there. López’s fastball velocity still runs up regularly over 95 mph while his curveball can still look sharp at times. His K/9 was actually a full batter improvement from 2018, settling at 8.27 per nine, and despite his struggles he’s been durable with two consecutive seasons of more than 180 innings pitched and such durability has led to two straight two-WAR seasons as well. So it’s not all entirely bad.

Sometimes these things just take time. Grandal has already been reported to have a positive effect on López, apparently identifying some ways López can leverage his off-speed stuff better; this being one of the paramount reasons Grandal was a good add.

We’ll see if it carries over into the season, but for López the stuff is there and so is the durability. Now it’s all about that elusive control and command, which if realized, could give the White Sox a very solid power righty. If not, maybe he’s a two-pitch pitcher who plays up in the pen. The 2020 season will be a litmus test, but one worth giving for sure.

OF Adam Engel

Engel has been a trendy Cinderella for years. When you get body and tool comps to Mike Trout, that tends to happen. These types of comps are always unfair, but not unusual this time of year when a team is regarded as “the Butler, VCU, or Davidson of year X.”

I don’t think Engel will be a Cinderella in the traditional sense, where he parlays his myriad of tools, build, and athleticism into some huge Elite Eight run as a double-digit seed, but he can be a Cinderella in the sense that he carves out a niche on this roster.

The glove has always been playable — more than playable actually; in fact, plus. He’s the perfect roving outfielder to come in as a late defensive replacement or pinch-runner where his plus speed can play up late in a game during a crucial moment.

It’s not worth getting into the annual narrative of mechanical adjustments and swing changes, but the fact remains that Engel can fill a role in 2020 and be of value. It was a small sample, but Engel hit .313/.360/.482 versus LHP in 2019 and he’s always been better against southpaws in his career. Not as flashy as that line, more like a .679 OPS type, but still –– better.

Given Nomar Mazara will be manning right field, Engel could be a serviceable platoon partner for him and generate additional value defensively and on the basepaths, with some occasional pop here and there.

Once he’s no longer overexposed in a starting role, Engel may go from a liability to a competent utility piece, and that would certainly be a Cinderella story for someone who otherwise would be on the fringe of being out of the game entirely. Maybe 2020, is Adam Engel’s Sweet 16 –– where he was once regarded as an intriguing prospect.

Upsets

Upsets: you love them and you hate them, depending on your bracket and allegiance of course, but they always happen. In this context, upsets are always negative –– well, mostly. You’ll see a few qualifiers. Upset will be ranked as most likely to happen to least likely as described by traditional NCAA Tourney seed vernacular. A 16-over-1 is historically unlikely while a 10-over-7 is a relatively safe bet and really anything 12-over-5 and less isn’t mind-blowing, at least to those who dig into the numbers.

Roster Spot Crunch (10) over Zack Collins (7)

With the signing of Grandal, the White Sox now have not one but two All-Star catchers on their roster when you factor in holdover James McCann. The fact that Abreu is still manning first base, Grandal can also play that corner infield spot, and the additional fact that Edwin Encarnación was signed with the explicit intent of full-time DH duties, the roster composition is not looking kind to Collins, a former Top 10 draft pick back in 2016 who has hit for power and OBP in the minors but whose profile has been dampened by a poor hit tool and subpar defensive outlook as a backstop. The shortened season means even less chance for opportunity, as a limited schedule may not be as taxing for players. Factor in that with the logic of getting Collins regular ABs at Charlotte, and he does not look to get a lot of time under the bright lights in 2020.

Bullpen Role (11) over (6) Carlos Rodón

This would be an upset in the sense that Rodón was not taken with the No. 3 overall pick out of N.C. State back in the 2014 draft to be used as a bullpen piece. He was drafted to be a front-end starter. But Rodón has been a disappointment no matter how you frame it. Save for a 2016 season in which he made 28 starts to compile 165 innings of respectable 4.04 ERA ball with a 9.2 K/9 as a 23 year-old, it’s all been a massive slide from there.

You can blame injuries, underperformance, or a combination of the two, but Rodón has just not gotten it done from the mound. After those 165 innings in 2016, he’s thrown just 224 ⅔ combined in the three years since with a 4.33 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 4.1 BB/9 over that span.

Now coming off Tommy John Surgery and with a shortened season ahead and a crowded rotation, it makes loads of sense to take Rodón’s fastball and slider, which have looked like a deadly combo in the past, and see how they play in the bullpen.

A lefty coming out of the pen with nasty stuff could be just the trick for Rodón. It would be less taxing on his arm and possibly lead to actual, tangible value. Chicago has just one year of control on the pitcher after 2020; they might as well get something out of him.

As a Scott Boras client, Rodón seems like a change of scenery guy when he hits free agency. Rodón and Boras may be “upset” by this upset, but White Sox fans may be pleasantly surprised. And if he does turn into Chicago’s version of Andrew Miller –– a modern-day, two- or three-inning bullpen slicer with explosive stuff –– then he may have an even better chance at a payday.

Win-Win.

Shortened Season (13) over Luis Robert (4)

Robert is dripping with talent. If well-rounded prospects are tool sheds, then he’s five top-of-the-line toolboxes inside of a tool shed. Robert may be the best player of the whole critical mass when all is said and done.

He has the bat, mammoth power, leopard speed, and platinum glove. But Robert also has zero big league experience and despite video game numbers in Charlotte, the hit tool is still a bit raw. It is quite possible there will be a lag, a period of adjustment.

The 2020 season had a good chance to shake out as a coming-out party for Robert with real Rookie of the Year potential, but a shortened season won’t help in masking early struggles. If those make up a disproportionate portion of the 2020 campaign, then Robert’s road to true stardom may have to wait until 2021.

COVID-19 (15) over Major League Baseball (2)

There’s something that’s been eating at my mind, and that’s the possibility that baseball doesn’t happen at all. With every waking day, the value of social distancing and flattening the curve with COVID-19 rises even more to the forefront. And with it usually comes new CDC recommendations on limiting crowds to smaller numbers and for longer periods.

Speculation is abound and there’s been some lines of thinking that baseball may not start until midsummer and that even if it does, it may have to occur without fans or with limited attendance. The systems to properly screen and re-integrate into society may simply not be in place.

There’s also conjecture that if baseball were to be canceled entirely by the league due to a “national emergency,” the MLBPA may not be able to stave off contracts being invalidated. That’s a win on overhead for the owners.

Sure, there’s boatloads of money on the table to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind is at play, too. But at some point –– especially if a decent chunk of games would have to be played with no fans –– then the ROI, not the revenue, but the actual income over fixed operating costs may be very minimal — or worse, projected to be negative.

If that’s what the tea leaves start to say, then there is at least a chance the owners lobby with Major League Baseball to pull the plug on the 2020 season entirely. This would be an upset for the ages, but it’s not one to write off entirely.

The Trendy Upset That Won’t Happen

BABIP (12) over Yoán Moncada (5)

Every year there is one team that all the pundits pick to shock the world, and the shock is that it doesn’t happen. In recent years, think any South Dakota State team with Mike Daum on it, or a New Mexico St. team that could always crash the boards but instead crashed dreams of bracket perfection instead (Thanks Aggies!)

The trendy upset pick this year in the baseball world is that the league leader in BABIP, Moncada, will see massive regression and that this said underlying number was a key driver of his breakout season.

Moncada had a .406 BABIP last year, up from a .344 BABIP the year prior. That screams regression, until you look at the fact that Moncada also lowered his infield fly ball rate, raised his hard contact rate, and increased his line drive rate. Those are all immediate explanations for why he had a higher BABIP, and again, his baseline in a down year was .344.

Want to dive deeper into the stats? He increased his exit velocity between 2018 and 2019 from 90.6 to 92.8 (seventh in baseball) and his barrel % from 9.6 to 12.2, per Baseball Savant. That barrel % is nearly twice the league average of 6.3.

Moncada also brings other drivers that can make a BABIP more sustainable, like hitting to all fields, possessing raw speed to leg out infield hits, and the fact that he actually is hitting the ball out of the park way more than before. You don’t have to worry too much about your BABIP when your ball isn’t in play as often, and it’s less in play for the good reasons like home runs and walks, not the bad one: strikeouts.

Another interesting note: speaking of those infield hits, Moncada had an 8.9% rate in 2018 and only a 4.6% in 2019, so he may actually leg out more infield hits in 2020, making the sustainability of a higher BABIP all the more buyable.

The bottom line is this –– even if Moncada’s BABIP recedes, his overall ceiling may not. The best is yet to come and over-inflating one statistic that isn’t as alarming as it seems will do a disservice to your baseball bracket. Avoid this trendy upset pick.

On the Bubble

2B Nick Madrigal (IN)

Madrigal was likely going to be here by mid-April at the latest. The high-IQ player who simply does not strike out is an easy at-large bid despite the small stature. Service time considerations and how they will apply to a shortened 2020 are still up in the air, but it won’t matter with Madrigal. The mature rookie with the slick glove will be manning second at some point.

1B Andrew Vaughn (OUT)

Vaughn has impressed mightily in his initial taste of pro ball. He is an extremely polished college bat who may be the best pure hitter in the whole organization. He truly could be a 60 hit/60 power guy which could shake out to a perennial near-.300 average and consistent 30-bomb player. But the shortened season will make a September (November?) call-up unlikely even if Chicago is in contention. He just won’t have enough requisite ABs in the minors to make the jump.

SP Dane Dunning (OUT)

The crowded rotation already put Dunning in a dangerous position on the bubble, and that’s without even referencing that he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’ll need more than just a tuneup in the minors before seeing the big leagues. He may find his way in if there are injuries, or the season actually starts in May rather than July, but if not, Dunning will have to wait until 2021 to hear his name called.

SP Michael Kopech (IN)

You could actually say Kopech is in a somewhat similar boat as Dunning given the developing circumstances, but he’s had his time in the minors –– and a short stint in the bigs –– so it’s more about purely rehabbing. While we’ll see less of Kopech in 2020 than we would have without COVID-19, we will see Kopech –– or the lightning power arm I like to call “Zeus” –– in 2020 at some point. If not, it will be a major snub.


I hope this fulfilled the gaping black hole that’s a result of the lack of sports during what is an unprecedented global crisis. From me to you the reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: There are sunnier days ahead. Days where the sun will be beaming down on ballplayers.

Patience is a virtue, and hope is currently our best medicine.

 

Sox fall to A’s, 6-5 but Delmonico stays hot

Busy day: López found himself pitching through traffic, but all in all a nice debut. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)


Mr. Captain, Tim Anderson, had a little fun going into the game this afternoon just to remind everyone that the White Sox are playing a game in Iowa later this season.

All that farming earned Anderson a day off today, and among regulars, he wasn’t alone. The starting lineup was a mesh of everything. Reynaldo López was on the bump to start, with Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnación as the only other everyday starters in the lineup. Danny Mendick, Zack Collins, and Adam Engel all appear to be bench bats, though any could be pushed back to Charlotte. Nick Madrigal could push Mendick back to Charlotte, but odds are he won’t due to service time. Gavin Sheets, Nicky Delmonico, and Cheslor Cuthbert rounded out the depth, as well as the lineup.

However, maybe Delmonico heard us just call him depth, and that pushed him to continue his spring hot streak.

Delmonico hit his first homer of his spring, a couple batters after Luis Robert singled up the middle on the first pitch of the game. Robert would also steal second a couple of pitches later.

On the pitching side was López, a guy who needs to show improvement very quickly this season. It seems like today was a “work on the breaking ball and hope it goes well” type of day. It seemed like the curve was López’s breaking pitch of choice, but honestly without the straight-on camera for webcasts, it could have just been a loopier slider. Whatever the case, López’s results were no different from any other year. His breaking pitch was in the dirt a lot of the time, but it also got some outs and bad contact, including a decent number of grounders, which López needs. His control just was not there, and who can blame a guy for not having command of breaking balls in his first spring training start.

López finished his day with a lot of threes: three innings, Ks and hits, and one run.

Delmonico singled n his second at-bat to push his spring batting average past .400. Maybe the Sox didn’t need to trade for Nomar Mazara after all? Encarnación, Sheets, and Mendick all failed to reach base. Encarnación actually has not collected a hit yet in any of the fake games. Collins continues to get walks and in this game actually had a single — but he still has more walks (six) than hits (two).

Madrigal and Engel were the ones having the most fun after the first inning, at least from a batter’s perspective. Engel went 2-for-2 and scored a run off of a bloop Madrigal single. Madrigal still hasn’t showed anything besides the uncanny ability to hit singles, which is the biggest knock against him.

Meanwhile, the relievers did not provide any relief. Adalberto Mejía, who was doing fine so far this spring, hit a wall. He was only able to get one out and left the game with the bases loaded. Carson Fulmer was on the mound when two earned runs were charged to Mejia off of a jam to center. Fulmer did not have his best stuff today overall in his 1 ⅔ innings. Evan Marshall, on the other hand, did look good. He breezed by an inning of work and left the game for potential future closer Tyler Johnson.

Unfortunately for Johnson, White Sox legend Ryan Goins had his number. With a couple runners on base, Goins grabbed a couple of RBIs with a single to right field; Johnson was lifted shortly after. So, overall, the pitching was not great today. But it’s March 3, and everybody is working on particular things.

Among the replacement hitters, a few guys were ready to take over; in particular, Andrew Vaughn.

It was not a great route by the right fielder, but Vaughn is hitting .417 now after the double to the opposite field. Even if his spring is a huge success, the odds of Vaughn breaking with the team are zero, but maybe a strong spring leads to a start in Birmingham and a path to MLB by season’s end — or at least a 2019 Robert-like advancement schedule. Whatever happens, Vaughn can hit. Although he made the game interesting, the White Sox could not finish a spring comeback, as the A’s shut the door in the ninth.

The White Sox visit the Brewers tomorrow at 2:05 CT. Joltin’ Joe Resis has your SSHP coverage.

 

Four under-the-radar, early-season storylines

Where the magic happens: Our newest writer will be covering March 2’s White Sox action from this vantage point, so if you’re at Camelback, say hi! (Chicago White Sox)


I just had wrist surgery and am typing with one hand, so I don’t really feel like writing out a long intro, but the title is pretty self-explanatory. Here are four things I will be watching during Spring Training and the early months of the season.


Reynaldo López’s offseason adjustments

This is the least “under-the-radar” storyline of the four, but that is because it’s also probably the most important to the White Sox’s success.

López has been a very polarizing player for the White Sox. In 2018 he showed a lot of promise, finishing with a 3.91 ERA in his first full season in the bigs. However, his advanced stats showed that these results may have been smoke and mirrors.

Reynaldo has always been an extreme fly-ball pitcher. In 2018, López benefited from the ninth lowest rate of home runs to fly balls of all qualified starters, a number that tends to regress to the mean over time. His xFIP (expected ERA assuming average outcomes on balls in play and an average HR/Fly Ball ratio) was 5.22 in comparison to his previously-mentioned 3.91 ERA, the largest gap in baseball. Additionally, the spin rates on both his fastball and breaking pitches were near the bottom of the league. Sure enough, all of this caught up to López in 2019. Despite some encouraging outings, the season as a whole was a major step back, as he had one of the worst ERAs in baseball.

In 2019, López was trying to work his breaking pitches off of a high fastball, the “hot new trend” in the juiced-ball 2019 season. For guys like Lucas Giolito, who have a fastball with above average carry and a high-spin breaking ball, this philosophy is great. However, López has a low-spin fastball with a great deal of horizontal movement.

To become a solid major league pitcher, significant changes will be needed to either López’s mechanics or pitching approach. López and Don Cooper have talked about getting less rotational and more linear in order to drive the ball to the plate, generating carry rather than horizontal run. If López was able to accomplish this in the offseason, he may be able to survive as a high-fastball guy. If not, however, he may need to embrace the low-spin fastball rather than fighting it, and work on sinking and cutting the ball.

Ultimately, López may end up as an impact bullpen arm, where his stuff will play up and he will likely be able to work in the 98-100 mph range rather than the 95-98 range. However, he will be given every chance to prove that he belongs in the rotation. One thing that will be helpful for a fly ball pitcher like Lopez is the rumors of a more “normal” baseball for 2020. I have no doubt that López, an outstanding competitor, went back to the drawing board this offseason. I am interested to see his outings this spring to get a look at what that offseason work entailed.


Right field: Nomar Mazara, or platoon?

Rick Hahn and Ricky Renteria have already said they see Nomar Mazara as more than a platoon player and plan to use him as the everyday right fielder. A breakout definitely could be on the horizon, as a change of scenery could be exactly what the 24-year-old former top prospect needs to unlock his massive potential. However, over the course of his career, Mazara’s numbers against left-handed pitching have been subpar. Barring a breakout, the better option may be to keep Mazara as the strong half of a platoon, sitting him vs LHP in favor of Adam Engel or Leury García (likely pushing Luis Robert over to right field). Based off of 2019 statistics, both Engel and García had much more success versus LHP than RHP. As Mazara is still so young, the potential for a breakout is definitely there. I am as hopeful as anyone, but at worst, this route would set everyone up for success.

Not only would Engel be a huge upgrade to our outfield defense on days he plays, but based on 2019 numbers, this platoon would generate a .820 OPS overall (Mazara .821 vs. RH starters, Engel .819 [109 ABs] vs LH starters). Keep in mind, these splits are for the entire game when the starter was right or left-handed, so they don’t take into account opportunities to pinch-hit based on reliever match-ups. The .820 OPS estimate for the platoon would have ranked in the top 30 among all MLB outfielders, ahead of many of the offseason possibilities White Sox fans were mad about missing out on (Marcel Ozuna, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Benintendi). When the Mazara/Steele Walker trade happened, the majority of the reaction was negative. However, in 2019 Mazara had a .786 OPS at age 24 in his fourth MLB season, whereas Steele Walker had a .771 OPS at age 23 in Single-A. The trade was a low-risk, high-reward move. If this platoon is the worst case scenario, I will take it every time.


James McCann Framing Improvements

James Fegan came out with a great article a few weeks ago on the offseason work that James McCann has done with highly-regarded catching coach Jerry Narron to improve his framing skills. While White Sox pitchers have lauded McCann for his ability to handle a staff, scout opposing hitters, and control the game behind the plate, they are also losing quite a few strikes per game because of his terrible pitch framing numbers, specifically side-to-side and low in the zone. Now, the White Sox have Yasmani Grandal, who graded out third of 64 qualified catchers in Statcast’s catcher framing metric in 2019 (this same metric ranked McCann dead last).

We should be able to gauge relatively quickly if McCann’s offseason work has paid off. Spring training will give us a glimpse, and we should have enough data to see where his metrics are after a few months of the regular season. This could be the difference between being a backup catcher who only generates a spot start here or there vs. being the weaker half of dynamic catching duo. I, for one, don’t think Giolito needs McCann as his “personal catcher,” but it would definitely be easier to work a defensively improved McCann in for Giolito’s starts. An improvement would also allow Renteria a much greater deal of lineup flexibility to keep veterans fresh for the entire season. For example, he could give José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, and Grandal a day off every 10 games or so, leaving McCann to catch roughly two or three of every 10. When EE sits, Grandal (or McCann) could DH, and when Abreu sits, EE could play first and Grandal would slide to DH.


Can Kelvin Herrera Rebound?

I know what most of you are probably thinking: Kelvin Herrera is WASHED UP. I was as frustrated as anyone that our proven, lockdown free agent bullpen signing was unusable in close games for the majority of the season. Herrera posted the third-worst ERA (6.14) of all MLB bullpen pitchers with more than 50 IP.

Doesn’t sound like the stat line of a guy you want to be counting on in 2020, right?

Not so fast. There is still reason for optimism. 

Herrera’s massive struggles in 2019 can really be attributed to two issues.

The first was injury, as Renteria and Cooper were quick to blame foot and back injuries for a portion of Herrera’s 2019 struggles. Because Herrera never spent an extended period of time on the IL and consistently made appearances throughout the season, it was tough to buy that from the outside looking in. However, both the stats and the data seem to bear out the fact that Herrera may have actually been significantly affected by the Lisfranc and back injury for the majority of the season.

Here are Herrera’s numbers prior to May 5, when the back injury occurred: 16 games, 16 ⅓ IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16 K

Here are his numbers after August 22: 15 games, 15 ⅓ IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19 K

These numbers seem to support the theory that Herrera may have dealt with lingering injuries for the majority of the season and finally started to get healthy late. When I looked at Statcast data to see if anything supported this, one thing jumped off the page at me.

So, the No. 2 with Herrera was release point inconsistency. Baseball Savant has a really cool visual that outlines the various release points for all pitches thrown. The smaller the spread of release points, the more similar all pitches look when coming out of the pitcher’s hand. This makes it easier for the pitcher to create a “tunneling” effect with the pitch and keep the hitter from identifying what’s coming and squaring it up.

Looking at the best pitchers in the game, such as Gerrit Cole or Kirby Yates, their release point chart is a tight circle. In 2019, Herrera’s was ALL over the place. Baseball Savant even noted it was “very erratic,” a characteristic I didn’t see noted for any other pitcher. Here are the visuals for Herrera and Yates for comparison:

If a pitcher is favoring certain parts of his body or trying to compensate for injury, his mechanics will undoubtedly be affected. There is no way that a healthy pitcher’s release points would be this erratic. A healthy Herrera in 2020 should be able to tighten this up.

Herrera also started to use a Don Cooper special, the cutter, a lot more effectively towards the end of the season. He gained three inches of movement on his cutter in September compared to the rest of the season. If that continues, it could be an effective way to combat his slight velocity decrease. Herrera’s average exit velocity against was actually in the 93rd percentile in all of baseball in 2019, which is shocking considering his results.

Bold prediction for the 2020 White Sox season: Herrera will post an ERA of less than 3.00 and be a useful piece in the late innings.

————–

I’d love to hear your opinions on these four storylines, and any more that you will be following.

I’ll be attending the Sox/Padres game in Glendale on March 2. The header photo for this article was taken from my seat for the game. If you are down there and see a 24-year-old kid with a black cast on his arm, say hi.

Lastly, here is the link to a 2020 White Sox hype video I made a few weeks ago, in case you weren’t excited enough about the season. Thanks for reading, and go Sox!

2020 White Sox Hype Video


This article was originally a Fanpost on South Side Sox.

 

State of the White Sox bullpen as the Winter Meetings approach

Tag sale: The White Sox to take on Wade Davis’ salary, they likely can pick up a former elite closer for free. (YouTube)


With the news that Marcell Ozuna could be signing with the White Sox on Monday, it certainly looks as if the team has a chance to compete for a playoff spot in 2020. Adding Ozuna and Yasmani Grandal, along with the possibility of adding a couple of starting pitchers makes adding bullpen help a priority for the Sox this offseason.

While the 2019 edition of a bullpen wasn’t bad for the Sox, they lacked an ability to miss bats on a regular basis. Alex Colomé and Aaron Bummer were the back end options for the Sox in 2019, and while they were good, both of them pitch to contact and don’t pile up Ks. They both could be due for regression in 2020.

The Sox have a couple of other pieces on the roster that could be good options in 2020, such as Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall, and bounce-back candidates Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry, but none of them beyond Herrera have track records as dominant bullpen pieces on a yearly basis in the bigs. Putting too much trust into those pieces without adding some outside help with upside could prove costly for the 2020 team.


Free agents

The free agent bullpeners who had the best years in 2019 look to be a bit redundant given what the Sox currently have in house. Will Harris (9.30K/9), Sergio Romo (8.95K/9), Sam Dyson (7.94K/9), Daniel Hudson (8.75K/9), and Brandon Kintzler (7.58K/9) are good pitchers, but might not be the smartest options for the Sox in free agency, at least as a main option. When the Sox are in late-inning, close-game situations, they need have guys that can get big strikeouts.

The most intriguing and talented option is Dellin Betances. Dellin has a big arm, is still young, and could be the perfect fit for the White Sox. Betances has a career 12.36 K/9, and from 2014-18 was absolutely dominant, posting a 1.40 ERA/1.64 FIP in 2014, 1.50 ERA/2.48 FIP in 2015, 3.08 ERA/1.78 FIP in 2016, 2.87 ERA/3.22 FIP in 2017, and 2.70 ERA/2.47 FIP in 2018. The problem? After dealing with shoulder and lat injuries that cost him most of 2019, Betances came back in September 2019 and promptly tore his Achilles after getting two outs. It was said to be a partial tear, and as far as Achilles injuries go, it shouldn’t be too serious of a recovery. But Jake Burger’s Achilles debacle was tough for the organization to swallow, so it may be hesitant to sign someone coming off of that type of injury. The injury also could present the Sox an opportunity to land an elite reliever at a non-elite price, which might be a chance they’re willing to take.


Minor league options

The White Sox do have some intriguing options in their system as it stands. Zack Burdi was taken after Zack Collins in the 2016 draft because of his huge arm. He elevated quickly through the system, and seemed primed for a chance to pitch in the bigs in 2017, before he tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Burdi has had bumps in the road trying to come back from elbow surgery. He had a tough time regaining his big velocity, and tore his right patella tendon in June 2019. While Burdi has some work to do to prove he deserves to be with the big club in 2020, if he’s healthy and regains that big velocity, he has a chance to be a good one.

Tyler Johnson was another relief prospect who was elevating quickly through the system before a knee injury sidelined him for the first few months of 2019. Tyler finished last year with Birmingham, and had pretty good success. He has the ability to miss bats with his big fastball and good slider, and could be a midseason call-up candidate.

Ian Hamilton was another pitcher who was on the rise before injuries really hurt his status. He was dominating in hitter-friendly Charlotte in 2018 before he got a call-up. He didn’t have much initial success with the big club, but looked like 2019 was going to be a chance for him to shine. But freak injuries derailed his 2019, first with a car accident in spring training, then being struck with a line drive in the head after he made it back to action. Before the bad luck, Hamilton was impressing with a big fastball, and a pretty good slider. Maybe 2020 will be a bit kinder.

Zach Thompson is the other reliever who seems to have a chance. The big righthander was dominant in Birmingham to start the 2019 season, but hit a snag when he got to Charlotte. The hitter’s park and juiced baseball really hurt Thompson, as he gave up 14 homers in 75 ⅔ innings. The Sox converted Thompson to relief in 2018, and he dominated from the moment the change was made … until Charlotte. If Thompson proves he can make the adjustment in Charlotte at the beginning of 2019, a trip to Bridgeport could be in the works.


Trades

If the Sox are looking to trade for a relief pitcher, they would be looking at teams that probably aren’t looking to compete in 2020. If they want to find bullpen help, a trade might be the best route.

Elite Options include Josh Hader (2.62 ERA/3.10 FIP, 16.41 K/9), Liam Hendricks (1.63 ERA/1.82 FIP, 13.23 K/9), Brandon Workman 1.88 ERA/2.46 FIP, 13.06 K/9) and Ken Giles (1.87 ERA/2.27 FIP, 14.09 K/9). If the Sox decide to go this route, it will be costly in prospect capital. Of these pitchers, Hader would probably be the most costly because of age and contract status. A trade for Hader would probably cost the Sox their best prospect not named Luis Robert, and thus wouldn’t make sense. The other elites could possibly be obtained for a package centering around a tier-2 prospect like Dane Dunning or Jonathan Stiever. These types of deals would be more realistic at midseason, as the Sox would probably want to confirm that the team is competing before giving up real prospect capital in exchange for a relief pitcher.

Buy-low candidates are the type of guys who would make the most sense in the offseason. They fit the track record of the types of moves that the Sox front office likes to make as well. Andrew Miller (4.45 ERA/5.19 FIP, 11.52 K/9) and Wade Davis (8.65 ERA/5.56 FIP, 8.86 K/9) would be interesting options. Miller has been trending downward for the last couple of years, and has a lot of miles on his arm. Plus the Cardinals are a team with playoff aspirations. I wonder if they would welcome the salary relief, along with an interesting prospect in return like Luis Gonzalez or Blake Rutherford. Wade Davis’ second year with the Rockies was a miserable one, after signing a big contract in 2018. All of his numbers are down, and age could be catching up with him. But 2019 was a weird year: The ball was juiced, Denver is juiced, and there was some time on the IL for Davis as well. Two years ago with the Cubs, Davis was a much different pitcher (2.30 ERA/3.38 FIP, 12.12 K/9). Maybe getting out of the thin air would be just what the doctor ordered for Davis and the Sox. It wouldn’t take much to get Davis if the Sox offered to take on most of the contract.

Starter to reliever options would entail, for example, the Sox deciding to use Michael Kopech as a relief pitcher as he recovers from Tommy John. The Sox have a track record of using young starters in the bullpen before they start full-time, and Kopech could be a big weapon in a late-inning role. Reynoldo López would be another candidate to move to the bullpen. He has a big fastball, but has had trouble developing his secondary pitches. A move to the bullpen might allow López to focus on developing just one plus secondary pitch, as opposed to worrying about developing multiple secondaries. Plus López struggled with his concentration at times in 2019, so maybe one inning per outing would be a better option. Carlos Rodón also could be a bullpen option whenever he’s able to come back from his arm injury; another lefty in the pen is always good, and with Rodón’s injury history, a change in roles could be in the works.

 

The best White Sox games of 2019

Delightful drenching: His first White Sox home run was going to be magical no matter what, but Eloy Jiménez hitting two in the rain to down the Yankees was extra special. (@ChicagoSports)


We started to get into on Monday, when LennyG opened our bests and worsts with a delightful dip into both flavors.

So here, in chronological order, are the rest of our best.


April 12: White Sox 9, Yankees 6 (rain-shortened to seven innings)

The game of the year happened back in April. It was before Lucas Giolito was good, James McCann really got on his run, and Sox fans wanted Yonder Alonso to pack his bags and never return. It was in New York, when Sox fans already had lost any hope, but Eloy Jiménez gave us something to look forward to. In the rain-shortened game, Eloy hit his first two home runs at Yankee Stadium. The first, a two-run shot to straightaway center, gave the Sox the lead as the rain was already coming down pretty hard. Eloy was not done yet, though. In what ended up being the last inning of the game (the seventh), he clobbered a baseball to left field to put the Sox up two and salting away the game. It was a night that no Sox fan should forget. The top prospect coming up and hitting his first two home runs in Yankee Stadium is no small feat.

This game had some other significance though: McCann also hit the first home run of his All-Star season. And Giolito soon would start his amazing run of starts; after his performance here in New York, he didn’t allow four runs or more in a game until June 19. It was also Nate Jones’ lone save of the year, and possibly the last one of his career. So as Jones and Alonso had their last gasps, Eloy, Giolito, and McCann took this game in stride for the rest of the way. (Darren Black)

April 17: Royals 4, White Sox 3 

Although the South Siders lost the game, the spark that came from Tim Anderson’s notorious bat flip was a monumental victory. After he crushed a 3-2 pitch to left field, TA7 gave the White Sox an early 2-0 home lead in the fourth inning against the Royals. However, Brad Keller — who threw that fateful pitch — went on to hit Anderson in his next at-bat. As a result, the benches cleared; unexpectedly, TA was ejected from the game, as a bystander to the brawl. The consequence of the one-game suspension that followed the ejection? The initiation of the “Let the Kids Play” movement, where Tim was supported by *most* of MLB. This bat flip created an unexplainable energy for the Sox, Tim coined STICK TALK, and the bat flips never stopped coming. Here’s to many more! (Ashley Sanders)

April 26: White Sox 12, Tigers 11

Things were looking grim for the White Sox, as they fell into a large deficit early on. The Tigers teed off on White Sox starter Carlos Rodón, who allowed eight runs (all earned) in only three-plus innings. When Rodón departed, the White Sox trailed 8-1, with no outs in the top of the fourth. After a solo homer by Jacoby Jones, the Tigers led 9-2 in the fifth, and the White Sox had a 2% win probability. But the White Sox clawed their way back into it by scoring two in the fifth and five in the sixth to reduce the deficit to 9-8. The White Sox took their first lead of the game on a bizarre two-run single by José Abreu, which would have been a three-run homer if Abreu did not pass Tim Anderson on the basepath. After the Tigers rallied to tie it back up 11-11, the White Sox finally prevailed in the bottom of the ninth in dramatic fashion. Anderson, the center of attention after his bat flip incident the previous week, wrapped it up with a walk-off home run. (Joe Resis)

May 23: White Sox 4, Astros 0

Two words: Lucas Giolito. This four-hit gem cemented Giolito’s Player of the Month Award for May and, arguably more importantly, undying love from certain Sox fans (ahem). It capped off a four-game streak in which Gio gave up a total of 14 hits and two runs. That he did it against a Houston team that was 33-18 at the time was extra gratifying. And all of the other players we hope to be showing our undying love for in the future provided the offense: Yoán with an RBI double, TA with an RBI single, and Eloy with a home run. What more could a Bitmoji — er, fan base — ask for? This wasn’t a fluke Charlie Tilson grand slam-win (which, while also extremely fun in the moment, does nothing to provide hope for the future). When we think about 2020 and beyond, this game will be our template. (Lurker Laura)

June 14: White Sox 10, Yankees 2

Decimation of the Yankees! We Sox fans may hate That Other Team in Town and have an unfavorite among division rivals, but everybody hates the Yankees, and on this magic day, the Sox crushed the Bronx Bombasts, 10-2. Lucas Giolito won his ninth straight, giving up one run in six innings. Eloy Jiménez had a career day, with two — count ’em, two — three-run homers. Amazingly, the Sox walked four times (normally the norm for a fortnight) and struck out only five (damn near the norm for an inning). The win lifted the White Sox record to 34-34, the first time at the magic .500 mark since the blizzards of early April. And did I mention it was against the Damn Yankees? (Leigh Allan)

July 3: White Sox 9, Tigers 6 (12 innings)

My favorite White Sox game in 2019 was on July 3, in the second game of a doubleheader vs. Detroit. It was the Yoán Moncada game, but there were other notable, fun things about it too. Ryan Cordell had the best game he will ever have in major league baseball. (I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m confident that he won’t top two dingers, and two great catches in center field, but who knows? I’ve been wrong before.) And José Abreu had an awesome, walk-off three-run dinger to end the game. But make no mistake, this is the game where Yoyo arrived. One of Moncada’s positive developments in 2019 was his improvement as a right-handed hitter, and in the first inning, he hit one of his most impressive home runs from that side of the plate that I’ve seen. He also tied the game with a sac fly in the bottom of the seventh. Then in the bottom of the ninth, Yoán entered the pantheon of Impressive Homers I’ve Seen in Person with an absolute blast to right center to tie the game.

Now, I saw Frank Thomas hit one over all the seats in left-center, one-hopping into the men’s room off of Johan Santana in 2003. I saw prime-roids Barry Bonds hit a ball out of the atmosphere, that reentered with icicles, that landed on the concourse in center in the early 2000s. But Yoyo’s ninth-inning blast was right there with ’em. Also, to put a cherry on top, in the top of the 10th, John Hicks untied a 5-5 game with a single to left. Eloy made a bad throw to the infield, and Yoyo made a ridiculous cutoff and throw to third to stop the bleeding and end the inning. It was a heads-up, athletic play, and it set the stage for José to be the walk-off hero. Fun game! (Guitar Sox)

August 21: White Sox 4, Twins 0

Everyone can agree that 2018 was a rough year for Lucas Giolito, so I’m not going to bother rehashing the worst-to-ace transition and his new set of award nods. Rewind a couple of months from here, Giolito threw a set of compete games in May and then progressively showcased the reasons why the Nationals drafted him immediately out of high school. There’s always those naysayers, though, and the moment he faltered just a little bit, the cries of “OH NO, 2018 GIOLITO! HE BLOWS IT UNDER PRESSURE” returned. This last complete game in Minnesota effectively silenced it. The White Sox were long out of the possibility of a Wild Card as they limped towards season’s end, but no one told Giolito. He came out and killed it — throwing his final complete game of 2019 against the AL Central leaders. Did Minnesota figure him out a little, in time for his next start? Yes — it’s called scouting reports. But that final complete game gave a good hard look at what we should see for years to come from Giolito and (hopefully) the pair of Giolito and McCann. (ColleenS)

September 5: White Sox 7, Cleveland 1

ReyLo’s one-hit wonder was easily my favorite game to watch. López pitched a complete game one-hitter, Danny Mendick got his first big league hit, Welington Castillo didn’t strike out once, and even Yolmer got a hit. The team looked like a real, grown-up, professional baseball team, and by not needing the bullpen, there was no opportunity for some crappy reliever to blow the game. The White Sox executed a perfect bunt, moved runners along instead of their usual M.O. of stranding them at second and third, beat up on a division rival and ACTUALLY WON A GAME. More like this, please. (LWilz)


[poll id=”11″]

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 2: The Bad)

Part of the ‘3.9 crew’: Jay warms up before one of the few games he actually played in during 2019. (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Though the 2019 White Sox season had some good, there was also plenty of bad to talk about.

In Year 3 of the rebuild, in what was undoubtedly the worst division in baseball, the White Sox only managed 72 wins. The AL Central had one of the worst teams in the history of baseball, the 114-loss Tigers, and a terrible, 103-loss Royals team. Cleveland finished with 93 wins, but they were wounded this year, and feasted on Detroit and Kansas City. The Twins were legitimate, but how much of their success was real, and how much was weak competition?

The fact is, the White Sox should’ve been better in 2019, especially with the performances the top half of this roster provided. But as the case has been for quite a while now, the front office just can’t seem to stop tripping over itself. Here’s how.


2019 ‘additions’

Notable offseason additions for the Sox included trading for Manny Bañuelos, Yonder Alonso, Alex Colomé, and Iván Nova, and signing Jon Jay, James McCann, and Kelvin Herrera. Last but not least, the White Sox picked up A.J Reed over the All Star break.

The combined bWAR of those eight players was 3.9. It bears repeating: The combined bWAR of those eight players was 3.9!!!!!

To have eight players added to a team only produce 3.9 WAR is an unmitigated disaster! Sure, McCann was a pretty nice find. He had a career year in 2019, but basically disappeared in the second half of the season. I’d bet on him returning to his career norms. Colomé had a pretty good year, but seems to have had some good luck contribute to his results. Nova was average to slightly-above average, but was a disaster early in the season.

The rest of the additions were hot garbage, and there’s really no way to argue otherwise. The White Sox spent approximately $40 million on those eight players in 2019.

Manny Machado had a 3.3 bWAR by himself, and signed for $30 million per year. Bryce Harper was a 4.2 bWAR player in 2019, and signed for about $25 million per season. The position Harper plays is a black hole for the Sox, and now they’re in desperate need for someone exactly like him.

For the fans that want to argue that it’s still early in the rebuild, and the White Sox weren’t supposed to win yet, fine. So they are still in building mode? If they are, shouldn’t their pro scouting be able to net them better major league players, so they can trade them midseason for minor league depth, or become long term contributors to the big league club? The minor league system is very top-heavy right now, and better offseason additions would’ve been helpful to help supplant that talent.

The truth is, this issue is nothing new. The Sox have had a terrible time identifying even average major league talent in trades and free agency going on a decade now. It’s fiscally responsible to shop for the best players when they’re available, as opposed to shopping for quantity in the bargain bin. There’s a reason the lower-end players are available, and in terms of value and sunk cost, they end up costing a team more in the long run. Collectively, they contribute less positive results on the field than the more expensive players do. Even with some of the high-end talent the Sox have in house, it will be very difficult building a perennial contender if they don’t fix these scouting problems, and the 2020 offseason is quickly approaching. Remember, “the money will be spent.”

Offensive shortcomings

The White Sox are a team that has been plagued by a lack of on-base prowess for quite a while now. Most of the players on the team have an overly-aggressive approach at the plate that repeatedly gets exploited by opposing pitchers, leading to high strikeout rates, a lack of power, a lack of walks, and fewer runs scored overall. Opposing pitchers aren’t forced to throw strikes against the Sox, and the fewer strikes they have to throw, the less they have to use the middle of the plate, where hitters do most of their damage.

This is why the Sox parted ways with former hitting coach Todd Steverson, and hired Frank Menechino in his place. The on-base problems may be coaching issues, scouting issues, or a combination of the two. Consider that the White Sox were 23rd in the baseball with a .314 OBP (13th in the AL), 24th in OPS at .728 (12th), 24th in runs scored with 708 (13th), 25th in dingers with 182 (13th), 30th in walks with 378 (15th) … you get the idea. Only Arizona, Boston, Miami, and the Mets hit more ground balls than the White Sox. They were also 29th in baseball with 462 extra base hits.

It’s important to do as much damage at the plate as possible in today’s game, but when you are constantly giving up outs by bunting, runs become even more scarce. The Sox had three players in the top six in sacrifice bunts in 2019: Leury García led the A.L with 11, Yolmer Sánchez was tied for third with 7, and part-time player Ryan Cordell was tied for sixth with 6.

This is too much bunting. If the team is to get into the upper echelon of the league in scoring runs, the bunting has to stop, period. What plagued the 2019 White Sox on offense is equal parts philosophy, scouting/talent evaluation, and approach from the individual players.

Make no mistake; This isn’t an easy problem to fix. It’s not as simple as adding Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. The front office has to find better players in free agency, trades, and the players that are already here have to improve.

Starting pitching

Obviously, injuries really hurt the White Sox starting pitching depth. Losing Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning, and Jimmy Lambert to Tommy John surgery were big blows to the staff and its depth. There was a dose of bad luck that struck the White Sox in 2019, but good teams largely have the depth to survive the bad luck (and only Rodón’s midseason injury should have thrown the major league rotation into a lurch).

The problem with the rotation is that other than Lucas Giolito, nobody else on the staff really shined. Nova had some good moments, as did Reynaldo López,, but both were inconsistent throughout the year. They each had disastrous stretches of the season, with Reylo’s being more concerning.

Reylo certainly looked like a pretty good prospect with a live arm, but he hasn’t established any above average secondary pitches. His pitches have good velocity, but hitters can catch up to that velocity when they know they can just spit on the secondary offerings. There’s too much hard contact, too many walks, too many fly balls, and not enough missed bats (5.38 ERA, 184 innings, 169 strikeouts, 203 hits, 35 dingers allowed, and 65 walks). At times, Reylo battled with his command and seemed to lose his focus. Time is running out for him to be a success as a starting pitcher, and the Sox aren’t in development mode any longer. It’s either Reylo steps up his game in 2020, or it’s time for a change either to the bullpen or into trade bait.

Dylan Cease deserves time to develop and has good stuff, but why oh why can’t any White Sox prospects come up and light the world on fire immediately? Walks plagued Cease in his rookie campaign, but he has great breaking stuff, and a very good fastball. Can he develop a changeup and improve his command in his sophomore season? Only time will tell.

What there’s no excuse for, is the ridiculous lack of options the Sox had in terms of starting pitching depth in 2019. They literally ran out of major league-capable starting pitching. Bad player evaluation is what nets you Erving Santana (9.45 ERA), Bañuelos (6.93 ERA), Odrisamer Despaigne (9.45 ERA), Dylan Covey (7.98 ERA), Ross Detwiler (6.59 ERA), Carson Fulmer (2015 8th pick, 6.26 ERA), and Hector Santiago (6.66 ERA). Maybe a couple of those guys deserved a look and a chance in 2019, but what in the hell did anyone learn from starting Santana, Santiago, Despaigne, Detwiler, and Covey 32 times? This is completely inexcusable from a front office that has to find a way to scramble for better back-up plans.

Diamonds in the rough are essential for successful rebuilds. So far it’s just been charlatans.

Sox can’t capitalize on early 2-0 lead in loss to Twins

Another day: Another tough game. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)


Hey! A quick start by the White Sox, and they were on to an early 2-0 lead against the Minnesota Twins. In the first inning, after a single and a double from Leury García and Yoán Moncada opened up the game, the AL RBI leader José Abreu came up to the plate. He did what he has done all year, drive in runs — no matter what or how.

Yeah, Moncada probably should have stayed at second, but being aggressive is what the White Sox should be these last two weeks of baseball. Abreu extended his lead in RBI to 118. In the next inning Reynaldo López got through a little trouble (though it was not all on him due to an error from Yolmer Sánchez), but it was a sign of things to come. James McCann hit his 17th home run of the season, and his fourth off of Berríos, in the second inning.

Just like that the Sox were up by two, but remember when López wasn’t all that great in the first inning? Well, he was worse in the second, allowing two runs in the second to tie the game. He allowed four singles in the inning, and was just not missing any bats until the last pitch of the inning. In fact, López was only able to induce six swing-and-misses throughout the game. The slider led the way but the fastball only got one — and that usually means a bad day at the office for López.

For a while, the Sox didn’t do anything offensively, as Berríos looked great. It was not until the ninth when the Sox got back on the board but meanwhile, the Twins took the lead and added to it. López left with five runs allowed in what was another dud of a start, but in fairness two runs scored on a very weird single.

López only struck out two batters the entire game and allowed 11 to reach base. He was not as bad as his previous start, but López’s season has come with so much frustration.

The bullpen, surprisingly, did very well. Jace Fry came in and allowed the last hit for the Twins but finished out the sixth inning. Jimmy Cordero replaced him and continues to look fantastic. His change looked very good and the sinker had some giddyup. Kelvin Herrera ended the game for Sox pitchers, and it was one of his few good appearances of the year as he struck out two in the eighth. Herrera now had a 6.75 ERA on the year, as he’s probably playing for a 2020 roster spot down the stretch.

The game did end on a high note, though! Eloy Jiménez, who is leading AL rookies in homers, cranked his 28th of the season in the ninth off Sergio Romo.

At this point of the season, it is more important for a few players to do well instead of the team — or at least maybe we just tell ourselves that. Eloy hit a homer, Moncada had two hits, Abreu got another RBI, and McCann hit a homer, too.

So even if the team isn’t good, some guys did well! — White Sox baseball 2019.

Soler-powered Royals club five homers, blast Sox 8-6

Deja vu all over again! Eloy hits another first-inning moonshot but the Royals hit bunch more and hold on for the W. (@whitesox)

Author’s Note: WordPress crashed on my laptop not once, but TWICE as I tried to do this recap. The first time I had about 75% done before it wiped out. The second it crashed just as I was typing literally this same Author’s Note bit! So I’m pretty pissed. Anyway, I’m tired and it’s time for the Inaugural Bulletpointed Sox Recap Speed Round!

  • Reynaldo strikes out Whit on three pitches. Two batters later, Jorge Soler has hit home run #42:
  • Eloy does the thing with the stick and the Sox lead 3-2!
  • The Law Offices of Mondesi, Starling, and O’Hearn all deposit homers courtesy of first-half Reynaldo López making a surprise comeback. Its 6-3 Royals and López doesn’t make it out of the fifth.
Its not even Halloween… oh forget it.
Here comes Bubba: 3 words that spell your doom in any context.
How dare they steal Oprah’s bit??
  • Eloy collects another RBI but with a ground out so … its a two-run deficit. Just gotta keep it close …
  • Carson Fulmer does not keep it close. Jorge hits No. 43, 8-4, KC.
  • José Abreu, playing like he doesn’t already have a two-year extension in his back pocket, hits his 32nd homer. Its 8-6 and I wish Fulmer the best of luck with whatever new organization employs him in 2020.
  • Three White Sox batters face closer Ian Kennedy. Three White Sox batters make three outs. Game over.

Giolito pitches tomorrow. He is good. Tim Anderson is hitting .333. That is also good. I’m switching to typewriters. Good nigh….Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z….

Gamethread: Royals at White Sox, Round 2 … FIGHT!

Smoke ’em if you got ’em: Can Reynaldo López repeat his one-hitter magic against the Royals tonight? (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)


Well after last night went to the dogs (for the Royals, that is), the Sox look to the fiery, red-hot right arm of young Reynaldo López to seal a series win against Kansas City in their penultimate matchup for the 2019 season.

Reynaldo (9-12, 5.17 ERA) is coming off perhaps the most dominant White Sox pitching performance of the 2019 season, a complete game, 11 K, one-hit shutout of the Lindians in Cleveland. And that one blemish was courtesy of the questionable fielding prowess of noted right fielder (le sigh …) Ryan Goins.

Anywho, López has had an up-and-down season pitching against the Royals despite Kansas City willingly employing Billy Hamilton for most of 2019. López is 2-2 with a 6.46 ERA in his last five starts against the K.C. Not So Special Anymores. The two wins have been six-inning quality starts, while the two defeats have been less than stellar. But seeing as September notoriously has been Reynaldo’s month of utter dominance in his young career, so don’t be surprised if you started getting no-no notifications from your At-Bat app after the sixth tonight!

His counterpart is the man with the slippery change up, Glenn Sparkman, who you may recall was the unfortunate recipient of a very quick hook when a wayward changeup collided with the helmet of the one White Sox player the Royals probably didn’t want to antagonize any further.

Sparkman, in general, has been quite terrible for a quite terrible Royals team in 2019. The owner of a 3-11 record and 5.97 ERA, Glenn has the ironic honor of giving up 27 home runs this season, the exact same number Reynaldo has served! So the Sox offense will likely be happy if Glenn learned to control his pitches just a skosh and lasted a few innings more this time … just long enough for them push ol Spark Man to the 30+ mark.

Lineups!!!

First for the visiting … Kansas City Royals …

And now for YOUR CHICAGOOOOOOO WHITE SOX!

Game time is 7:10 PM CST and you can support fledgling cable channel NBC Sports Chicago by using your eyes and ears to watch on your telly. If you enjoy Ed, DJ, and the occasional K-A-R-S Kars-4-Kids commercial to tickle your eardrums, turn that dial to WGN 720 AM. I will return for the recap of this scintillating September soirée!