White Sox All-Decade Team: Infielders

Something we can all agree on: José Abreu headlines the White Sox All-Decade Team is (@whitesox)

The votes are in! Some were right and some were wrong, but we can all agree that it was not the best decade for the White Sox — and the dreary player selections reflect that.Today, we are only looking at the infield. This is not necessarily the strongest group of players, but at least this where some of the easier top player guesses are. Without further ado, let’s start at catcher.

Catcher — Tyler Flowers

With the tallied votes, 64% of you chose White Sox great A.J. Pierzynski, 32% chose Tyler Flowers, 4% chose Omar Narváez. In reality, A.J. definitely has the name recognition and this probably clouded some guesses, but Tyler Flowers had the best fWAR in the 2010s. Now, let’s be honest here, Flowers’ value did not come with the bat, it was all on the defensive side. He had a total of 8.5 fWAR over his tenure from 2010-15. A.J. was the better hitter, 97 wRC+ compared to Flowers’ 84 WRC+, but games played and the lack of defensive ability hurt Pieryznski’s chances at top backstop of the decade. If this were a singular best catching season of the decade, A.J. would win. In 2012, he had the best fWAR for a Sox catcher since 2010, at 3.3. That was his power-resurgence year, when he hit 27 homers for a .223 ISO. That was his last season with the White Sox, as afterward he signed a one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Rangers and eventually retired after the 2016 season. Meanwhile, the best White Sox catcher of the decade, Flowers, is still playing baseball with the Atlanta Braves and actually has been better since his Chicago departure. As a current White Sox fun update, James McCann’s 2019 season qualifies as the fourth-best fWAR year for a Sox catcher in the 2010s.

First Baseman — José Abreu

This time, you all got it right, José Abreu won the vote in convincing fashion (83% of the vote), and the fWAR was not close. The decade started out with Sox great Paul Konerko (who is on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot) ending his career as Abreu’s began. Over the course of the decade, Abreu had a 17.3 fWAR while Paulie ended with a 5.9. Abreu’s first season of his career was also the best season a first baseman had for the Sox in the 2010s, which resulted in a controversial Rookie of the Year award and an now-overlooked fourth-place finish in MVP voting. Over the course of the decade, Abreu led the the league in OPS+ and slugging percentage in 2014, total bases in 2017, and RBIs in 2019. In every season where Abreu played 140 games or more, he had at least 100 RBIs. He hit over .300 twice and had 30 or more homers thrice, while his career slash line is a fantastic .293/.349/.512 for a 132 wRC+. Since entering the league in 2014, Abreu has the seventh-best fWAR among qualified first baseman and the ninth-best wRC+. If you’re more into the baseball card stats, well, Abreu is fourth in homers and second in RBIs since his rookie season. White Sox history with first baseman generally has been good, and Abreu continued that tradition. They have gone from Frank Thomas to Konerko and then to Abreu, and though Abreu is at least going to stay on the White Sox for the 2020 season, some young guys will hopefully take over and excel soon.

Second Baseman — Gordon Beckham

Yes, you read that correctly: Gordon Beckham had the best fWAR among second basemen in the 2010s for the White Sox. Unsurprisingly, most people were wrong in the voting, as Gordo finishes last. First, let me explain the fWAR tabulation: I took out years where a player did not field the position the majority of the season. So, 2019 Yoán Moncada, 2018 Yolmer Sánchez, and Beckham’s 2015 season did not count, as they all played the majority of the time at third those years. It was a close race, though. Gordo finished with 3.3 fWAR, Moncada 3.2, and Yolmer with 2.8 and yes, those are multiple season’s worth of fWAR, not just a single season. To say second base play for the Sox was atrocious over the past 10 years might be an understatement. The Sox only had two seasons where a second baseman had at least 2.0 fWAR, and none of those reached above 2.2 in a season. In 2017, Sánchez had the best fWAR of the decade, but just to understand how truly awful it has been at second this decade let’s take a look at the rest of the single season Top 5s: Tyler Saladino had the third-best fWAR in a single season at second, while Moncada in his first 54 games in 2017 was fourth, and to round out the top five is Brett Lawrie. BRETT LAWRIE. I told you it was not pretty.

Third Baseman — Yoán Moncada

Third base was just about to be as bad as second, but thanks to a position switch between Yolmer and Moncada, it does look a little better. Yes, one season of fWAR did propel Moncada to the top spot, but at least the winner isn’t Todd Frazier, who finished second. The voters were correct on this one, as Moncada ran away with it after his breakout superstar season in 2019; yes, that season did deserve a Top 10 MVP vote, and he should have received more. Obviously, the season Moncada had was the best of the decade for White Sox third baseman, but there’s some other historical significance. Moncada in 2019 had the fifth-best 3B season in White Sox history. It was also the best offensive season among primary third baseman in terms of wRC+ in White Sox history. In the 2010s, Moncada’s 2019 season ranks 35th in fWAR and 21st in wRC+ among all MLB third baseman. The past was not great for the Sox at third, but the future does sure seem to be bright.

Shortstop — Alexei Ramírez

Shortstop was one of the closer votes, probably because of some recency bias as Tim Anderson won the batting title this past season. However, Alexei Ramírez had a far better decade when looking at fWAR. Maybe some people thought that Ramírez’s value came before the decade, but the two best seasons of his career and among White Sox shortstops in the 2010s was his 2010 and 2011 seasons. From 2010-14, the height of Alexei’s career, he was rated the fourth-best shortstop in MLB by fWAR, only behind Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramírez. From 2010-12, which was the height of Alexei’s defensive prowess, he was the second-best defensive shortstop in baseball using DRS and UZR. Ramírez was never a heavy hitter over his career, which is another reason why some might not remember how good a shortstop he was, but we seem to have the opposite now in Anderson. Defense is clearly the skill that Anderson lacks, but his bat still led to him having an fWAR of better than 3.0 in the 2019 season. With Anderson and Moncada, it seems like the future is bright heading into the 2020s for the left side of the infield.

Next up … The outfield and DH!


Deep Dive: free-agent catchers

Mere formality: Yasmani Grandal will be easily the top free agent catcher in this year’s market when he opts out of his current contract with the Brewers. (@Yazmaniandvl08)

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

James McCann had a great year offensively, but aside from his leadership and game-calling skills he isn’t the strongest catcher defensively. The problem with finding an able replacement is that after Yasmani Grandal, there’s a huge drop-off among available catchers.

McCann will be a free agent after the 2020 season, so expect the White Sox to pursue Grandal in order to pursue a longer-term option who’s good on both sides of the ball. If unable to sign Grandal, the White Sox have three offensive-minded catchers who will try to earn their way to a backup role on the club with a great spring training: Zack Collins, Yermín Mercedes and Seby Zavala. If the White Sox view each of them simply as DH options (and the White Sox don’t sign Grandal), it’s possible that the White Sox will opt to sign a defensive-minded backstop instead.

Below is the list of this year’s available free agent catchers, in order of WARP since Baseball Prospectus goes more in-depth with catcher defense.

(age as of April 1, 2020)

Yasmani Grandal
Milwaukee Brewers
2019 WARP 6.1 (2019 bWAR: 2.5, 2019 fWAR: 5.2)
Stats .246/.380/.468, 513 AB, 26 2B, 28 HR, 77 RBI, 109 BB, 139 K, 5 SB
Other positions played First base
Age 31

Grandal absolutely will buy his $16 million mutual option for 2020 out for $2.5 million buyout. He is not eligible to receive a qualifying offer.

Robinson Chirinos
Houston Astros
2019 WARP 2.6 (2019 bWAR: 3.8, 2019 fWAR: 2.3)
Stats .238/.347/.443, 366 AB, 22 2B, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 51 BB, 125 K, 1 SB
Age 35

Jason Castro
Minnesota Twins
2019 WARP 1.9 (2019 bWAR: 0.7, 2019 fWAR: 1.6)
Stats .232/.332/.435, 237 AB, 9 2B, 13 HR, 30 RBI, 33 BB, 88 K, 0 SB
Age 32

Travis d’Arnaud
Tampa Bay Rays
2019 WARP 1.4 (2019 bWAR: 1.0, 2019 fWAR: 1.6)
Stats .251/.312/.433, 351 AB, 16 2B, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 30 BB, 80 K, 0 SB
Age 31

Tyler Flowers
Atlanta Braves
2019 WARP 1.4 (2019 bWAR: -0.1, 2019 fWAR: 2.1)
Stats .229/.319/.413, 271 AB, 11 2B, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 31 BB, 105 K, 0 SB
Age 34

The Braves have a $6 million club option on Flowers, which can be bought out for $2 million.

Yan Gomes
Washington Nationals
2019 WARP 1.3 (2019 bWAR: 1.3, 2019 FWAR: 0.8)
Stats .223/.316/.389, 314 AB, 16 2B, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 38 BB, 84 K, 2 SB
Other positions played First base
Age 32

Washington has a $9 million club option on Gomes, which can be bought out for $1 million.

Russell Martin
Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 WARP 1.2 (2019 bWAR: 0.8, 2019 fWAR: 1.2)
Stats .220/.337/.330, 209 AB, 5 2B, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 30 BB, 60 K, 1 SB
Other positions played Third base
Age 37

Alex Avila
Arizona Diamondbacks
2019 WARP 1.0, 2019 bWAR: 1.4, 2019 fWAR: 1.3
Stats .207/.353/.421, 164 AB, 8 2B, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 36 BB, 68 K, 1 SB
Age 33

Austin Romine
New York Yankees
2019 WARP 0.6 (2019 bWAR: 0.8, 2019 fWAR: 0.9)
Stats .281/.310/.439, 228 AB, 12 2B, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 10 BB, 50 K, 1 SB
Age 31

Martin Maldonado
Houston Astros
2019 WARP 0.6 (2019 bWAR: 1.4, 2019 fWAR: 0.8)
Stats .213/.293/.378, 333 AB, 19 2B, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 32 BB, 86 K, 0 SB
Age 33

Francisco Cervelli
Atlanta Braves
2019 WARP 0.3 (2019 bWAR: 0.2, 2019 fWAR: 0.1)
Stats .213/.302/.348, 141 AB, 8 2B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 13 BB, 41 K, 1 SB
Other positions played First base
Age 34

Matt Wieters
St. Louis Cardinals
2019 WARP 0.0 (2019 bWAR: 0.5, 2019 fWAR: -0.3)
Stats .214/.268/.435, 168 AB, 4 2B, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 12 BB, 47 K, 1 SB
Age 33

Chris Iannetta
Colorado Rockies
2019 WARP 0.0 (bWAR: -0.4, fWAR -0.5)
Stats .222/.311/.417, 144 AB, 10 2B, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 18 BB, 54 K, 0 SB
Age 36

Jonathan Lucroy
Chicago Cubs
2019 WARP -0.2 (2019 bWAR: -1.0, 2019 fWAR: -0.5)
Stats .232/.305/.355, 293 AB, 10 2B, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 27 BB, 51 K, 0 SB
Other positions played First base
Age 33

Nick Hundley
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 WARP -0.3 (2019 bWAR: -0.4, fWAR: -0.3)
Stats .200/.233/.357, 70 AB, 3 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 18 K, 0 SB
Age 36

Welington Castillo
Chicago White Sox
2019 WARP -1.3 (2019 bWAR: -0.2, fWAR: -1.0)
Stats .209/.267/.417, 230 AB, 12 2B, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 16 BB, 74 K, 0 SB
Age 32

The White Sox hold an $8 million club option on Castillo that will most assuredly be bought out for $500,000.

Today in White Sox History: September 5, 2019

Figure eight: In just his eighth career start, Zach Stewart tossed one of the best games in White Sox history. (Huffington Post)

Sept. 5, 1993 — In a game at Detroit, Sox star slugger Frank Thomas belted his 40th home run of the year. It marked the first time a Sox player ever hit that many in a season. Thomasshot came off of Mike Moore in the first inning of a 5-3 win over the Tigers.

Sept. 5, 2011 — In the back half of a day/night double header in Minnesota, Sox pitcher Zach Stewart fired a one-hitter, beating the Twins, 4-0. Stewart, acquired earlier in the season from the Toronto Blue Jays, was making only his eighth career major league start. 

Stewart retired the first 21 batters before Danny Valencia hit an opposite-field double to right to end Stewart’s perfect game bid. Zach would end the game with eight strikeouts. The Sox would also win the first game, 2-1, behind the strong pitching of Philip Humber.

*Bonus ghost of beat writer past content*

Monday, September 5, 2011
Posted: 3:40 p.m. Updated: 11:00 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox Insider

MINNEAPOLIS – The Chicago White Sox plodded into their rooms around 4 a.m. on Monday morning, flying west in the wee hours, crashing on their hotel beds, already having labored through what would promise to be anything but a relaxing Labor Day. Making matters all the more laborious, the Pale Hose had just been flushed out of Detroit in the most ignominious way possible, defeat giving way to utter embarrassment.

Then, forgotten rotation arm Phil Humber rebounded from 18 days away to toss a gem in the doubleheader opener, going seven scoreless to solidify his spot as the Chisox’s fifth starter.

That is, until Zach Stewart — Humber’s sole competition for that No. 5 slot — took the mound in the nightcap and pursued a perfect game into the eighth in defeating the Minnesota Twins, 4-0.

“I was close, but it’s one of those things,” said the mild-mannered Stewart. “I mean, I’ve given up hits before, so you get used to it.”

“I was trying not to think about it,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “Easier said than done; yeah, I was thinking about it. Everything was possible with the way he was throwing the ball. All day he had good sinker and could locate his off-speed pretty well. This was a good day for his sinker, pretty good day for his slider, and we were pretty much working off that, mixing an occasional curveball and changeup. When a guy’s got a good sinker and we have a pretty good defense you just kind of roll with that and trust the D.”

For 82 pitches, Stewart — who was 0-1 with a 10.97 ERA in his prior two starts — carved his way through the Minnesota lineup. Stewart’s perfecto was dashed by Danny Valencia, who stroked a slider on the 83rd pitch, sending the pill into right field, the ball skipping past defensive replacement Alejandro De Aza for a leadoff double. Valencia had worked the count to 2-2 and barely missed extra bases with a screaming liner down the left-field line that fell just foul on the previous toss.

“He made a good swing on the ball and he put it in play,” Stewart said. “You just have to tip your cap to him. Honestly, I felt like I threw a good pitch right there. He just got it and did what he wanted with it. It was just a good hit.” 

“I thought that was the right pitch,” Flowers said of the double. “Up inside on a couple pitches, [Valencia] was on the slider, he had a good sinker all day, so that’s the pitch that got you there. Sinker away, I was hoping it was going to freeze him. It was a little bit off the plate, too — it was a good pitch he hit, tip your hat to Danny, he did a good job putting it in play.”

Afterward, Flowers walked to the mound expecting a tension release. Instead, he was sent back to complete the job.

“I thought [Stewart] was going to crack a smirk, but he was like, ‘OK, let’s get the next guy.’ That’s good to see,” Flowers said. “I told him he was doing a good job, and let’s get the complete game W.”

The moxie shown by the greenhorn impressed the man in the dugout.

“This kid gave up the hit, lost the no-hitter and perfect game, and he came back and threw around the plate again,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén said. “Man at third? No panic. That’s a good thing when kids prepare themselves, acting on the mound like that. It’s not cockiness of anything. He’s got confidence. He’s not afraid.”

The White Sox ensured a sweep on the strength of solid, three-hit games from Alex Rios, Brent Morel and Alexei Ramírez. That trio also drove in three of the four White Sox runs in the game.

“That was nice, getting one early, after that series in Detroit where we felt like we were behind the whole time,” Morel said. “We got one early and kept tacking runs on.”

Before the doubleheader, Guillén was hesitant to permanently promote the better of the two No. 5 candidates tonight to the rotation for the final three weeks of the season, claiming he didn’t yet know, and that Humber’s and Stewart’s fate was tied to that of rehabilitating veteran Jake Peavy.

After the stellar starts, leading the White Sox to their first doubleheader sweep in Minnesota in more than 35 years, Guillen might be tempted to reshuffle his rotation to keep this competition red-hot.

As outstanding as Stewart was, Humber was almost equally devastating.

After a stellar performance in beating the Chicago Cubs at the beginning of July, Humber went six straight starts without a win. He was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation, and could well have lost his season after that frightening line drive off the forehead that drove him from his August 18 start and to the disabled list.

Returning to the mound for the first time since being sprung from the DL, Humber picked up right where he’d left off before the All-Star break, pitching seven scoreless, walkless innings in driving a 2-1 win in the first game of their doubleheader.

“I’m so thankful; it feels like it’s been a year since I had a win,” Humber said. “The guys did a great job getting us runs early. I just kind of got a lot of ground balls, and it was a great feeling to have some success. It’s a lot more fun getting them out than struggling to hold them. Hopefully I’ll build off of that and use that confidence to my next couple starts.”

“We needed Phil come out the way he did today,” Guillén said. “Just for the ballclub, besides sparing the bullpen because of a doubleheader, we needed this type of game to try to get it going and build some confidence. We didn’t do much [offensively], but to win this game after the last three days we had and a very short night, to come back and [win], hopefully those guys get some momentum going and continue to play the way we did today.”

It was a relief for the manager to see the first-half Humber emerge.

“His breaking ball was pretty good, and on top of that we made a couple of nice plays in the field, we caught a couple of balls out there to help him,” Guillén said. “His fastball was good, and sinker, threw a big pitch when he had to, and we turned a big double play [to end the seventh inning, and Humber’s outing]. It seemed like he got it back after the time off and was stronger once again.”

The White Sox gave Humber all the support he’d need in tallying once in the second and again in the third. The first run scored when De Aza beat out a double-play grounder, allowing A.J. Pierzynski (double) to score. In the third, Ramírez doubled home Juan Pierre (single) to put the White Sox up by two.

Minnesota rallied for a run in the bottom of the ninth off closer Sergio Santos, who gave up a walk, a single and a sac fly and was pulled for Chris Sale, who struck out Jason Repko for the final out for his sixth save in seven chances.

“That last thing we want to lose is a game like that, because that would kill us for good,” Guillén said in explaining the move of Santos to Sale.

Any semblance of closer controversy was completely averted by Stewart going the distance in the nightcap, as Stewart finished with 114 pitches and eight strikeouts against no walks, and just Valencia’s sole safety.

In the end, the two youngest and shakiest starters on the Sox stitched together two of just a handful of the best starts of the season, a circumstance much better than Guillén could have hoped for.

“It was great for us, besides great for them to win the games,” the manager said. “The last few games, we’ve been beat up pretty good. We’ve been using the pen and a day/night doubleheader puts in the back of your mind that I hope this goes good and I don’t use that many guys in the pen. Our pen was very thin today, so besides winning the games and throwing well, on top of that they saved our pen and let it recover.” 

The young fellas just roll with it
You’ll never accuse Stewart of being overly stressed, a characteristic he shares with several of the key rookies starring in the near-perfecto.

“I would say I probably noticed [the perfect game] in the fifth or sixth, but it still wasn’t one of those things where I was going for a no-hitter or a perfect game or whatever it was,” Stewart admitted. “Going into the eighth was when I was finally saying I had to focus and bear down to get through this.”

In fact, the chill Texan with the surfer’s curls had an unusual word for the most stressful circumstance a pitcher can find himself in: fun.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was one of those things I felt in the pen. The ball was coming out good and I can tell it was going to be somewhat of a good night. I didn’t know it was going to be that good. It just felt good from the beginning.”

Morel had some great stops at third base to help preserve the magic, but credited his starter with setting the tone.

“He did such a good job of working so quick, it’s like we were never on defense, like we were up to bat all the time trying to score runs,” said the rookie. “He was working quick and getting us back in the dugout. It’s so much easier when a guy is working quick and isn’t giving up a lot of hits. You’re out there for five minutes at a time, on your toes, expecting a ground ball. With these sinkerball guys, you gotta be ready every pitch.”

Meanwhile, when asked if the pitch he called that broke up the perfect game — a sinker away — would haunt him, the cool catcher played it off legit.

“Me? Nah,” Flowers answered. “I’ll think about it another two hours, then put it away and get ready for tomorrow.”

Maybe the best compliment of the night came from the low-key Paul Konerko, who spoke to the age issue with his usual aplomb.

“You feel good with [Stewart] out there,” he said. “He’s in control, and he’s going to make the other guy hit him. He pitches a lot older than his age.”

Six Pack of Stats – Game 2

Pressure Play (highest-leverage situation)
In a game like this one, pressure is going to leak out at unexpected times, and a 2.05 LI came from Gordon Beckham’s fly ball in the second inning, advancing Alex Rios to third and setting up the first run of the game for Chicago. White Sox 0, Twins 0.

Pressure Cooker (highest total leverage faced in the game)
Barely edging out Beckham for top game pressure was Twins starter Scott Diamond, with a 1.23 pLI for the game.

Wauoooo of the Day (greatest win probability added, single play)
With a .110 WPA, it was the last two White Sox runs that added most to the win, when Morel singled up the middle to drive in Ramírez and  Rios. White Sox 4, Twins 0

Game MVP (greatest win probability added, game)
Is there any question? Stewart takes MVP honors with a .447 WPA for the game, six points better than Humber’s outstanding effort in the first game of the doubleheader.

Chicago’s Start
According to @maxjusttyped on Twitter, Stewart’s amazing 94 game score wasn’t just tops for the White Sox this season, but it was the second-highest game score in all of baseball this season. That was keyed not only by the single hit, but nine strikeouts against zero walks.

Minnesota’s Start
Scott Diamond recorded a 45 game score for the Twins in taking his third loss in four decisions. His ineffective effort was scarred by eight hits over just five innings, and two walks against four Ks.