Mazara’s heroics lead the White Sox to a thrilling win in simulation

Coming through in the clutch: So far, Nomar Mazara’s come-from-behind three-run homer is the biggest White Sox hit in the young season. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)

Tuesday evening’s game in Cleveland came down to the wire, but the Good Guys came out on top in a 5-4 thriller.

Yasmani Grandal walked in the second inning, and he later came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Nomar Mazara (much more on him later). Grandal is off to a slow start offensively (.158/.238/.211), but it is still very early. While Grandal went hitless, he went on to draw another walk later on to reach base safely twice in four plate appearances.

Mazara’s sacrifice fly put the White Sox on the board with a 1-0 lead, and the score remained the same until the top of the fifth. That was when leadoff hitter Tim Anderson smashed a homer off Cleveland’s rookie southpaw Scott Moss. Moss was excellent in this game, only allowing those two runs (both earned) on three hits in eight innings, striking out eight. Moss appears very much ready for the show, but Anderson took advantage of one of his few mistakes and drove it out for his first homer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, starter Gio González, making his White Sox debut (he finally pitched for the White Sox!), was on top of his game. González lasted five and two-thirds innings, which isn’t outstanding by any means, but he kept Cleveland off the board. González struck out four Cleveland hitters, walked three, and he allowed four hits. Reliever Steve Cishek had another great performance, retiring all four batters he faced, striking out one of them. Cishek, who recently came over from the other side of Chicago, has now thrown three and two-thirds scoreless innings for the White Sox, and his WHIP is an excellent 0.273.

Offense came at a premium in this matchup, so the score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the eighth, when the wheels fell off. Alex Colomé took over on the mound for Cishek, and he had a nightmarish evening. Of the five batters Colomé faced, three of them went yard. Francisco Lindor led off the inning with a homer, his third of the year. Two batters later, Franmil Reyes launched his fourth dinger, and two batters after Reyes, Domingo Santana launched his second. Then, with a 3-2 deficit, the bases empty, and two outs, Rick Rentería pulled Colomé for Evan Marshall. Carlos Santana reached on an error, and he came around to score an unearned run when Jordan Luplow drove him in with a double.

All of a sudden, entering the ninth, the White Sox trailed by a score of 4-2, and they desperately needed baserunners. The White Sox had struggled to get baserunners all evening. However, they managed to get on base when they needed to. With two on and one out, Nomar Mazara stepped up to the plate against Nick Wittgren. Wittgren missed his spot, but Mazara did not miss the ball. Mazara launched his second home run of the season, and this one silenced the Cleveland crowd.

In the blink of an eye, the White Sox were back on top, with a 5-4 lead. The White Sox did not tack on any insurance runs, so the bottom of the ninth was stressful. Rentería turned to Aaron Bummer, who the White Sox recently gave a contract extension to. Uncharacteristically, Bummer faced all sorts of problems finding the strike zone, walking two of the three batters he faced. Bummer also allowed a single, though he did record an out when Adam Engel gunned down Óscar Mercado trying to advance to third on said single. When Bummer departed, there were runners on first and second, one out, and the White Sox were clinging to a 5-4 lead.

In stepped Jace Fry, perhaps the best story from the 2018 season, in a huge spot. The batter was Franmil Reyes, who had just homered the previous inning. On the second pitch, Reyes beat a curveball (this is an educated guess; Baseball-Reference does not disclose pitch types) into the ground, and the White Sox turned a double play to end the threat and seal a thrilling victory.

And so, despite only getting five hits, the White Sox got a hard-earned victory at Progressive Field. After tonight’s victory, the White Sox’s record sits at 3-2, which is now the same as Cleveland’s record. The White Sox will wrap up this three-game in Cleveland tomorrow, and they will look to complete a sweep. Let’s get it done, but first, let’s take a look at a couple of trivia questions related to tonight:

  1. In this simulation, Nomar Mazara just became the third member of the White Sox to hit his second home run. Last season, who were the first three White Sox players to reach two homers?
  2. The White Sox drafted Jace Fry, who earned his first save since August 29, 2018, out of the same school as Nick Madrigal. Which school is this?

Answers

  1. José Abreu, Yoán Moncada, and Tim Anderson.
  2. Oregon State University.

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.

 

SSHP Podcast 20: 2020 promotions

(@WhiteSox)


Amber Giese hops on the podcast with Brett Ballantini to talk about her debut South Side Hit Pen article summarizing the best and worst of 2020’s promotional schedule across major league baseball. We also trace her entry into baseball fandom, what keeps her there, and what factors beyond the obvious (Gio González!) that led her to taking on the White Sox as her new No. 2 team.

Hey man, we’re on Apple Podcasts!

Kopech throws 100, but Sox offense lags behind

Good news first: Michael Kopech dropped some jaws with a high-octane first inning; it was downhill from there for the White Sox. (@CST_soxvan)


Michael Kopech got on the mound and quickly showed that he is back. Not just, “Hey, it’s my first game of competitive ball since 2018!” No. Kopech is BACK back, and tweets are a little better at describing the the pure joy of having the righthander back.

That … was … ELECTRIC! Kopech only went one inning, which is a good approach as he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Odds are he will be in Chicago after the first month of the season, and maybe that estimate even pushes back until June. Whatever the case is, hitting 100 mph multiple times is the best news the Sox have had this spring training.

However, that was just the top of the first inning, so there was a lot more game to go. Let’s put it this way: The excitement went away pretty quickly.

Maybe Drew Anderson was busy fawning over Kopech like everyone else, but he came into the game and did not do well out of the gate. Drew was all over the place, allowed three hits and walked two in his first inning on the bump, although Tim Anderson did not help any, with his third error of the spring. Drew’s second inning was much better, but he was finally lifted for Carson Fulmer in the fourth after allowing his fourth run. Really the only positive during Anderson’s outing was that Yasmani Grandal added another spring hit to his tally.

Quite frankly, depending on injuries and how well Andrew Vaughn continues to do when the games matter in the minors, today’s lineup looked like an August or September down-the-stretch lineup (maybe sans Adam Engel, but he was hitting ninth so it still fits).

But, more excitingly, back to Kopech.

Back to Yasmani Grandal:

Man, Grandal can do anything — what a fantastic signing. There are no holes in his game.

Now, back to Fulmer:

This game did not have a lot of positives, but Fulmer was one. Almost his entire spring has been great, and even that breaking ball on the Grandal caught-stealing had pretty good late movement. Even though Fulmer was pretty bad last season, he showed clear signs of improvement on just about everything. Obviously, it is very early to say the former first round pick is finally looking like it, but Fulmer has been very impressive. He now has a 1.86 ERA so far this spring.

Other than Kopech and Fulmer, no other pitcher really did well today. Codi Heuer finally looked like a minor leaguer, and Kodi Medeiros allowed the ninth and final run to the Rangers.

As for the offense, it finally added some runs — once the bench guys came in. There were not fireworks with these runs, they were not because of big hits, but runs are runs. Gavin Sheets finally broke the Sox out of the goose egg with a sac fly in the eighth inning. Zack Collins added the second and final run for the Sox with a single. With that, Collins is now hitting .333 and has an OPS of 1.261. So, while Yermín Mercedes is getting headlines (including from myself), Collins is still doing well enough to hold him off for the Opening Day roster at this point.

Sure, the Sox lost, but the best news of the day was that Kopech stole the show.


If you want some back-field work, James Fegan has you covered with some young guys.

(Spring) 1919 World Series rematch ends in 3-3 tie (sans Mafia or bans)

(@WhiteSox)


Well, that was … a game.

The Good Guys managed to pull out a 3-3 tie in the ninth, with a homer from who else but spring training hero Yermín Mercedes.

Dylan Cease showed definite control issues with two walks (one scoring), a home run, and a hit batter, he’s not the only one who had a rough day.

Tim Anderson, despite having a 2020 goal of cutting down on errors, bobbled a very easy grounder for another error. Eloy Jiménez had a dive-and-miss in left. Nick Madrigal made a brief appearance before he took a grounder off of his face; he walked off on his own, though, so I think our most prized draftee lives to fight another day. An inning later, Andrew Romine missed an easy play by trying to flip a slow hop from his glove instead of his bare hand, allowing an infield hit.

So, the defense could have been better. The best part of spring training is that the White Sox can get these kinks worked out now, and they’ll be just fine by regular season (hopefully).

Someone on the diamond was already Opening Day-ready on defense: Yoán Moncada. Our $70 million man had the bright, shining defensive moment with an excellent play at third, as he works towards a spring highlight reel on SportsCenter.

 

After Cease got pulled, we got another look at the usual bullpen guys of Steve Cishek, Aaron Bummer, Jimmy Codero, and Evan Marshall and Kelvin Herrera, so it’s looking like the Sox are starting to solidify the reliever rotation.

Yasmani Grandal had a double and a homer, so he’s recovering from his “early spring training injury” quite nicely.

Grandal’s homer shortened the Reds lead to 3-2 and Mercedes tied it up in the ninth, but Sox offense never made it past a couple moments of contact to do much more damage. There was a brief moment in the eighth when it looked like the day was going to be saved by a brigade of Guys Off the Bench, but Zack Collins struck out staring so those hopes were dashed. The offense — can somebody, anybody make contact? —definitely needs to get worked out between now and March 26, or else we’re staring down another sad season of strikeouts.

The Reds displayed an excellent use of the shift, which got them some solid outs to back-up Anthony DeSclafani, who pitched well for four innings. Between that and Cincinnati’s solid defensive outfield, they might be a fun team to watch this year — after all, PECOTA picked the Reds to win the Central, so there’s someone new to root for against the Cubs.

RANDOM SPRING TRAINING MUSINGS (working title)

  • Nicky Delmonico playing first is an interesting choice. He didn’t do poorly or have any issues. Just an interesting choice.
  • Amir Garrett is 6’6´´ and played college basketball. Is the trend of tall pitchers a new thing, or am I just now noticing it?
  • Was Pedro Strop only allowed to be on the Reds after Puig got traded?
  • Roger Bossard puts activated charcoal on the field, which is also what I use on my face when I have a breakout, so the infield and I have something in common.

 

AL Central Big 3: The offenses

Big boost: Thanks in part to the acquisition of Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox now trail only the Twins in fWAR among its offensive roster. (@WhiteSox)


It’s been quite the interesting offseason in the AL Central.

The White Sox have added a number of solid veterans to its young core, while also granting extensions for veteran slugger José Abreu and phenom outfielder Luis Robert. The Twins added Josh Donaldson to its already potent offense while adding rotation depth in the forms of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Cleveland, in the meantime, has basically maintained their status quo with the exception of trading pricey hurler Corey Kluber for reliever Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr. as they hope to maintain their success by simply staying healthy.

Of course, based on last season, there’s quite a bit of separation among the three teams: The Twins are coming off a 101-61 season, Cleveland a 93-69 record, and the White Sox a 72-89 mark. But as there should unquestionably be some better bunching at the top this season (PECOTA projects 93, 86 and 82 wins, respectively), we’re ramping up to the start of Cactus League play with three looks at the Big 3 ball clubs, on offense, pitching and intangibles. 

Projected 2020 stats are per Steamer, and players’ ages listed in parentheses are as of Opening Day.


Minnesota Twins

Outfield
Eddie Rosario, LF (27) .284/.320/.499, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 5 SB, 2.4 fWAR
Byron Buxton, CF (26) .262/.317/.461, 20 HR, 73 RBI, 23 SB, 3.2 fWAR
Max Kepler, RF (28) .260/.343/.490, 30 HR, 93 RBI, 6 SB, 3.7 fWAR
Marwin Gonzalez (31) .269/.334/.444, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1 SB, 0.8 fWAR
Jake Cave (27) .256/.315/.423, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.1 fWAR

Infield
Miguel Sano, 1B (26) .246/.337/.519, 37 HR, 97 RBI, 1 SB, 2.3 fWAR
Luis Arraez, 2B (22) .312/.369/.415, 6 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB, 2.5 fWAR
Jorge Polanco, SS (26) .281/.344/.453, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 7 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Josh Donaldson, 3B (34) .267/.379/.527, 36 HR, 103 RBI, 4 SB, 5.3 fWAR
Ehire Adrianza (30) .256/.317/.389, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Catchers
Mitch Garver (29) .254/.333/.464, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 1 SB, 1.9 fWAR
Alex Avila (33) .214/.342/.379, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 1.1 fWAR

Designated Hitter
Nelson Cruz (39) .282/.363/.547, 40 HR, 114 RBI, 1 SB, 2.9 fWAR

Certainly, some regression is expected after nearly everyone on Minnesota’s roster enjoyed career years offensively in 2019. The above numbers reflect this, especially when looking at Garver’s anticipated drop-off from last year’s .273/.365/.630 slash line with 31 homers. Even so, this is an extremely dangerous offense and arguably the best in the American League. With the acquisition of Donaldson, third catcher and contact maestro Willians Austudillo will likely begin in the minors, but should still receive some playing time if an injury occurs.The only weakness to this offense may be the ability to manufacture runs if they’re not hitting bombs, as the only player who’s projected to steal in double digits is the oft-injured Buxton. The above roster above posted an aggregate 3.5 defensive bWAR last year, spearheaded by Donaldson (1.7) and Buxton (1.3, despite missing 75 games); the defense’s Achilles heel last year was Rosario (-1.1).


Cleveland

Outfield
Domingo Santana, LF (24) .248/.345/.441, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 5 SB, 0.4 fWAR
Oscar Mercado, CF (25) .256/.313/.402, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 15 SB, 1.0 fWAR
Greg Allen, RF (27) .246/.310/.362, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, -0.1 fWAR
Jordan Luplow (26) .250/.333/.449, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, 0.7 fWAR
Delino DeShields Jr. (27) .231/.313/.338, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 9 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Infield
Carlos Santana, 1B (33) .260/.375/.482, 29 HR, 93 RBI, 3 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Cesar Hernandez, 2B (29) .277/.355/.399, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, 2.0 fWAR
Francisco Lindor, SS (26) .289/.354/.531, 35 HR, 95 RBI, 22 SB, 6.0 fWAR
José Ramírez, 3B (27) .277/.362/.523, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 23 SB, 5.1 fWAR|
Christian Arroyo (24) .247/.301/.395, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.1 fWAR

Catchers
Roberto Perez (31) .219/.303/.399, 14 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB, 2.2 fWAR
Sandy Leon (31) .217/.278/.346, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 0.5 fWAR

Designated Hitter
Franmil Reyes (24) .260/.329/.517, 36 HR, 93 RBI, 1 SB, 1.5 fWAR

There’s still some uncertainty in this lineup, particularly in the outfield. Jake Bauers is not expected by FanGraphs to make the Opening Day roster thanks to the recent signing of Domingo Santana, but he still has a shot to beat out either Allen or DeShields in spring training. When Reyes does spend some time in the outfield this year, he and Santana could be the modern-day defensive equivalent of Greg Luzinski and Dave Kingman at the corners. If the Indians get off to a rocky start, expect trade talks regarding Lindor to intensify. Offensively, the strength of this team is clearly the infield with Lindor, Ramírez and Santana. Defensively, this roster posted an aggregate 6.3 defensive bWAR last year, led by Perez (2.6) and Lindor (1.7); the weakest defensive player in 2019 on this year’s roster was easily Domingo Santana, with a -1.9 mark. This team is loaded with switch-hitters and platoon possibilities, so Cleveland could definitely post match-up difficulties to opposing pitchers. With several guys capable of double-digit steals, the Indians should be able to manufacture runs when the offense isn’t entirely clicking.    


Chicago White Sox

Outfield
Eloy Jiménez, LF (24) .279/.329/.520, 33 HR, 95 RBI, 1 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Luis Robert, CF (22) .273/.317/.488, 26 HR, 83 RBI, 23 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Nomar Mazara, RF (24) .255/.318./.467, 25 HR, 77 RBI, 3 SB, 1.4 fWAR
Leury García (29) .261/.300/.374, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 10 SB, 0.4 fWAR
Adam Engel (28) .221/.281/.352, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, 0.0 fWAR

Infield
José Abreu, 1B (33) .275/.332/.497, 32 HR, 101 RBI, 3 SB, 1.8 fWAR
Nick Madrigal, 2B (23) .287/.337/.392, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 19 SB, 1.5 fWAR
Tim Anderson, SS (26) .275/.308/.441, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 17 SB, 2.0 fWAR
Yoán Moncada, 3B (24) .267/.340/.475, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 12 SB, 4.0 fWAR
Danny Mendick (26) .243/.310/.376, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Catchers
Yasmani Grandal (31) .239/.358/.459, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 3 SB, 5.0 fWAR
James McCann (29) .238/.297/.390, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, 0.3 fWAR

Designated Hitter
Edwin Encarnación (37) .246/.346/.499, 35 HR, 92 RBI, 2 SB, 1.9 fWAR

Because of their high BABIP last year, Steamer expects Anderson’s and Moncada’s batting averages to drop significantly in 2020. And because of the volatility of rookies and youngsters, it’s hard to project guys like Robert and Madrigal will fare when they make it to the big show. Thus, there’s a great degree of variance between upsides and floors for the White Sox overall. The numbers seem respectable for Robert but a little down for Madrigal; of these three teams, the White Sox are the only team to expect to have two rookies earn regular playing time. The defense posted an aggregate of -0.6 defensive bWAR, despite the additions of Madrigal, Robert and Grandal. Unsurprisingly, the biggest culprits are Jiménez and Abreu, but the White Sox’s defensive value should still be higher in 2020 providing that Anderson commits fewer errors and Moncada continues his improvement at the hot corner. As a side note, while FanGraphs expects García to begin the Opening Day roster as the team’s second baseman, I have Madrigal listed as the starter as there’s a chance he’s given an extension and/or enjoys a solid spring.


As the numbers above reflect a combination of offense and defense, the Twins clearly have the best combined non-pitching roster among these three teams, at 29.3 fWAR. If Minnesota’s hitters avoid their expected regression offensively, that number could easily climb another five points or more. The White Sox actually rank behind the Twins at 24.1 fWAR despite their unproven youth, thanks in part to its dynamic catching tandem of Grandal and McCann. Interestingly, Minnesota’s acquisition of Donaldson essentially makes up the projected fWAR difference between the White Sox and Twins — at least offensively. Cleveland has the weakest roster offensively of the three teams, despite having an excellent infield on paper. That team is hampered by its lack of outfield thump, as the combined 2.2 fWAR in that area brings their expected total to 22.3 (despite having the best defensive numbers and two of the best players in the division). For the White Sox to rank second in the division offensively isn’t a slap in the face, as the Twins are arguably the best offense in the American League, if not all of baseball.


 

 

 

 

 

               

 

          

Welcome to the La Pantera party!

It’s go time: Luis Robert arrived at Camelback Ranch today, ready to get his 2020 season started. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


We are one day away from position players officially having to report to spring training. Luckily for the White Sox, most  are already in Arizona, and have been for a few weeks, and the team is just waiting on a few more guys before they have the full squad together.

Today, Luis Robert arrived at Camelback Ranch, and White Sox fans got a first look at their Opening Day center fielder.

If you follow Robert on social media, you know he’s put in a ton of work this offseason. It seemed like he was not familiar with a day off, as he was constantly posting workout or BP videos. This afternoon, Robert took batting practice, and then shagged fly balls in center field while other players were hitting. He looked like a guy who came prepared, and with the way he was swinging the bat you would’ve thought that this was not his first official workout and that he has been at spring training for a month already.

In center field this afternoon, Robert was equally as impressive as he was in the batter’s box. He was not taking it easy on his first day, going full speed in the outfield and covering a lot of ground to make a hard play look routine. After he was done in the field, Robert practiced foot first slides (please continue to do that and protect that thumb, Luis!) before he called it a day.

Robert probably was the most impressive player on the field today, which is easy for him because he is blessed with all those tools and has the body of a Greek god. Even on his “bad” days, Robert can still look better than the average player.


Yasmani Grandal has been around Camelback Ranch for a while, but he’s strictly been working with pitchers and hasn’t done much hitting due to a mild calf strain that will keep him out of the first week of games. Today we got to see him take batting practice, and he got all of his work in from the right side of the plate. As a veteran, you would expect Grandal to be more prepared than some of the other guys (even factoring in his injury), but he still managed to impress. Grandal drove the ball consistently, with easy power. Obviously Grandal’s defense and ability to make pitchers better will make him well worth the money that the White Sox invested in him, but he’s a huge upgrade on offense, too, which was obvious this afternoon.


Another outfielder who had a good day was Adam Engel. He was driving the ball all over the field in batting practice and had some of the best rounds among all participants today. Take that with a grain of salt though, because we have seen this a few times in years past. It seems like Engel always comes prepared and looks good during spring training, but once the season starts we see a completely different player. Engel would be useful as a defensive replacement, but if he wants to have any kind of role beyond that he’s going to have to earn it. He hit well against lefties last season, so there’s the possibility that he can be used in a platoon role. However, 2019 was the first time in his career where Engel showed he can be successful in those situations — again, he will have to earn it if he wants to maintain a platoon role.


Today was another somewhat quiet day at Camelback Ranch, but the sound of Robert’s bat woke up everyone in the Glendale area. Tomorrow marks the first official full squad workout, as everyone on the spring training roster will be in camp. Baseball is finally back, and we will soon get a look at more of the players that Rick Hahn and Co. brought in this offseason. I expect the vibe to be a little more loose moving forward, as some of the players will be reuniting for the first time in months.

Exciting times are on the horizon for the White Sox — and tomorrow will be the true beginning of that.

Potential White Sox lineups for 2020

Crazy 88: With Luis Robert now expected to be on this year’s Opening Day roster, the offense should be absolutely lethal. (@KnightsBaseball)


Thanks to the extension of potential superstar outfielder Luis Robert, the Opening Day roster looks relatively set — at least on the offensive side. That’s not to say that there’s a bit of uncertainty, as the White Sox could still pursue a second base option in case the team feels Nick Madrigal isn’t quite ready for Opening Day. Also, the possibility exists for a right-handed platoon for Nomar Mazara in right field (Hunter Pence, Kevin Pillar or Yasiel Puig may make some sense there, if they’re willing to accept a platoon scenario). While Madrigal may receive a preseason extension, chances are the White Sox pass for now, due in part to his lack of power potential.

Anyway, here’s what this Sox fan would like to see (assuming that Madrigal does make the Opening Day squad) versus righties and southpaws.

Lineup vs. righties

(1) Nick Madrigal — 2B. Perhaps I’m a little old school, but I prefer my leadoff hitters to run like the wind and see enough pitches to work the opposing pitcher’s counts. Enter Madrigal. In the minors, he slashed a terrific .325/.395/.407 against righthanders in 2019. He obviously knows how to handle the bat, and isn’t afraid to hit with two strikes because of his impeccable ability to make contact. Infield defenses will likely play him to bunt, which could free up numerous opportunities to poke base hits through the infield. Sure, Madrigal’s walk total (44) last year wasn’t all that impressive; however, he still would’ve led last year’s White Sox squad with that number if he wouldn’t have played in the shortened minor league schedule. Expect Madrigal to walk a bit more with experience as he acquaints himself with each pitcher.

(2) Yasmani Grandal — C. This actually was a difficult call for me, as I was toying putting Yoán Moncada here. Grandal’s OBP (.372) versus righties was similar to Moncada’s, but Moncada owned a significantly higher slugging percentage versus righties than Grandal. Thus, I’d prefer to see Moncada in a lineup position where he could drive in more runs. Grandal makes an excellent No. 2 hitter here with his .372 OBP and .441 SP, and as evidenced by his 109 walks last year, he’s willing to take pitches that would allow Madrigal more opportunities to steal bases.  

(3) Eloy Jiménez — LF. The easy choice would be to go with José Abreu here, but his numbers last year simply didn’t stack up to those Jiménez compiled against righties. Jiménez provided far better offensive numbers against righties (.270/.313/.535) than the veteran first baseman, and his 31 homers despite missing 40 games show he should be a force for quite a long time. While he struck out at a high clip last year (134), Jiménez did improve as the season went along and has a history of adapting and learning from mistakes.

(4) Edwin Encarnación — DH. Despite missing essentially one-third of last season due to injuries, Encarnación still managed to club 34 homers and knock in 86 runs. He did strike out his fair share (103), but posted a solid walk total of 58. Encarnación has hit at least 32 homers in each of his last eight seasons, and if he’s healthy, should continue to produce similar numbers. Despite a relatively low average last year versus righties (.244), he still provided a respectable .332 OBP and .510 SP.

(5) Yoán Moncada — 3B. The 24-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019, yet it seems like he’s merely scratching the surface. All he did last year was slash .315/.367/.548 with 34 doubles and 25 homers, despite missing 30 games due to injuries. Moncada’s numbers were even better versus righties (.322/.377/.569), and he should provide ample protection for Jiménez and Encarnacón in this lineup. He’s also stolen double-digit bases in each of his first two seasons, and he could easily be one of four regulars to do so in 2020. 

(6) José Abreu —1B. It just makes more sense to place Eloy in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. Abreu’s still no slouch, as his .284/.330/.503 slash line with 72 extra-base hits and 126 RBI last year attest. However, his slash line versus righties was relatively weak in 2019 (.257/.298/.472) so it actually makes sense to drop him to sixth in the lineup. He should still receive plenty of RBI opportunities with the bats in front of him.   

(7) Luis Robert — CF. By the end of the year, Robert could very well spend time at every single lineup position. He clearly has the speed to be a leadoff hitter, as he swiped 36 bases in an abbreviated minor league season in 2019. He’s also got massive power potential, as displayed by his 32 homers (16 of which came in just 47 games, with half hit in Birmingham where bats often go to die). Robert also posted lofty slash lines against righties and southpaws alike, but I like giving him a little left-handed protection with Nomar Mazara batting behind him for now. Versus righties in the minors last year, all Robert did was slash .315/.373/.580. The only concern with Robert offensively is his pitch selection, as he walked just 28 times as opposed to 129 strikeouts last year.

(8) Nomar Mazara — RF. Mazara’s provided consistently decent yet uninspiring offensive numbers with Texas during each of the last four seasons. Perhaps he was a victim of high expectations? He was regularly ranked among MLB’s Top 50 prospects prior to his 2016 Rangers debut, and he was asked to play against both righties and lefties. Certainly, his numbers versus southpaws last year left much to be desired (.220/.252/394), but he still provided quality numbers when facing righthanders (.288/.344/.500). Last year, he clubbed 27 doubles and 19 homers, which is a massive upgrade from what the White Sox ran out in right field. 

(9) Tim Anderson — SS. I know what you’re thinking: The league’s batting champ hits ninth? But I like Tim here for two reasons. The first is that he has well-chronicled on-base deficiencies, so if he’s not hitting, he’s not on base; secondly, he’d basically serve as a second leadoff man when the lineup turns over. Anderson, surprisingly, enjoyed a better season versus righties than when opposing southpaws, with a .339/.360/.514. Of course, this was aided by a perhaps fluky .399 BABIP. I’m expecting some drop-off here, perhaps to a .349 BABIP which would be squarely between Anderson’s 2018 and 2019 numbers. With Madrigal’s ability to handle the bat, expect more stolen bases and hit-and-run opportunities with Anderson in this spot in the lineup. Of course, if Madrigal gets off to a slow start, Anderson and Madrigal could easily be switched. 

Additional notes: In 29 games for Charlotte last year, Madrigal slashed .331/.398/.424 with 13 walks and just five strikeouts; thus, it’s hard for me to believe he truly won’t be MLB-ready to begin the 2020 season. It’s difficult to believe they’d hold him down for contractual purposes, since the White Sox clearly plan on being in a close race with Cleveland and Minnesota as evidenced especially by the Encarnacion signing. If Madrigal doesn’t make the trip north for Opening Day, however, Danny Mendick would likely slot to the ninth spot while Anderson would shift to leadoff. It’s easy to like the versatility of this lineup, and the bench will feature numerous defense and pinch-running options with Adam Engel, Leury García and Danny Mendick. James McCann also provides leadership and defensive skills (excluding framing) as the backup catcher, and would be valuable as a No. 8 or 9 hitter in this lineup (.265/.311/.448 in 2019 vs. righties). Also, with just three lefty bats in this lineup, I spread those hitters three batters apart from each other to make it more difficult for opponents to use their best bullpen southpaws against them.   

Lineup vs. lefties

(1) Nick Madrigal — 2B. Despite better slugging numbers, his numbers dropped to more pedestrian levels against southpaws in 2019, as he slashed a still-respectable .278/.338/.431. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him better those numbers, even while donning a major league uniform, in 2020.

(2) Yoán Moncada — 3B. Moncada enjoyed a much-improved 2019, and nowhere was this more evident than when opposing southpaws. In 2018 against lefties, he slashed just .209/.287/.297; in 2019, he slashed .299/.345/.500. I’ve switched Grandal and Moncada vs. lefties, because Grandal’s power numbers are significantly more impressive.

(3) José Abreu — 1B. While Abreu had his struggles against righties last year, the same can’t be said against southpaws. In 2019, he slashed an impressive .360/.418/.591 against them.

(4) Edwin Encarnación — DH. While Encarnación was solid against righties, he fared even better against southpaws last year, with a .245/.375/.594 slash line.

(5) Yasmani Grandal — C. Like Encarnación, Grandal was quite good against righties. However, when as a right-handed batter versus lefties, he performed even better, to the tune of a .258/.397/.529 slash line. This would be nice protection for Abreu and Encarnación indeed.

(6) Eloy Jiménez — LF. Jiménez’s numbers, though quite good, dropped off slightly against southpaws in 2019. That’s not to say when he was bad by any stretch (.259/.322/.459). It’s a credit to the rest of this lineup that he actually drops to sixth versus lefties.

(7) Luis Robert — CF. Robert absolutely murdered lefties last year, to the tune of .356/.386/.719. Of course, those numbers were against minor league competition, so the verdict’s still out for him in 2020. If Robert continues to mash lefties as this rate next year, he likely will move up significantly higher in the lineup.

(8) Tim Anderson — SS. I kept wavering between inserting Anderson here and the leadoff spot. The reason I have Anderson eighth is because he simply provides stronger lineup protection for Robert than would either of the next two hitters. If others disagree with this spot, I certainly wouldn’t argue. For the year, Anderson slashed .326/.351/.493, which isn’t too shabby.

(9) Leury García — RF. García is a better defensive alternative than Mazara, and has generally produced far better numbers versus southpaws throughout his career. Last year as a right-handed hitter, García slashed a respectable .311/.344/.443. While García likely won’t be a game-changer as a right-handed platoon, he’d add a little speed element (15 stolen bases) with his defense.

Additional notes: As good as the team’s lineup appears versus righties, the lineup opposing southpaws should be even more lethal. On games in which Grandal sits, the offense shouldn’t suffer much with McCann in the lineup, as he slashed .295/.372/.492 against southpaws last year. The same caveat for righties as above applies for Madrigal; if Mendick or some other player begins the year at second to open the season, Anderson could easily slot leadoff while García and the second baseman hit in the eighth and ninth roles. The lineup above features five guys with double-digit stolen bases (Madrigal, Moncada, Robert, Anderson and García) while Mendick and Engel also provide stolen base potential off the bench. 


 

Backup backstop: McCann vs. Collins

Zack attack: For Collins, even in a limited platoon role, the time is now. (Tom Borowski/South Side Hit Pen)


James McCann was a bit of a renaissance man for the 2019 Chicago White Sox. Signed as an afterthought for $2 million in advance of another rebuilding season, not much was expected of the former Tigers’ backstop. But all the 6´3´´, 225-pounder proceeded to do was post a 2.3 fWAR season and play in his first All-Star Game. McCann hit .273/.328/.460 with a 109 wRC+ and smacked 18 homers in 118 contests.

McCann was especially good against southpaws last year, posting a stellar wRC+ of 132. The catcher’s .197 ISO was staggering, and contributed a great deal to his career-best campaign. The former second round pick handled his business positively in Chicago and was well-regarded in a leadership role, to the extent that starting pitcher Lucas Giolito credited his new teammate with much of his success in 2019.

Pitch framing is a weakness for McCann, and defense overall isn’t considered to be a strong suit of his. He’s a respected game-caller and adept at throwing out runners while being very studious regarding the planning and preparation that goes into being a catcher.

The second half of 2019 was rough for McCann, and he was much better vs lefties overall. Against righties in 2019, James posted a league-average mark of 100 with his wRC+ and he posted a .319 wOBA. In an ideal situation, McCann would face primarily southpaws in 2020.

Crowded roster

The decision-makers in the front office made a concerted effort this offseason to add talent to the roster for the 2020 season. The rebuild is over, and it’s time to compete for a Central Division title. José Abreu is slated to return to the south side for his seventh season in black and white. Abreu has hit 179 career homers and has always been very successful against left-handed pitching in general.

Abreu signed a three-year contract extension with the White Sox worth $50 million in late November. The deal was met with some consternation due to the anticipated regression of the player, in spite of his gaudy home run and RBI totals in 2019. The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cuban has regressed, and will likely continue to do so. That regression will occur in a comfortable place, though, and hitting southpaws is still something that should be a primary focus.

Playing in 159 games last year, Abreu posted a 117 wRC+ even though his strikeout rate increased and his walk rate keeps falling. The first baseman was a league average offensive performer (100 wRC+) vs righties, and some scheduled days off in the future could best serve all parties. Abreu must be in the lineup vs lefties, however. In 2019, he murdered lefthanders to the tune of a .360/.418/.591 slash line with a 168 wRC+ and 24 homers.

Yasmani Grandal was given the largest free agent contract in the history of the organization back in November as well. The former first-rounder out of Miami is one of the best catchers in baseball. The switch-hitter played in 153 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019, and hit .246/.380/.468 with 28 homers. Yaz posted a 121 wRC+ with a 17% walk rate as well. The 31-year-old was exceptional against lefties, though. While Grandal posted very strong numbers against right-handed pitching (114 wRC+), he was even better (138 wRC+) when he turned around and hit from the right side.

With Grandal as the biggest outside addition to the club, playing time didn’t appear to be an issue for James McCann. His numbers against lefties indicated a role could be carved out in which he split some time at designated hitter in addition to catcher with the newly acquired Grandal. But then …

Parrot party

The White Sox signed 37-year-old slugger Edwin Encarnación in early January. The deal is for one year with a club option for 2021, and the move further signifies a win-now attitude. Encarnación is primarily a designated hitter at this stage of his career, but he could do some moonlighting at first base. In 109 games with the Yankees and Mariners in 2019, he clubbed .244/.344/.531 with 34 home runs while posting a 129 wRC+ and .362 wOBA.

Encarnación has 414 career homers, and the long ball is still a primary focus of his offensive profile. Edwin walked at a 12% clip last year, and while he posted a strong 121 wRC+ vs right handed pitching, he was death to lefties. The slugger hit .245/.375/.594 (.969 OPS) with a .396 wOBA vs southpaws. Encarnación posted a 152 wRC+ vs lefties in 2019. He was signed to play, and he should be in the lineup almost every day. Days off could come against tough righties, but it’s imperative that EE be available to mash against most pitchers.

Zack Collins … left out?

Another name in the 26-man roster mix for the White Sox is former top draft pick Zack Collins. Collins has many detractors, and his style of play wouldn’t be described as aesthetically pleasing — he was billed as a three-true-outcomes performer with defensive questions, after all. He can also play some first base and designated hitter, and has struggled vs lefties throughout his minor league career.

Collins will be 25 years old in February and has nothing to prove at the minor league level. Last year with the Charlotte Knights, the lefty slugger batted .282/.403/.548 with a 140 wRC+ in 88 games. Zack hit 19 homers and posted a .401 wOBA. He possesses plus raw power and plate discipline, and has displayed it across every minor league level: In 2017 at Winston-Salem, Collins posted a 130 wRC+. With the Birmingham Barons in 2018, his wRC+ was 130 in one of the strongest leagues in the minors.

Collins struggled in a small major league sample in 2019 when playing time was quite sparse. In 102 trips to the plate, he posted a 77 wRC+ over the course of 27 games. He showed off some of the plus power to go with a 14% walk rate and a .219 ISO. Collins’ eventual role in the big leagues might be as a part-time player, one who walks and hits for power against right-handed pitching.

Collins vs. McCann

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that McCann’s good name has come up frequently in trade rumors this offseason. He’s a functional piece on a roster, and perfectly suited to be a member of a catching platoon. He no longer fits ideally on the White Sox roster, however. McCann is locked in for 2020 at $5.4 million, which looks tenable on the surface but could make him a difficult trade piece due to his shortcomings. What the White Sox would even look for as a trade return is very debatable.

It will likely be seen as heresy to suggest that Collins fits more appropriately on a winning roster than McCann in this particular case, but orthodoxy should be challenged this time around. McCann would benefit from playing against left-handed pitchers most often, but it’s tough to justify ceding playing time to him at the expense of Encarnación, Abreu and Grandal. That trio of mashers shouldn’t be sitting against lefties just so McCann can see more time.

Collins on the other hand, could serve a purpose and fill an actual need. If proven that he’s playable behind the dish, his left-handed bat could be a benefit for the club. On days when Collins catches, Grandal could stay in the lineup with one of Abreu or Encarnación sitting against a right-handed starter. On the other hand McCann is a solid all-around player, and he needs time as a regular in advance of his first foray into real free agency after this season.

The White Sox may choose to keep all three players, especially with the new roster rules in place that make keeping three catchers much easier. Injuries occur, but with McCann on a one-year deal with a role that’s rendered him superfluous, a trade to a better situation shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the near future.

McCann is a professional and would likely accept any role provided to him, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s not thrilled with the situation. McCann is no longer scheduled to attend SoxFest this upcoming weekend, and he will likely be involved in trade rumors for catching needy teams into spring training.