Disclaimer: Stats are prior to Monday’s game (August 31)
In a shortened season and the first year that the Chicago White Sox were expected to compete since the rebuild started, the White Sox have taken off to a 22-15 start. This has them one game back in the AL Central and with the fourth-best record in the American League. Despite a rough first week, the South Siders’ offense has exploded, behind 65 home runs (1st in the AL), 178 RBIs (2nd in the AL), and leading the AL in AVG, SLG, and OPS. Many factors have led to the team’s success so far, so we gathered some of our White Sox writers to evaluate what departments of the team have attributed to this success!
Infield: Conor Eagan
The White Sox infield was expected to be one of the more productive pieces of this 2020 offense, led by veteran and team-leader Jose Abreu. After receiving a contract extension in the offseason following regression in recent years, Abreu is having his best season in his 7-year career with the Sox. Abreu was named AL Player of the Week following a monstrous run last week, including 6 home runs in the 3-game series against the Chicago Cubs. Abreu is making his case for AL MVP, leading the AL in bWAR among position players with 2.0 bWAR.
Following a brief stint at the training site in Schaumburg to allow the team to manipulate service time, Nick Madrigal made his MLB debut as the second baseman of the future for the White Sox. The former 4th overall pick, known for his ability to make contact, lack of power, rare strikeouts, and elite defense, was only able to play 4 games prior to injuring his shoulder while sliding into third base, keeping him on the Injured List for over 3 weeks. Madrigal made his return this past weekend, looking like he hasn’t skipped a beat, going 5-for-8 with 2 RBIs in 2 games. Hitting .333/.364/.333 with 0 XBH, Madrigal has played exactly as advertised, and provides a crucial role on this team, as the rest of the starting lineup is expected to hit for power. While Madrigal won’t hit many home runs, if any, he has the ability to drive the ball to the gap in the outfield, and has the speed to turn singles into doubles.
While Madrigal was with the training squad and on the IL, Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick filled in. Garcia, who is the team’s ‘super-utility’ player, can play OF/2B/SS/3B and took most of the reps at 2B while Madrigal was gone before he injured his left thumb. Danny Mendick, who figured to spend most of his time as infield depth, stepped into the 2B role, and during the month of August, hit .286/.325/.481 with 3 HR and 6 RBI. Mendick made his case to get more at-bats as the season continues, and deservedly so.
The reigning batting champion, Tim Anderson picked up right where he left off in 2019, hitting .343/.380/.618, .997 OPS, 6 HR, 11 RBI, and 1.6 bWAR, which is the 11th highest among position players in the MLB. Anderson seemed to improve his defense over the offseason, with only 2 errors so far, and a fielding percentage of .978.
Yoan Moncada has been plagued with leg fatigue so far, which is most likely due to having COVID-19 prior to the season and ramping up to get ready for the season with about a week before the season started. It is most visible when Moncada accelerates out of the box. While it is concerning, hopefully getting days off with Mendick available to sub in will improve his outlook for the season.
Grade: B+. I gave them a B+ because while Abreu is having a career year and Tim Anderson looks to be backing up his career-best performance, Madrigal has played very few games and Yoan Moncada has been underwhelming compared to his 2019 season. This infield has the potential to be the core of this starting lineup for years to come with the addition of top prospect, Andrew Vaughn, within the next year.
Catcher/DH: Conor Eagan
Two of the biggest offseason moves made by the White Sox reside in this department with Yasmani Grandal, who is looked at as a top-2 catcher in the MLB, and Edwin Encarnacion, who has hit 30+ HR in the last 9 seasons. Yasmani Grandal will always be an elite framer and will have a high OBP, which is exactly what he has done this year. Despite a slow start, Grandal has started to adjust to the American League and looks to be back to his normal play. According to Fangraphs, Grandal is the 3rd best framing catcher so far.
On the other hand, the Sox also have James McCann at catcher, who is basically a polar opposite of Grandal, where he is offense first, defense second. McCann, who was an All-Star last season and almost always catches White Sox ace, Lucas Giolito, is hitting .340/.410/.528, .938 OPS, 3 HR, 8 RBI, but ranks 20th among catchers in framing. Between those two players, the White Sox have arguably the best catching tandem in MLB, and when one is not playing, they could be getting at-bats at DH or 1B.
The primary DH for the Sox is veteran Edwin Encarnacion. This season has been fairly disappointing for Edwin, only hitting .181/.261/.446, OPS of .707, and only 6 HRs so far.
Grade: B. I gave this category a B, because they have two elite catchers, but Encarnacion has been underwhelming, and they NEED more power from their designated hitter.
Outfield: Jordan Miller
The White Sox Outfield has been above average from an offensive standpoint and a mixed bag defensively. Leading the way is the immense power from 2nd year LF Eloy Jimenez and five-tool rookie Luis Robert. Eloy has had a stellar offensive first half of 2020 with a slash line .306/.346/.620 and a .966 OPS along with 11 HRs and 26 RBIs. Jimenez has been torching baseballs with an exit velo in the 90th percentile along with a Hard Hit % and Barrel % in the 96th and 98th percentile, respectively. The defense from Eloy continues to be a problem with -2 OAA, -3 DRS, and a -1.4 UZR. Despite the defensive shortcomings, Jimenez is still worth 1.3 fWAR, so as long as he keeps himself out of danger and away from the left-field netting, the bat will be a big part of the lineup.
Now, what can I say about the first half of Luis Robert’s rookie season?! La Pantera has been must-watch TV from the get-go, slashing .291/.339/.581 with a .920 OPS along with 9 HRs, 22 RBIs, and a 1.4 fWAR. Robert’s five-tool arsenal has been off the charts with an average exit velo in the 90th percentile, a Barrel % in the 95th percentile, and sprint speed in the 97th percentile. His defensive metrics have been just as steller, with 5 OAA, 8 DRS, 3 RngR, and a 2.1 UZR. The only glaring issue so far in Luis’s game is that he’s very swing happy with a K% and Whiff % in the 5th and 1st percentiles along with a 60% swing rate. These should stabilize as he gets more experienced facing major league pitching. As the season winds down, Luis Robert and Seattle’s OF phenom Kyle Lewis will be neck and neck for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
The Pale Hose’s RF platoon of Adam Engel and Nomar Mazara has been a tale of two completely different players. Engel often used vs lefties is more of a defensive specialist who is slashing .263/.300/.439 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs. He has shone defensively with 2 DRS, 1.8 ARM, and 2 UZR. Now Mazara has been the disappointment in this platoon with a slash line of .222/.319/.270, leading to a putrid .589 OPS along with 0 HRs and 5 RBIs. Mazara metrics offensively and defensively have been downright awful as well, with a 7.9 Barrell %, Average Exit Velo of 89.1, and a 38.7 Hard Hit % along with defensive scores of 1 DRS, -0.1 RNgR, and a 0.7 UZR. The touted “untapped potential” of Mazara continues to stay corked as RF continues to be a black hole for the South Siders. With the versatile Leury Garcia shelved for the remainder of the season and after optioning OF Nicky Delmonico for the newly acquired speedster OF Jarrod Dyson, the options offensively remain thin in RF.
Grade: B+. Given the offensive output from Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, the White Sox should be able to stay afloat despite the concerning lackluster RF bunch.
Starting Pitching: Thatcher Zalewski
The starting rotation has had its moments of greatness so far this season but it hasn’t been perfect, other than Giolito’s no-hitter. Only having three consistent starters this season in Giolito, Keuchel, and Cease, it is obvious that they need some help in the rotation. Other pitchers used as starters this season include Reynaldo Lopez (coming off an injury), Carlos Rodon (injured), Matt Foster (as an opener), Gio Gonzalez (now on 10 Day IL), and lastly Dane Dunning, who has pitched the best out of all those names listed above. Dunning is looking to stay in the rotation after striking out 7 while pitching 5 no-hit innings against the Royals on Sunday. In the White Sox’ search for a fifth starter, no one has stood out.
Let’s look at some positives now! Lucas Giolito is currently 3-2 with a 3.09 ERA on the season. His Statcast numbers are really good, as Lucas ranks in the 91st percentile for Whiff %, 83rd percentile for xERA, and the 82nd percentile for xwOBA. Giolito has been very good so far, and if there were an All-Star game this season, Giolito should definitely earn his second nomination.
Now onto Dallas Keuchel. He has a 5-2 record with a 2.70 ERA, which is the best ERA on the team for qualified starters. Keuchel’s Stacast numbers aren’t as great as Giolito’s, as Dallas ranks in the poor category for every percentile ranking except Exit Velocity (79th percentile), Hard Hit % (76th percentile), and Barrel % (72nd percentile). That isn’t the best when that pitcher is supposed to be one of your top starters, however, Keuchel’s makeup as a pitcher won’t “wow” you in the Statcast metrics. He has been a reliable starter and exactly what the White Sox signed him to be.
Dylan Cease is another guy that Statcast doesn’t support very well, while he has a 4-2 record on the season with a 3 ERA. The White Sox rotation does rank 2nd in the American league in ERA, however.
Grade: B. It is well-known that the rotation does need some work as Lopez has been super shaky, Gio Gonzalez isn’t the answer for the 5th spot, and Carlos Rodon is injury prone. The only answer for a backend starter right now is Dane Dunning. Hopefully, this improves soon, as you need a strong starting five to win division titles.
Bullpen: Andrew Horwath
If it wasn’t for this past series vs. the Royals and Twins, the White Sox bullpen would have graded at an A- or a B+. Despite the struggles, all White Sox fans want to talk about in regards to the bullpen is the sweet surprises from the rookies.
“Alexa, play ‘Pumped up Kicks’ by Foster the People”. Matt Foster has been phenomenal out of the bullpen, using mainly a fastball and changeup. In 10 appearances, Foster has pitched 14.2 innings, allowing just 6 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 17. His only blemish to his stellar 1.23 ERA is from a 2-run home run he allowed in his last appearance. It’s important to note that Foster threw 37 pitches in that outing, which is the most of any of his big-league appearances thus far. Perhaps he was left in too long.
The other sweet surprise has been Codi Heuer. Heuer has not pitched above AA until this year, where he has found himself in some high leverage situations for the White Sox. Codi has a 2.70 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 9 G/10 IP. He relies on a hard sinker that averages 97.7 mph on the gun and a slider that has drawn an astronomical 66.7% whiff rate. Heuer looks like he should cement himself as a backend option for the White Sox in the coming years.
Two more rookies to note both, who have been hampered by injuries in their pro careers. First is Jimmy Lambert, who had Tommy John surgery last year and recovered to make the Opening Day roster for 2020. During Summer Camp, Jimmy Lambert carved up the White Sox lineup striking out most of the big thumpers. Lambert looked ready to contribute in the big leagues but unfortunately, after 2 innings of work, he strained his right forearm and landed on the 60-day IL. Next is Zack Burdi, the Chicagoland native from Downers Grove, who finally stepped on the mound at the ballpark he went to as a kid. What an awesome moment for a man who went through a number of injuries, including Tommy John Surgery. Burdi has an 11.37 ERA, a 1.74 WHIP, and has allowed a hard-hit rate of 65%. The numbers look awful if you are looking on from the outside. However, Burdi had a 4.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP before Saturday’s debacle, which was extremely frustrating to watch for White Sox fans.
Now to the rest of the bullpen. Closer Alex Colome has been incredible, allowing just 1 earned run across 12.1 innings. Although it may be hard to watch at times, Colome simply gets the job done and slams the door for the White Sox. His cutter is clearly keeping hitters from barreling up the baseball, represented by his barrel % in the 94th percentile. Evan Marshall has continued where he left off in 2019. Evan has struck out 20 batters in 14.1 innings in the setup role while matching Colome in opponents barrel %. Aaron Bummer was extremely effective in late-inning roles again, but he landed on the IL with a bicep strain. The lone free-agent relief acquisition, Steve Cishek has been underwhelming, to say the least. Cishek has a 6.39 ERA and has blown a save. Don’t search his name on Baseball Savant because you will feel very blue if you know what I mean. Jimmy Cordero has been Rick Renteria’s go-to man in all sorts of situations. To Renteria’s credit, Jimmy has been pretty good, although he has pitched in 4 straight games in 5 days. In Cordero’s last two appearances he gave up a run that inflated his ERA to 4.50. Despite that, he has limited hard-hit balls and thrown strikes. Next up is Jace Fry who has cut his walk rate by 10%. He has allowed a lot of hard-hit balls, although the rest of his metrics have been very good. Finally, maybe the most fun turnaround in recent memory is Ross Detwiler aka Big Boss Ross. Detwiler finally allowed his first run on Saturday bringing his ERA to just 1.32. Ross has walked nobody this year and struck out 11 in 13.2 innings. He finally got hip surgery and looks as good as ever, which would make you believe he would be used more. But, for some reason, Ricky has not used Detwiler in high leverage situations, and has used him just 5 times since August 8th.
Being just one game back in the AL Central gives the White Sox an opportunity to make the postseason for the first time since 2008. The offense, among the best in baseball, can carry a team through the postseason, and the pitching has been good enough to support that offense.
As Hawk Harrelson always said, “Sit back, relax, and strap it down!” because it looks like White Sox fans could have an exciting next few months!