Of the 30 active teams in Major League baseball, the Chicago White Sox are one of 12 teams to have a franchise record above .500 (8,855-8,672). But, considering recent history, the South Side pale-hosers have been back and forth between an above .500 and a losing team since the won the World Series in 2005. Culminating in a crap-tastic 63-99 record last season. They may have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Chris Sale, but when you only manage to outscore the Miami Marlins, you can’t expect to win many baseball games.
So, how do you address a putrid offense? You add pieces to that offense. The White Sox traded Hector Santiago over the offseason in a three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Angels, netting them the scrappy Adam Eaton. They signed Cuban defector, Jose Abreu, and handed him the keys to the job at first base. They limited the aging Paul Konerko (and his off-the-charts will-to-win stat) to the DH role and, for the love of God, you platoon Adam Dunn.
At least, that’s the starting point. When a team is bad, they’re bad, and it is unrealistic to expect an immediate turnaround in one season. ZiPS projects that Jose Abreu will be their best performer in the lineup. Tagging him to a projected 2.3 fWAR and an OPS+ of 129. And, judging by his performance so far this spring (.846 OPS), he looks primed and ready to transition well to baseball here in the states. But, that is the ceiling right now. The decline in projected performance after that isn’t steep, but even a gradual drop from a two-win player isn’t exactly the kind of thing that inspires hope.
The bleak outlook for the offense is especially troubling considering how talented a few of the White Sox pitchers are. Namely, Chris Sale.
Last season, Sale took another step forward in his march towards being recognized as one of the elite starters in baseball. After posting an fWAR of 4.7 in 2012, he posted an fWAR of 5.1 last season, and ZiPS projects a WAR of 5.7 in 2014. He was so good last season that (shameless plug) I argued his elite status against that of another pitcher in the AL Central.
Joining Sale in the above-average ranks are Jose Quintana, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom and Scott Downs who are projected to deliver ERA-plusses of 108, 117, 114 and 111, respectively. Sale and Quintana give the Sox to viable starting options when they take their turns in the rotation, and Lindstrom, Jones and Downs give them a solid back-end of the bullpen that have proven to hold leads in the past. Unfortunately, it is more-than-likely that these pieces could simply be trade chips by the end of July.
We have seen low scoring teams outplay their projected records in the past, and as recent as the Orioles in 2012. The problem is, those teams don’t outplay those projections very often. And with Baseball Prospectus projecting 91 wins for the Tigers (the highest projected win total of any team in baseball per BP), and their obviously stacked lineup and rotation relative to their competition in the AL Central, it is difficult to imagine any situation where the White Sox rise up and capture the division.
Like I said a few days ago in my predictions article, I would not be overly surprised to see the White Sox leap frog their way into second place in the AL Central. But with how top heavy the AL East is, and how closely packed the AL West will be, second place in the central will be good enough for a moral victory, but not good enough for a spot in the postseason dance.