Rabu, 29 Februari 2012
Season Previews, Part 13: Chicago White Sox
2011 Record: 79-83
Pythagorean Record: 75-87
Games out of first: 16
It is telling about the state of the AL Central when the White Sox, an unmitigated disaster, finished third, and a game out of second. The rebuilding Royals, horror-show Twins, and year-removed-from relocation discussion Indians make the Central the worst division outside of the NL West.
The 2011 White Sox didn't give fans many reasons to come to the park, despite a $128 MM payroll, highest in team history. Paul Konerko found his way back to the fountain of youth, hitting 30 homers and drawing MVP votes at age 35. Outside of him, however, the only notables were Mark Buehrle, who threw 200 innings for the 43rd time in his career, and Sergio Santos, a converted shortstop who saved 30 games.
Largely, the 2011 South Siders were just a very bland team. They hit below average, and pitched average, with 6 pitchers making 19 starts, and all 6 being withing 17% of league average run prevention. The team is all in its prime, or older, with no really exciting young players, with the exception of Gordon Beckham, who has a career .704 OPS. Look out. I could talk, here, about the colossal failures of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, or the injuries that limited Carlos Quentin to 118 games, but the long and short of it is that the White Sox were simply not a very good team.
Top Performers by WAR
1. Paul Konerko (3.6)
Gavin Floyd (3.6)
3. Philip Humber (3.5)
4. Mark Buehrle (3.4)
5. Alexei Ramirez (3.3)
On one hand, it is a little disheartening to see the lack of moves that Sox GM Kenny Williams made this offseason, but he is pretty handcuffed with a bunch of veteran players -- even if they are his own mistakes. There isn't much he can do but wait this out, and that's exactly what he is doing. When the face of the franchise (I guess) Buehrle signed with Miami in the offseason, Williams responded by re-signing Brian Bruney; it was that kind of offseason. The two biggest moves were sending Santos to Toronto for Nestor Molina, a 23-year-old with a career 5.89 K/BB in the minors, and shipping Quentin to San Diego for a pair of prospects I detailed here. These moves confused me a little bit, as they showed that Chicago was looking at a rebuilding phase, though Williams and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf staunchly refused to admit to this, and a real rebuilding, with real assets, was never launched.
Like, Delwyn Young and Dan Johnson?
SP Mark Buehrle
SP Edwin Jackson
CP Sergio Santos
RP Jason Frasor
OF Carlos Quentin
OF Alejandro de Aza
SS Alexei Ramirez
1B Paul Konerko
DH Adam Dunn
3B Brent Morel
C AJ Pierzynski
OF Dayan Viciedo
OF Alex Rios
2B Gordon Beckham
This is a horribly boring lineup, frankly. From Morel to Beckham, there isn't a real threat in the lineup, and if Dunn can't rebound from one of the worst batting seasons in recent memory, this season will be over before it even began. It should be interesting to watch de Aza. A 28-year old minor league veteran that had always hit, but never really got a chance in the majors, de Aza found 170 PAs with Chicago in 2011 and absolutely raked.
Defensively, look out. With the possible exceptions of Vidiedo and de Aza, there isn't an average defender on the team. They will miss Vizquel. By the numbers, Beckham had a decent season, but he was a bad third baseman in 2009, a bad second baseman in 2010, and now is a plus defender? I'm skeptical. I would like to see Tyler Flowers get some at bats, because I hate Pierzynski, and his days as a productive player are long gone.
RHP Gavin Floyd
LHP John Danks
RHP Jake Peavy
RHP Philip Humber
LHP Chris Sale
Mark Buehrle was a venerable pitcher who had been both pretty good and very durable for Chicago over the years, but he probably won't be missed all that badly. For all its blandness, the White Sox do have plenty of pitchers to fill up the rotation. Floyd and Danks have track records of being above-average pitchers, and Jake Peavy was a monster at one time. 2007 seems longer and longer ago, but Peavy had very good peripherals in 2011, and while his health is always a question, I think he is still capable of being a very good pitcher.
Sale, after a stellar young career in relief, will be tried in the rotation. The 23-year-old has just two years in pro ball, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and while stretching out relievers is never a sure thing, Sale has solid command and a great repertoire consisting of a live fastball, a solid change, and a wipeout slider. Sale may, in fact, be the most interesting story of the 2012 club.
Significant relievers/reserve players
C Tyler Flowers
OF Kosuke Fukudome
RP Matt Thorton
RP Jesse Crain
As stated above, Flowers could use some more at bats, as he is pretty clearly the catcher of the future at this point. Fukudome could be useful, a guy who has quietly been a solid player on the North Side for years. Fireballer Matt Thornton is an elite setup man, one of the best around, and is finally getting a look at the closer role, and Jesse Crain really reestablished himself as a top setup guy in 2011.
For all the dubiousness and question marks around this club, I like the pitching. I don't think the Cy Young winner will be a White Sox, but it is deep, fairly young, and has some real upside in Peavy and Sale. Behind them, Crain and Thornton head a veteran bullpen that should get the job done in the late innings.
The ability to score runs. If Adam Dunn turns into 2005 Adam Dunn, the lineup can be average at best, but he probably won't, and they probably can't. There is nobody to fear in that lineup outside of Konerko, which raises this alarm: what if Dunn repeats 2011, and Konerko starts to show his age? Without Konerko, that lineup is completely lame, and even with good pitching, Chicago will be completely helpless in the burgeoning AL Central.
It's not good. They aren't bad enough to be really rebuilding, but aren't good enough to push Detroit or the AL East teams for a postseason berth. This is a team that can get outs, but one that is going to record its share of them as well. I don't see them making any noise, and to be honest, I can't see any reason to be interested in this club besides the individual stories of Dunn, de Aza, Peavy, and Sale.
Potential Breakout Player
Chris Sale. I mentioned his stuff earlier, but to be more detailed, he throws a high-mid-90s fastball with a lot of life, and a low-80s slider with big break. What makes me think he can work as a starter, however, is his third pitch, his changeup. He takes about 9-10 mph off of it, and spots it very well. He isn't afraid to use it either, throwing it about 12% of the time in 2011. As a result of this arsenal, he gets a ton of swings and misses, with a career K/9 of 11. He also has pretty good control, and a delivery that isn't too awkward. Again, it's never a sure thing when a reliever converts to the rotation, but if Sale can pull it off, he could create some huge value.
Top-Ten Prospects with potential to contribute
#1. Addison Reed: Another 2010 draft pick that Chicago has ushered to the MLB level as soon as possible, Reed is a former starter with superb command and decent stuff who has a 12.9 K/9 and a 7.75 K/BB in the minors. He pitched a few decent outings with the White Sox in 2011, and could make an impact in 2012.
#2. Nestor Molina: Molina isn't very stuffsy, but has good command, and should be a passable MLB pitcher one day. At 23 years of age, Molina will start the season at Triple-A, but might get the call by summertime.
#3. Simon Castro: one of the pitchers in the Quentin deal, about whom you have undoubtedly read at this point, Castro might make a serviceable middle reliever one day, but there isn't much value to be had here.
MVP: Jake Peavy (4.0)
If you like 19th-century baseball, you'll love this club. They probably won't score 700 runs, but their run prevention is pretty impressive, its depth the most notable factor. 2012 will be a season for watching players instead of the team, which almost certainly isn't going anywhere. Some of the young pitchers like Sale and Reed will be fun narratives, and it should be interesting to see who can come back (Dunn, Peavy) and who will stave off inevitable decline (Konerko). Basically, if you're not the kind of fan that owns at least one authentic jersey, maybe stay away from US Cellular Field for a while. I hear Chicago is a great town for theatre.