The Chicago White Sox should have sent gift baskets to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and all other parties responsible for the Houston Astros’ move to the American League. The White Sox narrowly avoided 100 losses last season, finishing one-game better than the century mark for defeats. Because of the Astros, the White Sox were only the second-worst team in the American League. The White Sox were above .500 for just seven games as it was all downhill after the team fell to 4-3 on April 9.
It was a season-long exercise in futility for Manager Robin Ventura, whose team had three months in which they won less than 10 games and were 29 games below .500 on the road. About the only consistent thing about Chicago’s season is that they were 18 games below .500 before the All-Star Break and 18 games below .500 after it. The White Sox lost by five or more runs 21 different times and were the only American League team to score less than 600 runs. The White Sox were a big part of the Indians’ magical run to October, as the Tribe beat the White Sox in 17 of the 19 meetings between the two longtime rivals.
The White Sox are projected to be one of baseball’s most improved teams, at least according to the oddsmakers. William Hill opened with the least amount of expectations on the White Sox with a win total of 74.5. Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno, NV put 76 on the board (YES!), and LVH Superbook was the highest at 77.5. Offshore, BetOnline opened at 77.
Key additions: Adam Eaton, Scott Downs, Felipe Paulino, Matt Davidson, Jose Abreu
Key losses: Hector Santiago, Gavin Floyd, Addison Reed
The offseason moves for the White Sox have been made with the future in mind. Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson were acquired in separate transactions with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the former acquired in a three-team deal that included the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Eaton, the 73rd-ranked prospect prior to the 2013 season according to Baseball America, spent 66 games with Arizona in 2013, where his minor league success failed to translate to the Majors. He turned 25 in December, so there’s plenty of time for him to grow into his potential. Davidson showed a bit of pop in his bat during a 31-game audition with the Diamondbacks. Both guys put up impressive numbers in Triple-A with the Pacific Coast League’s Reno Aces, but the PCL is traditionally a very hitter-friendly league due to the ballparks and the weather conditions.
Jose Abreu got a massive contract from the White Sox before even taking a professional swing. Abreu put up video game numbers in Cuba before defecting to the United States to take his talents to the best baseball league in the world. Scouts had little to go on with Abreu, as looking for baseball talent in Cuba is very difficult due to travel restrictions and statistics don’t tell the whole story in places like that. Nevertheless, Abreu has a six-year, $68M contract to live up to. The White Sox hope he is the next Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes.
Felipe Paulino is a very interesting addition to a club in dire need of starting pitching depth. Over the last two seasons, Paulino made just 17 starts in the Royals organization. He has good stuff, but he’s erratic and his mechanics are to blame for both his control issues and his health issues. He’s reportedly healthy entering Spring Training.
Hector Santiago was traded to the Diamondbacks for Eaton and Addison Reed was jettisoned to add Davidson. The White Sox are clearly trying to address their offensive issues and the trade of Reed made sense, as he will start getting more expensive through arbitration as a young closer. Santiago was a marginal pitcher whose combination of fly balls and walks wasn’t overly conducive to pitching at US Cellular Field, but it was a definite hit to the White Sox already thin starting depth.
Why bet the over?
The White Sox, despite having the worst run-scoring offense in the American League, were actually four games worse than their Pythagorean Win-Loss, indicating that they were a bit unlucky at times. The White Sox played 60 one-run games, six more than any other team in the American League. So a hit here or a hit there could have changed the team’s fortunes.
The rotation will be anchored by one of the game’s best in Chris Sale. Sale was outstanding last season with a 3.07 ERA and, more importantly, a 3.17 FIP, indicating that his performance would appear to be sustainable. It’s the second straight season of performance like that from Sale, so you can reasonably expect him to be that good again. He dropped his walk rate while increasing his strikeout rate. Between that and a spike in ground ball rate, Sale’s 2.96 SIERA was the third-best in the American League behind Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez. He’s a legit number one starter.
Jose Quintana is a solid number two for the White Sox. Quintana doesn’t excel in any one category, but he ranked 25th in fWAR among qualified starters. Quintana’s strong walk rate of 6.7 percent makes him a valuable commodity. He induces ground balls and his strikeout rate is trending upward. He added a little bit of velocity last season, which was encouraging since he hadn’t thrown many innings prior to 2012 and this was his first season following a sizable workload.
The rest of the White Sox rotation remains a mystery, but a couple of the candidates show some intrigue. John Danks will be 18 months removed from a very invasive shoulder procedure. While Danks’s overall numbers in 2013 were ugly, what stands out is that his control was solid, issuing just 27 walks in 138.1 innings. Control is usually the last thing to come back for pitchers following major surgery, so Danks was ahead of the curve in that regard. The aforementioned Felipe Paulino has a live arm that shows some promise, if he can stay healthy.
Erik Johnson got his first taste of the Majors last season with a five-start audition late in the year. He has exhibited good control and above average strikeout ability in the minor leagues. It will be interesting to see if that will translate to the next level. The first Brazilian-born pitcher in the Major Leagues, Andre Rienzo, is another candidate for a rotation spot. Like Johnson and most young pitchers, his good strikeout totals in the minors didn’t make the jump, but he throws a heavy sinker that can get ground ball outs at the big league level.
Nate Jones looks like the first candidate to get save opportunities with Addison Reed in Arizona. Jones certainly got unlucky last season as batters had a .330 BABIP against and he only stranded 62.9 percent of baserunners. League average for relievers is in the low-70s, so that number should improve for a guy with Jones’s punchout ability. Jones struck out over 28 percent of the batters he faced last season. Over 50 percent of balls in play stayed on the ground, so Jones should be a consistent reliever for the White Sox.
After Jones, longtime setup man Matt Lindstrom looks to be the primary eighth inning guy. Ronald Belisario was solid for the Dodgers in his 145 appearances over the last two seasons. Downs will serve as the primary matchup lefty. Various other guys like Donnie Veal and Daniel Webb show above average strikeout potential.
The offense appears to have boom or bust potential. There are some very talented youngsters that will grow up on the job for the White Sox this season. Avisail Garcia, the prized piece of the three-team trade with the Tigers and Red Sox that gave Detroit Jose Iglesias, will be called upon to live up to his potential. When Garcia puts the ball in play, he has a knack for hitting it hard and finding open space. Eaton will play a big role for the White Sox, who aren’t expected to contend and will have the luxury of letting their young guys play through slumps. That includes Davidson, if he makes the club out of Spring. Marcus Semien, just 23, is another one of those young players with upside that should play everyday.
The allure of the White Sox lineup lies with Jose Abreu. The big bodied slugger came to the U.S. with comparisons to Ryan Howard. If that’s the case, U.S. Cellular is a good park for him. A lot of scouts seem to peg the worst-case scenario with Abreu between 20-25 home runs, which would be a nice contribution to the lineup. Whether he hits for average or has enough plate discipline to be an all-around productive hitter remains to be seen.
Adam Dunn is still good for a walk and a home run every now and then. Paul Konerko has something to prove after the worst season of his career. Dunn and Konerko may form a DH platoon, which could prove to be a good move for both guys. Alejandro de Aza remains one of the team’s most consistent performers. At 25, Dayan Viciedo is entering the prime of his career and may be ready to take the next step. Jeff Keppinger remains a solid hitter against lefties, giving him a little bit of value.
Why bet the under?
This is not a very good team. The White Sox will have two above average starters in Sale and Quintana, but it’s a mess after that. Johnson is the top prospect in a weak group, giving him the most upside of anybody else in the mix. Even so, he lacks top-end stuff at the Major League level and will be a pitch-to-contact guy on a team full of below average defenders. Danks hasn’t been overly effective since 2010. Paulino can’t stay healthy and won’t work deep into games even if he is able to stay in the rotation. Rienzo might be league average due to his ground ball rate, but that’s a stretch. Not only are the top five very iffy, there’s very little help behind them in case of injury.
The lineup is full of guys who swing and miss a ton. Part-time catcher Tyler Flowers struck out in over 34 percent of his plate appearances. Adam Dunn also cracked the 30 percent plateau. Garcia, de Aza, and Viciedo all struck out over 20 percent of the time. Expect Abreu in his first Major League season to fall between that 20-25 percent mark himself.
Furthermore, not only do the White Sox strike a lot, they also don’t walk. Only the Brewers walked in a lower percentage of their plate appearances last season. In 2013, 97 of the team’s 148 home runs were solo shots. That’s not going to win many games. Of the 1,475 innings the White Sox played, they scored more than one run in 149 of them. Scoring runs was undoubtedly a struggle for them last season and this year’s lineup doesn’t look much better unless the young kids develop rapidly.
Paul Konerko was hit extremely hard by the aging curve last season. Of players with 400 or more plate appearances, Konerko had the second-lowest fWAR in all of baseball at -1.8. It’s sad to see such a good hitter and exemplary teammate come to this, but at age 38, Konerko is expected to platoon as a DH with Adam Dunn. It may help his production, but as a part-time player with no fielding value, Konerko’s contributions will do little to move the needle.
The bullpen has no proven closer and a bunch of average relievers. With the exception of Jones, there’s nobody that hitters will feel uncomfortable against in the late innings. Belisario has some promise, but a league change and much tougher park to pitch in is likely to inflate his numbers.
A couple other things really stand out. The White Sox were -55 defensive runs saved last season, making them the fifth-worst defensive team by that metric. Another year of that, which seems quite possible, would make life even more difficult for a mediocre pitching staff and an offense without the ability to outhit defensive mistakes and pitching blow-ups.
Another thing that doesn’t appear to be factored into the win total is how bad of a manager Robin Ventura is. Ventura regularly made questionable bullpen moves last season and didn’t seem to handle the team’s failure very well. With a young ballclub, communication will be critically important and Ventura’s personality doesn’t seem to lend itself to effective communication.
Pick: Under 78
Of the first six teams, this is far and away my strongest opinion. This number is so far off in my opinion that I’ve gone over and over again trying to figure out what I missed. The White Sox will strike out a lot, won’t walk much, and will have to hope for home runs with people on base because they’re not going to string hits together to score runs.
The starting rotation is Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and a collection of below average options with a bullpen that doesn’t seem trustworthy with a lead. Add in a team that doesn’t field well and a lot of guys with little Major League experience and you have the recipe for a long season on the South Side. While the Indians are unlikely to go 17-2 against the White Sox again, the Royals and the teams in the AL West should be improved.
It would take a 15-win improvement over this past season for the White Sox to even push this number. There’s no way this club has improved by 15 games, or even 11 games if you go by their Pythagorean W-L record. The White Sox may not even win 70 games, let alone come close to 80. Not with three better teams in the division ahead of them and what little they’ve done to improve the ballclub for 2014.
Take the under here and don’t overthink it.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.