Over the past two weeks, Larry, Mike, and I have explored the 2011 projections for teams around the AL East (links to prior articles: Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox). Now it’s time to get acclimated with the rest of the American League. There’s no time like the present, so let’s get started with the White Sox.
The ChiSox ended their 2010 campaign with an 88-74 record which was good for second place in the AL Central. After having trailed by as many as 9.5 games, the White Sox eventually captured first place in the divisional standings by mid-summer — thanks to an excellent performance during the months of June (18-9) and July (18-8). Unfortunately, in early August, they yielded their top spot once again to their rivals from the Twin Cities. Despite Chicago concluding the season 14 games above .500, postseason admittance would not be in their future as the Wild Card remained in the AL East (with the Yankees). In terms of personnel, Ozzie Guillen enjoyed his seventh year behind the helm, and a revitalized Paul Konerko (amidst his twelfth season with the organization) accumulated 5.0 bWAR, which led the team in 2010.
As the team shifted into 2011, some of the familiar names lost to free agency included: Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones (Yankees), Manny Ramirez (Rays), Freddy Garcia (Yankees), Bobby Jenks (Red Sox), Scott Linebrink, and J.J. Putz. However, they did add some serious offensive power by injecting Larry’s man-crush Adam Dunn into the line up. Important resignings included A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko.
Listed below are several tables examining the 2011 CAIRO, PECOTA, and Bill James projections for the starting lineup, starting rotation, bullpen, and potential bench/depth players. CAIRO and PECOTA projections were chosen as primary indicators for future performance as both systems are park adjusted, thusly enabling a more reasonable comparison. For the sake of amusement, I’ve also included the James projections in hopes of satisfying the appetites of the completely optimistic among us. Thanks to John B. of SouthSideSox.com, I’ve also been able to construct a fairly sensible outlook of the probable 25 -man roster. Note: the lineup hasn’t been listed in any particular batting order (not that it would really matter statistically speaking anyway in terms of production over the course of the season).
In terms of offense, the team’s primary contributor will in all likelihood be the aforementioned Big Donkey. In 2010, Dunn managed a triple slash of .260/.356/.536 (.892 OPS) with 38 home runs. Dunn has had five seasons thus far with at least 40 long balls, and he hasn’t hit less than 20 since his 2001 rookie season (in which he hit 19). In 2011, Adam projects to have the most home runs and highest OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, and ISO on the team. Long story short, he’s one bad, bad man. Perhaps the largest benefit of Dunn’s presence though, will be the resulting alleviation of the “rotating DH” which means no more “production” from Mark Kotsay.
Donkey’s numbers should complement Konkero’s contributions nicely, as the White Sox’s first baseman looks to continue his high-level performance after a renaissance 2010 (PECOTA projects a .270/.358/.491 triple slash). I’d expect that these individuals, joined by a supporting staff comprised of Alexis Rios, Gordon Beckham, and Carlos Quentin should definitely be capable of putting runs on the board. Juan Pierre will be earning his keep through copious singles and steals (of which PECOTA and BJAMES each predict 50+). Former White Sox-top-prospect Brent Morel may also surprise some folks this season as he looks to establish himself as a fixture at third base (rather than just a defensive upgrade over Teahen). All-in-all, Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis tool expects this group to generate 4.718 runs per game on average (or, +0.078 runs beyond that of last year’s 4.64).
The starting rotation should remain competitive as well. Although none of the pitchers match my entirely subjective definition of “certifiable ace,” they should still suffice nevertheless. Outspoken veteran presence (and potential mid-season-Yankee-rotation candidate) Mark Buehrle will likely lead the rotation thanks in large part to seniority. With the exception of James (which expects a 4.01 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 1.32 WHIP) the other projection systems all suggest some decline in performance this upcoming season. With that being said, don’t be surprised to see Buehrle continue supplementing his relatively lousy K/9 rate (career 5.1/9) with a solid groundball ratio (career 46%).
Perhaps though, the rotation’s true efficiency will be generated cumulatively from the youngsters. The White Sox have a 2-3-4 combination of John Danks (26 years old in 2011), Gavin Floyd (28 years old in 2011), and Edwin Jackson (27 years old in 2011). Danks is coming off a 2010 season highlighted by a 3.72 ERA, 1.216 WHIP, and a 4.9 bWAR over 213 innings of work. Gavin Floyd (187.1 IP) earned a 3.0 bWAR, and Edwin Jackson (75 IP) garnered 1.8 bWAR after having been acquired mid-season. The one obvious weakness in this collection of pitchers is that each player is prone to higher BB/9 rates than one would ideally hope for; the team average is approximately three walks per nine innings.
The rotation’s “biggest uncertainty award” definitely goes to once-upon-a-time-Padre-stud Jake Peavy. If one momentarily suspends any doubts about Peavy’s improving health and the potentiality of its sustainability, then he’ll be happy to know that Jake should produce one of the better ERA, FIP and K/9 rates on the starting rotation. For what it’s worth, the three systems surveyed above expect Peavy to provide approximately 150 innings of work; although, I have to wonder if any contributions from him at this point have to be deemed a success. Although, as John notes:
“The Sox can do without a true fifth starter until mid- to late-April (off the top of my head), and the reports from spring training are positive; I’m cautiously optimistic that Peavy isn’t rushing his rehab, and is also full strength at some point in April. White Sox brass seems to share this optimism, as Chris Sale has been told that he’ll start the season in the bullpen and no move has been made to acquire another starter at this time.”
Given that premium pitchers are in short supply, the Sox’s decision to pay the entirety of Peavy’s contract ($56M by the end of 2012) upon acquisition was an unsurprising (albeit expensive) one; whether or not the investment pans out remains to be seen.
The bullpen is led by strikeout-machine Matt Thornton who averages approximately 10 K/9. Moreover, each projection system expects him to lead the relief corps in ERA (3.05), FIP (3.19), and WHIP (1.17) over the course of 64 innings pitched. After that, the bullpen is adequate although their collective BB/9 rate isn’t entirely desirable especially given the hitter-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field. John elaborates:
“There are some questions as to bullpen quality and reliability, seeing that we lost J.J. Putz and Bobby Jenks this winter, but Jesse Crain should be able to eat some decent innings and Ohman, if used properly, can provide some upside. Chris Sale flashed dominance in September, and Sergio Santos had a good debut season; if those two come close to repeating those performances, the bullpen will be in good shape. There is no designated closer as of now, and it’s likely that that will rotate between Thornton, Sale and Santos through the season.”
I have no reason to think that the White Sox won’t remain contenders in what I fully expect to be a three-team race. And as John mentioned, “…the Sox’s marketing slogan for 2011 is ‘All In.’”
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