Friday, February 26, 2021

Chicago White Sox 2021 Season Preview



       If you can remember all the way back to Spring Training 2020, you would know that there was a ton of buzz surrounding the White Sox. Eloy Jimenez was entering his second season, the team signed Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal, and top prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal were set to debut. Throughout the regular season, the hype delivered, as the team powered into the playoffs, and were just a game out of first place. Unfortunately, a three game series loss to the A's ended their season, but after another strong offseason, the buzz is still present. 

Offseason additions: RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Liam Hendriks, OF Adam Eaton, C Jonathan Lucroy, IF Tim Beckham.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Alex Colome, C James McCann, OF Nomar Mazara, DH Edwin Encarnacion, RHP Dane Dunning, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Steve Cishek, IF Yolmer Sanchez, OF Jarrod Dyson.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Jarrod Dyson.

Traded: None.

2020 record: 35-25

2020 placement: 2nd (tied)

2020 WAR leader (batter): Jose Abreu

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Dallas Keuchel


Starting Pitchers

He may not have been the best White Sox pitcher in 2020, but Lucas Giolito is certainly their ace. Giolito finished with a 3.48 ERA, a 1.037 WHIP and 97 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. His fastball had an average against of .201, and that was the highest of his three main pitches. Giolito finished 7th in AL Cy Young voting, two spots behind fifth place finisher and teammate Dallas Keuchel. While Giolito is a strikeout specialist, Keuchel is a pitch-to-contact lefty who throws an 88 mph fastball. A former Cy Young winner, Keuchel returned to dominate in 2020 with a 1.99 ERA and a 1.089 WHIP in 63.1 innings. Keuchel had a league leading 0.3 HR/9, and now that the ball is supposedly de-juiced, that could somehow get better. To complete a big-three in the rotation, promising rookie Dane Dunning was dealt to Texas for Lance Lynn. Lynn led the league with 84 innings pitched, striking out 89 plus a 3.32 ERA. He allowed just 64 hits, and batters had a .209 xBA against him. 25 year old Dylan Cease throws a fastball averaging 97.5 mph, and he had a 4.01 ERA over 12 starts. His slider had a .182 average against with a 39.5% whiff rate. Cease walked way too many batters, with a league high 34. He also had a 5th percentile xERA of 6.65. The fifth spot will be a battle between former ace* Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez. The oft-injured Rodon has appeared in 11 games since the start of 2019, and he has allowed 27 earned runs in 42.1 innings. In his career, Rodon has an xBA against of .241, better than the league average of .250. Lopez could use some retooling, as he led the league in earned runs allowed in 2019 (in a bad way) and then he had a 6.49 ERA through eight starts in 2020. Lopez got hit hard, to the tune of a 91.1 mph average exit velocity.

*Unfortunately not satire thanks to the 2017-18 White Sox

Relief Pitchers

The White Sox lost closer Alex Colome in free agency after he had a 0.81 ERA in 2020. To replace him, the team signed Liam Hendriks, who is arguably baseball's best reliever. After a career 2019 season, Hendriks had a 1.78 ERA with 37 strikeouts, 14 saves, a 0.671 WHIP and a 5.0 H/9. Hendriks was in the 98th percentile in both K% (40.2) and BB% (3.3). Also following up a career 2019 well was Aaron Bummer, who despite only making nine appearances, allowed one run in 9.1 innings with 14 strikeouts. In the prior season, Bummer had a .198 xBA against and a 2.72 xERA. Evan Marshall didn't allow a single barrel out of the 56 batted balls against him in 2020. Marshall also had a 32.3 K%, a 2.38 ERA and a 2.36 xERA. Hitters went 1-for-18 with a 58.5% whiff rate against Marshall's curveball. 2016 20th round pick Matt Foster had a productive rookie season at age 25, limiting batters to a .222 wOBA. He had a 2.20 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 28.2 innings, plus a 5.0 H/9 and a 0.872 WHIP. The White Sox may have hit the jackpot with 2020 1st round pick Garrett Crochet, who is already MLB ready. With no minor league experience, Crochet, his 100+ mph fastball and his wipeout slider jumped straight to the big leagues, and did not allow a run in six innings, striking out eight with just four base runners allowed. Like Foster and Crochet, 2018 6th rounder Codi Heuer debuted to great results in 2020. Heuer throws a high-90s sinker about 63% of the time, leading to a 50% groundball rate. Batters also went 1-for-18 with a 66.7% whiff rate against Heuer's slider. He had a 1.52 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 23.2 innings. The White Sox will miss high-strikeout lefty Jace Fry for the first month-or-so of the season after he had a microdiscectomy. Fry had a 3.66 ERA in 2020, and he has a career 11.2 K/9. However, his career BB% of 13.7 is a problem. We all thought that 2020 would bring the highly-anticipated return of Michael Kopech, MLB Pipeline's 39th best prospect in baseball who missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery. However, that would be delayed to 2021, as Kopech opted-out of the season. In four career MLB starts, the flamethrowing 24 year old allowed eight runs in 14.1 innings with 15 strikeouts. He will start the season in the bullpen, but maybe at some point he can graduate to the rotation. Jimmy Cordero was a big part of the Chicago bullpen at the end of 2019, with a 2.75 ERA over 30 appearances. That success did not carry over to 2020, as Cordero had a 6.08 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 26.2 innings. Cordero was still able to limit batters to an 84.5 mph average exit velocity, but batters also had a .291 xBA against him. With a lot of up-and-coming high-end relievers like Crochet, Heuer and Foster, Cordero may be the odd-man out. 

Catchers

The second best catcher on the free agent market was James McCann, who had an .896 OPS for the Sox in 2020. You would think that would be a problem, but McCann was only their backup catcher. Yasmani Grandal is easily a top-three catcher in baseball, and while his batting average is rarely pretty, he is great at walking. Grandal had a 15.5 BB%, and for the 5th time in six years he was in the top ten percent of players in that category. Grandal finished with a 113 OPS+, and he has never had an OPS+ under the league average of 100. The 10th overall pick in 2016, 26 year old Zack Collins is a DH option as well as a backup catcher option. In 36 career games, Collins has struggled offensively, with a .599 OPS and a 36.7 K%. A silver lining is that Collins has a 13.3 BB%. The White Sox could opt to go with three catchers, and promote non-roster invitee Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy played in one game for Boston in 2020, but did not get to the plate. His career has fallen off since leaving Milwaukee, as he has had a .660, .617 and .716 OPS in his past three seasons. 

Infielders

After a .798 OPS in 2018, Jose Abreu's career was on a downtick. Now, he is the RBI champion in back-to-back years, and the 2020 American League MVP. Abreu hit 19 home runs, and drove in 60 runs in 60 games. He also had a league leading .617 slugging with a .987 OPS, a .300 xBA and a 92.9 mph average exit velocity. 2018 4th overall pick Nick Madrigal is still a top 40 prospect in baseball, and he had a .340 average in 29 games. While he only walked four times, Madrigal struck out just seven times for a 6.4 K%, and he finished with a 108 OPS+. He is fast, a good defender and hits for average, but is definitely not going to lead the league in slugging like his teammate. After leading the lead with a .335 average in 2019, Tim Anderson showed that it wasn't a fluke, winning his first Silver Slugger and finished 7th in MVP voting. He hit .322 with 10 home runs, a league leading 45 runs scored and an .886 OPS. Yoan Moncada is entering his fifth season in Chicago, and he's still only 25. He was great in 2019, but regressed in 2020, to a .225 average with a .705 OPS. Moncada's average exit velocity dropped by over five mph, and he had a 31.2 K%, which has always been an issue for him. Utility infielder Danny Mendick was the starting second baseman at the beginning of the season. Mendick is the one player keeping the team from carrying three catchers. He hit three home runs in 33 games with a .664 OPS. He can play second, shortstop and third base. Leury Garcia can play all over the field, and he's entering his ninth season with the White Sox. For the first time in his career, Garcia had an above average OPS+, at 107. He hit three home runs with a .271 average, hitting the .270 mark for the fourth consecutive season, although he only played in 16 games. The big debut of the 2021 season looks to be Andrew Vaughn, the team's best prospect and MLB Pipeline's 14th best prospect in baseball. The third overall pick in 2019, Vaughn has just 55 games of minor league experience, but as they showed with Crochet, the White Sox are fine bringing up young players if the talent is there. Vaughn hit six home runs with an .832 OPS between rookie league, Single-A and High-A in 2019. With Abreu at first base, Vaughn could be the starting DH. 

Outfielders

In his second MLB season, Eloy Jimenez won his first Silver Slugger award, hitting 14 home runs with a .296 average and an OPS of .891. Jimenez hits rockets, with a 16.5 barrel percentage, a 55.7 hard hit percentage and a 92.4 mph average exit velocity. With -14 outs above average in 177 career games, his defense is questionable to say the least. Luis Robert is not as good of a hitter as Jimenez, but he has great speed and is an elite defender. Robert hit 11 home runs with nine stolen bases and a 101 OPS+. He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting, and won a Gold Glove with a 29.1 ft/s sprint speed and seven outs above average, which is amazing for a shortened season. The White Sox needed a right fielder last year, so they signed Nomar Mazara, who underperformed. Mazara is out, and in is Adam Eaton, who was on the White Sox from 2014 to 2016. From 2014 to 2019, Eaton had an OPS+ over 100 in each season, but that was at just 76 in 41 games in 2020. Eaton hit four home runs with three stolen bases and a pretty low 18.2 K%. Speed demon Adam Engel was an offensive liability for his first three seasons, but he had a productive 36 games. Engel hit .295 with an .811 OPS, with only one stolen base. Still, Engel had an amazing 30.3 ft/s sprint speed. He also had three outs above average with a 20.4 K%. 


Projected Rotation
Lucas Giolito (R)
Dallas Keuchel (L)
Lance Lynn (R)
Dylan Cease (R)
Carlos Rodon (L)

Projected Bullpen
Liam Hendriks (R)
Aaron Bummer (L)
Evan Marshall (R)
Garrett Crochet (L)
Matt Foster (R)
Codi Heuer (R)
Michael Kopech (R)
Reynaldo Lopez (R)

Projected Lineup
CF Luis Robert (R)
SS Tim Anderson (R)
1B Jose Abreu (R)
LF Eloy Jimenez (R)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
3B Yoan Moncada (S)
DH Andrew Vaughn (R)
RF Adam Eaton (L)
2B Nick Madrigal (R)

Projected Bench
C Zack Collins (L)
UT Leury Garcia (S)
OF Adam Engel (R)
IF Danny Mendick (R)


Projection

They aren't the best team in the league, but the White Sox are really solid all around. The lineup is great, and can be deep if Vaughn and Madrigal develop as expected. The rotation tails off at the end, but Giolito, Keuchel and Lynn are a formidable trio. In the bullpen, they have a bunch of young back-end pitchers, and adding the league's best to close things out doesn't hurt. The White Sox will win the AL Central, just edging out the Twins. 

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