2019 Season Preview: Chicago White Sox

Chicago White Sox
by Daniel Korach

2018 Record: 62-100 (4th AL Central)

2018 Payroll: $71,839,808 (29th)

2019 Projected Record: 69-93

All projections from Steamer

2019 Projected Lineup:

1.  LF Jon Jay .252 AVG/.316 OBP/.340 SLG, 0.1 WAR

2. 2B Yoan Moncada, .236 AVG/.324 OBP/.398 SLG, 2.4 WAR

3. DH Jose Abreu, .280 AVG/.339 OBP/.495 SLG, 2.2 WAR

4. 1B Yonder Alonso, .240 AVG/.322 OBP/.416 SLG, 0.5 WAR

5. RF Daniel Palka, .231 AVG/.294 OBP/.445 SLG, 0.5 WAR

6. C Wellington Castillo, .241 AVG/.297 OBP/.410 SLG, 1.5 WAR

7. SS Tim Anderson, .253 AVG/.287 OBP/.398 SLG, 1.3 WAR

8. 3B Yolmer Sanchez, .244 AVG/.302 OBP/.377 SLG, 1.2 WAR

9. CF Adam Engel, .218 AVG/.278 OBP/.338 SLG, 0.1 WAR

2019 Projected Rotation:

1. Carlos Rodon, 169.0 IP/ 4.68 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 1.4 WAR

2. Reynaldo Lopez, 175.0 IP/5.02 ERA/1.41 WHIP, 0.9 WAR

3. Lucas Giolito, 136.0 IP/5.32 ERA/1.54 WHIP, 0.2 WAR

4. Ivan Nova, 150.0 IP/5.01 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 0.8 WAR

5. Ervin Santana, 104.0 IP/5.44 ERA/1.46 WHIP, 0.2 WAR

Offseason Recap:

The offseason on the south side has been one of rumors rather than blockbuster acquisitions. The stagnant, anti-climactic, and seemingly never-ending mind game that is this year’s free agent market has proven perhaps to have affected no fanbase more than the Chicago White Sox.

A grueling cycle of social media reports and speculation have enthralled anxious Sox fans who, like many across baseball, believe that the acquisition of Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper is a necessity at this juncture of the team’s rebuilding effort.

After months of agonizing waiting and hope, Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres. The White Sox lost out with an offer of 8 years for $250 million with additional incentives worth approximately $100 million. While the Sox presented higher AAV, the omission of opt-outs and a smaller guaranteed value likely pushed the superstar infielder westward.

Devastating, to say the least. While not necessarily the most practical or beneficial move for the organization financially, Machado would have worked wonders from the perspective of morale, on-field talent, and future prospects. With a relatively barren roster shaping up for 2019 and a new TV deal on the way in the coming seasons, Machado would have certainly flipped some expectations of a fanbase that is starving for success. The White Sox administration continues to assert that money will be spent, but it is hard to justify a better place to spend it than on a 26-year-old infielder on a hall of fame track. Machado ranked highly in nearly every offensive Statcast metric in 2018, as well as excelling at 3B throughout his career. His acquisition would have been unprecedented for the often second fiddle Chicago franchise. In the end, Machado chose the guarantee rather than betting on himself; few can fault him for that.

Big names aside, the last few months have certainly not been silent at 35th and Shields. The Sox have diligently and economically addressed holes on the roster while simultaneously courting the aforementioned free agents. Bullpen pieces Alex Colomè and Kelvin Herrera are both extremely solid acquisitions who can serve a variety of roles.

A healthy Herrera could see a return to the form that White Sox fans watched for years as he lit up the radar gun for Kansas City with a deadly fastball/sinker/slider arsenal. After an injury-plagued second half of 2018, health is the only thing standing between Herrera and elite form. Even while battling multiple ailments in his shoulder and foot, Herrera still managed a career-low xWOBA and WOBA off his fastball and a minuscule .181/.149 xWOBA/xSLG line off his slider. However, Herrera saw his spin rates dip to career lows on almost all of his pitches, likely the cause of a career-high solid contact percentage. A bounce-back year certainly seems in order for the once-dominant reliever as he looks to pair his health with a return to the high spin rates he saw just one season prior. Herrera will stand in along Nate Jones and likely Ian Hamilton as late-inning fireballer options for Rick Renteria.

Alex Colomè, dealt from the Rays to the Mariners midseason, is an effective juxtaposition to the power that Herrera will bring to the table. Acquired this offseason for late-blooming catcher Omar Narvaez, Colomè will get a plethora of save opportunities, possibly even as the team’s closer on opening day. With an average fastball velocity above 95, Colomè is no soft-tosser. But rather than fielding a diverse arsenal, the former AL saves champion brings a mastery of a fastball/cutter combination to the table. With 47 saves in 2017 and an elite, sub-2 ERA 2016 campaign, a return to a that 2016 cutter/fastball usage rate coupled with a likely regression to the mean in BABIP, Colomè is poised for an excellent upcoming season.

The additions to the lineup, while filling some holes, were clearly part of a greater goal, namely Manny Machado. Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay check boxes as productive veterans, positive clubhouse presences, and most importantly, Manny Machado’s closest friends. Alonso, Machado’s brother-in-law, will look to return to his 2017 form where he posted a 2.4 fWAR and a 133 wRC+, surpassing his previous highs. Alonso appears to be a diligent believer in the “launch angle revolution.” He saw his average launch angle jump from 10.4 to 19.4 degrees and proceeded to have, by far, his best season as a big leaguer. A ~4-degree drop in 2018 saw his numbers dip during his lone season in Cleveland, possibly a reason for his lower BABIP and hard-hit percentage. Coupled with a doubling of his barrel rate, Alonso has become a genuine power threat that will see extensive time at DH and 1B in 2019.

Jon Jay, a close personal friend of Machado, will slot in as a more offensive-minded CF option with gold-glove nominee Adam Engel as his platoon-mate. Jay is a noted positive clubhouse presence, bringing additional veteran leadership into a locker room that will only get younger as the bevy of Sox prospects begin their imminent matriculation into the majors. A heavy contact player, the Sox hope they can get heavy on-base production out of Jay, something they’ve sorely lacked over the past couple seasons.

Other moves of note this offseason included the acquisition of Ivan Nova for low-level minor league pitcher, Yordi Rosario. In a salary-shed move for the Pirates, Nova will fill the “James Shields” role of wise veteran innings eater for the Sox this season. Additionally, former Indians OF Brandon Guyer signed a minor league contract. His effectiveness against lefties will put him right into the thick of the fourth OF competition along with Ryan Cordell and Charlie Tilson, among others.

A true recap of this offseason will remain incomplete until the big fish are all reeled in, Bryce Harper included. Without a doubt, however, the White Sox certainly concentrated effort toward filling holes on the roster as well as positioning themselves for acquiring a star player as they attempt to bring validation to years of losing and rebuilding.

Season Preview:

After a mediocre offseason and with no Manny Machado on the left flank of the infield, the White Sox will, in fact, field a major league team in 2019 and in doing so hope to turn some heads. Beginning with the offense, the additions the team made cannot be overlooked. The aforementioned projected lineup features contact-extraordinaire Jon Jay at the top of the lineup. Jay began last season in KC, slashing an exceptional .307/.363/.374. While extra-base power has never been his strong-suit, Jay’s .352 career OBP provides the White Sox with a table-setter that they have yet to see throughout the rebuild. The Sox have struggled mightily to get men on base consistently, and with offensive juggernaut prospects waiting in the wings, giving them RBI opportunities will benefit the team greatly.

In the 2-hole comes perhaps the most intriguing player in the lineup today. Yoan Moncada is a freak, to put it lightly. A rare athlete with even rarer switch-hitting power at second base, Moncada was the centerpiece of the Chris Sale deal and has been labeled by many as a superstar in the making. Moncada’s first big-league season, however, was mediocre at best. Moncada proved his eye was major league ready, walking at a steady 10.3% clip. The key for a breakout in 2019 is simple: swing the bat. Moncada was one of two hitters out of 41 qualified players to have a Z-Swing% below 65% and Z-Contact% below 80 (WriteSox). The other hitter? Chris Davis; that’s not good company to be in. In order to reach his full potential, Moncada is going to have to learn to swing and make contact with pitches in his wheelhouse.

Moncada’s potential for a breakout is aided by his clear ability to recognize pitches. An impeccable eye at such a young age is an extremely rare trait to possess and something that raises his floor. Once he becomes a more adept pitch selector, I certainly see him able to fulfill the vast potential he entered his career with and still possesses today. He is my pick for a “wild card” player to watch who can vastly alter the direction of the rebuild with a breakout year.

The 3-4-5 hitters are likely going to be the area of greatest variance throughout the year. The White Sox used 142 different lineups in 2018, per Baseball Reference, and repeated the same lineup no more than four times during the season. This trend of variation looks to continue. Prospect graduation and a glut of similar players will keep the White Sox middle of the order in constant motion.

Following the big bat of star first baseman Jose Abreu will be the similar bats of Yonder Alonso and Daniel Palka. Two high-power guys who offer little versatility in the field, but massive big fly potential at the plate will protect Abreu and Moncada. Palka is a hard-hit monster, ranking in the top 5% in hard-hit% and exit velocity. While he struggles with contact and OBP, if Palka can find a way to decrease his K% and increase his BB%, he can become a very dangerous middle of the order asset.

Alonso, who will likely provide Jose Abreu a greater share of DH at-bats, will look to return to his 2017 where he posted career highs in nearly every major hitting category. Alonso could prove to be a valuable trade chip as the White Sox have a multitude of similar players who could fill his role if he proves moveable down the stretch.

A discussion of the middle of the lineup would be very much incomplete without speaking of the team’s likely top player, Eloy Jimenez. Acquired in the Jose Quintana deal along with reigning minor league pitcher of the year, Dylan Cease, Jimenez has the makings of a dominant hitter. After demolishing AAA pitching, Jimenez, compared to Babe Ruth by Michael Kopech, will likely be torturing major league pitching before the end of April. In doing so, Jimenez will likely insert himself right in the heart of a lineup that appears poised for little consistency.

The bottom of the lineup will likely be the key between an atrocious campaign and a mediocre one that bodes positively for the prime years of prospect matriculation and the “winning window.” Wellington Castillo, suspended for much of last year, has shown flashes of significant offensive production throughout his career. If he can return anywhere near his 2017 line of .282/.323/.490, he will be a more than satisfactory placeholder for the prospect duo of Seby Zavala and Zack Collins when they are major league ready later this season. Don’t be surprised if Yermin Mercedes, a Rule 5 pick from the Orioles organization, pushes for some plate appearances over the course of this season as well, although he has seen no action above High-A.

Tim Anderson will once again provide 25-25 potential with his crippling athleticism on defense. Continued growth in his pitch selection and walk rate will be key for him this year. Continuing his defensive improvement from last year will hopefully dampen the defensive weakness, albeit stunning athletic talent, of the White Sox middle infield. An adept baserunner, Anderson will likely pace the team in stolen bases once again as well as a second-place finish in BsR, just behind speedster and 9-hole hitter Adam Engel.

Before Engel comes utility man Yolmer Sanchez. A long-time member of the organization (relatively speaking), Sanchez can be inserted with above average defense at nearly every spot on the field. He will likely share playing time with another fixture in Leury Garcia but should see the majority of reps at the hot corner to begin the year.

Finally comes gold glove nominee Adam Engel. A non-impact with the bat, Engel’s top-tier speed leads to masterful work in CF. Although he has a below average arm, his ability to cover ground and make astounding plays keeps him at the major league level. Engel will swing from a more crouched position this year, hoping that a more athletic posture will raise his paltry contact rates.

Like the lineup, the rotation is mired in mediocrity and in desperate need of a prospect infusion. With little to be overly excited for in 2019, brevity is likely the best course of action. Carlos Rodon has continually shown flashes of ace-potential with a solid power fastball/slider combination. His inability to maintain consistent command and control leads him into trouble that he rarely can recover from. A client of Scott Boras, who rarely signs premature extensions, Rodon will look to prove whether he is worth the investment as he enters his final arbitration years.

The young duo of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez come into this season with far different outlooks. Giolito had a horrific 2018, to put it generously. I am a massive fan of his and loved watching him develop as a young hurler. However, the Nationals decided some years ago to alter his mechanics to the point that some may label the damage irreparable. Giolito is a long, lanky pitcher whose should, in theory, have the ability to get a downward plane on the ball should generate high fastball velocity to couple with solid breaking offerings. However, his inability to generate this from his motion leads to a comparatively low fastball velocity that leads to an excess of similarity to his off-speed offerings. If Giolito can improve his command and control under reclamation wizard and pitching coach Don Cooper, as well as generate greater velocity variation between his pitches, he can set himself on the path toward significant productivity.

Finally, veteran additions Ervin Santana and Ivan Nova will both play similar roles on the staff as leaders and innings eaters. Both guys are aging and not likely to provide much in the way of significant production, but they will effectively hold spots until Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease, among others, are healthy and ready for the majors (likely 2020 for Cease and Kopech will be recovered from Tommy John by the start of next season).

Jordan Stephens, Manny Banuelos, and Dylan Covey will also likely see starts throughout the year. Carson Fulmer might feature as well but more likely in the bullpen.

As discussed above, the bullpen is a solid unit full of both young and experienced contributors who will likely comprise the best phase of the team. However, the mediocrity that comprises the rest of the team will keep the White Sox from truly competing in 2019. 2020 and beyond appear to be to be the team’s years for legitimate contention. That said, I like the chances of solid years out of the top half of the Sox lineup as well as similar performances from the Anderson/Castillo group toward the bottom. Performances aligning with potential for Moncada and Jimenez will likely be the ultimate decider of the team’s final win total. Since I expect a rookie of the year level campaign out of Jimenez and steady improvement for Moncada, I think the White Sox can turn a couple heads this season and win a few more contests than the season prior.

Predicted Record: 72-90

Player to Watch: Jose Abreu

Jose Abreu is a hitter, and few can dispute that. Even in a down 2018 season where Abreu battled injury and a crippling .294 BABIP, his Statcast metrics told another story. Abreu in the upper quartile or better in exit velocity, hard hit %, xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA. A return to BABIP form is certainly in order for Abreu as he looks to prove his worth despite his age as he enters free agency. Because of his past accomplishments, racking up numbers emulated only by Albert Pujols, among few others, Abreu is my star to watch on the 2019 Sox.

Player to Watch: Eloy Jimenez

Jimenez brings a legitimate MVP-caliber bat to the table; a rare prospect with (literal) light-tower-power and a special hit tool, Jimenez looks to be the fruit that fans have desperately waiting for the rebuild to bear. Because of his essentially limitless potential, Jimenez is without a doubt my pick for a young player to watch this year. Not only could he be the team’s top player but will likely contend for rookie of the year as well.

Player to Watch: Reynaldo Lopez

Lopez had a terrific season last year. With little run support and the unhelpful framing of Omar Narvaez, he also encountered some unfortunate luck along the way. With a blazing fastball and solid compliments, Lopez has the makings of a strong middle of the rotation arm. He will look to build on his first full season with a higher strikeout rate and some better luck.



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