Chicago White Sox
by Daniel Korach
2021 Record: 93-69 (.574 win%, 1st in Division)
2021 Payroll: $140,926,169 (15th)
Projected 2022 Lineup:
1. SS Tim Anderson, .284 AVG/.320 OBP/.451 SLG, 3.3 fWAR
2. CF Luis Robert, .283 AVG/.339 OBP/.510 SLG, 4.9 fWAR
3. 1B José Abreu, .259 AVG/.332 OBP/.481 SLG, 2.2 fWAR
4. 3B Yoán Moncada, .258 AVG/.353 OBP/.433 SLG, 3.9 fWAR
5. LF Eloy Jiménez .267 AVG/.322 OBP/.506 SLG, 2.8 fWAR
6. C Yasmani Grandal, .236 AVG/.373 OBP/.458 SLG, 4.5 fWAR
7. RF A.J. Pollock, .261 AVG/.320 OBP/.477 SLG, 1.4 fWAR
8. DH Gavin Sheets, .254 AVG/.322 OBP/.463 SLG, 1.0 fWAR
9. 2B Josh Harrison,.265 AVG/.320 OBP/.391 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
Projected 2022 Rotation:
1. Lance Lynn, 187 IP/4.03 ERA/1.23 WHIP, 3.3 fWAR
2. Lucas Giolito, 184 IP/4.04 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 3.2 fWAR
3. Dylan Cease, 170 IP/4.07 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.9 fWAR
4. Dallas Keuchel, 161 IP/4.71 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR
5. Michael Kopech, 141 IP/3.87 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 2.6 fWAR
Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. Liam Hendriks, 67 IP/2.69 ERA/0.93 WHIP, 2.6 fWAR
2. Aaron Bummer, 62 IP/2.90 ERA/1.21WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
3. Kendall Graveman, 59 IP/3.81 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR
The window is undeniably open; the White Sox spent more than half a decade in the cellar and are finally primed to make the final additions in preparation for a deep world series run. In response, normally revered White Sox GM Rick Hahn added: Kendall Graveman, on a three-year deal.
The White Sox came into the offseason with clear holes at second base and right field, fans figured those would be addressed rather quickly. With multiple players on the market who fit the bill, the front office’s inaction during the pre-lockout period concerned fans. Seager and Semien quickly went off the board coupled with a puzzling decision not to tender the qualifying offer to Carlos Rodon left the team shallow. Seemingly unable to offload the bloated Kimbrel contract, acquired for Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer at the 2021 deadline, the Sox were stuck and running out of options.
The disappointment only grew post-lockout, with the White Sox doing little to address lingering holes. Fans saw the prospects of a 2+ WAR right fielder (only twice in the last 10 years) dwindle quickly as Schwarber, Bryant, and Castellanos dropped off the board. Though never true fits, fans wanted to see the fruits of Hahn’s famous declaration: “the money will be spent.” Hahn ended his streak of inactivity with the signings of Josh Harrison and Joe Kelly, two consummate professionals with track records of consistent, but not startling production.
Harrison was an acceptable improvement over the lowly Cesar Hernandez era at the end of 2021. Kelly, however perfect the personality fit may be, was making an already expensive bullpen even pricier. Prior to April 1, the White Sox still stood with a platoon of true first basemen as their starting RF and an increasing lack of starting pitching depth. Michael Kopech threw his first spring innings March 31st , and Dallas Keuchel continues to struggle, holding a shaky grip on the #4 starter role.
On April Fool’s Day, Rick Hahn forced many to change their tune with a rare one-for-one swap, moving Kimbrel and his contract to the Dodgers for a starting RF in AJ Pollock. As Opening Day approached, many expected that Kimbrel would be a White Sox to begin the year with the idea that any trade scenario would yield limited return. Hahn accomplished two goals in acquiring the 34-year-old Pollock, saving the team $1 million over the life of the deal. Pollock, in a loaded Dodgers lineup, posted a 137 wRC+ with a career high 21 HR. His hitting and defensive versatility, even as a righty in a RH-heavy lineup, make him a great fit in this OF group.
Heading into the season, the Sox now have filled, to some measure, each of their once lingering holes. Talks of Sean Manaea will likely persist over the coming days, with the Sox still looking to add to their stable of starters. A late loss of Garret Crochet marks the one negative of an otherwise positive spring training on the southside. Rick Hahn, after a period of massive disappointment, has nearly salvaged a once lost offseason and brings his team into 2022 with massive expectations.
2022 Season Preview:
Let’s start with the lineup: it’s a loaded group of leaders and young guns alike who, if healthy, could be a top tier lineup in baseball.
Tim Anderson leads the way once again; the heart and soul of southside baseball continues to be one of the top hitters in baseball. He has yet to succumb to the always-expected BABIP regression and has truly entrenched himself as one of the game’s best pure hitters. Anderson hit 17 HR and stole 18 bases en route to scoring 94 times in 123 games last season. He’ll look to build on a career best .323 average on off-speed pitches and can be counted on for another 20/20 season with his usual passion and athleticism at shortstop.
Luis Robert is a top 10 player in the MLB. While the sample size is too small to truly mark him a top tier player, the potential is hard to miss. The peripherals are incomparable, and Robert has real 5-tool capability. In an abbreviated 68 games, the 24-year-old Cuban posted a likely BABIP inflated 157 wRC+ and made significant strides in his approach, seeing significant improvements in CSW% and in-zone contact. If Robert has truly shed his former free-swinger profile he realistically looks to be a 30/30 player in 2022. I look for Robert to begin to use all fields with regularity and reach the potential he arrived stateside with a few years ago.
José Abreu is the captain of this team without much debate. One of two Sox (Leury Garcia) to have a major league tenure that has seen the rebuild through, Pito is the foundation of any winning White Sox team. Abreu continues to be a model of consistency, recording another 30 HR/100 RBI season in 2021, he’s entrenched in the middle of the Sox order. Even amidst a bad-luck 2021, Abreu still produced a 126 wrC+ and walked in a career high 9.3% of his plate appearances. Regression is likely in order as Abreu continues to age, but his consistent run production can absolutely be counted on in 2022. Abreu still ranks highly in exit velocity and hard-hit metrics and if he’s able to build on his improved plate discipline, he can easily account for any age-related regression.
Yoan Moncada might be the most polarizing player amongst White Sox fans, many see him as the best 3B the Sox have seen since Robin Ventura, and others throw bust around with regularity. Moncada has yet to see the power one would expect with his swing and build and often seems to perform well at all the wrong times. No matter the view, 4.5 bWAR and a .375 OBP were both top 10 at the position and good for a 122 wRC+.
To be successful this year, Moncada must reverse the trend of declining effectiveness against fastballs and changeups to increase his power output. He has established himself as a premier defensive 3B and absolutely has the tools and approach at the plate to become a more consistent line drive hitter. Increasing output on non-breaking pitches will earn him more breaking balls and mistakes consequently.
Following Moncada is the ever-smiling Eloy Jimenez and his light-tower-power. Jimenez plays a literally dangerous brand of LF defense that led him to miss nearly 4 months of the 2021 season. With little substantive data from last season, Eloy did show his ability to put the ball anywhere on the diamond with relative ease. In 2020, Jimenez showed his power with massive hard-hit numbers and a penchant for barrels. In 2022, a full season of Jimenez could yield 40 HRs and up to a .270 batting average. If healthy, there’s little doubt of what he can do especially in a fly-ball friendly park on the southside.
Yasmani Grandal’s 2021 was a fascinating exploration into how more advanced statistics have changed the way we view productivity. Posting a triple slash of .240/.420/.520, Grandal managed a 159 wRC+ led by a 23.2% walk rate and 23 HR in only 93 games. He began the year on a historic streak of sustaining an OBP – AVG of 255 points, only rivaled by Barry Bonds. While the walk rate will likely regress, a more rested Grandal showed significantly more contact ability and pop during the second half of 2021. 2022 looks to be another year of top-tier on base production and about average defense, with the hope that the stolen base woes of the 2021 playoffs are behind Grandal and his loaded pitching core.
Following Yaz is the newcomer, AJ Pollock. The 34-year-old has endured a peaks and valleys career filled with flashes of MVP talent and extended absences on the injured list. In a Dodgers lineup boasting MVPs at nearly a majority of positions, Pollock was a small part of a big strength in 2021 with solid offensive production across 117 games. If Pollock can replicate his production, specifically in decreasing his strikeouts even with an increase in power, he could be the missing piece on a championship roster.
Even with slight regression, Pollock is poised to be the best White Sox RF in 5 seasons. His prowess against right-handed pitching pairs him nicely with the notably lefty-mashing White Sox lineup. Look for Pollock to easily hit 20 HR in the forgiving Guaranteed Rate dimensions with health remaining the primary piece of success for the new Sox right fielder.
In the 8 spot is the combination of Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, two athletic first basemen with substantial offensive potential. While higher on Vaughn than most, I believe he could be the most talented hitter in this lineup. With the addition of Pollock, Vaughn can stop masquerading as a right fielder and focus on what he very clearly does best: hit the baseball. Vaughn has a compact and quiet swing that gives him barrel potential to all fields. The UC product is a pure hitter with an uncanny ability to drive pitches throughout the zone. Sheets, while not as gifted as Vaughn, will be a key lefty bat for the Sox throughout the season. I look for Vaughn to carry over his significant second half adjustments to his approach that should yield ~25 HR and creeping up on 80 RBIs with the on-base talent in front of him. While Sheets could similarly be a 15-20 HR guy in a platoon that should be heavily led by Andrew Vaughn. Both young power bats look to have significant roles in any successful White Sox team, especially as handedness matchups become integral in the stretch run.
Rounding out the order is the Josh Harrison led second base tandem that will more than likely include Leury Garcia as well. Both heavy contact guys, neither will provide much in the way of power or on-base excellence. Harrison and Leury are similar toolsy veterans who can play multiple positions with Harrison being the slightly superior hitter. He looks to replicate his above average offensive 2021 in a hitter-friendly ballpark with extended at bats. While certainly the weak point on the diamond, Harrison’s charisma and knack for contact will make him a good fit, albeit with limited production, on the southside.
The bench will consist surely of speedy fourth OF, Adam Engel, as well as the aforementioned Gavin Sheets and Leury Garcia. The backup catcher spot has come down to a spring training battle of defense-first players in Seby Zavala and Nick Ciuffo. Outside of catcher, the Sox have depth across the board to sustain injury, especially when adding Jake Burger, Danny Mendick, and the only minor not named Bobby Witt Jr to have a 20/20 season in 2021, Romy Gonzalez to the mix.
Moving to the pitching side of the diamond, the White Sox have a talented rotation that does not come without question marks. Lucas Giolito, the worst-to-first CA high school product who headlined the Adam Eaton deal with Washington, added 27 pounds of muscle this offseason and looks to lead a staff that loses Carlos Rodon. Lucas continues to leverage his specially-used changeup to mystify hitters. Giolito must maintain his crucial ability to sustain velocity differences while effectively tunneling his release points to ensure ultimate deception between his two primary pitches.
Next in the rotation is Lance Lynn, the ultimate southside character who recently signed an extension that looks to take him through the rest of his career. There’s little to discuss on a year-to-year basis with Lynn, he will continue to boast his multiple fastballs and trademark conversation skills en route to 200 innings once again. He must retain the command that keeps his fastball/cutter/sinker combo playable over a whole season, but Lance showed throughout 2021 that he’s able to get the outs he needs.
Dylan Cease, the young fireballer with a hammering hook, ranks highly on many Cy Young preseason boards after showing flashes of dominance in 2021. Cease is a rather simple preview as well: if he can keep his pitch count down by minimizing walks, he can go deep enough into games to record the double-digit strikeout potential he’s shown. Cease must be able to throw his slider for strikes while ensuring his curve shadows the strike zone for long enough to fool hitters rather than being a waste pitch. Look for Cease to capture a significant chunk of the command and control he’s been seeking to post an extremely successful 2022 at the core of the Sox rotation.
At 4 and 5 the Sox have Dallas Keuchel and Michael Kopech, opposite pitchers with similar questions facing them in 2022. Keuchel, the soft-tossing groundball guru has not looked himself since the end of 2020, a rough 2021 saw him with little of his trademark control and routinely conceding hard contact. Keuchel saw himself demoted to the bullpen with a plethora of questions heading into the offseason. Through spring training, Keuchel has not looked much better and the cries for Sean Manaea or other starting depth have grown louder.
Michael Kopech, however, is a hard-throwing, hard-breaking hurler with barely a season in the majors under his belt. He showed in 2021 that his 3 pitch mix can absolutely play at the major league level and, when paired with command that was absent at times, that he can dominate even premier hitters. Kopech’s ability to sustain a starting pitcher’s workload remains the biggest question behind any 2022 success. If Kopech can reach 140-150 innings with an ERA of 4.20 or less, Sox fans could revel in that massive success. Look for arms like Jonathan Stiever, Jimmy Lambert, and Kyle Kubat to be a part of the starting pitching equation as injuries and roster expansion permit.
Finally, we’ll look at the overwhelming strength of this White Sox team, the bullpen. Encompassing over $52 million in payroll, the Sox ‘pen is hard throwing and hard-nosed. Led by Liam Hendriks with Aaron Bummer behind him, the White Sox boast one of the most formidable 8-9 tandems in baseball. Bummer had a down year as a result, mainly, of poor defensive positioning for his middle-bat groundball pitching. The Sox have already shown a greater willingness to shift this spring and one can expect that to benefit Bummer especially. Hendriks is the no-walks, no-BS heart and soul of the bullpen. Fastball and slider and not much else, it works, and I don’t expect that to change. Look for 40 saves from Liam this year.
New additions Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman are two more starters-turned-star relievers who have excelled over the past couple of seasons. They both look to have roles that will see them in both early and late game settings. Both rely on heavy fastballs to generate substantial swing-and-miss numbers. I expect Ethan Katz to hone their success toward a highly effective and critical role on this team.
At the back end of the pen, the resurgent Reynaldo Lopez will likely be paired with the ever-present José Ruiz. Lopez, who I have always believed to be a phenomenal upside bullpen guy, took steps forward last year under Ethan Katz that saw him expand the movement on his fastball while gaining significant command over previously unreliable breaking pitches. Lopez figures to pick up some starts this year but the Sox would be best served leaving him in a long relief role.
Finally, journeyman Kyle Crick will likely snag the last roster spot on the 26-man as he has performed quite well at AAA-Charlotte and in spring games over the past year-plus in the organization. With rosters at 28, I envision Ryan Burr to be an extra arm in the ‘pen for the opening month as well. Overall, this group is deep, talented, and well coached. While the loss of Garrett Crochet is massive, the bullpen has the depth to compensate with a diversity of stuff that will keep hitters off balance all season long.
Record Prediction: 96-55
Gone are Carlos Rodon, the failed experiments of Craig Kimbrel and Cesar Hernandez. Put together a full season of Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, an offense-focused Andrew Vaughn, and a real RF for the first time in half a decade, and you have a team that can genuinely go for it. With little in the way of a farm system, this year is crucial if the Sox hope to win a title with this core. I see improvement as nearly inevitable if health does not become a massive impediment. While questions about pitching persist, I look for Rick Hahn to do what’s necessary to ensure viability through the whole rotation. Expect the Sox to hover around the 100-win mark and take the division by 12.5 games.
Player to Watch #1: CF Luis Robert
There’s little more that needs to be said about why one should watch the multi-talented Cuban. Robert has a special hit tool with a classic leg-kick and athleticism that allows him to drive nearly any pitch. Robert has proved he can out-run and out-catch nearly anyone in baseball, if he’s able to utilize the opposite field in conjunction with a more disciplined swing approach, expect MVP votes in 2022.
Player to Watch #2: SP Dylan Cease
Cease is following a similar trajectory to 2021 Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes who showed flashes of unhittable stuff, albeit while struggling with control, in the year that preceded his breakout. Burnes with a similar profile of a deceptive, powerful fastball paired with tight-breaking secondaries puts Cease in prime position to emulate his 2021. There’s no denying Dylan Cease’s Cy Young stuff, but his 2022 hinges on limiting walks and depressing his pitch counts, he’ll be fun to watch this year.
Player to Watch #3: RF Yoelqui Cespedes/Micker Adolfo
Generally, I would not label depth/prospect OF as players to watch, but over the coming days the Sox will make a tough decision that likely sees their once touted international signee, Adolfo, placed on waivers. Regardless of that outcome, 2022 will be a key year for both the younger Cespedes and more experienced Adolfo.
Cespedes looks to position himself as RF of the future and has played the part this spring. He is a hugely athletic but similarly powerful Cuban with professional experience acquired at home. Cespedes should start the year in AA-Birmingham but should be a fast mover through an otherwise thin Sox system.
Categories: 2022 Season Preview