“We’re gonna need a younger manager”
Check out Daniel Korach’s 2022 Season Preview Article for the Chicago White Sox here.
2022 Record: 81-81 (.500 win%, 2nd in Division)
2022 Payroll: $208,313,226 (7thth)
1. SS Tim Anderson, .301 AVG/.339 OBP/.395 SLG, 2.0 fWAR
2. 3B Yoan Moncada, .212 AVG/.273 OBP/.353 SLG, 0.9 fWAR
3. 1B Jose Abreu, .304 AVG/.378 OBP/.446 SLG, 3.9 fWAR
4. DH Eloy Jimenez, .295 AVG/.358 OBP/.500 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
5. CF Luis Robert, .284 AVG/.319 OBP/.426 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
6. RF Andrew Vaughn, .271 AVG/.321 OBP/.429 SLG, -0.4fWAR
7. LF AJ Pollock, .245 AVG/.292 OBP/.389 SLG, 0.5 fWAR
8. C Yasmani Grandal, .202 AVG/.301 OBP/.269 SLG, -0.4 fWAR
9. 2B Josh Harrison, .256 AVG/.317 OBP/.370 SLG, 1.4 fWAR
10. OF Gavin Sheets, .241 AVG/.295 OBP/.411 SLG, 0.1 fWAR
1. Dylan Cease, 184.0 IP/2.20 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 4.4 fWAR
2. Lance Lynn, 121.2 IP/3.99 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR
3. Johnny Cueto, 158.1 IP/3.35 ERA/1.23 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR
4. Lucas Giolito, 161.2 IP/4.90 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR
5. Michael Kopech, 119.1 IP/3.54 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
2022 Top 4 Relievers:
1. Liam Hendriks, 55.2 IP/2.91 ERA/1.00 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR
2. Kendall Graveman, 64.0 IP/3.23 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
3. Reynaldo Lopez, 64.1 IP/2..80 ERA/.933 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR
4. Aaron Bummer, 26 IP/2.40 ERA/1.53 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR
Regular Season Recap:
It is quite fitting that the White Sox finished at .500 this season. Equal wins and losses. Not that bad, not that good. Sort of like if Nick Markakis’ career was condensed into one season. When thinking of the most exciting and memorable moments of the 2022 season, very few, if any, include the White Sox.
That might be acceptable for some teams, and it’s quite impressive to maintain that over a 15 year big league career (all love for Nick Markakis), but the White Sox are built for so much more. Luis Robert should be diving through highlight reels and hitting tape measure home runs on evening recaps. Tim Anderson should by flipping his bat for a sold out crowd, offending baseball purists but engaging with a far more important, younger generation of fans. Liam Hendriks should be snarling his way into important 9th innings down the stretch, maybe even with two outs in the 8th when Tony LaRussa’s wealth of managerial instinct thinks it prudent.
Instead, they’re average. Injuries no doubt played a role, and there was underperformance up and down the roster, but most glaring is the seeming absence of spirit that categorized them as a young, exciting team the last couple years. They didn’t have many marquee moments, and, as a result, the on field result was quite limp. Yet despite defining this as an important overall theme, it is still valuable to go through their roster to look at the individual success and failures of the 2022 White Sox.
I’ll start with the lineup:
At catcher, Yasmani Grandal leads the way with a disappointing season. There’s really not too many positives to take away. He maintained a high walk rate and a reasonable strikeout rate, but barrelled up the ball at just a 4.8 percent rate, leading to an alarmingly low .269 slugging percentage. Alongside this, he maintained his typical defensive numbers: slightly above average framing with a poor caught stealing percentage. This level of defense is not nearly valuable enough to make up for his dismal offensive performance. With just one more year left on his contract, Grandal will be an interesting case to watch next season if he cannot find some of his 2021 offensive form.
At first base, there’s not much new to report. Jose Abreu remained his consistent self, walking at a solid 9.1 percent and hitting the ball hard over 50 percent of the time. He did see some decline in power production, slugging at the lowest percentage of his career, but some regression in that department is expected, as he turns 36 next January. This consistent hitting, combined with strong defense at first base and clubhouse leadership makes him a valuable presence on this White Sox squad. With Abreu a free agent this offseason, and multiple bat first righties with limited defensive ability still on the roster, it will be curious to see how aggressive Rick Hahn and co. are in bringing their longtime stalwart back.
Josh Harrison leads the way at second base. In his first season on the South Side, Harrison provided roughly what was expected of him: league average hitting with above average defense at multiple positions. His offensive performance did leave a bit more to be desired, a .317 OBP not quite being enough to make up for his meager power production. Nonetheless, he was still good for just two points below league average by measure of wRC+ and provided very solid defense at 2B and 3B, keeping his overall value well in the positive.
At third base, Yoan Moncada turned in a disappointing season. Moncada has always shown flashes of the potential that brought him to Chicago as the centerpiece of their return for Chris Sale, but it has never quite clicked all the way. This year, it didn’t click at all. Moncada turned in the lowest slugging percentage of his White Sox career, a 6.2 percent decrease in walk rate from last year, and an increase in strikeouts. However, he is still only 27, plays great 3B defense, and has the talent and potential mentioned above to get closer to the production White Sox fans have always expected of him. If all else fails, he at least is still a great singer.
Tim Anderson remains the long term solution at shortstop. If he is truly a future star who takes over as the face of the franchise remains to be seen. He managed just 79 games due to injury, but can be retained for an affordable $26.5 million over the next two years through two club options. In his time on the field, Anderson turned in a solid season, albeit slightly below the high expectations he has built up over the past years. Most notable is a .395 slugging percentage, the lowest of his career. His corresponding .093 isolated power mark checks in at the “awful” range of Fangraphs’ value chart for iso. Anderson retains value through keeping his batting average over .300 and showing an encouraging 5.9% drop in strikeout rate, but will need to hit for a bit more power to cement himself in the upper echelon of big league shortstops.
The outfield was a rarely stagnant mix of Luis Robert, AJ Pollock, Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, Eloy Jimenez, and various other bench pieces. Many of those players also got at bats at DH. I recognize that the lineup above is just one of their many alignments, and will give all their equal share of a paragraph here.
AJ Pollock didn’t perform quite like the everyday outfielder he has been for much of his career. Although he maintained strong results against lefties, his overall results came out to a limp 8 points below league average, per wRC+. Perhaps the Sox envisioned using him slightly less regularly, but injuries, most notably to Robert, forced him into a much more everyday role. Behind these poor results is a notable drop in production against offspeed pitches. He’ll need to complement his strong fastball hitting a little more if he hopes to maintain any value going into age 35 season, given his decreasing defense and baserunning value.
Luis Robert turned in another encouraging season, but did not play enough to keep his name in conversations with other highly touted young outfielders. Outside of an increase in his already gaudy chase rate, the results on the field were very good for Robert. He continues to hit the ball hard and hit for a solid average. His strikeout rate decreased and he continued playing good CF defense, although with some metrics not being as favorable due to poor rankings for his outfield arm. In other words, nothing new was revealed about Robert this year, but he is one year older and one year further removed from the young player status that can forgive inconsistencies. A full season from Robert, even with just a marginal increase in plate discipline, remains a tantalizing possibility, but Luis has yet to prove he can provide it.
Andrew Vaughn put together an exciting season, despite a low WAR total. The “just a pure hitter” scouting report that led him to Chicago early in the first round of the draft has carried over onto the pro stage. Vaughn has great statcast numbers that have translated into a solid 114 wRC+. These 2022 numbers also represent a solid increase in production from last season. One red flag is the fairly low walk rate, down to just 5.6 percent, but Vaughn is looking like a potential solidly above average big league hitter for much of the next decade. On the flip side, he is an awful defensive outfielder. There are no two ways about it. For him to maintain positive value, his at bats will need to arrive through starting at DH or 1B, complicating Jose Abreu’s upcoming free agency.
Alongside Vaughn is Gavin Sheets, used almost exclusively as a lefty platoon bat. Sheets is another bat-first member of the White Sox with little defensive value. Contrary to the others, it’s not certain how much value he can provide with his bat. In 2022, he provided an exactly league average slash, marked by a 100 wRC+, but had pretty definitely below average statcast numbers to back that line up. He could be a valuable member of the White Sox during the next few years as a platoon/pinch hit lefty, but is not fit for a role bigger than that.
Eloy Jimenez once again showed his immense talent, but the question marks regarding his defense and his health remain. In a trademark moment, Jimenez swung so hard at a first-pitch fastball down the middle back in August that he had to leave the game with pain in his leg. A lot of these big hacks resulted in loud contact, as he swung to a 55 percent hard hit rate, a .500 slugging percentage, and a fantastic 144 wRC+. But the injuries were also a big part of his year. Jimenez played just 84 games, only 30 of those in left field, and the rest at DH. Jimenez is a big and very talented part of the Abreu-Vaughn logjam that Rick Hahn will need to address this offseason.
Next, the rotation:
Dylan Cease turned in a Cy Young caliber season. Control has always been his problem, but he’s remained at a similar walk rate in 2021 and 2022. What has seemingly made the biggest difference between his solid 2021 and his phenomenal 2022 is an uptick in slider usage, an over 12 percent increase up to 42.9 percent of the time. Consequently, his slider has been his most valuable pitch and he has turned into mostly a fastball-slider guy, with his big 12-6 curveball as a clear third option. Some regression should be expected, but there’s no reason not to expect Cease to be a strong leader of Chicago’s pitching staff for years to come.
After Cease, Lance Lynn turned in a fairly typical season. A 3.99 ERA is a tad high, but all numbers point to it being artificially inflated. One concerning thing is the decreasing value of his fastball. Lynn has found his big league success throwing good fastballs, and throwing a lot of them. This season, his average fastball was a full MPH slower, and checked in well below last season in runs above average per 100 pitches. Likely due to this, his strikeout rate was three points lower than last year. Lynn still unquestionably remains valuable, but I’ll be worth keeping an eye on these fastball numbers as he approaches his 36th birthday next year.
After Lynn, the White Sox got a solid 151.1 innings of 3.39 ERA ball from Lucas Gio- wait what?… Johnny Cueto? Yes, that’s right. Cueto’s unexpectedly great season has likely even diverted some attention from the poor performance of the guy originally expected to put up these numbers, Lucas Giolito. Cueto doesn’t strike very many guys out, and has likely benefited from helpful defense behind him, but over 150 innings of sub 3.50 ERA pitching can’t be ignored. Despite the success, one can’t count on the 36 year old Cueto being part of the plans for next season.
However, Lucas Giolito is almost certainly part of Rick Hahn’s plans for next season, making his poor results all the more concerning. Digging a little deeper, it seems that Giolito was just plainly more hittable. In his three top 11 Cy Young award finishes from 2019-2021, batters made contact with less than 70% of the pitchers they swung at. That number popped back well over 70% this year and started heading toward the numbers from his early career, massive ERA years. This corresponded in negative run values across all four of his pitches. An increase in walk rate is also worth noting. The contact rate is still closer to the last three years than his sky high 2018 numbers, and many advanced ERA alternatives aren’t quite as gaudy as 4.90, but Giolito will have a lot to prove in his upcoming contract year.
Rounding out the rotation for most of the year was Michael Kopech, turning in a pretty solid season. The walks are a bit high at 4.3 per 9, but he’s dismissed the concerns of not having the capabilities of a starter. His stuff hasn’t played quite as well, leading to just 7.92 K’s per 9, but has remained effective in transitioning from the bullpen, mostly through using a more consistent curveball as a third pitch. Although thrown only about 11% of the time, the curve was a valuable pitch for Kopech. He might look to throw that more as he hopes to firmly establish himself as a big league starter next year.
And finally, the bullpen and bench:
The bullpen was yet another solidly mediocre part of the White Sox. Hendriks, Graveman, Lopez were all solid, but not dominant. Aaron Bummer was good, but in just 25.2 innings due to a lat strain. Joe Kelly and Jake Diekman were disappointing, the latter after a midseason trade. These average results would generally be fine, but not acceptable for a team who had $52 million devoted to relievers on their opening day roster.
Most notable from the bench was Seby Zavala, who provided great framing numbers, as well as decently above average hitting, albeit in just 205 plate appearances with a 31% strikeout rate. He could be in line for a bigger role next season if Yasmani Grandal can’t turn around his offensive performance. Elsewhere, Leury Garcia and Adam Engel combined for a sterling -1.4 WAR. Romy Gonzalez had trouble doing much with a bat in his hands, but is a valuable and versatile defender.
M-SABR Predicted Record (96-55) vs. Actual (81-81):
Daniel Korach shared an opinion that many felt going into this season of White Sox baseball. The Sox had a good core of young talents, established players in their prime, and valuable veteran leaders that seemed like a solid formula for, at the very least, a division winner, if not a run deep into the playoffs.
A season later, it does not look as rosy. Injuries undoubtedly played a big role, but further questions remain. Is Tim Anderson a true star who could lead a team through the playoffs? Will Luis Robert ever put all of his considerable tools together? What can you reasonably expect from Lucas Giolito? Can Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn, and Jose Abreu exist on the same team?
This season left White Sox fans with many more of those types of questions than answers. However, the talent that led Daniel to project them at 96 wins is still there. The one answer we do know is that there will need to be change to harness that talent into a better record next year.
Surprise of the Season
The surprise of the season is no doubt Dylan Cease. The hard throwing righty was an exciting young arm to watch coming into this year, but few expected him to put up the Cy Young caliber numbers he produced. The biggest concern coming into the season was his control. Update: he led the league in walks. He led the league in walks!! And still he turned in 184 innings of 2.20 ERA ball. These great results seem largely due to the increase in slider usage I mentioned above, so it is extremely exciting to think of what he could do in the future if he can keep this newly valuable slider and get control of his walks.
Players We Watched
In his season preview, Daniel laid out three players to watch for 2022. I’ll determine if “we watched” or “we botched” those three guys.
We Watched: RHP Dylan Cease
I think I have said enough about Dylan Cease. He had a great season.
Somewhere in the Middle: CF Luis Robert
Everything said about Robert in the past is still true. He’s still a supernatural athlete with ginormous potential. He just has yet to put it together. He’ll again be a player to watch in 2023.
We Botched: RF Yoelqui Cespedes/Micker Adolfo
Adolfo had a .704 OPS in AAA with a 35% K rate. Cespedes had a .769 OPS in AA with a 30% K rate. I don’t think they will be a very big factor in future plans.
Facilitating that change will be a major challenge for the White Sox front office. This was a roster that was built to contend for a World Series, so there are no glaring holes or special strengths. It is more just an abundance of mediocrity that plagued this team. How to choose which underperforming or injury plagued player to believe in and which to maybe move on from is no easy task. Good thing Rick Hahn has a degree from the University of Michigan. He’ll need all his considerable intelligence to creatively approach this offseason.
In his recent press conference, he expressed willingness to look at all solutions, specifically saying that “we’re not going to just be able to throw money at the problem. So, you have to get creative and the trade market may be a more fruitful path for us to go as opposed to free agency in the coming months.” Does this mean trading Eloy Jimenez or Andrew Vaughn in order to re-sign Jose Abreu? Trading an underperformer with less control like Giolito or Moncada? Trade from their expensive bullpen to free up money for elsewhere on the roster? All of these are acceptable possibilities. Only inaction would be unacceptable. Let’s see what you can do, Rick.
Something to Watch
Manager search! The 2nd Tony LaRussa era in Chicago is over. Luckily, he’s already in the Hall of Fame so there will be no need to scrutinize the many questionable moments over the past two years, from ordering an intentional walk in 1-2 count to fighting off sleep during the game. LaRussa stepping down due to health may be the most graceful way it could have gone. The White Sox get the new manager they probably need and LaRussa can exit cleanly without the embarrassment of being fired.
Now it turns to who comes next. A veteran manager who’s done it before makes sense. A younger manager who infuses some much needed energy, life, and purpose into this group could work. Anything in between would be viable as well. But it is crucial that this manager is chosen through a diplomatic, committee based system led by the true front office, rather than famed owner Jerry Reinsdorf. If he is left to choose again, Phil Jackson might be manning the top step next year. In an offseason where the very identity of this group of players seems up in the air, that would not do. This choice is a huge one and must be done with extreme thought and care.