Friday, November 8, 2013

Team Postmortem: Chicago White Sox

Record: 63-99, -125 Run Differential

Summary: On the plus side, Ozzie Guillen isn't around anymore. On the negative side, this is a bad team. A bad team in a very competitive division. A bad team in a very competitive division with a horrible farm system. The immediate future of the White Sox isn't very bright, but at least their fans can enjoy watching Chris Sale pitch. Let's take a look.

First up, the offense. Or the lack thereof. Remember when the White Sox used to hit a ton of homeruns, but everyone in the mainstream media said they were good because of Podsednik and SmallBall or OzzieBall or whatever? (God, I miss Fire Joe Morgan) Yeah, those days are over. As a team they hit .249/.302/.378 with a wRC+ of 83, which puts them 29th in the majors ahead of only the Marlins--who, as we said, weren't even trying to win.  Their combination of high strike-out rate (19.9% - 17th) and complete lack of walks (6.8% - 29th), to go along with no power (ISO .129 - 26th, SLG .378 - 25th), makes for just a terrible offensive show.  The shell of Paul Konerko, once an offensive highlight for Chicago, posted the worst season of his career since 2003 with a wRC+ of 82, and his once prodigious power is entirely gone (.111 ISO - worst of his career, by far). The lack of production for a position like 1B, and the fact that every metric hated his defense (and has for a while), nets the former star a -1.8 fWAR. The rest of the team fared little better. Forget Qualified, let's set the minimum PA at, oh, say, 300 -- get ourselves anyone who appeared in 100 games. The only players with an above average wRC+ (and barely at that) were Alex Rios (wRC+ 103) who was traded and Adam Dunn (105), who is a DH (although the White Sox, perhaps due to insanity, let him in the field for 74 games) and, thus needs to hit a lot better than that and his 219/320/442 line.

On the Run Prevention side of things, the White Sox actually fared pretty well, especially compared to their anemic offense. Their 723 Runs Allowed left them 23rd in MLB, but RA doesn't tell the whole story. Their xFIP as a staff was 3.98 for 21st in MLB, better than the Orioles and Athletics. The staff posted excellent strikeout numbers with a 7.73 K/9 (11th) and did a similarly good job at preventing free passes with a BB/9 of 3.15 (12th). Their pitchers were, unfortunately, extremely prone to the long ball with an HR/9 of 1.13, the 27th worst mark in MLB. The star of the staff is, of course Chris Sale. Sale, 24, is one of the best pitchers in the game and getting better. In 2013, he posted a 9.49 K/9, 1.93 BB/9 with a 3.17 FIP and 2.95 xFIP, 5.1 fWAR. Look at those strikeouts. Look at that control. He's ridiculous. He's 24 and in the midst of a team-friendly deal that could keep him in Chicago through 2019 (maximum salary is a $13.5M team option for 2019).  He is one of the most valuable trade assets in baseball, and one the ChiSox should not move as he is young and controlled enough to still be a factor when/if the White Sox are good again. Lost in the awesome that was Chris Sale was the performance of Jose Quintana. The 24-year-old lefty had a true Out of Nowhere season this year. Released by the New York Yankees and grabbed by the White Sox before the 2012 season, Quintana posted surprisingly good numbers in 2013: 2.52 BB/9, 3.82 FIP, 3.86 xFIP and 3.7 fWAR in 200 innings.  However, he is a soft tosser with a fastball that sits at 91 mph and he has an only 'okay' K/9 at 7.38 (5.35 last season). This would seem to peg him as a high-control, pitch-to-contact guy, but his groundball number (42.5%) doesn't support that as a formula for success. Next year will be a test for him, to see whether the White Sox have truly found a surprise value or just caught lightning in a bottle.

The writing is on the wall for the White Sox. They have a poor Major League roster, and their farm system is currently one of the worst in the game. Going into the 2013, Baseball America pegged their system as 29th in the game. In Bleacher Report's post-Trade Deadline rankings, they still sat a 26th. Ultimately, it's time for a lengthy rebuild process, and it seems new GM Rick Hahn sees it that way as well, trading Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Matt Thorton and Jesse Crain during the season. There's a long road still to go in digging the farm system out of the hole former GM Kenny Williams left it in, but it's a start. The problem remains that many of those who remain on the roster are either un-tradable due to a combination of salary, poor performance, and injury history (Danks, Dunn, Alexi Rameriz), or the White Sox wouldn't want to move them (Chris Sale). The White Sox will have to be very shrewd going forward and hope to get lucky selling high on any players who over-perform and drafting/developing well. Until then, enjoy Chris Sale.

Team MVP: Chris Sale, 5.1 fWAR

Team LVP: Paul Konerko, -1.8 fWAR

Down On The Farm: The White Sox farm system was a mixed bag this year. As I said, it's an overall poor system, and while a few prospects took steps forward, a number of others such as Courtney Hawkins and Carlos Sanchez fell back quite a bit. The White Sox did do some solid drafting, adding Tim Anderson, and made a lot of trades to try and bolster the depth, but it's still very much a work in progress. We'll take a look at two of the good stories here.

Erik Johnson, 24, is a big right-hander with a mid-90s fastball, an excellent curve-ball along with a solid slider and an in-progress changeup. He spent most of his season split between AA and AAA. In the minors, he posted dominating numbers (AA: 7.87 K/9, 2.23 BB/9, 3.19 FIP; AAA: 8.95 K/9, 2.98 BB/9, 2.59 FIP).  He did struggle in a cup of coffee in the majors, going five starts with a 5.86 K/9, 3.58 BB/9 and an unsightly HR/9 of 1.63. His ERA of 3.25 masks his struggles with a 5.40 FIP and 4.73 xFIP. If he can translate his minor league dominance to more major league success, he should be a solid cost-controlled no. 2 or 3 to join Chris Sale in the rotation going forward.

Marcus Semien was the big riser for the White Sox this season. The 23-year-old middle infield prospect (he played shortstop predominately in the minors), started the year in AA where he utterly dominated his competition.  He posted a BB rate of 17.4% and a K rate of 13.7%, along with a 903 OPS and 167 wRC+. He was then promoted to AAA, where he was challenged a bit more with a 9.9% BB rate, 16.9% K rate and a 123 wRC+. The drop in walk rate was, perhaps, an indication that he needed more seasoning, but the White Sox were impressed enough to call him up when the rosters expanded in September. Semien struggled in his 21 games in the majors, hitting 261/268/406 with a 77 wRC+ and, perhaps most importantly, a 1.4% BB rate and 31.0% K rate. Nevertheless, the prospect retains a promising future, and should probably return to AAA to start 2014 so he can work on his plate discipline.

If APOD Was GM: Honestly, there's not much that can really be done in the 2014 off-season that isn't already being done.  The White Sox are nowhere near contention, and most of their trade-able assets have already been moved. The only player that might be movable would be Alexei Rameriz, who doesn't hit that much of late, but if a team has an injury to their shortstop in spring training, they might get desperate enough to move a piece for him. If the Yankees, for example, decide they are going to really try to contend next season and Jeter looks still broken, Rameriz would be a significant improvement over Nunez and the rest, assuming they don't sign someone like Stephen Drew. Seriously. Rameriz was worth 3.1 fWAR (mostly due to defense, despite hitting for a 86 wRC+), while the Yankees got -1.6 fWAR out of that position. Other than that, I'd look for any buy-low candidates to flip at the deadline.

Also, can a GM fire a broadcaster? Because I'd fire Hawk.

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