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10 Thoughts Today About the Chicago White Sox

Updated on August 6, 2018
Reynaldo Lopez has been one of the few semi-bright spots on a poor Chicago White Sox team. Him aside, the team has had a lot of problems.
Reynaldo Lopez has been one of the few semi-bright spots on a poor Chicago White Sox team. Him aside, the team has had a lot of problems.

One (1)

My perspective on Chicago's view of the White Sox is tainted by the reality that the team has not been any good the entire time I've lived in Chicago. The ChiSox last contended for the World Series in the mid-2000's, and haven't been relevant since the inflammatory Ozzie Guillen was their manager (2004-2011).

It'd be easy to say that, since I live on the North Side, of course my perspective is Chicago Cubs-centric... especially with the Cubs finally having won their first World Series in 100+ years.

But the White Sox have also done fairly poorly, and even South Siders find it hard to show rooting interest in the team on their side of town.

It's hard to take any interest in such a bad team, never minding that I'm a long CTA Red Line trip away from their home stadium. And speaking of that stadium....

Guaranteed Rate Field. It seems inoffensive and pleasant in this photo. But this may be one of the worst ballparks in Major League Baseball.
Guaranteed Rate Field. It seems inoffensive and pleasant in this photo. But this may be one of the worst ballparks in Major League Baseball.

Two (2)

It doesn't help that the White Sox stadium is also the exact opposite of Wrigley Field in terms of general fan experience.

Built in 1989 to replace the old Comiskey Park, the stadium now known as Guaranteed Rate Field is one of the worst big league stadium experiences I've seen.

It didn't help that the stadium was built before the rise of retro-style ballparks, and thus (like other stadiums built in their era) is a relic of sterile 80's-style architecture. It's a bland stadium with no real bells, whistles or other interesting features. The outfield scoreboard facade belies the stadium's true blandness and engineering caste-style spite as a facility.

Stay out, Poors.
Stay out, Poors.

Guaranteed Rate Field (like the South Side of Chicago itself, honestly) makes a point to give poor people a garbage experience compared to their higher-paying denizens. Like some parks (including Wrigley), the ChiSox's stadium segregates stadium access by payment tiers: You cannot walk through the entire concourse. Cheap seat goers only get access to the cheap reserved upper deck concourse through a single, open air yet somehow dank ramp/stair-well. Those paying more for better seats get access to the open air outfield concourse, or the nicer main concourse downstairs.

This might still be acceptable, as a fan who likes to buy cheap seats and then walk around the stadium concourse... if the upper deck concourse wasn't so barren and devoid of life, space and access to the entire stadium. There's nothing to walk around and see. There's no view of anything from anywhere other than your seat. Your only scenery are the section portals, the concession stands, the restroom entrances, and the north end concourse's view of 35th Street and the stadium parking lot.

But allegedly, there isn't much else in the lower concourse. Views from any corridor other than the outfield concourse don't exist. The stadium experience is designed to be this: Buy something to eat and drink, go to your seat, watch the game, then leave and go home.

Also, in the Poors Concourse, the stadium staff actually tend to let vagrants from the street into the concourse stairwell, where they're free to harass passers by. This has happened literally every time I've come to the stadium.

Even if the White Sox were a 100 win contender, a trip to this stadium would be a hard sell. It more than most stadiums just sucks to be in.

This display lights up every time a White Sox player hits a home run... which happens a lot, for both teams, because this park's dimensions make it laughably easy to hit home runs.
This display lights up every time a White Sox player hits a home run... which happens a lot, for both teams, because this park's dimensions make it laughably easy to hit home runs.

Three (3)

The stadium is also a joke in terms of what it does to the actual game. Specifically, the tighter dimensions of the park make it a home run launchpad for Major League hitters. The key is the distance to straightaway left and right field... a relatively short 363 feet both ways. The ordinary 400 foot distance to straightaway center combined with the light 335 foot distance to both foul poles, as well as the slim foul grounds, plus the occasional stiff Chicago wind blowing out towards Lake Michigan, make this park a power hitter's dimensional paradise.

This should be awesome for a White Sox lineup full of power hitters, right? Well, conversely it also makes pitching, defense and preventing enough runs to win games a giant pain. Any hitter who can lift a decent flyball with any sort of South Side breeze at their back can easily put one over these short fences.

This would then place a premium on building lineups full of home run hitters who can also play solid defense on any balls that do stay in play, while building a pitching staff who avoids bats and issuing walks while inducing more groundballs than average.

So of course the White Sox have built a pop gun lineup full of power-soft speedsters, fatally flawed hackers who strike out far more than they hit home runs (who also are slow, terrible fielders)... while building a pitching staff who walks lots of guys and can't strike many guys out.

Well done, guys.

Four (4)

The White Sox do make an effort to play their prospects and younger players. The problem is that most of these prospects aren't that great or productive.

Yoan Moncada: The Cuban star prospect the ChiSox acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the 2016 Chris Sale trade was known for being incredibly capable for a teenager in Cuba... but like many teenage international wunderkinds, Moncada grew up without further refining that talent, and now he's an inconsistent 23 year old MLB hitter with some pop.

As of now Moncada IS an American League leader... in strikeouts, with 154 in 452 plate appearances. He's on pace for a whopping 227 strikeouts, which would break Mark Reynolds' 2009 single season record of 223.

Tim Anderson: The former 2013 1st round pick has also been free swinging and inconsistent, with a career slash line of 261/290/411. You can't help but show some pop in Guaranteed Rate Field, but Anderson's also shown his share of wind power... with 379 strikeouts in 352 career games, while only drawing 50 career walks.

The speed the ChiSox saw in him as a prospect has at least been there, with 46 career stolen bases and only 10 times caught stealing.

But at age 25, it's doubtful Anderson will grow into anything more than the flawed, somewhat useful player we see today.

Lucas Giolito: The former Washington Nationals 2013 1st-round draft pick ended up in Chicago as part of the 2016 Adam Eaton trade, after trickling through the Nats farm system and showing some promise on the way up.

Since debuting in the Majors in 2016 as a 21 year old, he has spent much of his time in the Majors getting pounded, walking dudes and basically scrapping for his life with every pitch he throws. Countless talented Major League prospects have struggled in their early years before figuring things out in their mid 20's, so it's certainly possible the 23 year old Giolito figures out how to stop walking dudes, throwing suck pitches when he isn't walking dudes, and how to miss a few more bats.

But, now knee deep into his 3rd MLB season, with a career-high 22 starts under his belt in 2018... he, like Yoan Moncada, is an American League leader... a leader in earned runs allowed (80), walks allowed (68) and batters hit by pitch (12).

He should maybe cut down on those things.

Carlos Rodon: Picked 3rd overall by the ChiSox in the 2014 MLB draft out of NC State University, the hope was that Rodon would become a strong rotation regular.

Most of four MLB seasons later... Rodon hasn't been bad. He also hasn't been durable, which given MLB's pitcher attrition isn't too big a surprise.

And he hasn't done a good job of avoiding walks: Save for his one full season in 2016, he's struggled with his walk rate. I'll share some hard data to illustrate:

Carlos Rodon's career stats. Notice the limited number of games started in the last two columns. That's from being injured. Also notice the BB9 column. More than 3.0 isn't good. Rodon walks a lot of dudes.

Wrist, foot and shoulder injuries have limited Carlos Rodon to only 22 starts over the past 1.5 seasons. Note as a comparison point that a healthy starting pitcher should be able to make 26-32 starts over a full Major League season.

Also, Rodon continues to struggle with walks. Ideally you would walk 3 or fewer batters per 9 innings (BB9), but notice how over his career Rodon's BB9 rate has frequently creeped to and over 4 guys per 9.

Rodon is only 25, and could make the needed adjustment to cut his walks and become a very good pitcher in time. Right now however, like most of the White Sox, Carlos Rodon is a young ball of talent with unfulfilled potential.

Carson Fulmer: The former 2015 1st-round draft pick showed control problems while pitching through the minors. But the Chicago White Sox still rushed him through the minors on account of 1) "Whee look at all those strikeouts!" and 2) The White Sox pitching staff is so perpetually barren that they always need pitching help.

Thus Carson Fulmer (despite 21 mediocre minor league starts in 2016) found himself on the big club later in 2016, coming out of the bullpen to the tune of an 8.49 ERA in 8 mostly painful appearances.

Back in the minors in 2017, Carson looked pretty bad over 25 starts, walking lots of dudes, not striking out all that many, and working a 5.79 ERA in the pitcher-friendly International League. Yet Fulmer was called up in September... and managed to tiptoe his way to a decent 3.86 ERA over 5 starts and 2 relief outings that masked how still-unready-for-prime-time he was (5.69 FIP).

Fulmer has reversed the cycle in 2018: He started the year in the Majors, looked horrible (8.07 ERA with a ghastly 7.28 FIP, while walking the world), got demoted in mid-May, and is currently still walking everyone while looking terrible in Triple A Charlotte (5.56 ERA, 6.5 walks per 9).

So, three years after being drafted, Carson Fulmer's control problems have gotten worse, he strikes out enough dudes for the ChiSox to keep rushing him to the Majors, and when hitters do make contact he gets beaten like a piƱata.

Of the not-so-great-so-far White Sox prospect careers, Fulmer's situation might be the most dire. I imagine he'll have to get traded or released and signed elsewhere to mentally clear his head, hear some new coaching voices, finally adjust and figure it all out.

Five (5)

There's also a fair share of washed up once-prospects or okayish prospects that ended up with the White Sox as salvage projects. I won't go into much detail on them but they are worth a mention: Matt Davidson, Avisail Garcia, Daniel Palka, Leury Garcia, Carlos (Yolmer) Sanchez, Reynaldo Lopez, Omar Navarez. You could add to this list as desired depending on your perception of the organization's players.

The White Sox seem to like acquiring these sorts of reclamation-project players. To their credit, the talent cupboard is fairly bare and they need all the help they can get.

But this is how you end up with a bunch of hacky, somewhat talented but fatally flawed hitters who can hit a few balls over the fence in your joke of a ballpark but aren't consistent enough to give you much more than that... as well as a bunch of hot pitching arms who can't consistently command their stuff, get hit around a lot, and give up lots of home runs in your joke of a ballpark.

Arguing with umpires may be the only time White sox manager Rick Renteria has any control over his team's fortunes.
Arguing with umpires may be the only time White sox manager Rick Renteria has any control over his team's fortunes.

Six (6)

The manager of a Major League Baseball team always gets an unfair amount of credit or blame for how his team does, and ChiSox manager Rick Renteria is no exception.

As of this writing Renteria's career win percentage with the Chicago White Sox is a paltry .393, and at some point he will likely get fired for his team's poor performance even though he's had little to nothing to do with the organization's terrible roster construction or prospect development.

In baseball, the manager can only fill out lineup cards and try to keep guys motivated: Unlike other sports, the manager is not really a coach. It's up to his assistant coaching staff and, much more importantly, the coaches in the minor leagues to develop and improve players.

But often it's the manager who gets blamed for how the players play. It's a script that plays out on every Major League team over time.

There's not much Rick Renteria or any manager could do to get this ragged, unpolished bunch to play any better than they have. They're badly coached, badly developed, and lack a lot of the ability (let alone consistency) the team needs to be at all successful.

Framing pitches for strikes doesn't appear to be a priority for White Sox catchers.
Framing pitches for strikes doesn't appear to be a priority for White Sox catchers.

Seven (7)

The Twins had the right idea when they acquired catcher Jason Castro for his pitch framing ability.

We know now more than ever that a catcher's ability to "frame" borderline pitches (to make them all look like strikes to an umpire) is important to how well a pitching staff does. Fewer borderline balls and more borderline strikes means fewer walks, better pitching counts, and in the long run leads to fewer runs allowed.

Meanwhile, the ChiSox have spent 2018 relying on the catching of Omar Navarez, Kevan Smith and Wellington Castillo... guys never known for their skill at backstopping. Their pitching staff has walked more than 10% of the hitters they've faced, an atrocious rate.

Run expectancy data shows that every walk you allow improves the hitting team's run expectancy on average by about 0.28 runs. The White Sox have allowed 592 runs, the 2nd most in the American League.

If the White Sox cut their team walks by just one walk per game, and if for some reason that was the only thing they could possibly improve, that could have saved them an estimated 30 runs over this entire season. At 560ish runs, they still wouldn't be good, but it would get them from 14th of 15 to 12th of 15.

But you know what else would save some runs?

Is Avisail Garcia sliding into a base, or diving well out of the reach of a flyball after inexplicably dropping his glove en route? Could be either one, really.
Is Avisail Garcia sliding into a base, or diving well out of the reach of a flyball after inexplicably dropping his glove en route? Could be either one, really.

Eight (8)

According to Total Zone Fielding stats on Baseball Reference, the Chicago White Sox defense has been worth -45 runs this season, just behind the Baltimore Orioles for worst in the American League.

This has always been a problem for the White Sox: By emphasizing power and potential in their lineup over polish, they've put a lot of bad fielders out in the field. Power hitters tend not to be great fielders, because they're valued for their ability to mash, and guys who mash tend to be large and lack coordination.

The only positive fielders they've used this season are (the since demoted) outfielder Trayce Thompson, center fielder Adam Engel, and now-former 3B Tyler Saladino (who is now in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system). Literally everyone else has been no better than average... and usually below average.

The worst offenders (with Total Zone run values):

  • Yoan Moncada: -13 at 2B
  • Daniel Palka: A DH caliber bat who has been -9 at the outfield corners
  • Omar Navarez: -7 behind the plate at catcher
  • Leury Garcia: A combined -5 across the diamond at multiple positions. A Utility Crap-Fielder!

Others have been league average to -4 in the field, or have played so little in the field that there's insufficient data. But we have sufficient data to see that the Chicago White Sox team defense is bad.

A league average defense would have saved 45 runs more than this group. If the ChiSox simply played league average defense, AND walked just one fewer batter per game than they have, they could have saved about 75 runs. That theoretically takes a bad 597 runs-allowed total... to a nearly-average 522 runs allowed.

Jose Abreu can hit pretty well. The rest of the White Sox, though....
Jose Abreu can hit pretty well. The rest of the White Sox, though....

Nine (9)

... of course, the Chicago White Sox offense is still really bad, as their 448 runs scored is 4th worst in the American League.

This unfortunately is not as easy to repair, as the only immediate improvement a team could make at the plate is to stop bunting (bunts are always a run-expectancy-negative play, though the amount of runs lost to this is admittedly negligible). And the ChiSox aren't exactly known for rampant bunting. They know their hitters' strength is extra bases and dingers, so that's mostly what they look for.

You can ask hitters to be more patient, more aggressive, more whatever. But if they've spent their careers ingraining and developing poor plate discipline, mere instructions on the fly isn't going to change anything. In fact, even extended coaching may not help if the coaching lacks needed quality, or the player in question is not receptive to said coaching.

Incidentally, though, it may be possible to improve the lineup by acquiring or promoting better defensive players... if those players can hit at all, and also happen to be more disciplined and marginally capable of producing at the plate than your current hitters.

Right now, the ChiSox hitters draw the 3rd fewest walks in the American League while striking out the most. There are a lot of marginal hitters of at least decent AAA quality if not marginal MLB quality available throughout baseball. While few of them hit for serious power like many of the ChiSox prospects... not all of them are walk-averse 200-strikeout machines. Playing such players over the likes of Daniel Palka not only improves the defense, but also could lead to fewer strikeouts and more walks... or at least better, more disciplined plate appearances that can produce better balls in play.

More hits? Maybe. But the run expectancy of a walk is positive, nearly anything is better than the run expectancy of a strikeout, and anything can happen on a lot of balls in play. A marginal Major Leaguer could be worth an additional 1.0 WAR in the field alone, and if he's replacing a clueless hacker in the lineup... even as a nearly replacement level bat who doesn't hit as many dingers he might be worth a little more at the plate.

As you would expect, no one in Chicago really wants to watch this team.
As you would expect, no one in Chicago really wants to watch this team.

Ten (10)

But would any of the above-mentioned improvement ideas matter, even if they were implemented perfectly? Wouldn't the ceiling of a more polished replacement-level Chicago White Sox team still be... just a 90+ loss doormat for the AL Central?

Sure, probably.

Given the team's track record for developing prospects, the glut of really bad Major League teams tanking right now, and the lack of stud prospects at the top of the 2019 MLB Draft board, the incentive to tank for better draft picks or more international bonus slot money in baseball is lower than ever before. It's proven over time to be a fool's errand... and to boot, the Chicago White Sox have demonstrated that they lack the ability to consistently develop prospects into good Major League players.

Fielding a crappy team and losing on purpose doesn't benefit the Chicago White Sox all that much over trying however they can to field a better team and win what games they possibly can. They may as well try to be better. There's not a whole lot to lose prospect-wise if they play better and win a few more games.

The Chicago White Sox are bad. But they may as well show what few fans they have left that they're trying to make the team better.


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