A few days ago Dave Cameron of Fangraphs suggested that the Chicago White Sox should look to call the season quits. His biggest argument? The Sox record at the time of the article, 8-14, seemed to validate Fangraphs’ preseason Sox record of 78-84 and 8% chance of winning the AL Central. After 22 games, I’m not quite sure I agree with Cameron’s assessment. In fact, the beginning of May is much too early to truly assess any team.
The major problem with Cameron’s main argument is that the algorithm of Fangraphs is not quite a holy thing, and cherry picking a team’s current record to match the Fangraphs formula is a bit of a stretch right now. What about the Cleveland Indians, or the Houston Astros for that matter, Dave?
To be fair, Cameron does make the valid argument that General Manager Rick Hahn has some valuable trade pieces including Jeff Samardzija, Alexei Ramirez and even newly signed Adam LaRoche. Even we at Off Base recognized the flexibility the White Sox had at this year’s trade deadline in regards to having viable, tradeable contracts. That being said, it’s still much too early for Hahn to begin weighing any offers.
Yes, the offense ranks nearly last in all major categories. However, nearly every player in the lineup has not performed: Adam Eaton, the team’s lead off man and catalyst, is hitting below .200. Adam LaRoche, the newly acquired protection for Jose Abreu, is hitting just above .200. Abreu, the Sox biggest offensive weapon, still hasn’t found his power stroke, last hitting a home run on April 22nd. And by the way, that was the last time any White Sox player hit a home run. The current streak of 9 games without a base clearing hit is the longest streak in the New Comiskey/U.S Cellular era.
The lack of offensive production may simply boil down to this being a team with a lot of new pieces learning to mesh together. It’s unfortunate right now the entire team is in a slump, but take away the two biggest losing streaks of the season, four and five games, and you have a team that is 9-5. Not bad considering the Sox have only scored more than 5 runs in a game three times this season. Looking a little closer at the numbers, the Sox are actually around league average in Next Base Rate, meaning they do score when there are chances to score. The major problem has just been getting on base and creating run scoring opportunities.
On the pitching side of things, the bullpen has actually been one of the best in baseball, sixth overall in ERA. This was a unit that was highly suspect going into the season and has turned out to be quite a strength, bolstered by the impressive David Robertson, who has yet to give up a single run. The downfall so far this season has been the starting staff, which has the second worst ERA in all of baseball. We knew the Sox did have issues at the back end of the rotation, but what has been surprising is the inconsistency of the Big Three: Chris Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana. Yet their potential makes it a little hard to give up on them at this point.
So the big question: is this a talented team playing bad, or is this a bad team?
Cameron rightfully points out obvious holes for the Sox: catcher, second and third base, as well as the final two rotation spots. Cameron however claims this is “too many voids for a contender.” Yet what team in the American League, in fact all of baseball, doesn’t have multiple holes throughout the roster? It’s unfair to answer the big question and make a true assessment of any team until sometime around the middle of June. Even Hahn has said that the front office doesn’t start to make an evaluation of the team until the 60 game mark. With the addition of the second Wild Card, having a .500 record by June 15th makes any team a contender. After yesterday’s match up with the Detroit Tigers, the Sox only sit 5 games under .500.
Yesterday, Samardzija pitched a heck of a game against the Tigers and the Sox offense somewhat came to life, scoring five runs. The defense did commit three errors, but it didn’t end up costing the team the win, as the bullpen shut down a potent Tigers offense the last two innings. Is this a sign of more things to come, or is one game, like 22 games, just too small a sample size? Let’s wait until June to find out.
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