April 2014 White Sox Check-In

About a month into the season the White Sox are a game under .500 and right in the middle of the weak AL Central. The offense has looked great, but the pitching hasn’t. Seems like a good time to take a deeper dive.

Offense

Jose Abreu has been about as good as advertised so far, but expectations need to be tempered a bit. He is 27, which is typically when hitter’s hit their prime, so it’s not crazy that he is playing that well. His strikeout rate is a little high, and he isn’t walking a ton just yet. There are three schools of though, either the league will figure him out and he will get worse. He will figure the league and get better. Or both will cancel eachother out. It’s too early to know what we have here. Marcus Simien is 2nd in the AL in strikeouts, and his 3 home runs are probably creating a bit of inflated value, but he has not been very good so far. Gordon Beckham hasn’t been much better in a brief stint.

Alexei Ramirez has been an absolute revelation so far. It’s easy to forget that he is 33 because he is only in his 7th season and looks so babyfaced. He set a team record for April hits, and he already has four home runs (he hasn’t hit more than 21 in a season). For those that understand BABIP, Ramirez has an unsustainably high .365 average right now. He seems to be much better pitch selection than historically. When you consider how consistent he has been over his career it’s hard to see a season long burst like this coming now. Regardless, he has probably positioned himself to be a great mid-season trade chip.

Conor Gillaspie was off to a pretty good start before getting hurt. His 72 plate appearances are too much to tell anything from. Especially because like Ramirez his BABIP was .365. He is still an upgrade or Beckham and Simien whenever he comes back though.

Adam Eaton has been the kind of guy he was advertised as, plays hard all the time, and get’s dirty. He hasn’t been great at the plate though, and he only managed two stolen bases so far. The jury is still out, but there are some good things here. Alejandro De Aza has been the reverse of most of this team, which a horribly bad BABIP. De Aza’s career number is actually better than the ML average so it would seem that he is one of the few candidates on this team to get better rather than worse. He already has 4 home runs and his strikeout rate is down a bit. Without any other options he probably isn’t losing playtime time anytime soon. Dayan Viciedo was thrust into full-time action when Avisail Garcia got hurt.

Viciedo is only 25 and there was definitely still room for growth, so there is definitely some promise to his start. His walks are up, and his strikeouts are down, and even with a high BABIP it might not cancel out everything else. His 9 doubles make up for having just one homer, and also show that he still has some power. Viciedo has been much more selective at the plate, and making contact on pitches in a the strike zone at an improved clip. If he figured something out this winter this improvement could be long term.

Avisail Garcia only lasted 8 games before being lost for the season. It was too early to judge much, but he was showing some real promise. He will be back. Tyler Flowers has been another revelation this season, but he is almost surely going to come back down to earth soon. His walk and strikeout rates are right where they have been, but his BABIP is a ridiculous .563!!! Amongst players with at least 80 plate appearances, that puts hit first by over 120 points. That is sick. And totally not sustainable. Flowers plate discipline has been improved though, so he might not fall completely back to his old ways, but don’t expect this to continue.

Defense

It’s really hard to analyze defense much this early in the season. Tyler Flowers has been one of the better catchers in baseball so far. Abreu has been pretty middle of the road. Alexei Ramirez is off to an unusually lousy start. As for the outfielders, De Aza has been pretty good, Eaton has not been very good, and of course neither has Viciedo. As a team, the White Sox have been one of the worst fielding teams in baseball, but it’s still a small sample size.

Rotation

Chris Sale looked like the guy we hoped he was for 4 starts before getting hurt. He had been overachieving a bit, but it’s also possible that he was just getting better. Of course this doesn’t matter because he got hurt. The fear has forever been that his arm wouldn’t hold up, and this isn’t a good sign. Jose Quintana was supposed to the #2 and he looks good so far. He has been a little unlucky so far but his strikeouts are a bit up and his walks a bit down. Six starts isn’t enough to judge, but so far Quintana looks pretty good. John Danks was a pivotal member of this rotation after two lousy, injury riddled seasons. He is still only 29 so there is time. He strikeout and walk rates are both in the wrong direction from his career averages, and his ERA is being saved by a minuscule home run rate so far. Not going to continue when it gets warm in Chicago. Not much to get excited about here.

Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino were awful. Paulino is on the DL now and Johnson is back in the minors. Having nothing from the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will prevent a team from making the playoffs so this will matter at some point.

Bullpen

The White Sox bullpen has been bad, but not horrible so far, despite how it looks on the field. Their 7 losses are tied for second worst though, and that means that the bullpen has blown at least 7 leads or ties. Ronald Belisario settled down after a rough start, and he has actually been pretty unlucky so far. He has been better than his stats show. Scott Downs has suffered a similar run of bad luck early, and his insane .370 BABIP against should come down at some point. His walk rate is absurdly high too. There has been a lot of focus on “closer” Matt Lindstrom, and thus far his failure to execute in that role. His three blown saves stand out, but it doesn’t end there. Strikeouts are down, walks are up and his BABIP is actually down from his career mark which means this could just get worse from here.

Because the sample sizes for relievers is so small at this point, it’s hard to go too deep. But the team stats are very telling. The White Sox bullpen has the highest walk rate in the majors by a decent margin, and at their time their home run rate is one of the best. Everyone knows that the ball carries in the summer in Chicago, so this probably won’t hold. They also have the lowest strikeout rate. Add that up, and unless some of these new arms step up, this could be ugly.