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2013 Preview: Chicago White Sox

Mar 18, 2013, 2:42 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Chicago White Sox.

The Big Question: Will the White Sox again exceed low expectations?

Last year at this time the White Sox were coming off a disappointing 79-win season and had lost Mark Buehrle to free agency, fired Ozzie Guillen and replaced him with a manager totally lacking in experience at any level, and further retooled by trading Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos. Expectations were so low that Las Vegas set their over/under win total at 75 and many people wondered why the front office stopped short of a full-scale rebuild.

And then they won 85 games.

This offseason Chicago re-signed Jake Peavy to a favorable contract but again shed talent, as A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers, and Francisco Liriano walked via free agency and the biggest additions were Jeff Keppinger and Matt Lindstrom. And so expectations remain low, with Las Vegas setting the over/under at 80 wins. I think they’ll beat that total, not because the White Sox are a particularly great team but because they’re clearly a decent team and the unbalanced schedule means someone in the AL Central besides the Tigers is going to finish above .500.

There are plenty of potential stumbling blocks for the White Sox emerging as that team, of course. Tyler Flowers has a very difficult task replacing A.J. Pierzynski’s production and durability behind the plate. Counting on Peavy to stay healthy in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-2007 is iffy and the rotation has other health question marks in John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Robin Ventura needs to get some kind of offensive help from the Keppinger, Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez infield trio so the lineup doesn’t lean so heavily on Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios.

Because of all that the White Sox making a legitimate run at the AL Central title deep into the season looks unlikely, but unless the rotation falls apart because of injuries it’s also hard for me to imagine Chicago not finishing above .500. And yet if they do beat Las Vegas’ preseason expectations again it would be the White Sox’s first time with back-to-back winning seasons since 2005-2006.

What else is going on?

• For all the talk of teams making mistakes by shifting dominant young relievers to the rotation only to see them struggle and/or get hurt Chris Sale did exactly that for the White Sox last season and it couldn’t have gone better. At age 23 he was among the AL’s top five in wins, ERA, WHIP, opponents’ batting average, and strikeout rate, throwing 192 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 192/51 K/BB ratio before signing a long-term contract that could keep him in Chicago through 2019. Sale holding up physically in Year 2 as a starter might be the biggest key to the White Sox’s season.

Dayan Viciedo showed a lot of power at age 23, smacking 25 homers in his first full season, but his overall production was lacking for a corner outfielder who isn’t a plus defensively. He hit just .255 with a measly .300 on-base percentage, striking out 120 times in 147 games while drawing a pathetic 20 walks in 543 trips to the plate. Despite playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark Viciedo’s all-around offensive contribution was below average among MLB left fielders even without factoring in his defense. Viciedo is obviously not without long-term potential, but power vastly overstated his 2012 value.

Addison Reed posted a 4.75 ERA that suggests he wasn’t very effective as a 23-year-old rookie closer, but he allowed 21 percent of his total runs in one May appearance. In his other 61 games Reed threw 55 innings with a 3.75 ERA and 53/15 K/BB ratio while converting 88 percent of his save chances. He also averaged 94.6 miles per hour with his fastball. As a fly-ball pitcher in a power-inflating ballpark Reed will always be walking on relatively thin ice, but the White Sox have the ninth inning figured out for the foreseeable future.

• Dunn had a bounceback season after a miserable 2011, boosting his OPS by 231 points. That’s an amazing turnaround and it’s also amazing that he managed an .800 OPS while hitting just .204. In fact, while leading the league in both strikeouts (222) and walks (105) and ranking fifth in homers (41) he had the highest OPS of all time for someone with a sub-.220 batting average. By comparison, 25 players last season hit .280 or higher and posted a lower OPS than Dunn. It might not always be pretty, but production is production.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central

  1. proudlycanadian - Mar 18, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    Not likely! How about 4th place?

    • dirtyharry1971 - Mar 18, 2013 at 9:58 PM

      Having a senior moment again proudly? This article is about the “white sox” not the bluejays

  2. tc4306 - Mar 18, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    Many “experts” are predicting regression for Rios, Konerko and Ramirez, while holding up health/performance question marks on Sale, Viciedo, Dunn, Danks, Floyd, Flowers & Reed. Some wonder which Peavy will show up. Those same experts have predicted improvement in KC and Cleveland.

    Yet the novel always ends the same:
    with a prediction that the White Sox will finish 2nd in the division.

    Makes one wonder how much thought goes into these things. Can you really reconcile questions and regression predictions on half the White Sox lineup with a prediction that they’ll still finish 2nd despite Cle and KC improving?

    Seems like our expert friends are wanting it both ways. No matter what happens they can claim they were “right” about either the finish or the regression while simply ignoring the other half of their prediction.

  3. jlovenotjlo - Mar 18, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    The AL Central was the White Sox’s to lose last season, and lose it they did. With 15 games remaining they sat 3 games up in the Tigers, only to go 2-10 in their next 12 games. What a meltdown.

    As far as I’m concerned, Detroit hasn’t really shown itself to be the powerhouse everyone claims it to be for the last year. The White Sox should have the better rotation top to bottom, and most definitely a better bullpen. There are a few keys to the season, including a healthy John Danks. Tyler Flowers will have trouble matching AJ PierZynski’s production, but I really think his power will show through. Viciedo is working on reconfiguring his swing. I am excited for this season.

    • Kevin Gillman - Mar 18, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      The other two teams the Sox are really competing against, the Indians and Royals have greatly improved. I have the utmost respect for the White Sox rotation, they might actually be better than Detroit’s. But Cleveland’s bullpen is better than the White Sox, and Tigers. The Royals have a better offense than Chicago. I’ll just say it will be very interesting, and it will be a tighter division race than it seems.

      • jdd428 - Mar 18, 2013 at 4:28 PM

        I don’t see how the Indians have improved. I might consider Bourn as a nice addition, but Choo is gone and is Swisher really a huge upgrade? Or Stubbs? Their rotation isn’t close to being on par. And aside from Pestano, I don’t see a strong bullpen at all in Cleveland.

        I think the Royals are pretty good and I like the additions of Shields and Davis. However, I’m not sure those two will provide the full upgrade they’re expecting for the price they paid.

        I honestly think there could be three AL Central teams over .500 because the Twins are pretty bad. I don’t think the White Sox are great by any stretch, but I don’t think the Tigers are either despite all the love they’re getting as defending AL champs (yet they wouldn’t have even made postseason if the Sox hadn’t collapsed). So, it’s a winnable division for any of the four teams not based in Minnesota. I think the Indians are fourth, but I can see the other three finishing in any order.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 18, 2013 at 4:51 PM

        The Indians have Pestano and Joe Smith backing up Chris Perez, who has notched 35 saves or more for two straight seasons. The Indians also have Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone in the middle relief, two young kids that can fire it up, and more importantly get hitters out. You ask if the Indians have improved? Their outfield defense alone has improved. You know now that when the ball hits the gap, nine times out of 10, those 3 guys will get the ball, and save some runs for the pitchers. Lonnie Chisnehall will be ready to contribute all season long, an improved Jason Kipnis, who already has put up decent numbers, but will only get better with the added protection. Mark Reynolds is a guaranteed 25 HRs from the DH, which is something the Indians haven’t had since 2007. And Nick Swisher, who has been consistent his entire career. You know you will get 24 HRs, 80 RBIs. This is a more balanced team, since 2007, a team that won 96 games that season, and was one win away from going to the World Series. Now, I am not saying that will happen, but I am saying this team is better than anyone thinks.

      • jdd428 - Mar 19, 2013 at 2:58 AM

        Mark Reynolds may hit 25 homers but that also may come with a .225 average at best and 225 strikeouts, so I’m not really sure that’s really a good thing. Like I said, Pestano is very good, but Perez is a headcase and Smith is a dime-a-dozen loogy. I’ll buy into Allen and Hagadone when they’ve accomplished something. While I like Kipnis, Chisenhall has yet to impress to the point of meeting expectations and Cabrera has declined since his near-MVP quality season. Santana is a stud but he hasn’t returned to his pre-injury status yet. I don’t believe Stubbs is a better outfielder than Choo. Masterson has shown flashes of ace ability, along with a lot of inconsistency – and the rotation drops off significantly behind him. Bottom line, I don’t think they’re better than the Tigers, Sox or Royals.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 19, 2013 at 12:47 PM

        jdd, last season when the Indians were down 3-0 in the first 2 innings, the game in most cases was over with. That won’t happen this season, and we can also say strikeouts can be overrated, or it can be frustrated. I know what Reynolds can do, and even hitting just .225, he helped the Orioles make the postseason last year. Perez might be a headcase, but he’s sort of OUR headcase, if that makes sense. Chris improved as a pitcher last year too, throwing first pitch strikes, not walking as many, and his WHIP was signifigantly lower. No reason why he can’t do that, again. Pestano is one of the more underrated relievers. He puts up similiar numbers as Venters, yet does not get the same publicity, probably because he has pitched for the Indians, but this might be his season. Joe is solid as they come too, plus if he is sliding, we know Allen and Hagadone can do the job. Chisenhall needs to stay healthy, the good news is he had fluke injuries that more than likely will not happen again, but he has improved defensively the last few years, and as a hitter. The best thing is he will hit 8th, not 6th, which means no pressure. Santana had 27 HRs in 2011, that’s not bad. He will have more offense around him too, which will also help Cabrera, and Kipnis. They won’t have to carry the team on their backs, and while they are young, they will learn from guys like Swisher, Bourn, and Reynolds. Speaking of Michael, he will be on base more than any other lead off hitter the Indians have had, which means it will give more RBI situations for Asdrubal and Kipnis. I don’t know if you realize this or not, but Choo lost a step with his defense, and now he’s going to play CF for the Reds. Don’t get me wrong, I will miss Choo, but Stubbs is younger, faster, and more athletic than Choo, not to mention he can hit more HRs than Choo. It was a great trade for both teams, because the Reds received their lead off hitter, and Choo will get on base for them, and the Indians have a young outfielder who should do well for them, and he is still young enough where he can improve offensively. But, the pitching is where it counts. Ubaldo has walked just 3 men in spring training, which is great to see, and Masterson needs to be more consistent, but he has the talent to do it. Francona will help him, something Manny Acta had no answers for, at all. Mark my words, the Indians will be better than what you think. There is a reason to be optimisitc in Cleveland.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 18, 2013 at 7:26 PM

        and is Swisher really a huge upgrade?

        CLE OF last year:

        CF – Brantley – .288/.348/.402 – 113 OPS+
        RF – Shin-Soo Choo – .283/.373/.441 – 131 OPS+ (gone)
        LF – Duncan – .203/.288/.388 – 90 OPS+
        LF – Damon – .222/.281/.329 – 73 OPS+

        Swisher, last 4 years with the Yanks:
        .268/.367/.483 – 124 OPS+

        How is that not an upgrade?

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 18, 2013 at 7:49 PM

        How is it that people can’t see how big of an upgrade the Indians picked up this offseason? HRs alone is a huge upgrade. Not to mention defense, Choo’s defense has slipped, where Stubbs had done well there last year. This will be a fun team to watch, for any Indians fan.

      • jdd428 - Mar 19, 2013 at 4:40 PM

        Kevin, Stubbs’ defense isn’t gold-glove caliber as it seems you’re implying. And offensively his AVG and OPS have gone down every year in his four seasons. I’ll take Choo over him every day of the week and twice on Sundays (forced cliche!).

        Francona over Acta is a major upgrade, I’ll give you that. I think the world of Pestano, so you don’t have to sell me on him. But Sox fans remember what Swisher was like when he didn’t have a lineup around him that included Jeter, Cano, Granderson and Teixiera – and that’s the Swish I think you’re getting.

        Reynolds’ homers weren’t why the Orioles made it to postseason. They had a few other important pieces that were more key, namely Adam Jones. And they got to a point where they brought up their hot prospect shortstop to play third base so Reynolds wouldn’t have to be in the lineup everyday. I think that move will backfire for Cleveland.

        By all means, you can be optimistic. I’m not saying they can’t finish above .500 and in 2nd place. I’m just saying that I’m not expecting it.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 19, 2013 at 10:24 PM

        I had seen Stubbs play CF very well, and that was not the reason the Reds traded him. I also am full aware of his OPS, but he has worked on his swing, and is playing well in Spring. I realize it’s spring, but it’s a good sample to have.

        I also know full well that Nick Swisher was not playing well in Chicago, but it seems to me he is the scape goat for the season he played in, for some reason. Ozzie had hit him lead-off, he is not a lead-off hitter. I also am fully aware that he won’t have Jeter, Teixera, and Rodriguez, but what he has hitting around him aren’t scrubs either. Swisher also has done everything in his career. He has done well, he has done poorly, he has won rings, he has lost playoff games. The Indians had no veteran leadership last season, especially when they lost 10 in a row. So even with some of the things he can’t do, he can do the little things to help a young team get over the hump.

        Reynolds also had some big hits in September, when it counted the most. But the one key factor in all of this? Michael Bourn. Compare the Indians outfield production last season to what they are projecting to do this season. That and their defense automatically increases the Indians chances.

        I get you won’t see it my way, and that is fine, but we might talk at the end of the season, and see where we stand…LOL

      • jlovenotjlo - Mar 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM

        Not disrespecting the Royals and Indians, but I’ll simply believe it when I see it when it comes to those teams winning. The only reason the Indians stayed in the division race until July was a crazy amount of luck in 1 run and extra inning games.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 19, 2013 at 10:15 PM

        It’s not luck if they have a shut down bullpen at the end, like Smith, Pestano, and perez were. The Indians also had a good record in one run games in 2011 too. I also gave you the reasons why the Indians have a shot at being better, all are legitimate. But, it is on the players now, so we will see when the season begins in two weeks.

      • jdd428 - Mar 25, 2013 at 12:18 AM

        Kevin, you’re right when you say we’re just not going to agree on opinions. But facts are indisputable.

        I agree when you say Swisher is not a leadoff hitter – but to say his bad year with the Sox was because he was leading off is not accurate. He played in 153 games that year and only led off 29 times. And when he did lead off he had a .354 OPB – higher than when he was in any other spot in the lineup.

        His bad year wasn’t because he was leading off, it was just a flat out bad year. So, I won’t believe he’ll have a big impact with Cleveland – in a lineup without Jeter, Cano, Grandie and Tex – until he actually does it.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 25, 2013 at 8:04 PM

        How about this, the Indians do not have a young kid hitting cleanup, like they had most of last season, with Carlos Santana. How about this? The Indians now have a balanced team, we haven’t even talked about the impact Michael Bourn will have on this lineup. NOW a manager can go hit and run, with Cabrera, or Kipnis hitting 2nd. Our leadoff hitters were terrible. We finally settled on Choo, but Choo never had the speed that Bourn has. They also have more power in their everyday lineup, and the bench are filled with veterans. We don’t have Jason Donald as our utitlity infielder, it belongs to Mike Aviles. Our defense will be many times better than where they were last season. We have one of the fastest outfields in the league, maybe even the fastest. One way or another, this team is not only built to contend this season, but also beyond. Just a week away, regardless. I say let’s watch and find out.

  4. Kevin S. - Mar 18, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    I’m not sure I buy the logic that somebody other than the Tigers *has* to finish above .500 in the division because of the unbalanced schedule. Any one of Chicago, Cleveland or Kansas City *could* have a bunch of things go right for them and get into the mid-80s wins, but if the mediocrity doesn’t show any real separation from each other, I could very easily see all three teams in the high 70s because they couldn’t handle non-divisional play.

    • Kevin Gillman - Mar 18, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      Kev, last year at this time I would bet you were saying the same thing about the Orioles and Athletics. But they both made the postseason. The White Sox were pushing the Tigers all season long, the Indians were doing the same thing through July 26th until they hit a tailspin that put the rest of the season out of reach. The point is this is why you play the game. The one thing the Indians did well in was one run games, the problem is obviously they didn’t do that enough, but with the improved offense, and defense, they could finish over .500, and who knows. But I have a better feeling about this season than I did last season, and it starts with the manager.

      • Kevin S. - Mar 18, 2013 at 5:53 PM

        I think you misunderstood what I said there. I wasn’t saying that Chicago, Cleveland and KC *will* all end up below .500, only that I see a way where they *could.* Aaron didn’t even allow for that possibility. He’s the one excluding possible outcomes, not me.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 18, 2013 at 5:56 PM

        Okay, my apologies. And you’re right, it could go either way. But there is always a chance…LOL

      • jdd428 - Mar 19, 2013 at 3:06 AM

        Kevin, Aaron indicated that at least ONE of those teams will finish above .500, and I agree – mainly because Minnesota will be pretty bad. Sure, you can come up with reasons why each one *could* finish with a losing record. But unless you believe Detroit is going to win about 120 games and beat up on the entire division, one of those other teams is going to finish above .500.

      • Kevin S. - Mar 19, 2013 at 8:26 AM

        Not necessarily. If all three go roughly .500 against each other, I don’t think 18 games against the Twins *has* to balance out 104 games against the Tigers and the non-divisional teams.

      • Kevin Gillman - Mar 19, 2013 at 12:34 PM

        The Indians were actually competitve last season against the AL East. When they were contending in July, they had a winning record, but then after that every team beat them, so who knows. The key to any team in the AL central is pitching. But regardless, the Indians will be a fun team to watch now.

  5. xjokerz - Mar 19, 2013 at 5:37 AM

    Silly sox fans … Detroit did go to the World Series along with a top 3 rotation and offense … You’re not stopping the tigers. Tho they do have a question at closer … Good thing we have porcello and smyly as trade chips.

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