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Analysts think White Sox ready to compete in 2016

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Analysts think White Sox ready to compete in 2016

Though fans may be disappointed they haven’t added another signature piece, several prominent sabermetric analysts think the 2016 White Sox already are a contender.

ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski wants the White Sox to add another free agent before camp opens Feb. 19 to address potential depth issues. The additions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, along with two veteran catchers, demonstrate to Szymborski that the White Sox are committed to winning this season. Yet with several projected holes, he’d like them to be even bolder and acquire another league average player or two.

But Szymborski also believes that the White Sox can compete as constructed -- if they hit on many of their moves. A day after Fangraphs.com released his ZiPS (Szymborski Projection System) White Sox projections, Szymborski said Wednesday that the club already is at or near the top of the American League Central. ZiPS projects the White Sox to win 84-85 games this season, the club’s highest projection since 2011.

“They have reason to be happy,” Szymborski said. “Not overjoyed, but happy.

“They’ve had a good offseason. I would still like to see them go after Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, at least one of them. It’s a franchise that still has some holes and it’s a division that’s ripe for the taking.”

Szymborski has run projections with his system since 2004. He projected 78 White Sox victories in 2015 (they won 76 games) and 70 in 2014 (73).

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Whereas individual projections are easier, teams are made tricky because projecting who receives plate appearances and innings pitched is largely unpredictable. Szymborski had the 2014 Texas Rangers winning 85 games before they suffered a rash of injuries and finished 67-95. When Szymborski plugged in the variables after the season (which players would receive X amount of at-bats, etc.), his system suggested a 68-94 record.

His system likes the White Sox rotation -- Chris Sale is projected for 5.9 Wins Above Replacement, Jose Quintana is at 4.1 and Carlos Rodon is at 3.2 -- the bullpen (4 WAR) and three hitters are expected to be worth at least 3 WAR (Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Frazier).

While there isn’t a single player projected between two to three wins, the White Sox have a strong foundation from which to compete. Fangraphs’s Eno Sarris agrees with Szymborski’s assessment the White Sox can contend.

“The standard deviation projection on teams is about five wins,” Sarris said. “That means they’re a contender because they could win 90 games. If they’re projected for 84, 90 would not even be an outlier. Any team that is projected over 81 wins is a contender.”

Where the White Sox could run into issues is depth. They appear to have a thin margin of error, with perhaps only top prospect Tim Anderson ready to contribute in 2016.

The White Sox have a good history of health and once again led the league in 2015 in fewest days lost to the disabled list, according to hardballtimes.com. But one significant injury could derail them.

“If you knew that everybody was going to be healthy all season, than it looks like probably the best team in the division,” Szymborski said. “But when you get past to some of the depth issues once you start losing outfielders, or start losing a pitcher it gets bleak pretty quickly.”

Sarris sees second baseman Brett Lawrie (1.8 WAR), outfielder Avisail Garcia (0.1) and Rodon as the keys to the season. He likes how Rodon adjusted and thinks the left-hander’s higher first-half walk rate could be the outlier given his numbers in college, the minors and late in 2015.

“That (group is) what the season is all about,” Sarris said. “As the team is right now … if two of the three work out, then one can be not as good as the others. But if all three work out, then you’re talking about team that really doesn’t have any holes and is ready to go far into the postseason.”

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Szymborski won’t offer an endorsement for Garcia any time soon. Even though Garcia is slightly expected to improve his OPS-plus from 89 to 95, Szymborski would like to see Fowler, who has a career on-base percentage of .363. He isn’t ready to make any predictions because it’s still January.

But as of right now the White Sox already are on the cusp. So why not add one more?

“(Garcia) is someone you want in an emergency capacity, maybe a pinch hitter off the bench occasionally,” Szymborski said. “You don’t want him to be a Plan A. The White Sox could still use a few more Plan A’s. They don’t have to be six-win guys or four-win guys, but a few average adds here would really improve the chances of the White Sox and kind of even out that risk.

“Fortune favors the bold.

“Baseball’s structure favors the teams that are bold because .500 teams don’t get the high draft picks and they don’t make the playoffs.

“I think they could do more simply because of the opportunity. It’s kind of almost like being pot-committed in a way -- they’ve thrown in most of their chips, and at some point you’re going to throw in all your chips.”

Who knew? Stat nuggets from the White Sox pre-All-Star break season

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Stat nuggets from the White Sox pre-All-Star break season

It’s the All-Star Break, so why not take a look back at the first 58.6% of the White Sox season.

 

They may not be contending quite yet, but there have been several interesting moments. 

 

Focusing on the hitters, let’s take a look at ten amazing achievements this season.  And while there may be several to list for some players, I’m going to limit it to one fact per player.  Let’s go.

 

  • On March 29 (Opening Day), Matt Davidson became the 1st player in MLB history to hit 3 Home Runs in a game in March.
  • On April 23, Yoán Moncada (22 years, 331 days) became the youngest player in White Sox history with a double, triple & HR in the same game, passing Tito Francona (24 years, 205 days) on 5/28/1958.
  • Daniel Palka recorded a triple on May 22nd, making him the first player in White Sox history with 3 triples & 3 HR within his first 20 career MLB games.
  • On July 3, Palka (LF) & Avisaíl García (RF) became the second pair of White Sox outfielders to each hit 2 HR in the same game; the other pair? Minnie Miñoso (LF) and Larry Doby (CF) on July 30, 1957.
  • On May 28, Matt Skole became the first player in White Sox history with a home run AND a walk in his MLB Debut.
  • The lone White Sox walkoff Home Run of 2018 was off the bat of a player who hit .116 for the Sox this season (Trayce Thompson on May 3 – he went 14 for 121 this season for the Southsiders).
  • The White Sox have started a game with backto-back home runs four times in franchise history. 9/2/1937, 7/4/2000, 9/2/2017 & 6/12/2018.  Each of the last 2 times, Yolmer Sánchez hit the second home run.
  • On June 23, Tim Anderson became the first White Sox shortstop ever to homer on his birthday.
  • On June 27, José Abreu hit his 136th career HR and passed Minnie Miñoso for most by a Cubanborn player in White Sox history.  He hit one more since.
  • Leury García managed to become the first White Sox player with at least 10 stolen bases (he has 10) without being caught before the AllStar Break since Mike Cameron (13 for 13) in 1997.

White Sox first-round pick Nick Madrigal was magical in his Kannapolis debut

White Sox first-round pick Nick Madrigal was magical in his Kannapolis debut

After getting just two hits with the Arizona League White Sox, a team for rookies, Nick Madrigal made a big splash in his Low-A debut with the Kannapolis Intimidators.

Madrigal went 3 for 4 with two singles, a double, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored on Tuesday afternoon against the Hagerstown Suns.

It may only be one game, but the fourth overall pick by the White Sox in this year’s MLB draft looks ready to play. Madrigal was almost perfect on his first day, obtaining a .750 batting average with a 1.800 OPS. That’s a pretty promising performance for the infielder who can play shortstop and second base.

Even though the 21-year-old hasn’t even struck out in the minors yet, he wasn’t quite as successful in the Arizona League. In five games and 13 at-bats, Madrigal achieved only a .154 batting average with two runs scored and one RBI. But he’s making up for those numbers.

So far with the White Sox organization, the Oregon State product isn’t walking at a shocking rate. He’s not striking out at all, either. Madrigal proved he’s an efficient contact hitter in college where he only struck out seven times in 2018. At the same time, he only hit three home runs, but he can have sneaky power at times.

Standing at 5-foot-7, 161 pounds, Madrigal was a force to be reckoned throughout his time in the Pac-12 Conference. Last season in college, he impressed many major-league scouts with a .367/.428/.511 slash line and 34 RBIs. He missed time with a hairline fracture in his hand after sliding into home plate back in February, but his strong junior year comeback performance helped make him a 2018 first-round pick.

He was just as good in his first two seasons with OSU. As a freshman in 2016, Madrigal had a .333/.380/.456 slash line with 29 RBIs in 49 games played. In his 2017 sophomore season, the talented hitter played in 60 games, tallied 40 RBIs and attained a .380/.449/.532 slash line with four homers, making it his most powerful season.

In three seasons playing Division 1 baseball, Madrigal also stole a combined 37 bases. He capped off his NCAA career with a College World Series title back in late June. His past production influenced White Sox director of scouting Nick Hostetler in the draft.

“Nick is recognized as one of the best hitters in college baseball, and we’re excited to add him to the organization," Hostetler said. "He possesses tremendous baseball skills, character and makeup…”

Madrigal will try to prove his critics right. Oregon State head coach Pat Casey thinks the young infielder could quickly work his way up to the majors.

“He'll be in the big leagues in 1 1/2 or 2 years,” Casey said. “I get it, you've got to develop. But put him in a big league uniform, and he can play.”