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).
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.”