This baseball offseason has moved at a faster pace than most in recent years, but there’s still a ways to go. A lot of the marquee free agents are off the board, which means it’s possible to make early, incomplete judgments about which teams are having the best offseasons.
The White Sox have been one of the busier teams, netting free agents Yasmani Grandal, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnacion and trading for Nomar Mazara. That has led to baseball insider Jon Heyman saying the White Sox are the most improved team so far this offseason.
Most improved teams so far: 1. White Sox 2. Yankees. 3. Angels. 4. Reds. 5. Rangers. 6. D-Backs. 7. Phillies. 8. Mets. 9. Jays. 10. Padres.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 26, 2019
Adding five MLB players without losing any notable ones off the big-league roster before the calendar turns into the new year is certainly a good basis for an argument. But just how much better are the White Sox with these additions?
Using WAR can provide a ballpark number on how much these players will add to the White Sox, even if it’s imperfect as an overall metric. Starting with the hitters, it’s an amusing note that James McCann was worth 3.8 WAR (per Baseball Reference) last year while Grandal was 2.5. It may be unrealistic to see McCann replicating his All-Star season in 2020, but the White Sox probably won’t get much better overall at catcher as far as WAR is concerned.
The other two position player upgrades tell a very different story. The White Sox were dead last in WAR at right field (-1.8) and DH (-0.4). In terms of collective WAR, only two teams had worse production at a position than the White Sox did in right field: Detroit Tigers catchers (-2.2) and Texas Rangers catchers (-2).
Mazara was a 0.7 WAR player in 2019, which is nothing special. That said, considering he’s replacing a collective -1.8, that could be a two- or three-win improvement for the White Sox.
At DH, Encarnacion was a 2.8 WAR player last season. That’s a three-win improvement there.
As for the starting pitchers, the White Sox ranked 23rd in baseball with 5.6 WAR. This one is trickier with Keuchel and Gonzalez joining their teams in the middle of the season. Keuchel and Gonzalez combined for four WAR last season, but that could go up to around five with full seasons for both. Ivan Nova was worth 2.1 WAR last year and is gone, but there were also negative WAR players getting starts in Odrisamer Despaigne (-0.3), Ervin Santana (-0.3), Manny Banuelos (-0.4), Ross Detwiler (-0.5) and Dylan Covey (-1.2). Just based on WAR, the White Sox rotation could be five or six wins better.
This is all a generalization based on imperfect stats and projections, but it does support the fact that the White Sox are much improved (if simply seeing the signings wasn’t enough proof of that). The White Sox will still need their young core to get better, but the stats back up the White Sox being significantly better in 2020.
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