White Sox

Visiting Royals bring question to mind: How much winning would White Sox have to do to make rebuilding worth it?

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USA TODAY

Visiting Royals bring question to mind: How much winning would White Sox have to do to make rebuilding worth it?

The White Sox are in the painful part of their rebuilding effort, 30 games under .500 in a season where positives have been hard to come by.

The future is undoubtedly bright, but such has been the case for many rebuilding teams over the years. Exhibit A: the Kansas City Royals, on the South Side for three games this weekend.

The Crowns’ much-ballyhooed rebuild landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated and culminated with their emergence from the depths of the AL Central for back-to-back pennants and a World Series win in 2015. It was a wild amount of success for a franchise that went two decades without a playoff appearance, let alone a championship.

No Kansas City baseball fan would trade in those two seasons — which one could argue came a stop at third base away from being two championship seasons — but it’s been an incredible fall from that point since. The Royals went from reigning champs to a third-place team, and they’re now without two of the biggest pieces of those teams — Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, who signed free-agent deals elsewhere this past offseason — and languish in last place.

Essentially, they’re back to square one.

And so the question is an obvious one: Was it worth it? All that time spent developing a generation of top draft picks into a championship roster, and though a championship is a darn fine destination to reach, it was gone in a Thanos-esque snap.

The pre-World Series Royals and the modern-day White Sox are hardly similar cases. The Crowns did nothing in terms of winning following their first World Series title in 1985. Dayton Moore’s rebuilding project didn’t involve tearing things down because, it can be argued, there was nothing to tear down. Rick Hahn, meanwhile, has traded away All-Star players, including a couple of the best pitchers in the game, in an effort to acquire talent that will get the White Sox back to the top of the baseball mountain.

But both teams were “sacrificing seasons,” in a way. The Royals had nowhere near the average expectations that the White Sox carried during their win-now period that featured big-money free-agent signings and acquiring some of the game’s biggest names. Still, none of that worked, and it’s been a decade since the White Sox were last in the playoffs.

That’s led to this point, where there are more important things than major league wins in 2018 for this organization. Hahn’s carefully laid rebuilding plans seem to have the White Sox lined up for what he often refers to as “long-term success,” an annual expectation of contention for World Series championships. But what if the success reaches only what the Royals achieved? Will this process be worth it for White Sox fans?

Certainly the Royals are their own case. Other rebuilding success stories, such as the Cubs and Houston Astros, seem to be nowhere near tumbling back into the mediocrity (or worse) that preceded their World Series wins. The Cubs and Astros are currently two of baseball’s top championship contenders. Though even those fan bases — to this point, with just one championship parade apiece — might have that question in the back of their minds: If one title is all they yielded, were the three, four, five years of last-place finishes worth it?

For a number of fans, the answer could very well be yes. While expectations seem to rise by the second on the North Side, there are plenty of long-suffering Cubs fans who were completely sated by 2016’s result. Surely there are similar feelings in Houston, as well, and Kansas City, for that matter.

Would one championship — and one championship only — satisfy White Sox fans who are currently sitting through this process? It probably would satisfy some, perhaps many.

But that’s not what Hahn is trying to do. Looking at that possibility might count as pessimistic, though there’s an embodiment of that possibility in the White Sox own division. Hahn, though, has acquired an awful lot of talent, referring to the depth as “waves” that could continue to power contenders for years to come. There are enough star prospects at this point to make two entire squads of future White Sox winners.

Do all those prospects win one championship? Two? More? At what point was the losing worth it?

Hahn and the White Sox are hoping and planning that it ends up being very much worth it, or else things wouldn’t be in the current state. But the prospect of winning just one championship — or no championships — is a real one. Even if rebuilding brings success, it brings no guarantee of sustained success.

The White Sox need to only look across the field — and beneath them in the standings — to know that.

Eloy Jimenez reaches 30-home run mark in rookie season

Eloy Jimenez reaches 30-home run mark in rookie season

It took a couple months for Eloy Jimenez to get going in his rookie season, but the prized White Sox outfielder is meeting most reasonable expectations for his first year in the majors.

Jimenez smacked his 30th home run of the season Sunday in Detroit, which represents a notable round number milestone. Jimenez now has eight home runs in September and it’s only the 22nd of the month.

Jimenez launched a 2-0 slider to left center in his first at-bat to give the White Sox an early lead in Detroit.

A 30-home run season is a long way from the player Jimenez looked like in April and May. Entering June 1, the 22-year-old was hitting .220/.273/.390. He was struggling to lay off sliders out of the zone and looked a bit lost at the plate.

In June, Jimenez looked like the talented hitter the White Sox believed he was capable of becoming. He hit .284/.340/.602 with eight home runs, including a memorable go-ahead home run in Wrigley against the Cubs.

An injury playing the field in mid-July in Kansas City cost him a couple weeks and seemed to disrupt whatever rhythm he was building in June. This month, Jimenez is once again showing his elite potential. He won AL Player of the Week last week.

Jimenez’s overall numbers now have the look of a solid, promising, albeit still flawed rookie season. After Sunday, Jimenez is hitting .269/.318/.514. The power is there, but the batting average and walk rate are both lower than most expectations for him long-term. However, to put up an above average overall season at the plate as a rookie while dealing with two stints on the injured list is definitely a strong base to build from.

Expectations will be higher for Jimenez in 2020. Many will expect him to take a step towards becoming a middle of the order hitter for years to come. For now, it’s safe to look at Jimenez’s 30th home run as proof of a solid rookie campaign.

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Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Even as the White Sox finish up the final stretch of their seventh consecutive losing season, the games they are playing aren’t meaningless -- Jose Abreu acknowledged as much when he said that the 2020 season “starts in September”. Key contributors in the White Sox lineup have clearly taken that to heart, as the Sox offense has been one of the best in baseball in the month of September. 

Here are four numbers* that reflect what has been a torrid stretch for the Sox offense to close the season:

*All stats as of the morning of September 21

Three

Three has been a magical number for the White Sox in September. For one, going into play Saturday, the Sox boast the top three leaders in hits for the month: Tim Anderson (32), Yoan Moncada (29) and Eloy Jimenez (28). The team as a whole is also third in baseball in total bases (319) and OPS (.832) in September -- only trailing the Astros and Yankees in both categories, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. 

Unrelated to the number three, but also worth noting, the team is leading the majors in batting average this month:

 

10

Ok, we cheated a little bit here -- 10 makes this list as a reference to Yoan Moncada’s jersey number, but in fairness, we needed a full section to highlight all Yo-Yo has done at the plate this month. He enters play Saturday as the major league leader in batting average (.444) and WAR (1.6) in September, and is currently working on a streak of five consecutive multi-hit games (he has 12 since the start of the month). 

To give even more of an idea of how scalding hot of a stretch it has been for Moncada, here is a side-by-side of his full-season slash-line on September 1 compared to September 21 (a stretch in which he has played 16 games):

  • September 1: .288/.342/.518 (.860 OPS)

  • September 21: .314/.368/.547 (.915 OPS)

Oh, and that .314 batting average? As of Saturday, that's only one point behind Michael Brantley for third in the AL. If Moncada can usurp Brantley, him and Anderson would make up two-thirds of the best three batting averages in the AL. *In best Larry David voice* Preeeeetty, pretty good.

27

“When I feel good, I don’t know, it’s just reaction. I don’t try to do too much and [I] just try to hit it on the barrel,” Eloy Jimenez said post-game last night, in reference to his grand slam against the Tigers. 

The Sox as a team are certainly employing that mentality this month, and the data reflects it. According to Baseball Savant, the White Sox lead baseball in balls batted with an exit velocity of greater-than-or-equal to 108 mph in September with 27 (the next closest team is the Yankees, with 20). Three such instances occurred in last night’s 10-1 rout in Detroit, including Moncada’s 24th home run of the season:

 

118

wRC+ is a weighted, park-controlled measure of a player’s ‘runs created’ wherein the league average is 100 and a player’s proximity to 100 determines how above or below average they register (if you’re curious, there is a great explainer of wRC+ on Fangraphs).

The White Sox have struggled in this metric for most of the season -- their wRC+ as a team is 92 (eight percent below league average), which ranks 20th in baseball. However, in September, the Sox collectively have a wRC+ of 118 -- a whopping 18 percent better than league average -- which ranks fourth in MLB for the month. It’s over a small sample size, as all of these stats are, but it remains an encouraging indicator that the offense is ending the year on a strong note. 

The offseason will officially be upon us soon enough, but if the Sox continue to rake, as they have been all month, there’s still time for a couple exciting moments and performances before the long wait for 2020.

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