2011 Chicago White Sox: Is the window closing on the South Side?

2010 Record: 88-74, 2nd AL Central
2010 Prediction: 86-76, 1st AL Central
Diff: 2
2011 Prediction: 2nd AL Central

Impact Player: 1B Paul Konerko
Impact Pitcher: LHP John Danks
Best Reliever: LHP Matt Thornton
Top Prospect: LHP Chris Sale

General Manager: Kenny Williams
Manager: Ozzie Guillen (600-535, .529)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Jesse Crain, LHP Will Ohman, DH Adam Dunn

Significant Losses:
OF/DH Mark Kotsay, OF/DH Andruw Jones, DH Manny Ramirez, RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP Bobby Jenks, RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Scott Linebrink, LHP Randy Williams

The White Sox had a fairly successful year in 2010.  They won 88 games on the back of some solid pitching and some decent hitting.  In fact, despite being only eighth in the AL in ERA last season, the Sox led the league in FIP at 3.80, suggesting that they were a little unlucky as a staff in 2010.

Offensively, the White Sox were seventh in runs scored and on-base percentage, they were also fifth in slugging percentage and fourth in home runs.  Overall, the White Sox were able to accumulate 88 wins because of a weak division and a balanced team.

In the 2011 offseason, the White Sox went out and signed probably the best DH on the market in Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56-million deal and the only really impactful loss the team sustained was that of closer Bobby Jenks who signed in Boston for $12-million over two years.  To combat that and also the loss of three other relievers from last year’s ‘pen, the White Sox signed Canadian Jesse Crain to a three-year $13-million deal and lefty Will Ohman to a two-year deal.

With most of the 2010 team intact and Dunn in the fold, the White Sox should have no problem remaining in the conversation in the AL Central in 2011, however, with one of the weakest minor-league systems in baseball and an aging core that includes Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle and A.J. Pierzynski, the window is closing on the South Side.  Look for a regression starting in 2012.

Starting Rotation
Left-hander John Danks is quickly making himself into a top-flight starter and it may surprise you to learn that although it seems like he’s been around a while, he’s still just 26-years-old.  Last year, Danks won 15 games and posted a 3.72 ERA.  He led the team with 213 innings pitched and also posted a 3.70 FIP.  He’s just entering his prime and could solidify himself as number one starter this season.

Buehrle has been the model of consistency in Chicago for the last ten years having posted at least 200 innings and double-digit wins every single season.  He’s also had just one season in that decade with a WAR under 3.4 and has a career walk-rate of 2.06 which is 5th among active starting pitchers in that time.  This is the last year of his contract which could mean the end of an era at season’s end.

Gavin Floyd is a more than solid number-three starter and although his ERA has gone up in each of the last three seasons, his FIP has gone down in those years.  Last season he finished with a 3.46 FIP and had his second straight 4.0+ WAR campaign at 4.3.  Floyd is very underrated.

Jake Peavy has made only 32 starts over the last two seasons due to injuries and posted his worst overall season statistically in 2010 with a 4.63 ERA and 4.01 FIP.  His strikeout rate fell inexplicably as did his groundball rate.  Still, at only 30, if Peavy can regain full health, he could go from being the number four starter on this team to its ace.  The White Sox really hope that’s the case as they will pay him $36-million over the next two seasons.

The fifth starter will be 27-year-old Edwin Jackson who has bounced around from the Dodgers, to the Rays, to the Tigers, to the Diamondbacks and then last year to the South Side for Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg.

Despite his obvious raw talent, Jackson has yet to put it together for a full season and if he doesn’t this year, the White Sox will very quickly regret that trade if they don’t already.  Hudson’s dominance late in the year in Arizona would suggest that he’s on the verge of being a very, very good pitcher.  Jackson did have good peripherals and a career-best FIP last season so he does appear to be on the upswing.

The White Sox were comfortable letting Jenks walk in the offseason because of the emergence of prospect left-hander Chris Sale who came up in September and dominated out the ‘pen posting a 1.93 ERA, 2.74 FIP and 12.34 K/9 rate.  Even though he’ll likely get a crack at the rotation someday, he’ll likely pitch this year in the bullpen to ease him in to the bigs; after all, he was drafted just last June and is the only player from the 2010 draft to have played big-league ball.

Speaking of dominating left-handers, Matt Thornton is still around too.  With Jenks gone, he could close out games in 2011.  Thornton is in a class of relievers that includes very few other members and is coming off another spectacular season where he posted a 2.67 ERA and even better 2.14 FIP.  His 12.02 K/9 rate was tops among all qualified relievers in the American League and fifth in baseball.

Outside of the dominant lefties, the White Sox have three more very solid middle-relievers in Crain, Ohman and former shortstop Sergio Santos.  All three posted ERAs under 3.25 and FIPs under 4.00.  One of the final two spots will likely go to Tony Pena who struggled a bit last season with a dismal 1.25 K/BB ratio and a 4.63 FIP, while the last spot will be a spring battle between Lucas Harrell, Freddy Dolsi, Gregory Infante, Jhonny Nunez and a few non-roster invites including Josh Kinney.  Kinney posted a 1.80 ERA and 17 saves while with AAA-Memphis in the Cardinals organization last season.

Despite rumours that he was headed elsewhere, including Toronto (phew, dodged that bullet), Pierzynski ended up re-signing in Chicago for two more years.  Pierzynski’s not the hitter he once was and has never been a good defender behind the plate, but the Sox could do worse.  His .299 wOBA needs to be better if he’s going to keep the starting job, however.

Pierzynski’s backup will be veteran Ramon Castro who is one of the better backups around.  He posted an .832 OPS and .362 wOBA last season while accumulating a 1.1 WAR in far fewer games than Pierzynski accumulated his 1.8 WAR.  If that continues, Castro will begin taking at-bats away from the starter.

Tyler Flowers is also around and although he was once considered a top-flight prospect, his .220 average and .246 wOBA suggest he’s running out of chances.  He’s not good defensively either which limits his potential.

At first base, Konerko, like Buehrle has been a staple of consistency for the White Sox for over a decade and in 2010 despite having shown some decline in his game over the previous three seasons, Konerko posted his second-best WAR rating at 4.2.  In fact, it was only the third time Konerko had posted a WAR rating over 3.0 in his entire career (overrated, anyone?).  His .312 batting average was 32 points higher than his career average, his 39 home runs were his highest total since 2005, and his .393 OBP was a career-high.

Despite being 35-years-old, White Sox GM Kenny Williams re-signed Konerko to a 3yr/$37.5-million deal.  Methinks they will regret that highly.

At second base will be Gordon Beckham who laid an egg in his sophomore year after a terrific 2009 rookie campaign.  I actually picked Beckham as one of my three MVP picks a year ago; a little overzealous in retrospect, but I still believe he’s a very good player.  His walk-rate fell dramatically and his strikeout rate rose; if he can bring those back in line, he should be fine.  He’ll be no better than average defensively.

Alexei Ramirez will be back at short and appears close to signing with the team long-term.  Ramirez isn’t very patient at the plate and will swing at anything, but he’s still a terrific defensive player.  Combine that with an above average bat and you have yourself a rare combination for shortstops.

Brent Morel enters the year as the likely starting third baseman.  He played only 21 major league games last year so he’ll still be a rookie in 2011.  He raked in AAA in ’10 with a .320/.348/.503 slash line and put up similar numbers in AA, but seemingly forgot how to draw walks.  He does make consistent contact, but unless he improves his patience he might struggle at the major-league level.

Fellow prospect Dayan Viciedo may also have a shot at the third base job.  He has plus power but zero patience and does not have the upside, offensively or defensively, that Morel does.  If Viciedo has a major-league future it’s likely at first or DH.

Mark Teahen had his worst pro season in 2010, but still enters the year with an opportunity to grab the third base job with a solid spring and 44-year-old Omar Vizquel played the most time there last year and could be in the mix as well.  Teahen and Vizquel would probably be better served as utility players off the bench.

Alex Rios had a decent rebound year in 2010 with a .284/.334/.457 slash line and is an above-average centerfielder, but he’s still not close to being worth his bloated contract.  He’s still owed four years and $50-million by the White Sox who picked up his contract in late 2009 from the Jays in an August waiver claim.

When you combine Carlos Quentin’s -22.9 UZR rating in rightfield and his .243 average at the plate, he was a zero-sum player in terms of WAR in 2010 despite an .821 OPS and 26 homeruns.  Dunn was signed to be the DH, but he might be better in the field than Quentin who would certainly be of more value to the Sox if he stayed out of the field.

Veteran speedster Juan Pierre still does all the things he did ten years ago which makes him a very good player.  The 33-year-old stole a career-high 68 bases in 2010 while posting a SB% at nearly 80% and had a 13.9 UZR rating in leftfield.  He’s not going to provide you with any power, but he’s still a solid contact hitter who beats out infield hits with the best of them; only Ichiro and Hunter Pence had more of them in 2010 than Pierre.

Alejandro de Aza and Stefan Gartrell appear to be options for the fourth outfielder spot, although the team is also bringing Lastings Milledge in on a minor-league deal and he could end up making the team.  Milledge had a respectable .277/.332/.380 slash line in Pittsburgh last season and is only 26; he may not be done just yet.

Designated Hitter
Manny Ramirez
, Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones are all gone, but Dunn will be nothing short of consistently powerful at the DH spot for the next four years in Chicago.  Dunn did see his walk rate plummet from 17.4% in 2009 to just 11.9% last year, but should see a rebound in that regard.  In 2010, he became just the third player in baseball history to hit 38 homeruns or more in seven straight years; the other two are Babe Ruth and Rafael Palmeiro.  Dunn could be the most underrated slugger in the game.

For a look at the White Sox lineup and roster, click here.

The White Sox have a well-rounded team devoid of any superstars, but with quality players at nearly every position.  Their lack of organizational depth may be exposed if injuries strike any of their aging vets and they probably don’t have the overall talent to get over the hump and into the playoffs.  They’re a good team, but the AL Central is surprisingly competitive at the top and unfortunately, their window is closing.
Final Prediction: 86-76, 2nd AL Central


2 responses to “2011 Chicago White Sox: Is the window closing on the South Side?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 2011 Chicago White Sox: Is the window closing on the South Side? | Baseball Canadiana -- Topsy.com

  2. The Sox are going to score a TON of runs this year, no doubt about it. Dunn is going to be an absolute beast for them, it all comes down to their pitching and D, but they look like contenders this year for sure.

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