Previewing the AL Central: Chicago White Sox

Currently the front-runner for my favorite Spring Training Photo - USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox had a fairly quite off-season, but still return enough pieces from last season's surprisingly successful team to make some noise in the AL Central this season.

It's fairly clear that the Detroit Tigers are the class of AL Central, and the Minnesota Twins can expect to find themselves in the cellar. While baseball is difficult to predict, it's difficult to make rational and coherent arguments heading into the 2013 season that any other team in the AL Central should expect to have a better record than the Tigers, or any other team should be expected to have a worse record than the Twins.

The other three teams situations' in the Central are much more fluid, and all could conceivably finish anywhere from 2-4 in the division.The Chicago White Sox surprised many observers in 2012 by leading the Central race for most of the season before eventually succumbing to the Tigers. Their chances to repeat their success from last season depend on their starting pitchers staying healthy and some strong production from veterans in their lineup.

Major Off-season Transactions

The biggest signing the White Sox made this off-season was signing Chris Sale to a five-year extension, which buys out his first year of free agency. It's a worthwhile gamble for Chicago, but it doesn't effect their 2013 season, as Sale was under contract next season regardless.

The White Sox decided to bring Peavy back after the right-hander posted his best season since 2007. A healthy Peavy helps solidify the White Sox rotation, but healthy is the operative statement; Peavy threw more innings in 2012 than he had in 2011 and 2010 combined.

Chicago received a collective -.1 fWAR from their third basemen in 2012, so Keppinger doesn't have to match his career year from last season to give the team an improvement at third.

Goodbye, Pierzynski. A small part of me will miss him; I enjoy how everyone here on Royals Review can come together in our collective loathing of the catcher.

Projected Lineup

PLAYER POS. ZiPS Steamer Oliver PECOTA
Alejandro De Aza CF 2.6 3.3 2.6 2.3
Jeff Keppinger 3B 1.8 2.3 2 0.6
Alex Rios RF 1.8 1.7 1.9 1.9
Paul Konerko 1B 2.4 2.2 2.2 2.2
Adam Dunn DH 1.3 1.4 0.7 1.9
Dayan Viciedo LF 1.7 1.6 1.5 1.2
Alexei Ramirez SS 2.9 2.5 2.1 2
Tyler Flowers C 1.4 2.2 1.9 1.1
Gordon Beckham 2B 1.8 1.8 1.5 1.2

No offense to De Aza, who had a very nice season last year, but when he projects to have the highest WAR out of your starting position players, it's hard to get excited about your lineup. The good news for the White Sox is no one projects to be absolutely abysmal. The bad news for Chicago is that no one projects to be better than above-average.

The White Sox are counting on production from players who could very easily struggle next season. Adam Dunn recovered his power stroke last year, but has seemingly lost the ability to make (somewhat) consistent contact. Alex Rios had great seasons for Chicago and 2010 and 2012, but accumulated -0.5 fWAR in 2009 and 2011 combined. Konerko saw his power slip last season, and is on the wrong side of his aging curve. Ramirez had great seasons in 2010 and 2011, but really struggled at the plate last year.

Viciendo might be more useful as platoon player, but he is still young enough to project some improvement in his overall numbers. Flowers should be fine defender behind the plate and below-average as a hitter, while Beckham continues to disappoint after his stellar rookie season.

If the White Sox catch some good breaks, this lineup could definitely overachieve their projections, as there are players who have been great recently. Of course, the wheels could easily fall off for a number of players. The projection systems split the difference, and see this lineup as slightly below average overall.

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws ZiPS Steamer PECOTA
Chris Sale LH 3.6 3.5 3.3
Jake Peavy RH 2.5 2 2.5
John Danks LH 1.5 0.9 0.7
Gavin Floyd RH 2.2 1.9 1.5
Jose Quintana LH 1.5 0.8 0.4

The White Sox rotation has some name value amongst the top four pitchers in the rotation, but the team's staff is not without their own question marks. Sale pitched dominantly last season, but is expected to regress to the mean, especially with his strand rate.

Sale's violent throwing motion has scouts worried that he is a walking arm injury, while Peavy and Danks have both spent large portions of the past few seasons on the DL. While Chicago has done a good job keeping their pitchers healthy over the past decade, their is still injury risk associated with all three pitchers.

Floyd has been consistently healthy the past five seasons, but his production has been all over the place, and has been trending down the past two years. Jose Quintana was better than advertised for Chicago last season, but his inability to strike people out at the major league level keeps his ceiling low and leaves him little room for error.

If the White Sox can keep their top four pitchers healthy in 2013, I think they have a good shot at out-performing their rotation's projected WAR. Still, the boom or bust potential with these pitchers also seems high.

Bullpen

Addison Reed was average in the team's closer role last year. He appeared to get unlucky with his LOB%, but lucky with his HR/FB%. I'm sure the White Sox would feel more comfortable with Reed if he could raise his K% above 25%. Call me a homer, but if Reed was on the Royals, he would be our fifth best reliever.

Matt Thornton has not been as dominant the past two seasons as he was from 2008-2010, but the lefty is still Chicago's best relief pitcher. Thornton saw his strikeouts drop last season, but compensated by forcing more groundballs.

Matt Lindstrom, Nate Jones and Jesse Crain are all solid but not perfect set-up men. Lindstrom doesn't really strike enough players out to be an elite-level reliever, while Crain and Jones strike out plenty but issue too many walks. None of the relievers should be expected to replicate their sub-3.00 ERA's from last season, but all should still be effective relief pitchers.

Farm System

Top Ten Players (According to John Sickels)

1) Courtney Hawkins, OF, Grade B+:
2) Carlos Sanchez, 2B-SS, Grade B:
3) Trayce Thompson, OF, Grade B-
4) Erik Johnson, RHP, Grade B-
5) Scott Snodgress, LHP, Grade B-
6) Keenyn Walker, OF, Grade C+
7) Joey DeMichele, 2B, Grade C+
8) Andre Rienzo, RHP, Grade C+
9) Keon Barnum, 1B, Grade C+
10) Chris Beck, RHP, Grade C+:

The White Sox have a few solid hitting prospects and one potentially great one in Courtney Hawkins. They don't have lot of depth overall, especially at pitching, and probably will not receive a lot of help from their farm system this season. Per usual, if the White Sox look to improve their roster this season, it will likely come through a trade.


Projected Record

Baseball Prospectus: 79-83

CAIRO: 77-85

Vegas O/U: 80½

Chicago is predicted to finish slightly below .500, which is a fair expectation. They performed better than most expected last season and deserve credit for that, but too many things need to break the White Sox's way for them to repeat that performance.

If the White Sox are still hanging around during the All-Star break, Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn will not be afraid to make a move to improve the team. It doesn't appear like they have a lot of spare assets to offer, but Chicago always manages to get trades done.

I think the White Sox might be the most interesting team in the Central, since it feels like they have quite a few players with really variable performance. Even if they do end up around 80 wins, I doubt their road to mediocrity will be as average as the projection systems predict it will be.

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