Recapping 2018: Chicago White Sox Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Chicago White Sox Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS

It has been thirteen years since the Chicago White Sox rode a very young and talented team to the promised land. Since taking home the glory in 2005 the team has been to the playoffs one time with nary a series win of which to speak. Things have mostly been downhill since then with good years looking more like wild card faders and bad years being amongst the dregs of the league. After the fifth consecutive losing season, and second in a row of failing to win even 70, fans of the team have to wonder if this is the true bottom that seemed so necessary when the team flipped affordable strong years from Adam Eaton and Chris Sale for seven young, promising players prior to the 2017 season. Following that jettison it would have been foolish to think the White Sox would be a contender this year, but how much progress has actually been made?

It’s often bandied about that it’s easier to improve a bad team than it is a good one since you can find more readily available average players that look better in comparison. Well, easier ain’t easy, either. The team cycled through a plethora of fringe options to see if any would shake out as useful options. For all their effort it looks like the team might have found a couple of guys that can play on a good team, while being able to discard those that aren’t going to work. Mostly this showed up on the reliever side as the team boasted a strong bullpen that saw some attrition as vets were moved for future talent over the course of the year.

Dealing in fringe players has forced the team to deal with considerable weaknesses in the hopes that these will become smaller with experience. This takes the shape of guys that hit the ball really hard, but rarely put it in play or talented defenders that have no hope of hitting or speedy players that can wreak havoc on the bases if only they could get there. With quite a few young players the hope has to be that they can mitigate some of these weaknesses, but even if several of these players improve to better than average players the club will likely need to supplement with talent not currently in the organization. Whether this occurs via the draft over multiple poor seasons, trade and development or spending money in the market will dictate how long this is going to take.

Financial flexibility looks like the shortest cut for a team that used to spend a lot more than today, relatively, but without a skeleton it doesn’t make sense to add muscle. This leaves the team in a bit of a holding pattern as they’re going to need to do a lot of what they did in 2018. Continue to take flyers on fringe players to find the few that are going to be able to contribute and continue to turn vets into promise. That’s likely going to lead to increased frustration, or apathy if you listened to their radio broadcast team at any point this year, but when a team is this far away it’s going to take time to get things lined up.

Coming in around five percent worse than average, I have the White Sox pitching as the less bad of the two components. You can see above that the start of the year was miserable from both the true and actual perspectives. There were blips where the team looked fairly strong during the middle of the season, but the underlying figures did not support the times they had the most success, feeling the pitching was more average than better. The team started to show some consistent promise toward the end, which didn’t carry all the way to the finish line, but did cover around a third of the sample.

The flourish at the finish is something that polarizes analysts as good performance can be chalked up to real improvement or to weaker competition, and at this shallow depth it’s very easy to confuse one for the other. Something to keep an eye on coming into next year will be which players shown below continue to improve and which were the mirage. This is where low-stakes baseball can be beneficial as the team will have significant time to trial these guys, and then be able to scoop the cream.

The best performers for the club were a handful of relievers at various stages of their careers, but all with the singular purpose of being good enough to go elsewhere for something half decent. The team was able to do just that with Joakim Soria at the first trade deadline before subsequently getting smaller returns for the surprisingly effective Luis Avilan, an offseason trade acquisition alongside Soria, and Xavier Cedeno prior to the second deadline. Bad teams turning relievers into future talent is generally a good thing, and the team is well-situated to do that again next year if Jace Fry and Juan Minaya can build upon the strong success they had in 2018.

Developing assets into pieces that invite legitimate trade interest is one thing, but you still need good starting pitchers that can soak up volume efficiently. Carlos Rodon has got the efficiency part down despite missing the first couple months of the season due to what seems like an ongoing shoulder issue. If you find his charts below you can see that his full season numbers were dampened a bit by an incredibly poor finish that was likely owed to either fatigue, injury recurrence or a combination of both. The walk rate looks poor, but was mostly fine until the end-of-season collapse, while the strikeout rates were more pedestrian before seeing their own slide. Managing contact was an absolute strength for the young man with better actual than expected on balls in play, but both marks were quite strong. Rodon looks like a mid-rotation arm at this point, but the health questions will be a real issue going forward.

Carlos Rodon

The rest of the rotation was a mixed bag of age and youth that mostly fell on its face. Old hands like James Shields and Hector Santiago may have filled the time, but neither was anything like a useful pitcher beyond the volume. Standing out from the pack of young lions the team is hoping to develop was Dylan Covey who showed he should be capable of a back of the rotation workload that keeps teams in games even when his ball in play production allowed climbs a little higher to meet expectations. Goosing the strikeout rate would be beneficial, as well, but that’s everybody. He did end the season on a very strong stretch so perhaps he found something to work with. A fairly large increase in workload from 2017 might be a red flag, but the late season performance seems to indicate he was feeling fine.

Dylan Covey

Like the rest of his team, Carson Fulmer just walks too many guys to be seen as a useful piece, and unlike the more highly thought of Lucas Giolito, he doesn’t seem to dampen contact to the same extent with batters mostly teeing off on him. Giolito, himself, could stand to improve both the strikeout and walk rates, but ball in play production looks mostly fine. Lastly, Reynaldo Lopez carried a fairly heavy workload with strikeout and walk rates a little off the average, but close. He saw wonderful results on his balls in play that defy expectations to a large degree so he’s probably someone that will be more highly thought of than is perhaps deserved going into next year.

Lucas Giolito

While the arms above ended the season on something of an upward trend there is almost none of that on the batter side. The best production came at the start of the season, and even then merely eclipsed the average rather than standing out as a strength. There were bad times mixed in with less bad times, but as a team they never really got clicking or went on any sort of notable run of good production. While several relievers played up enough to fetch something at the deadlines, the team wasn’t really able to find a market for the one true offensive piece they did have in Jose Abreu.

The Cuban slugger, and soon to be free agent following the 2019 season, had a fairly strong campaign as the best all around hitter on the team. Many good hitters at his level are more the patience and power type, but Abreu eschews those three true outcome dreams by walking at an average rate, while still reaching very good power to go with better than average strikeout rates. He doesn’t quite get to all of it as his actual production fell a good bit short to a still a little better than average level. This is likely due to being a relatively slower player that turns some of his doubles into singles and singles into outs.

You can see in his charts below that early strong production turned into diminished walk rates and dwindling exit velocity, which would seem to point to playing through an injury that sapped some of his pop. He was able to rebound to finish out the year, but the extended run of poor performance brought everything down. Perhaps, this creates a buying opportunity if you think he’s over the issue, but asymmetric information favors the White Sox as nobody knows the player’s medicals better.

Jose Abreu

The rest of the offense features some promise, but also considerable downside due to gaping weaknesses for most of the players. The pitfalls start with what looks like a nice bright spot with two catchers profiling as average or better hitters in Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith. Looking deeper you’ll find that Baseball Prospectus rates Narvaez as a below average to poor defender and Smith as something around the average, but already hitting his 30’s leading to questions about likelihood of another gear.

Matt Davidson

Matt Davidson can really mash as one of the more powerful hitters in the game, but striking out a third of the time to ignite those fireworks. At least he walks, unlike Avisail Garcia and Daniel Palka, two other prodigious sluggers that strike out aplenty. Perusing the charts below it looks like Garcia likely played through an injury for awhile as he displayed a dramatic and sustained dip in exit velocity. Combined with the increased walk rate he looked like a guy trying to protect himself rather than the aggressive free swinger. Of the three, he’d be the one I would bet on being a good enough hitter going forward. Palka will be 27 next season and Davidson is already there so physical prowess is probably maxed out by now for both, though Palka did show some encouraging signs in his strikeout and walk performance without losing anything on his exit velocity as the season wore on. Those adjustments are nice to see in a bleak year.

Avisail Garcia

Daniel Palka

The worst hitters have very much in common as low walk, high strikeout guys with now power to speak of. Adam Engel and Tim Anderson were two of the worst hitters in the league when combining performance with opportunity. They play premium defensive positions and do contribute a bit more on the bases, but neither should be starting for a club. The team is married to Anderson for a while with four more years of guaranteed money at arb prices and then up to two more years via team option. Still very young there is a chance he can continue to develop, but stagnation is not an option. Engel might be fine as a Peter Bourjos-type fourth outfielder, but I don’t see much beyond that. Yolmer Sanchez combines the lack of power of those two guys, but at least walks and walks back around the league average.

Yet another massively flawed player, but one that inspires real hope at becoming a very good player, is Yoan Moncada. You can see in his charts when the knee issue really started to take over for him. Credit to a guy trying to play through something, but it’s not like he was even an average hitter prior to the pain. The contact is such a massive fissure in his game at this time that he will need to display real gains there before hoping to progress as a hitter. His response to the knee problem was to become more selective leading to a massive bump in walk rate coinciding with a nice decrease in the strikeouts. It wasn’t long before pitchers caught on to the con, and all that was left was the weak contact. Here’s hoping he comes into next season healthy and able to perform. There’s a lot of clay left to mold, but it’s beginning to dry out.

Yoan Moncada

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Jace Fry

Juan Minaya

Luis Avilan

Joakim Soria

 

Omar Narvaez

 

 

Kevan Smith

 

 

 

Nicky Delmonico

Hector Santiago

Chris Volstad

Leury Garcia

 

Reynaldo Lopez

Carson Fulmer

Yolmer Sanchez

 

James Shields

Tim Anderson

Adam Engel

 



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