White Sox 2020 first-quarter numbers are hopeful, and concerning

Typically we wouldn’t take a 15-game sample size too seriously. We’ve seen AAAA players have hot stretches before, teasing fans with staying power until the league gets more looks against them. Conversely, proven veterans that churn out MVP-type numbers still have slumps that can stretch out 10 games or more. It happens to every player, and in the course of a regular 162-game schedule, the end-of-season numbers tell the truth.

In a 60-game season, we have no choice but to take the 15-game sample size seriously. Yes, it’s still a small sample size, but 2020 is the ultimate small-sample-size season. For most teams, they already completed 25 percent of the season. Some players have put themselves in a terrific position for Cy Young or MVP consideration. Some teams are unexpected playoff contenders. Sure, we have 75 percent of the season remaining, but it’s only 45 games. There isn’t much time left to change a player’s or team’s final outcomes.

Where do the White Sox stand after passing the first quarter of 2020? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Team Hitting

  • Good News: White Sox have the best offense in the American League with no runners on base. 
  • Bad News: The White Sox are below average with runners in scoring position.

Overall, the White Sox ranked ninth in MLB with a team OPS of .746. One could look at the number and try to convince themselves this unit is a Top-10 offense in baseball. You’ll see the team batting average, which is second-best in baseball, show up in broadcasts to help build the narrative that the White Sox hitters are dangerous.

They can be, but as we’ve seen in the first quarter of 2020, the White Sox can struggle to put runs on the board. The White Sox lineup has scored three or fewer runs in 60 percent of their games (9-for-15). Is that a top-10 offense?

No, it’s the sign of a boom-or-bust offense. One reason the White Sox are in high regard offensively to start 2020 is their numbers without runners. They lead the AL with a team wRC+ 121 and hitting .277/.333/.436. Getting on base hasn’t been the issue early in 2020 for the White Sox.

The problem is how hitters perform when runners are in scoring position. A team wRC+ 86, and a slash line of .211/.281/.374 is just as painful to look at when watching White Sox hitters in these crucial situations. Jose Abreu leads the team in at-bats with runners in scoring position, and, to be quite frank, he’s been awful to start 2020. Abreu has seven RBIs, but he has three hits in 20 at-bats while grounding into just as many double plays. If you want to see a team turnaround with runners in scoring position, it starts with Abreu.

Team Pitching 

  • Good News: The White Sox bullpen is good.
  • Bad News: The White Sox starting pitching is a bottom-10 unit

One of the bright spots for the 2020 White Sox has been the bullpen. Besides Drew Anderson making a mess of things in his last (and only?) appearance, the White Sox relief corps has been a top-10 unit in baseball with a team FIP of 3.49 and a 3.54 xFIP. They rank ninth in MLB with an 18.5% difference in K% (26.9%) and BB% (8.4%) and 13th in left-on-base percentage at 74.9%. Steve Cishek’s LOB of 68.2% is bringing down that team total.

It’s good that the White Sox bullpen has been performing well to start 2020 because they have already covered 70 innings this season. That’s third-most in baseball and 51.8% of the White Sox’s workload to date. The reason for that heavy usage is White Sox starting pitching hasn’t been as good.

We’ll get to Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Dylan Cease in a moment, but the starters rank 20th in MLB with a 4.86 ERA and 23rd in FIP (4.92). The difference in K% and BB% is almost half of the bullpen (9.8%), thanks to a 21st-ranked 10.1 BB%. The White Sox starters have been pitching better as of late. Still, the rough start to 2020 against division rivals Minnesota and Cleveland is impacting their numbers.


Luis Robert

Luis Robert is off to a great start in his rookie campaign hitting .322/.385/.492 with a 152 wRC+. Add in his baserunning and defense, and Robert ranks in the Top 10 in fWAR and bWAR (0.9 and 1.0). He’s currently on pace to have a 3.5 to 4.0 WAR season in just 60 games. If you want to get excited, expand that trend over a regular 162 game season. The White Sox have an exceptional talent on their hands.

Regression should soon be on the way. Robert has a .486 BABIP thanks to frequent loud contact with a 40.5% hard-hit rate (exit Velocity 95+ mph) and being one of the fastest players in the league. It’s not entirely out of the question that Robert carries a similar .400 BABIP like Yoan Moncada did last year. Still, we knew strikeouts were coming. They are arriving in bunches, having been punched out nine times in his previous 17 plate appearances.

Pitchers are challenging Robert with breaking stuff low and away just like Eloy Jiménez faced last year. But another weak spot in Robert’s game are pitches up and in the zone. As seen in the graph above, Robert has trouble making quality contact and has yet to get a base hit with a pitch located in that part of the zone.

While he does learn how to hit those pitches, it’s been promising that Robert is taking his walks. He’s tied with Moncada with a 9.2% BB rate, second on the team behind Yasmani Grandal.

Eloy Jimenez

With a hard-hit rate of 55.6%, Eloy Jimenez puts up insane exit velocity numbers averaging 92.6 mph on balls in play. Jimenez’s expected batting average is .278 with an expected .587 slugging percentage.

But his actual batting average is .229 and slugging is .458. Why the significant disparity between his real and expected numbers?
Put merely, Jimenez is hitting too many grounders. His swing and chase rates are very similar to last year, but Jimenez is hitting 5% more grounders (52.8%), and the pull rate has dropped by 12 points (22.2%). Those rates are not ideal and also not taking advantage of loud contact Jimenez is making.

Jose Abreu

Jose Abreu looks like he has decided to stop walking. A putrid 3% walk rate is not helping the White Sox offense continue rallies. His wRC+ is now at 92, which means he’s 8% below league average hitter. As mentioned earlier, Abreu’s slow start is impacting the White Sox ability to manufacture runs. Those concerned about Abreu signing a three-year contract extension might be feeling vindicated. It hasn’t been a good 15 games at the plate.

But in his six years with the White Sox, we’ve seen this before. Abreu is a streaky hitter. One month he disappears, and the next, he’s hitting like a Silver Slugger. If Abreu can adjust by displaying more patience, especially with RISP, he’ll get more pitches up in the zone, which he can still crush. Abreu, like Jimenez, has a high ground ball rate at 51%.

Yasmani Grandal

Signing Yasmani Grandal signaled the end of the rebuild and the start of contending. Offensively, Grandal has never been much of a contact hitter. His value comes with high on-base and slugging percentages. His .256 batting average would stand as a career high.

Fans are not seeing the power from Grandal early in 2020. With a slugging percentage of .302, Grandal has yet to hit a home run during the regular season and only has two doubles. On top of the early power outage, Grandal is striking out 34% of the time, which is alarming (career rate is 23.6%). Grandal’s been weaker from the left side, hitting .200/.250/.200 and striking out 37% of the time.

That’s not what the White Sox were hoping for with their investment. However, like Abreu, Grandal can flip a switch and go on a tear to carry an offense for a month. With manager Rick Renteria frequently penciling in Abreu and Grandal to hit third and fourth in the lineup, hopefully, those hot streaks come soon.

Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito faced three probable postseason teams in his first three starts (Minnesota, Cleveland, and Milwaukee). After a rough Opening Day, Giolito has bounced back in his last two starts pitching 12 innings, only two earned runs with eight hits, five walks, and 15 strikeouts. Giolito’s ERA is 5.17, but his xFIP is 3.61, close to where he ended 2019 (xFIP 3.66). The K rate is about 5% below where it was last year (32% in 2019 to 27% currently), and the walk rate is 4% higher. Those are two numbers to pay attention to if Giolito can work his way back to 2019 form.

Dallas Keuchel

Dallas Keuchel has been a big free-agent signing off to a good start with the White Sox. What a concept!

With the White Sox collapsing under a major home-run deficit in 2019, the goal of bringing Keuchel was to help stabilize the rotation while keeping the ball on the ground. Through three starts, Keuchel’s 56.9% ground-ball rate, the eighth highest in MLB, impresses, and the other numbers follow. His 2.55 ERA, 2.83 FIP and 3.41 xFIP are all top-15 in the American League.

Keuchel’s sinker and cutter are getting good results early despite low-velocity numbers (sinker averaging 87 mph, cutter at 85 mph). Still, the expected numbers tell a different story.

Opposing hitters vs. Keuchel’s sinker:

  • Batting Average: .226 / Expected Batting Average: .282
  • Slugging: .323 / Expected Slugging: .424

Opposing hitters vs. Keuchel’s cutter

  • Batting Average: .125 / Expected Batting Average: .326
  • Slugging: .188 / Expected Slugging: .602

That’s a significant difference in expected and actual results with the cutter. If Keuchel begins to regress, that would be the first place to look for a reason why. 

Dylan Cease 

Dylan Cease has only allowed two earned runs in his last starts spanning 11 innings. While that is great for any starting pitcher, the peripherals are not encouraging.

Cease is carrying a 4.05 ERA, but a 6.37 FIP and an xFIP of 5.33. The strikeout rate is down dramatically from 2019, 9.99 K/9 to 6.08. Opposing hitters have a .290 batting average and .452 slugging against Cease’s four-seamer. Plus, the walk rate is not improving from last year.

According to FanGraphs, the White Sox project to finish .500 in 2020. With starting pitching already thin, they need Dylan Cease to begin turning his performance around. Relying on batted ball luck and the White Sox defense is not often a recipe for constant success.

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Josh Nelson
Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is the host and producer of the Sox Machine Podcast. For show suggestions, guest appearances, and sponsorship opportunities, you can reach him via email at josh@soxmachine.com.

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John SF

For pitching, I take solace in the prospects, as usual. It’s exciting to see Hamilton, Hueur, Burdi, even Foster pitching so well. It was exciting to see Lambert even if…

It will be exciting to see Dunning when he arrives. Not to mention Tyler Johnson and dare-I-hope-for Jonathan Stiever or Garret Crochett down the line?

Both have been floated as MLB-ready in a bullpen spot with their FB/Curve and FB/Slider approaches. (Obviously both are still hopefully working on being starting pitchers in the minors next year.)

It will really depend on ReyLo and Rodon’s health I guess— but at the rate injuries are piling up, I try to find some silver lining.


So far, it’s been an OK start. If we keep playing at our current pace, we will finish 32-28, which should be good enough to make the playoffs, because eight AL teams will qualify.

Even if we go on a long losing streak, it’s not all that horrible, compared to where we were a month or so ago. As Bob Verdi once wrote: “Bad baseball is better than no baseball.”


I’m not worried about Keuchel regression because he has been beating “expected” numbers his whole career. For all their advancement, modern statistics still can’t quite quantify how and why Dallas is so good.


This was a really great analysis of the first couple weeks worth of games.