Standings suggest everything has gone right for White Sox, which would be wrong

May 2, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert (88) is helped up following an injury after beating out an infield single and had to leave the game against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

If a time traveler told you back in early March that the White Sox will be 12 games over .500 and 3½ games up in the AL Central on Memorial Day, the news would be pleasant, yet not a surprise.

If, an hour later, a different time traveler popped up and told you that Eloy Jiménez underwent surgery that cost him the entire first four months of the season, while Luis Robert suffered his own major tear at the end of April, you’d probably start retracing your actions over the previous 60 minutes to wonder what threw the previous timeline so drastically off course.

Yet those realities coexist, maybe not comfortably, but with staying power nevertheless. After a sweep in Yankee Stadium sent the White Sox into their first three-game losing streak of the season, they responded by winning six of their next seven, including two of three against the first-place Cardinals. The offense runs hot and cold, but the starting pitching seldom sputters, and any Cleveland fan will tell you how that can paper over a lineup with some bald spots.

This display of resiliency is what allows a White Sox fan to look at Baseball Prospectus’ new injury ledger with a sense of pride, rather than with great apprehension. By league standards, the White Sox sneak into the top third for the fewest games missed (311, which ranks 10th). They’re doing even better when it comes the projected production they’ve lost. BP says the White Sox are missing just 0.915 WARP this season, the sixth-lowest total in the league.

But in the context of the division, the White Sox are jostling with the Twins in the cellar of an AL Central that’s healthier than the rest.

TeamDays lostRankWARP lostRank
White Sox31110th0.9156th
Cleveland951st0.2221st
Royals1914th0.5645th
Tigers1823rd0.4464th
Twins2487th1.17213th

The White Sox’s missing WARP seems low when considering the team has lacked what PECOTA labeled their second- and fourth-most valuable position players, and for weeks now. Then again, PECOTA was already generally pessimistic about the White Sox, and with Jiménez’s abysmal defense and Robert’s concerning strikeout numbers, their early-career ceilings required them to prove the algorithms wrong. Robert’s first 25 games foreshadowed an ability to do so, so you’re not wrong if you think the White Sox have lost more than the numbers reflect.

(Conversely, if the White Sox are 12 games over .500 with Andrew Vaughn in left instead of Jiménez, perhaps that’s an example of how ugly defensive projections can materialize in actual results.)

Regardless of whether you use PECOTA projections or a RealFeel approach to projecting lost WAR(P), there are ultimately two ways to parse the data. Glass half full, you might shrug off a White Sox outfield that’s only hitting .209/.293/.380 in May, eeven though that’s bottom-10 production. When Jiménez and Robert are injured and Adam Eaton is playing hurt, what can you do besides exercise patience? Meanwhile, Cleveland’s first basemen are hitting .177/.249/.256, and that’s with everybody healthy. The White Sox are in a position to receive a surge of talent during the second half of the season, as long as they don’t bank on smooth rehabilitation periods. If they can maintain this lead in the Central until then, we’re talking serious dreaming fuel.

Glass half empty, the White Sox don’t have as much production to spare from here on out. That theory will be tested with Michael Kopech moving from the bereavement list to the injured list with a strained right hamstring.

That’s another injury that won’t affect the White Sox’s projections, because Kopech’s two-year absence gave him a wildly wide array of outcomes that made a systematic approach to evaluating him kind of impossible. As we saw, Kopech excelled in a role that developed organically and seemed to benefit everybody, so it’ll hurt more than algorithms say. That kind of flex pitcher can be a luxury to temporarily go without, just as long as the White Sox’s five other starters remain secure in their sterilized bubble. Protect them at all costs.

(Photo by David Banks / USA TODAY Sports)

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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soxfan

Vaughn is the injury replacement MVP of the early going. He’s basically replicating Jimenez’s rookie-year value, albeit in a completely different way. Vaughn has about a third of Jimenez’s rookie fWAR (0.6 to 1.8) in about a third of the games (42 to 122), but Jimenez had a plus bat and terrible defense while Vaughn has been serviceable with both.

If Vaughn’s offense reaches its projections, even if his defense doesn’t improve, it’s going to be really hard for Jimenez to earn his old spot back unless you want to play them in the same outfield which would be great offensively but put a lot of pressure on the pitching staff and centerfielder.

dwjm3

I think you touch on a key item in your last paragraph.

Does Hahn go out and get a player like a Mitch Haniger at the deadline or does he try to roll out an outfield of Vaughn and Eloy late in the season? I think the trade deadline is going to be extremely interesting for the sox. I personally don’t think it is doable to roll out an outfield of Eloy and Vaughn, but who knows what the front office is thinking.

We do know they will likely get a bullpen arm at the deadline.

Last edited 3 years ago by dwjm3
Greg Nix

I think you’re putting the cart before the horse, here. If Eloy came back tomorrow and Eaton was fully healthy, I think it’d still be a pretty easy call to make Vaughn a part-time player. He’s been a pleasant surprise given the circumstances, but he’s still not adding value over those two. How they approach next season (especially if Mercedes finds another groove) is a more interesting question…

All that said, I’d imagine Vaughn’s playing time will be equally split among LF, RF, DH, and 1B if the team ever gets fully healthy.

XOinChargeofRadishes

The optimism of your article vs. the header photo of injured Robert gives me just the kind of emotional dissonance this whole season has given. It seems like an obvious choice, but Fegan wrote a similar article for The Athletic with a more optimistic photo, and the feeling was different. anyway, good job.

Amar

A couple observations:

UZR suggests that the Sox pitching isn’t doing it alone in the run prevention department. It’s based on a small sample, but I feel that the play on the field during the first two weeks was truly an anomaly. These guys are playing more than passable defense.

Since last July, Abreu is playing like he deserves more than the 3 year $50M contract (the contract that many in the Sox Machine community thought was an over payment).

XOinChargeofRadishes

You’re probably right about Jose. Maybe I’m unimaginative, but I don’t see how Abreu could be doing any better defensively than he’s done this season, and we all know that his offense is reliable as the season progresses. what a shame it would have been to see him in a different uniform.

shaggy65

The timing of Kopech’s absence isn’t great, as we’ll need Lambert today and probably somebody else on Weds thanks to the Saturday double-header. Stiever? Bullpen day? We’re not really set up for success against our key division rival.

Root Cause

I would assume that the FO gets 1/3 of what we want so I would like to see the following by the trade deadline:

  • Get a middle reliever if no one has stepped up. for Mercedes, he is one-dimensional and we already have 3 guys that can back Abreu (or at least a left-handed RF prospect) Robert and Jimenez more than make up for the lost offense
  • Get Vaughn some RF reps in low leverage, home games.
Last edited 3 years ago by Root Cause
soxygen

There is plenty of time for the bullpen to right itself before July 30th, so don’t go mentally trading Yermin yet. And it is likely that either/both Eloy and Robert won’t be healthy by the trade deadline. And rosters expand to 28 in September.

If I am reading the lesson of this season correctly, the lesson is that it is nice to have depth. The fact that the depth is somewhat unexpected (Yermin’s breakout, Vaughn’s defense) doesn’t necessarily mean that the team or the fan base has a playing time crisis on its hands.

Root Cause

You are correct, the bullpen may come to life by 7-30, and why I suggested trading for one if no one steps up by then.

I also agree that Eloy and Luis will not be healthy much less playing by then. Luis may not be MLB ready by October, thus the need to add an OF and get past below replacement players playing every day. (We are currently down 3 OF’s with no guarantee Eaton or others stay healthy either)

Mercedes is still one-dimensional and we have Vaughn, Grandal, and Collins all capable of mult-tasking.

I don’t have an office but I would still be ok if Mercedes was dealt to fill a gap.

soxygen

I agree with almost everything you said…But I don’t think Collins is capable of multi-tasking. His defense isn’t good, so he can’t be a defense first catcher. And he can’t hit so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he would be the DH (especially without a 3rd catcher on the roster). Barring injury, there isn’t enough playing time at first base over the next year and a half for him to really learn the position. I’d be surprised if he has a place on the 2023 Sox.