This is the first of two installments in which I’ll be looking back and evaluating all of the players that had a significant role as members of the 2021 White Sox. These grades are more art than science due to the subjective nature of how much expectations for a player should affect their grade. My goal is to balance actual player performance against their expectations and probable role (both short-term and long-term) entering the season. While I may mention postseason performance in a player review, the grades primarily reflect regular season performance.
Per usual, I consider an average grade to be someplace on the C/C+ borderline. ‘A’ is the top grade on the scale, and ‘F’ is the lowest.
My typical cutoff of 100 plate appearances works out nicely this year, as the closest-without-going-over would be Jake Burger‘s 42, so we’re not excluding anyone who had close to a significant role. In ascending order of plate appearances…
Seby Zavala (C): 104 PA, .183/.240/.376, 5 HR, 39.4% K, 5.8% BB, 66 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR
Had it not been for the gigantic division lead, it would have been terrifying to me that Seby Zavala was the guy to get the call when Yasmani Grandal succumbed to injury. In 2019, Zavala’s nine strikeouts in 12 plate appearances made him the most overmatched offensive player the White Sox had tried out since Jacob May. However, he registered as more of a pleasant surprise this time around. Zavala’s competent framing and occasional homers made him a preferred alternative to Zack Collins for a time. Eventually, his flaws (strikeouts, pitch-blocking) came into focus and he was left off the postseason roster. This could have gone worse, though. Grade: D+
Jake Lamb (4-C): 131 PA, .212/.321/.389, 6 HR, 29.0% K, 13.0% BB, 99 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR, 0.0 bWAR
Jay Clam was another guy who went from “why-are-you-here?” to serving a real purpose on the 2021 White Sox. The Sox pushed the career infielder into the outfield corners when they got desperate, and Lamb rewarded them with a sterling .278/.400/.537 line through his first 65 plate appearances. Alas, Lamb then slumped badly before and after an injured list stint from a strained quadriceps, and the emergence of Brian Goodwin and Gavin Sheets buried him on the depth chart. Still, Lamb’s season can be appreciated in that he largely confined his struggles to portions of the season when the Sox didn’t need to count on him. Grade: D+
Billy Hamilton (CF): 135 PA, .220/.242/.378, 2 HR, 34.8% K, 3.0% BB, 64 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR
Despite the batting line, Hamilton improbably appeared as a pinch hitter five times this season, all in non-blowouts. Nonetheless, he tended to save what offense he could muster for big situations, and he was a reliable weapon on the basepaths and a strong glove in center field. Hamilton was one of several guys who kept the White Sox afloat during Luis Robert‘s time on the injured list, which is above and beyond what typically should be asked of him. When Hamilton was allowed to be used in his ideal role of pinch runner and defensive replacement, he was effective and gave the White Sox what they needed from him. Grade: C+
Adam Engel (OF): 140 PA, .252/.336/.496, 7 HR, 22.1% K, 7.9% BB, 127 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR, 1.5 bWAR
Per plate appearance, Engel’s performance this season was flat-out great. He even made more progress on shedding the platoon label by tattooing righties to the tune of .282/.374/.564. The problem here is the number of plate appearances, which were limited by hamstring issues, shoulder inflammation, and general load management at the end of the season. A healthy Engel should have started every postseason game, but it was clear that he wasn’t himself, and he came off the bench in the last two contests. Over the last two seasons, Engel has teased the possibility that he’s good enough to play every day, but his body seems determined to not let him test his limits. Grade: B-
Gavin Sheets (DH/1B/OF): 179 PA, .250/.324/.506, 11 HR, 22.3% K, 8.9% BB, 125 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR
The White Sox organization has long been starved for position players that come through the system and succeed without being attached to a premium draft position. For that reason, Sheets’ breakthrough performance this season was a sight for sore eyes. He might only be a platoon player and he’s awful defensively, but his .268/.344/.556 line against right-handed pitching helped to give the White Sox lineup some much-needed balance. Sheets’ skillset is a perfect fit for this particular team, and the Sox will roll into the offseason for the first time since Adam Dunn‘s departure with at least some semblance of an in-house option at DH. Grade: B
Danny Mendick (INF): 186 PA, .220/.303/.287, 2 HR, 22.6% K, 9.7% BB, 68 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR, -0.3 bWAR
For the second consecutive season, Mendick front-loaded his production and provided the team with a jolt of offense before over-exposure got the best of him. From May 9 through July 29, Mendick was mired in a .167/.260/.222 slump that spanned about two-thirds of his plate appearances. Mendick flexed to the outfield when called upon this season and his infield fundamentals remain solid, but it’s hard to trust him to cover for a injured starter on a regular basis. Grade: D-
Nick Madrigal (2B): 215 PA, .305/.349/.425, 2 HR, 7.9% K, 5.1% BB, 113 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR, 1.2 bWAR
Madrigal was another victim of the South Side Hamstring Epidemic of 2021, which is a shame, as he was setting about a 4-WAR pace for the season. The three knocks on Madrigal heading into 2021 were a lack of extra-base hits, defensive mistakes, and awful baserunning. Madrigal responded by boosting his isolated power from .029 to .120, cleaning up the defense, and becoming a plus baserunner. Trading Madrigal for Craig Kimbrel was a bold stroke, but given what little the Sox actually got out of the move, the exchange is going to hurt badly if Madrigal’s post-injury self resumes the trajectory he was on. Grade: B
Cesar Hernandez (2B): 217 PA, .232/.309/.299, 3 HR, 20.7% K, 9.7% BB, 70 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR, -0.8 bWAR
Hernandez arrived in Chicago near the end of July as (ostensibly) a high-floor player who could stabilize the second base situation after Nick Madrigal’s injury. Despite modest expectations, Hernandez was an abject failure. He only played two months with the team, but still managed to finish dead last in Win Probability Added (-0.80). After a big series against the Cubs in early August, Hernandez only hit one home run the rest of the way. Defensively, he failed to live up to his reputation as a strong glove in the middle infield. The writing was on the wall by the time the postseason rolled around, and Hernandez was benched for Leury Garcia to begin the ALDS. Grade: F
Adam Eaton (RF): 219 PA, .201/.298/.344, 5 HR, 25.1% K, 9.1% BB, 80 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR, -0.7 bWAR
In trying to fill their right field vacancy last offseason, the White Sox played stupid games and, shockingly, found themselves winning stupid prizes. Some fans were concerned about Eaton’s awful performance in 2020. Some fans were worried that his injury risk made him a dubious choice to address an outfield that was in dire need of stability. In the end, both groups came out of the Adam Eaton Reunion Tour feeling both validated and frustrated. If there is a silver lining to Eaton’s season, he did hit a few huge home runs in the early going, and he finished seventh on the 2021 White Sox in Win Probability Added (+0.42). That’s enough to avoid failing, but only just. Grade: D-
Zack Collins (C): 231 PA, .210/.330/.338, 4 HR, 29.9% K, 14.7% BB, 90 wRC+, -0.7 fWAR
Collins was inexplicably given the backup catcher job on a White Sox team taking itself seriously, and had the rest of the AL Central not fallen flat on its face, this could be a much more significant topic for discussion. Collins was baseball’s worst pitch framer in 2021, feeding the argument that he doesn’t belong behind the plate. He didn’t make a great case to stand next to it either, as his Isolated Power (ISO) was pretty close to on par to that of Nick Madrigal. With Collins’ 27th birthday on the horizon, there doesn’t seem to be much upside worth chasing here. If his career has another chapter, it should be with an organization with a better reputation for coaching framing or one less focused on competing for a championship. Grade: F
Eloy Jimenez (LF): 231 PA, .249/.303/.437, 10 HR, 24.7% K, 6.9% BB, 101 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR
After returning from a ruptured pectoral tendon, Jimenez looked as physically fit as ever and unleashed a flurry of game-changing extra-base hits. Unfortunately, the production was short lived, and the 24-year-old limped to a .214/.286/.329 finish over his final 154 plate appearances. All in all, it ranks as a lost season for Jimenez. Hopefully he’ll benefit from a full spring training next season and resume the promising trajectory he was on before. Grade: D+
Yermin Mercedes (DH): 262 PA, .271/.328/.404, 7 HR, 17.6% K, 7.6% BB, 102 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR, 0.5 bWAR
Mercedes finally got his shot, and spent the first month and a half of the season making the organization look bad for not trying him out sooner. We all know what happened next. The league figured out that he couldn’t hit hard fastballs, which gave pitchers a fairly basic way to attack him. If this is the end of Mercedes’ major league career, it’ll be one of the more memorable short ones we’ve seen. Not many players with this career line get to have their own burger or chase Mike Trout for a batting title briefly or win Rookie of the Month honors. The flameout was equally riddled with headlines, as his slump included being at the center of arguably Tony La Russa’s worst moment as a manager. Drama aside, Mercedes was a key reason that the Sox kept pace in the AL Central, so even if short-lived, he served a purpose. Grade: C
Brian Goodwin (OF): 271 PA, .221/.319/.374, 8 HR, 21.4% K, 12.2% BB, 94 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR, -0.5 bWAR
Goodwin will go down as one of Rick Hahn’s more successful low-risk moves, because he came through with his strongest production when the Sox were badly in need of outfielders. He was something like the ninth or tenth option the White Sox considered for outfield help, and he gave the lineup a real shot in the arm. For a couple weeks in July, he even served as the lineup’s cleanup hitter and probably belonged there. The production faded late in the season as Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Adam Engel got healthy and the division was pushed out of reach, so it was an easy pill to swallow. Goodwin was asked to do too much for this team, like play center field and hit 66 times against lefties (.136/.200/.136). For that reason, and because of how much he helped keep the Sox afloat in the summer, the aggregate numbers belie his importance. Grade: B-
Luis Robert (OF): 296 PA, .338/.378/.567, 13 HR, 20.6% K, 4.7% BB, 157 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR, 3.6 bWAR
The torn hip flexor that Luis Robert suffered cost him plenty of 2021 production and depressed his WAR figures from what they could have been. However, for young players, a huge component of these grades is how well they’re progressing toward their future roles with the White Sox. Coming into this season, Robert was a flawed player with a bundle of potential. You could have looked at him and seen a guy who might become a top-10 major league player. By the end of the season, you could arguably change “might become” to “already is.” The White Sox will enter 2022 with a real superstar on their hands rather than a hypothetical one. Injury be damned, I’m not sure what more we could have asked to see from Luis Robert this season. Grade: A
Yasmani Grandal (C): 375 PA, .240/.420/.520, 23 HR, 21.9% K, 23.2% BB, 159 wRC+, 3.7 fWAR
Grandal spent a huge portion of this season with a batting average starting with “1” and an on-base percentage flirting with one beginning with “4”. Many people saw the value in a .188/.388/.436 line, but after returning from a knee injury in late August, Grandal opted for a form of production everyone could appreciate. He hit .337/.481/.673 over his last 30 games and finished the season as the team’s best hitter by just a hair over Robert. Grandal’s not an elite framer anymore, but he was still a little above average in 2021. Like Robert, Grandal missed time due to injury, but he was as good as anyone could hope for while healthy and led the team by a large margin in Win Probability Added despite the absence, so I’m having trouble coming up with a good reason to penalize him. Grade: A
Andrew Vaughn (wherever, apparently): 469 PA, .235/.309/.396, 15 HR, 21.5% K, 8.7% BB, 94 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR
In the aggregate, Vaughn wasn’t good in 2021. However, there’s so many caveats to that statement that I’m not sure it carries much weight. He was a 23-year-old rookie who had never played above high-A. He played more than twice as many games this season than he did in his lone minor league season. He was shipped to the outfield (a position he had never played as a professional) prior to opening day to cover for Eloy Jimenez’ injury. He was later asked to cover third base and second base for some reason. A back injury may have hindered his production, as he hit .099/.179/.099 over his last 78 plate appearances.
Yes, it would have been better if Vaughn performed as more than a platoon bat (.610 OPS vs RHP, .938 OPS vs LHP) who finished 47th among MLB position-player rookies in fWAR. However, it would have been ideal if the White Sox had a real plan for designated hitter entering the 2021 season so Vaughn wouldn’t have been asked to do all of this in the first place. Grade: C
Leury Garcia (UTIL): 474 PA, .267/.335/.376, 5 HR, 20.5% K, 8.6% BB, 98 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR, 2.0 bWAR
Coming into spring training, if you told me Leury Garcia would receive 474 plate appearances, I would have been quite concerned for the road ahead. As it turned out, things went just fine for the team and, after a terrible start, for Garcia as well. The longest-tenured White Sox player spent much of the season digging out of that early hole, but hit a respectable .286/.360/.410 from May 8 onward while covering his usual assortment of positions. Tony La Russa‘s favorite toy played every inning of the 2021 postseason and probably deserved to, though Adam Engel hurting and Cesar Hernandez falling flat on his face had quite a bit to do with that. This was the best season of Garcia’s career, and it will be interesting to see if the Sox bring him back. Grade: B
Tim Anderson (SS): 551 PA, .309/.338/.469, 17 HR, 21.6% K, 4.0% BB, 120 wRC+, 4.3 fWAR, 4.6 bWAR
Tim Anderson’s BABIP finally fell from the stratosphere…..to .372. The closest example I can find of a player sustaining this over three seasons would be Derek Jeter‘s run from 1998 to 2000. Jeter’s BABIP fell to normal-good the next year, and it remains to be seen whether Anderson can keep this up or whether he’s simply a guy who breaks the rules.
This was the best season of Anderson’s career, and what made it so was playing the cleanest defense he’s shown as a professional. Anderson committed just 10 errors on the season compared to 26 over the same number of games in 2019. If he can sustain that sort of glovework, it’s hard to imagine him being anything less than a 4-WAR player for the foreseeable future. Grade: A-
Yoan Moncada (3B): 616 PA, .263/.375/.412, 14 HR, 25.5% K, 13.6% BB, 122 wRC+, 4.5 fWAR, 4.0 bWAR
I already wrote at length about Moncada’s odd, productive season near the end of August, and other than finally hitting a home run against a four-seam fastball, not a lot has changed since then. 2021 only registers as a disappointment for Moncada if it’s measured against his 2019 season, which involved more slugging (in a year with a juiced ball) and a higher batting average (with a .406 BABIP). Otherwise, it was a strong year for the 26-year-old, and with the glut of slugging talent in the lineup, it’s perfectly fine if Moncada fits in as an OBP and defense guy. That’s basically what fellow former number-one overall prospect Alex Gordon was for the Royals in his heyday, and I don’t think there’s any regrets there. Grade: B+
Jose Abreu (1B): 659 PA, .261/.351/.481, 30 HR, 21.7% K, 9.3% BB, 126 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR, 3.0 bWAR
Abreu matched his bWAR total from his MVP season in 2020, which would be a more exciting sentence if 2020 weren’t a 60-game season. Another gaudy RBI total (117) will let this season serve as yet another point of clash between old school statistics and advanced metrics, and Abreu did his part by once again elevating his performance with runners in scoring position (.286/.385/.557). On the negative side, Abreu led baseball in double plays for the third straight season, posting a personal “record” of 28 (five more than anyone else). His OBP may also have been more pedestrian had he not been plunked 22 times.
Despite the warts, Abreu remains as reliable a run-producer as anyone in baseball. He’s a leader and seems like a strong bet for another good year in 2022. Improbably, Abreu has made his three year, $45 million extension look like a bargain. Grade: B
The Class Rank
- Luis Robert: A
- Yasmani Grandal: A
- Tim Anderson: A-
- Yoan Moncada: B+
- Jose Abreu: B
- Nick Madrigal: B
- Gavin Sheets: B
- Leury Garcia: B
- Adam Engel: B-
- Brian Goodwin: B-
- Billy Hamilton: C+
- Andrew Vaughn: C
- Yermin Mercedes: C
- Eloy Jimenez: D+
- Jake Lamb: D+
- Seby Zavala: D+
- Danny Mendick: D-
- Adam Eaton: D-
- Zack Collins: F
- Cesar Hernandez: F
(Photo credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
“Improbably” re Abreu, perhaps to you , I considered him exceeding AAV a certainty 🙂
D- is too generous for Eaton but otherwise hard to argue with any of these evaluations.
Hilarious that Eaton is overrated at D-; almost an outrage to give him that, LOL!
The Sox hugely benefitted from a bunch of really productive 2-4 week stretches from guys who then promptly flamed out. That’s great because the recent past has been filled with a lot more Hernandez-like acquisitions than Goodwin-like acquisitions.
But that’s probably not great since it’s unlikely they’ll be able to repeat it again next year.
Hopefully we don’t need that many “fill-ins” next year.
Honestly, the White Sox enjoyed being in a league that I wouldn’t even call mediocre more than those few 2-4 weeks of production from unexpected sources.
Based on these grades the position player needs are clear:
I don’t really see the benefit of keeping Leury around, especially since The Russa will play him all the time if he’s on the roster. Let Romy be the utility guy, or maybe the 2B if they decide to use their allegedly miniscule resources on other problems.
Having a 2 WAR Utility player to step in for the games TA, Yoan, and whatever 2B miss; plus being able to play OF is a luxory, but one that helps cover injuries. (TA has not played more than 123 regular season games the last 3 years; Yoan missed 30 games in his best season and 18 last year).
Poor Leury. No matter what he does, there are fans on this site lining up to jettison him. I consider Engel more problematic. A continually injured bench player isn’t a very good use of resources or roster spot.
I mean Engel has a Minor League option remaining and doesn’t hurt your 26-man when hurt. Considering Blake Rugtherford is currently on your 40-man, I don’t have a problem with Engel. (I would love Engel to be healthy for a full year, and play well enough to force himself into the OF picture;not be the primary guy for RF).
He’s a free agent, so I’m not sure if “jettison” is the correct word.
He’s a bad outfielder, especially in center. So I’m not a fan of that. As for the rest, we know what Leury is. Let’s see what Romy can do.
Hernandez, woof. Just awful. Can you give an F-? In some ways, he was more disappointing than Kimbrel, because the Madrigal/Kimbrel trade was controversial from the start, but Hernandez was seen as a really solid move. Woof.
I might give Yasmani an A- because his pitch-blocking was pretty terrible. (Yes, I know our pitchers didn’t make it easy, but there are better pitch-blockers out there, is all I’m saying.)
One benefit of Seby Zavala’s season is that he showed how much worse a catcher can be at blocking than Grandal.
Well, that’s lowering the bar to the floor. 🙂
And I don’t know Grandal’s record for throwing out baserunners but after these playoffs, everyone faster than TLR will be testing him.
The pitching staff needs to do better too but it cannot be all their fault when the pitching staff is all throwing 98 mph.
I really like Grandal but I don’t see an A with framing and throwing out baserunner issues. That is keeping innings alive and connecting hits that turned into runs.
I’m going to put most of it on the pitching staff, because Grandal’s numbers were much better before this season. I also don’t know how much his knee might have impacted his ability to quickly get a throw off.
The other catchers were worse at throwing out runners, too, which suggests the responsibility lies with the pitchers.
Think of how many steals were followed by Stone saying “[pitcher] has to learn to look at baserunners a second time” or variants thereof.
I am sure you are correct but again, using Zavala and Collins as the measuring stick seems like we are grading on a curve.
And I will agree that allowing runners to run free is on the pitchers up to a point. But Grandal is watching them get big leads, does he not have a sign to wake up the pitcher? Taking them repeatedly without a throw to 3rd (during the playoffs) had me yelling at the TV.
I am nitpicking because my dog went upstairs to hide and that made me feel worse and I need to blame someone for that.
I don’t know if there has been much analysis of what happened with the pitchers, but that might be an interesting topic. Like…Was some of this a league-wide problem, perhaps impacted by the short-season? Did Katz joining play a role? Is it reasonable this should have been caught and addressed earlier, like Spring training or mid-season? Did the change in catchers play a role? And so on.
To add to your point, the trade for Hernandez was also supposed to help make giving up Madrigal easier. It looked like the Sox would have a decent 2B for 2022 (team option for Cesar), while some of the more intriguing MI options in the minors developed to be ready to take over after that. Instead, 2B looks to be one of their biggest needs to address for 2022.
I dread seeing who we bring in to plug holes.
“Fill Your Holes With External Candidates”
The voices in my head: “Luis Robert isn’t the next Mike Trout. I know that. He’s not. Really. He’s not. There’s no way. Luis Robert isn’t the next Mike Trout… right?”
Louis Robert is going to be a star. Just casually dropping his K% by 12 points. I can’t wait to see what a full season looks like.
Insert “No lies detected meme”. Well done PNoles. Enjoyed the reading.
Reading this makes the hurt over trading Madrigal more excruciating…
I liked Madrigal a lot, but I have a feeling he’s going to be one of those guys who is nursing various injuries pretty regularly.
Not gonna nit pick when the overwhelming majority of this list is spot on, but two grades I strongly would disagree with.
Vaughn made the jump from A ball to the big leagues learning a multitude of new positions on the fly, holding his head above water doing so defensively, while Tony constantly sat him at odd times killing his rhythm at the start of the year. He was coming on offensively before the injury bug zapped him to finish out the year. Overall though I think given said circumstances he was a B.
Engel missed way way way too many games. C-
Other then that love the grades!
For “results” Vaughn deserves the “C” grade.
For making a jump from High A to MLB, playing positions in games he had not played since before College (including 2B, 3B, LF, and RF); he deserves some credit.
If his wOBA (.306) was closer to his xwOBA (.329); he would have a B or higher grade (Yandy Diaz, Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Miguel Sano, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Mark Cahana range).
yea, good points
I actually had a really similar reaction initially, but I think PNoles nailed them both. What Vaughn did was undeniably impressive, and I’m convinced he’s got a bright future ahead of him, but he was still a bat-first top prospect who swung a below-average bat.
As for Engel, if you’re going to penalize Engel for missing games, then you’ve got to penalize Robert, too.
Are we grading people based off expectations or actual results? Vaughn most assuredly exceeded expectations but the results were not good. I see no reason why a “C” is a bad grade.
Just like my experience with calculus as a high school junior, sometimes a C is when you’re in over your head but still doing the best you can.
I feel the team should also get a grade for Vaughn. My sense is they fully expected a better year than what he was capable of at this stage. For that I would give them a D
I really don’t know what to make of Eloy. On the one hand, when he’s on he’s a monster but on the other he may be the second coming of Avisail Garcia
Don’t utter that into existence. Also, Avi would be an upgrade for White Sox RF since he left.
You’re right of course. Some white sox fan repressions should stay buried
2020 was weird, and then 2021 he was hurt. 2022 will tell us a lot about what he actually is, although I am glad he’s been playing the OF.
Totally agree, 2022 is a big year for him
It’s nice to see the long list of guys who came in hot out of the gate and the gave the Sox a couple good weeks when they needed them. It’s a pretty strong pattern, and I feel like there’s got to be a reason for it, but I don’t know what it is.
Is it better MLB scouting by the Sox?
Good vibes in the clubhouse/”next man up” mentality?
Throwing off opponents’ scouting reports by roster shuffling?
Going more aggressively after useful players than during the rebuild?
I will take dumb luck for $200.
Only because it doesn’t seem possible to do it once much less repeat it again.
Following on the Abreu comments, his defense has been a big plus, and should be considered when valuing the 3 year extension. He consistently picks hard shots off the bat, and from some of the brain fart throws coming from the left side of the infield.