How far away are the White Sox to having an average lineup

As we inch closer to wrapping up this godforsaken White Sox season, there have been a lot of words written and spoken about where the rebuild is at for this franchise. Was there meaningful progress made? Who made that progress, and are they a key cog to a future contender? How much longer until we see the White Sox contend?

A question that I’ve pondered in the past couple of weeks is how far away are the White Sox to being average? Not every team can do what Atlanta and Oakland have done this season to come out of nowhere in earning their places in the postseason. It’s an unexpected, pleasant surprise. I think the White Sox are due for one of those seasons soon, but if not, it would be nice if they could march closer to snapping their seven straight losing seasons streak in 2019.

For that to happen, the lineup needs to be better. Like, a lot better. Using data over the past ten seasons (2008 to 2018) I tried to figure out what “average” performance is for each position. In particular, looking at players that had the bulk amount of starts with at least 81 games played and at least half of that time at one specific position.

Below is the average WAR for each position is over the last ten seasons using Baseball-Reference.

Position bWAR Avg
Catcher 1.7
First Base 1.9
Second Base 2.1
Shortstop 2.0
Third Base 2.2
Left Field 1.4
Center Field 2.4
Right Field 1.9
Designated Hitter 1.6

No surprise that the middle of the diamond is strongest and third base. Left field being the worst is a surprise. For a further offensive breakdown, here is the 10-year rolling average by position.

Position BA OBP SLG HR RBI BB SO
Catcher 0.252 0.321 0.403 12 49 35 79
First Base 0.263 0.341 0.451 20 70 53 101
Second Base 0.267 0.328 0.402 11 51 38 81
Shortstop 0.261 0.317 0.388 10 50 35 82
Third Base 0.263 0.329 0.429 16 61 41 90
Left Field 0.260 0.328 0.425 13 51 37 86
Center Field 0.262 0.328 0.410 12 49 41 98
Right Field 0.265 0.336 0.438 16 60 45 97
Designated Hitter 0.262 0.339 0.461 24 78 55 108

Let’s take a look at each position for the White Sox to gauge how far away they are achieving an average lineup.

Catcher

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
C Omar Narvaez 26 90 1.9 1.7 0.2

On May 30th, Narvaez was hitting .169/.273/.234 and combined with his terrible defense should have been sent down to Charlotte. He wasn’t because of Welington Castillo’s suspension. Since June 1st, the offensive transformation for Narvaez has been astonishing. Narvaez is now hitting .277/.367/.442 for the season, and against right-handed pitching, he’s hitting .298/.370/.482.

First Base

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
1B Jose Abreu 31 128 1.7 1.9 -0.2

A terrible six-week stretch and injuries have set Jose Abreu back in 2018 posting career lows in WAR, batting average, and on-base percentage. Abreu will be turning 32 in January entering the final year of his contract with the White Sox. I still believe he could be a 2-3 WAR player in 2019 which would help the Sox having an average lineup, but beyond that the future is cloudy.

Second Base

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
2B Yoan Moncada 23 141 1.7 2.1 -0.4

Yoan Moncada is not a bust, but he has too good of tools to be a 1.7 WAR second baseman. Next year, anything less than a 3 WAR season would be disappointing.

Shortstop

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
SS Tim Anderson 25 146 2.6 2.0 0.8

For those worried about Moncada, Tim Anderson provides hope that an increasing level of performance is just a season away. Next step is finding a way to get on base more often, and I think that will have to come in the form of raising his batting average. If Anderson can return to his rookie level of hitting around .280 while maintaining his current walk rate, he’d be looking at an on-base percentage around .320 and providing a big boost to the Sox offense in 2019.

Third Base

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
3B Yolmer Sanchez 26 146 3.1 2.2 0.9

Yolmer Sanchez was better in 2017 when he posted a 3.5 WAR season playing in 78 games at second base and 52 games at third. In 2018, Sanchez has made 133 starts at the hot corner, and the dip in performance is because of the bat. Against left-handed pitching, Sanchez is hitting .195/.277/.236 which screams platoon opportunity. Despite the drop in offense, Sanchez is still posting an above average season at third base.

Left Field

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
LF Nicky Delmonico 25 83 -0.4 1.4 -1.8

Center Field

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
CF Adam Engel 26 137 0.7 2.4 -1.7

Right Field

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
RF Avisail Garcia 27 85 0.3 1.9 -1.6

The White Sox outfield is terrible. Injuries, lack of production, and limited talent put this unit five wins below the average WAR. Despite less than optimal play in left field for the league as a whole, Delmonico is not even above 0 WAR. 2017 season probably was a fluke year for Avisail Garcia as he enters his final contract year. Adam Engel has one elite skill, but his offense is so poor it puts him well behind other center fielders.

If you swap Eloy Jimenez for Delmonico, that could easily be a 2-3 WAR boost. Problem is Hahn will need to find other similar turnarounds in two of the three outfield spots. Maybe he addresses that issue in free agency or by trade, but most likely he will sit and wait until prospects mature. It is the cheaper option.

Designated Hitter

Position Player Age Games WAR Avg. Pos WAR

(08-18)

Difference
DH Matt Davidson 27 111 1.5 1.6 -0.1

Matt Davidson has appeared as the DH 63 times in 2018 while Daniel Palka has made 45. Neither have impressive slash lines when focusing on just hitting. Davidson is hitting .198/.301/.387 with ten home runs as the DH, and Palka is hitting .231/.289/.413 with eight home runs. If you just based it on his offensive numbers this season, Davidson should be on the field more often. He’s hitting .279/.367/.473 in 35 games at first base, and if you think that’s eye-opening, Davidson is hitting .318/.392/.659 in 13 games at third base.

I don’t think manager Rick Renteria is ever going to have a permanent DH starter even though he should think about it with Palka. 15 players this season have made at least one start as the DH, and as a team, they are hitting .217/.304/.418 with 27 home runs and 80 RBI. The team could get more from this role, but it would require better hitters throughout the 25-man rather than just one particular player carrying the part.

*******************************

When you add up the average WAR for each position over the last ten years, it comes out to 17.3 WAR. The 2018 Chicago White Sox are at 13.1 WAR from the players who have spent the most time at these positions. That’s a 4.2 win difference. If you squint hard enough there’s a chance for a combination of progress from Moncada and Narvaez, the introduction of Eloy Jimenez, and healthier players could make up that gap for 2019. It could also go the other way where Abreu’s decline continues as he leaves the prime years, Narvaez’s season is a fluke, and of course injuries.

The future success of this rebuild rests on lineup quality. Lack of it is what got the White Sox in this mess, and it’s been a central focus to develop better offensive players from trades and the draft. Even with the first wave of talent washing ashore in Chicago, the White Sox still have a ways to go to just being average.

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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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roke1960

I’ve been saying this for a while and will keep saying it. The Sox need to make a big, big move this winter. For those who say they should stand pat until they are competitive, that will just keep delaying things. If they stand pat and only win 70 games, do you wait another year? Moncada, Giolito and Lopez’s clocks are ticking already.
They need to go all out for Machado. They have the money, Chicago is a big market that could lure someone of his caliber, and he would be soon surrounded by a bunch of young studs. They need a true superstar. There are not many of those that actually make it to free agency.
Adding Machado and Eloy and getting the hoped-for and expected improvement from Machado gives the Sox a formidable top of the lineup. They would probably get an 6-9 WAR jump from those three over Nicky, Yolmer and 2018 Moncada. A healthy year from Abreu and Avi would give more improvement. Timmy will hopefully continue to improve, Omar-Castillo is a decent catching combo, and Engel, Leury, Tilson or a combination of those would still be a below average centerfield. Using Palka and Davidson as a platoon at DH would bring out both of their strengths. Will that be enough to be a contender? Probably not, but it will make them a legitimate team moving forward to add more free agents. Plus Cease, Robert, Madrigal, Dunning, Burdi and a host of others will be ready by 2020-21. But it starts with Machado. 10/$385 million would hopefully get it done, but they need to top any other offer he gets. The current players in the system will not produce a championship by themselves. They need a true superstar. There may never be a better one available.

knoxfire30

Couldnt agree more. This offense probably needs 3 superstars, assuming that Eloy is one of those three that leaves 2 big voids. Signing a superstar this off season signals to the rest of the roster that expectations are starting to be about winning not just development.

Its also really difficult to do everything in one off season. Probably prefer to have 1 or 2 semi big signings in each of the next few seasons.

roke1960

Yeah, my ideal plan is to sign Machado this offseason, then Goldschmidt to replace Abreu in 2020. A top of the lineup with Moncada, Machado, Goldschmidt and Eloy would be awesome!!

roke1960

Do you think a lineup of Moncada (rf), Madrigal (2b), Machado (3b), Eloy (lf), Goldschmidt (1b), Abreu (DH), Robert (cf), Timmy (ss), Collins/Zevala (c) could win in 2020?

knoxfire30

Still a lot of projection in that lineup. Same as the rotation though, if Rodon, Kopach, Cease, Lopez,Giolito, lives up to the hype, then guys like Hamilton, Burdi, Johnson, Ruiz, Fulmer, Fry, Bummer, and more fill out a nasty pen… its definitely possible.

roke1960

Yes, there still is a lot of projection, but there would be 2 bona fide superstars. Plus any of guys like Rutherford, Basabe, Gonzalez, Walker or others could make a big jump too. There could be a lot of options, or really good trade pieces. And there are 15-20 potentially good young pitchers- the 12 you mentioned plus Dunning, Hansen, Frare, Burr. The future sure looks bright. I hope Hahn doesn’t screw it up.

knoxfire30

Sox are going to be in a strong position to be able to bundle prospects for either established players at a need position or a higher tier prospect type. I hope thats something they pursue this offseason. I feel good about the depth of OF and pitching prospects. Be nice if they could somehow find a team with a glut of power hitting corner infielders or a catcher prospect and make a swap.

knoxfire30

What would a Realmuto package look like?

Trooper Galactus

Quite robust, no doubt.

Oh, you meant a trade.

Greg Nix

You guys are nuts if you think this is even a slightly realistic possibility. If Jerry wanted to sign two superstars for $400 million they would have done it while they had Chris Sale. Instead they signed Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera and here we are. 

roke1960

Then forget about this team becoming contenders. They have to spend money to supplement their young guys. It’s that simple. More Laroches, Melkys and Dunns won’t do it.

Greg Nix

Lol yep, there are only two options: sign Manny Machado or never make the playoffs.

knoxfire30

There is no way they started a full rebuild without the thought that within a few years they would have to spend big on one if not two super star caliber players. You are discounting the fact they basically havent had a payroll for 3 seasons, with tv and radio deals skyrocketing soon and what should be a large stash of money that has been saved its pretty reasonable to think an 82 year old owner is gonna put his chips in the pot and make a couple big plays. If that isnt the plan then it was a total mistake from the word go to trade sale q and eaton

Greg Nix

There is a middle ground between signing a player to the largest contract in history and signing no players ever.

roke1960

And what did that middle ground get them the last 10 years?

roke1960

So what would your plan be? I’m curious.

Greg Nix

I mean, I’d love if the Sox signed Machado. I just don’t think it’s all realistic. A more reasonable plan I’d be ok with is to sign guys with some upside to high-salary short term deals until they know what their long term needs are.

lil jimmy

We know the Sox have interest in Machado because they said so. I have no expectations but he would be a nice fit.

roke1960

You’re absolutely right. If they didn’t have a plan when they traded those 3, then they have no business being in charge of this ball club.

Greg Nix

The Goldschmidt thing is even more ridiculous. You know how successful teams ALWAYS sign free-agent 1B to massive contracts? Albert Pujols, Eric Hosmer, Prince Fielder, Chris Davis, the list of huge successes goes on.

knoxfire30

I think machado and arenoldo would be the targets, but my point wasnt specific to who they go out and sign but just the fact I am sure they will. This lineup compared to the cubs astros yanks, redsox isnt in the same world. Those redsox btw are having success signing a DH that fundamentally has changed their lineup from good to outstanding.

roke1960

I didn’t look closely at the free agent list in 2020. They will need a first baseman in 2020, and Goldschmidt would be the best available.

karkovice squad

This is sloppy reasoning. Goldschmidt doesn’t yet have the lengthy, chronic injury history Pujols did when he reached free agency; he’s been a more consistent annual performer than Hosmer; he’s more athletic and multi-dimensional than Fielder or Davis. You might want to make an argument about how he has something in common with them other than playing the same position.

Because Votto’s lived up to his extension. He may be exceptional. But there’s some reason to think he’s a good comp for Goldschmidt.

Aside: Fielder proves a different point since his deal worked out alright for the Tigers when they flipped him for Kinsler. Which isn’t to say 1B is still a place where teams can execute a sign-and-trade strategy.

Greg Nix

Sloppy as it may be, I’m going to stand by the idea that it’s not a great idea to sign a 32-year old first baseman to a huge long-term deal.

karkovice squad

As long as we agree “it is known” isn’t a persuasive argument, believe what you want.

roke1960

I’m not saying that if they don’t sign Machado they will never make the playoffs. I’m saying that they need to change their approach to free agency. They can’t try to make band-aid fixes. They need big time stars. So if it’s not Machado this year, then it needs to be Arenado, Rendon or another big-time free agent in 2020. But i’d like to see them start the process this winter. And Machado or Harper are the only big free agents hitters this winter. Pollock is too much of a question mark.

Blow my Gload

You are going to be very disappointed when their big free agent signing is Curtis Granderson.

roke1960

It’s really up to Jerry. He’s 82 now. He wants another championship. He’s got a ton of money to spend. Will he spend it? That’s the big question. But, yes, I’m afraid you may be right. If that’s the case, this rebuild will be a failure.

Eagle Bones

I’m all for going after Machado (and even Harper), but even the Sox end up being the top bidder, I don’t think either of them are signing with them. The problem is, I’m unsure of where they should go from there. I agree with trying to improve the team and not sitting around for another offseason, but we’ve seen what buying from the 2nd and 3rd tier of FAs gets you (especially when you’re buying those guys a year or so ahead of when you’re realistically expecting to be a contender). I’m open to arguments from both sides.

GrinnellSteve

After watching today’s game, there doesn’t appear to be room in this lineup for Machado or Harper. Who would they replace?

GoGoSoxFan

They replace Leury and LaMarre. Best bench in MLB!

David I

The Sox have always been a team to go on the cheap when it comes to “star” signings.  They generally sign a star on the tail end of their career for a cheaper and/or shorter contract, hoping a change of scenery will give that aging star a shot of life, or their veteran knowledge will help some of their young stars.

Lurker Laura

This post was simultaneously less depressing (infield not terrible) and more depressing (outfield hopeless) than I expected.

Sophist

Nice work, Josh. Like LurkerLaura, I too was ambivalent, but the outfield thing doesn’t worry me — this is one of their areas of organizational strength and depth. What scared me is thinking that this is just the average WAR for the whole league. I wonder what this looks like if you calculated the averages for all the playoff teams. I bet the Sox are below average in every position.

I’m not sure if this makes anyone feel better or worse, but there’s a real chance that only one of these players is still with the team in the present position in 2020.

Sophist

oh good; I didn’t want to have to assign that to you!

David I

Also wondering what current playoff team stats looked like before they hit their playoff year (Houston, Cubs, etc).

karkovice squad

The thing that remains true is that regardless of where they choose to spend money, they will absolutely have to. Even if we disregard the setbacks they’ve had with injuries and inconsistent development for their prospects, it’s exceedingly rare for a team’s farm to get them all the way to the postseason let alone the World Series. Much more rare than a team reboundinf from the cellar to the postseason.

The thing that their core should afford them is incentive to play in the expensive part of the pool where they can max out production in roster spots rather than play the lottery.

Tweaky

Wow didn’t realize Yolmer had back to back seasons of 3+ WAR. How ’bout that?!

Trooper Galactus

What was the methodology for calculating the average positional WAR? Is that for every team’s primary player at each position, or total value at each position from all contributors? If the latter is the case, our outfield gets a small boost from Leury, Palka, and LaMarre (largely negated by Trayce, Cordell, and Tilson, sadly).

ChiSoxND12

The Machado/Goldschmidt fantasies have me chuckling. Jerry’s gonna shell out $400m?  You are aware that the most he’s ever paid one player is $68, correct?  

roke1960

That makes me leery too. But if they are going to win after this rebuild, they can’t continue to play cheap in free agency. Their payroll is almost nothing now. Even after paying Machado $40 million a year, their payroll would still be under $100 million. That isn’t even close to their record payroll.

Trooper Galactus

Never mind their payroll record operates in a territory the game has long since surpassed. Even the Royals have run a larger record payroll than the White Sox. The team needs to accept that a top-10 payroll is a lot more than $130 million these days, even with all the tanking teams. In 2018, EIGHTEEN TEAMS started with a larger Opening Day payroll than the White Sox ever have ($131 million or more). A top-10 payroll in 2019 will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $160 million, so the White Sox have a LONG way to go before they’re spending where they used to in relation to the rest of the league.

gibby32

Very few people enjoy condescension.