Baseball

As we continue around the diamond we come to one of the more exciting (and divisive) players the Sox employ to patrol their infield, Tim Anderson.

In a season where Rick Hahn really needed some pieces of The Future™ to break out and give the rebuild a nice new glossy shine, Tim Anderson stepped up and not only gave Hahn a success story (along with Yoan and a few others), but the White Sox organization a face and an attitude they can market the living shit out of if they do it right.

While this might not need saying, I’m a complete mark for Tim Anderson. He’s exciting, speaks his mind, and plays with the kind of flash and fire that hasn’t been on the team since Ozzie Guillen left for South Beach. There is something very Pro Wrestling about Tim, and that’s probably a big reason I find myself drawn to his play. I mean, this quote is basically cutting a promo on the entire “Old School” belief system in MLB. It’s badass:

If you can’t get behind this type of swagger in professional sports, then you haven’t been paying attention the past decade. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and this is the definition of that.

2019 Stats

.335/.357/.508

2.9 BB% 21.0 K%

18 HR 56 RBI 86 R

.363 wOBA 130 wRC+ 3.5 WAR

Outs Above Average: -1

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 saw a career year at the plate for Timmy, with a .335 batting average and a .508 slugging percentage at the end of the year. Oh, and he also won the AL batting title, making him the first White Sox player to hold that crown since Big Frank did it the year I graduated high school (1997. Yeah, I’m old). Despite all of the above, questions still remain about Timmy. While the .335 batting average was amazing, the .357 OBP was somewhat less than stellar. With his BABIP at a pretty unsustainable .399, the question isn’t “IF” the regression is coming for his average, it’s “how much will it be”?

Defensively, Tim committed quite a few errors last year. His 26 total lead all shortstops last season, which is bad. What’s even worse is he missed almost a month and a half with an ankle injury suffered at the shitbox Fenway Park on a soggy infield, so those 26 errors could’ve ended up being a much higher number. The advanced metrics don’t like him either, ranking him 21st in defensive production in 2019 with an UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of -9.1.

All is not lost defensively, however. The new defensive stat created by Baseball Savant in conjunction with MLB and Statcast takes into account the difficulty of plays and the distance needed to travel to make said plays (For a good primer on the stat, click here). The league average for fielders is set at zero, and the more positive the number the better, and the more negative number is worse. For comparison, last season Javy Baez was best in the league at short with a +19, while Jorge Polanco was dead last with a -18. Tim Anderson fell just below league average at a -1. What this tells me is that Tim is an extremely athletic shortstop with great range and occasionally poor throw making decisions, which is exactly what the eye test shows.

TOO SWEET! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Timmy is that his BABIP only drops about .030 points, and all of the work he talked about putting in on his defense in the off-season bears fruit and he ends up a league average or better shortstop in the AL. For someone who is clearly as gifted as Tim is athletically this is not something that’s pie in the sky wishful thinking.

A Tim Anderson that hits .290/.310/.480 is going to be a monster in this lineup, which will be even stronger with him hitting in the 7 hole and not leading off like Ricky Renteria seems to think is the best course of action right now. Once Nick Madrigal is fully armed and operational at the big league level, this is gonna be where Timmy ends up. He’s never going to be a big OBP guy, and that’s absolutely fine. Being picky about pitch selection has never been his forte, and I wouldn’t risk changing it just to up his walk total at the expense of his power numbers.

I’d also like to think that him and Moncada will have more of a green light this year, so a 20/20 year is within reach if everything breaks his way. His base stealing acumen has always been more based on his athleticism than any particular feel for the art of it, but much like his OBP…who gives a shit if it works? Having a 20/20 guy hitting in the bottom third of your lineup in a best case scenario is the kind of shit that should give Jake Odorizzi and his pool noodle arm night sweats.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: This one is pretty self explanatory: Tim’s BABIP falls off a cliff and his numbers completely tank, resulting in the type of season that is much more Alex Cintron than Francisco Lindor. His OBP stays the same, or even drops some and you’re left with a slash line that looks something like this: .225/.252/.388. On top of that big pile of smoldering shit, his D continues to slide and he goes from slightly below league average to total liability.

Then you’re left with the younger more expensive version of Orlando Arcia except with a longer contract term. Meanwhile just to rub salt into the wound, Fernando Tatis Jr. wins the triple crown while leading the Padres to a wild card berth where they upset the Brewers in the 1st round and shock the baseball world by sending the Dodgers out on their collective asses before winning the world series. In addition, the world is dealt a glancing blow by a meteor, which knocks the planet off it’s axis sending us into a 2nd ice age. Also Brooklyn 99 is canceled and Big Bang Theory comes back.

BAH GAWD THAT’S ANDERSON’S MUSIC!: My prediction for Tim this season is this: .272/.308/.461 with 19 dingers and 82 RBI. He’s going to be a +2 Outs Above Average, and steal 18 bases while scoring 90 runs for the Sox.

Renteria is going to stubbornly keep him in the leadoff spot even after Nick Madrigal makes it to the Show, and Luis Robert starts the year on a tear, batting .309. Eventually he’ll come to his senses (around June) and put Tim back in the #7 spot where he will thrive, knocking in 58 of his 82 RBIs.

There will also be plenty more of stuff like this

And This:

And This:

Because baseball is going to be fun again.

Baseball

Here we arrive at the player who represents something the Sox desperately needed and haven’t had since Jim (HI ITS JI-) Thome took his whoopin stick up I-94 up to the Land Of Ice And First Round Flameouts: above average production out of the DH position. Having pretty much created slugging percentage at every stop he’s had on his career, Edwin Encarnacion is the balm that could sooth the pain created by the hemorrhoid that was watching AJ Reed flail wildly about in the batter’s box last season.

With a fairly team friendly contract (1 year, 13 Million with a club option for a 2nd year) partially resulting from a cool market for DH style players and the fact that he spent the 2nd half of the season hurt, this was a sneaky good signing for Rick Hahn. Let’s dive into it a little more, shall we?

 

2019 Stats

.244/.344/.531

34 HR 86 RBI

11.9 BB% 21.2 K%

.362 wOBA 129 wRC+ .875 OBPS

Outs Above Average: 0

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 saw pretty much the same thing from Edwin Encarnacion that the previous 8 years had, namely him blasting 30+ HR and racking up RBIs by the barrel full. He started the season with the Mariners, ostensibly to anchor a young hopefully contending offense at the DH position. What ended up happening was the M’s crashing out of contention pretty rapidly, which resulted in him being flipped to the Yankees for Juan Then (the Yanks 27th ranked prospect) and cash considerations. At the time of the trade, the then 36-year old Encarnacion was leading the AL in dingers with 21 through 68 games.

It was in New York that he ran into a streak of shitty luck, getting drilled by a pitch on the wrist that resulted in a hairline fracture that cost him a month and sapped a goodly amount of power from him. He also missed time with an oblique strain that he suffered while hitting a home run. Despite all that, he still managed a .249/.325/.531 line with 13 home runs and a 121 wRC+ rating with the Bronx Bombers.

While Encarnacion’s power numbers have remained remarkably steady, 2019 became the 3rd consecutive year posting a drop in his batting average. The .244 mark is now down .026 from his career average of .270, and despite posting a record low (for him) BABIP of .239 last year, there really isn’t much hope of a rebound in that category. His walk rate remains in line with the rest of his career, but his K rate has gone up a few years in a row, most likely tied to the dip in his batting average. 34 HR is still 34 HR however, and at this point in his career nobody is signing Encarnacion to work the count.

Despite those solid numbers (which other than the BA are right in line with what you’d expect), there were not too many teams beating down his door to sign him to a multi-year deal. This left him sitting around until Christmas Day, when Hahnta Claus shuffled down his chimney with a 1 year deal worth 13 million dollars and an option for a 2nd with the same numbers. Merry Christmas indeed.

TOO SWEET! (Whoop Whoop!): Best case scenario is Encarnacion returns to the offensive output he was providing in 2019 before getting popped on the wrist by a pitch. His .246/.360/.542 slash line and 139 wRC+ he posted through June would  absolutely annihilate whatever meager power the Sox have gotten out of the DH position during the last 5 years.

Production like that in a lineup like this would make it pretty simple for him to break 100 RBIs again, and 35 home runs would not be out of the question. Placing him in the cleanup spot in the batting order would allow him to reap the benefits of having Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and (eventually) Nick Madrigal or Luis Robert hitting in front of him. Or if Eloy Jimenez breaks out completely you could have any combination of Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Nomar Mazara hitting in the 5, 6 and 7 spots. While this is not a true Murderer’s Row (yet), it’s easily the most exciting batting order the Sox have assembled in years.

Defensively (if it comes to that), Encarnacion isn’t a disaster at first base either. His 0 OAA stat from last year marks him as exactly league average at the position, and his -1 DRS is a stat you could easily live with if he was pressed into service for an extended length of time if someone (Jeebus forbid) got hurt. Otherwise you wouldn’t expect to see him out there more than a game per week max.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The White Sox history at signing DH players through free agency (with the obvious exception of Jim Thome) has been a minefield of epic sadness. If things truly went nipples up with Encarnacion this season, the spectre of Adam Dunn and his .219 average would hover over first base like Casper the Soft Contact Ghost. If his batting average continued its slow progression downward, and his health limited him to less than 100 games, I could see this being a wasted 13 million by the Sox.

That awful picture aside, even if Encarnacion turns out to be a disaster at the plate this season it’s only a one year deal. The Sox would merely have to decline his option in the off-season and replace him with someone from the copious free agent pool next year. On top of that, the Sox have gotten such hilariously shitty production from the DH spot that it would take a Palka-esque level of regression for Encarnacion to be any worse than what we’ve had from there the past few years. Odds are, Edwin is going to be the best DH the Sox have had for a few years, merely by not dying in the batters box.

 

 

BAH GAWD THAT’S ENCARNACION’S MUSIC!: I fully expect Edwin Encarnacion to hit 35 home runs this season, and knock in 110 RBIs. Honestly, why would I expect anything else? The man has been an absolute model of consistency in his power numbers throughout his career. It hasn’t mattered what coast of the country he’s on, 30+ dingers has been a lock for him and this season is going to be no different. Shit, even if he replicates his numbers from 2019 it would still be a win not only for the Sox, but all of us who have had to watch the endless parade of dopes taking at bats from the DH spot. Anything more than what he put up last year is gravy.

That being said, I also feel like the .245 average for him is the new norm. I don’t doubt that his OBP will be pretty static, but the reality of his age keeps the idea of him hitting .265 pretty unlikely. He’s also not going to be playing 1st base very much, which is also fine. Jose Abreu and Grandal are both more than capable of nailing down that position for the season. NL parks could be an issue down the road, but that’s a bridge you cross when you get to it.

If Encarnacion plays more than 100 games this season at the level of consistency that he’s shown over the past decade, this signing will be a complete win for the Sox. The man is a professional hitter, and that is something that’s been in short supply on the South Side for quite some time. If he happens to drag his average back above .250 and stays healthy? That 13 million dollars is going to look like quite the steal for the team, and whoever owns stock in the company that sells fireworks to the White Sox is going to have quite the windfall.

Baseball

Moving along the diamond we come to the deepest position for the Sox infield, 1st base. It also contains the most tenured and respected player on the team, Jose Abreu. Nestled into the middle of the Sox “Sold B+” off-season was a 3 year extension for Jose. While the contract itself was a source of consternation for the Sox Faithful during the winter months, ultimately it’s now up to Jose to prove he deserved that paper and try to build off a season which was both successful (Led the AL in RBIs!) and not (highest K rate and lowest BB of his career). Let’s see what we can see, shall we?

 

2019 Stats

.284/.330/.503

33 HR 123 RBI

5.2 BB% 21.9 K%

.344 wOBA 117 wRC+ .833 OPS

Outs Above Average: -3

2019 Player Review

 

Last Week on Nitro: 2019 was somewhat of a mixed bag for Jose Abreu, as mentioned above. His power numbers were some of the best that he’s had since he broke into the league in 2014. The 33 home runs is his second highest mark, and the 123 RBIs blew away his previous high of 107. These are all (obviously) very good things, and what you’d expect out of someone of Jose’s size and position on the diamond. What wasn’t so great was the leap in his K rate and the precipitous dip in his BB rate. Jose was always known for his above average eye at the plate, and yet last season showed him chasing more down and away off-speed stuff. His OBP, while higher than 2018, was still a good .020 lower than his usual sterling .350 mark. The rest of his stats, including his hard hit and line drive rates were in line with his career norms. His BABIP was where you’d expect it to be as well.

Jose was also his usual stalwart self, hardly missing any time due to injury which has been a hallmark of his every season except 2018 (which we shall forget ever happened). So what to make of it all? Is this the new Abreu, primed for power and not worried that right field even exists? Or is it an outlier of sorts, and he will return to his “spray to all fields with pop” ways in 2020?

 

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): While Jose is progressing in age, it’s by no means a death knell for his production. One only needs to look North to Nelson Cruz or even right here on the Sox with Edwin Encarnacion (who I’ll talk about tomorrow) to show that given the right scenario, those guys can not only be productive but key pieces of a baseball team that has deigns on more than just a winning record. Shit, by the time the season gets under way Abreu will be 6 years younger than Cruz, which seems to punch holes in the theory that the regression monster is destined to consume him.

The best case scenario for Jose this summer is the continued development of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. If the three of them are able to provide Jose some cover in the lineup, I could see him coming close to the power numbers he put up last year. Having Edwin Encarnacion  and Yasmani Grandal in the lineup could allow Abreu to hit comfortably in the #5 or 6 spot in the lineup, keeping his RBI opportunities plentiful but no longer forcing him to be THE MAN. If everything swings his way this year, I could see Jose having the kind of season that makes folks forget about the Sox overpaying him back in December. Turning back the clock to 2013 with a .290/.345/.500 kind of line with 120 RBIs is well within reach with proper placement in the lineup by Ricky and Jose’s continued good health.

On the other side of the ball, if Tim Anderson lived up to his promise and his D improves this winter, it will go a long way for Jose’s defensive numbers. Jose not having to chase shitty throws to the dugout or scoop shit outta the dirt like cat litter would be a nice change of pace for him. He’s never going to be Albert Pujols in his prime at 1B, but he’s not a sinkhole over there either. Add in the fact that Encarnacion, Grandal and even James McCann will be able to spell him at 1B will only help in the long run keeping Jose viable.

 

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The flip side of the mega-positive coin is instead of having 2019 Nelson Cruz as a comp, you end up with 2019 Miguel Cabrera. While Miggy was still a decently productive player in 2019 (.282/.346/.398), he was a slightly below average league player (-0.3 WAR), which for a guy with a contract that has a $31 million dollar AAV is nightmare fuel for fans of a team with an owner like Jerry Reinsdorf.

Miggy had a terrible time staying healthy over the past few years, and really his contract is the only thing keeping him on the field at this point. I’ve always been a big fan of Cabrera and his shenanigans on the field, but for a team like the White Sox who are poised to take the jump to the next level having this happen to Jose would be bad news.

The other thing that would be absolutely brutal for some of the Sox off-season moves is the ball suddenly goes back to not being made out of plutonium and all the dingers are now warning track fly outs. In the past this wouldn’t be the end of the world for Jose, but last season he decided to turn and burn way more than in seasons past, and a dead ball would have his numbers crash faster than that guy trying to prove the earth is flat by flying his own rockets.

 

BAH GAWD THAT’S ABREU’S MUSIC: Here’s my prediction for Jose for this season: it’s gonna be pretty much the same as last season. What we’ve seen out of Abreu lately is the new norm for him, as pulling the ball for power is a lot more fun than trying to split the right and center fielders. Running sucks, and people who do it for fun are insane. Why leg out a double when you can put one in the bullpen and jog around the bases? His final line will look something similar to this: .269/.325/.489, with 30 dingers and 110 RBI for a total of 2.0 WAR and a wRC+ of 115. Which is perfectly acceptable for him on this team.

Jose will most likely start the season hitting out of the 3 or 4 hole (Because Ricky Renteria), but with all the danger the Sox present in their lineup going forward Ricky will see the value of hitting Jose out of the 5 spot where he can comfortably knock in runs all year without the pressure of hitting higher in the lineup. He’ll have to spend some time at DH to get Grandal and Encarnacion reps at first (which he hates) but he’s the ultimate team player, and it’ll work for him.

The most important thing for Jose is he’s gonna have a shitload of fun this season, right along with the rest of us. Even if the Sox end up with 85 wins and miss the postseason by 6 games it’s going to mark a change in that dugout. The wave hasn’t made it to the shore yet, but it’s on the horizon.