Baseball

BOX SCORES

White Sox 12 – Orioles 1

White Sox 8 – Orioles 3

White Sox 7 – Orioles 5 (10 Innings)

 

27 runs in 3 games is a pretty impressive feat. 68 runs in 10 games in the month of July is even moreso. The fact that the Sox are doing this with only 3 of the 9 players that were pegged to be starters at the beginning of the season is downright mind boggling. It hasn’t mattered who has gone down with injuries, there’s been someone who’s come up from AAA and grabbed the baton and kept running with it. Granted, there’s really no way that this level of production from what is essentially 2/3rds of a AAA roster is sustainable. For the time being, however, it’s been more than enough to keep the Sox on top of the Death Star Trash Compactor that is the AL Central.

Heading into the All Star break, the Sox currently sit 8 games ahead of the Cleveland Baseball Team with a 54-35 record and a 3rd best in the league +117 run differential. Their pitching staff ranks 1st in ALL OF BASEBALL with an accumulated 15.1 WAR (according to Fangraphs), and the offense is not far behind at 4th with 16.4 total WAR. This has all been done with one of the highest amounts of innings lost to injury in the league, with by far and away the largest amount of high-value players who’ve succumbed to stints on the IL.

It’s pretty unbelievable what this team has accomplished thus far in this season, and I have to give some credit to Tony LaRussa. Trust me, I really don’t want to but the fact that he’s pretty much let this team and locker room be itself has not been lost on me. Outside of the shit with Yermin and some interesting bullpen and lineup choices here and there he has not been the poison that I was afraid he would be, so kudos to him for that.

Also credit to Rick Hahn for making a few shrewd moves so far by signing Billy Hamilton and Brian Goodwin for a song. The cheapness of the organization as a whole and Jerry Reinsdorf in particular are never going to change, but Hahn deserves credit for the moves that work (Hamilton, Goodwin, Rodon) as much as the shitty moves that don’t (Eaton, Eaton and more Eaton). His biggest test will be over the next 3 weeks as he attempts to make some night moves to fill the holes in RF, 2B and at C until Yasmani Grandal can return from his knee surgery. The Sox also need at least 2 more bullpen arms, as Jose Ruiz and Matt Foster should not have a place on the playoff roster unless something changes in the next 2 months.

Finally, our Sweet Baby Boy Eloy has begun his rehab stint almost a month early and he’s already gone yard. Odds are we wont see him until the beginning of August at the earliest, but just having him on the horizon will be a boon to an already potent offense.

I’ll be back later in the week with some midseason grades for those lucky folk who are still on the roster and not the IL. Until then, enjoy the spectacle of the Dinger Derby and the ASG itself. Hopefully our 4 All Stars make it through unscathed, making the Sox look even better in the process. See you all soon.

Baseball

Sadly, the title of the post isn’t about my long-unfinished script featuring teenagers trying to get laid one summer while getting into some zany antics at the car wash they all work at. No, it’s about the return of one Adam Cory Eaton to the South side of Chicago, who Rick Hahn signed to a 1 year deal today worth $7 million dollars.

The signing caps a wild 12 hours which saw the Sox send Dane Dunning and Avery Weems (who’s name can be rearranged to spell Weever Yams) to the Rangers for their Ace and professional Bluto cosplayer Lance Lynn. One of these moves I’m all for, the other one not so much.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

ADAM EATON

2020 Stat Line: .226/.285/.669 4 HR, 17 RBI, 22 R, 3 SB, 18.2% K Rate, 75 wRC+

2019 Stat Line: .279/.365/.792 15 HR, 49 RBI, 103 R, 15 SB, 16.2% K Rate, 107 wRC+

Well those are two very different looking lines there, aren’t they? To say that Eaton had anything but a miserable 2020 would be a colossal understatement. He looked completely out of sorts, and had trouble putting the ball in play with any type of power. His contact numbers tanked, and his K rate spiked. The Nats (unsurprisingly) declined his $10.5 million option for 2021 and he became a free agent.

His 2019 was a completely different story, as his ability to get on base consistently led him to 3rd on the Nats in runs scored behind Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. He was also 3rd on the team in stolen bases, and was average in the OF, manning both corner position spots. More importantly, he was also healthy for the first time in ages, playing more than 100 games (151) for the first time in 4 seasons.

If the White Sox had no history with Eaton, I would be cautiously optimistic about this signing. He’s a very good outfielder when he’s able to stay healthy, and has the ability to get on base and score runs when the bigger bats knock him in.

Yet the Sox and Eaton have a very storied history together, and most of it eye-rollingly annoying. Not that anyone has forgotten the Saga of Child MLB Locker Room Leader Drake LaRoche, of which Eaton was a prime player. Looking back, this was the beginning of the Sox rebuild, whether Kenny Williams wanted to admit it or not. Now, at the end of it all right when the Sox are ready to take the AL Central by storm he’s back, like the Ghost of Lockerooms Past.

As it stands now, I personally feel the Sox locker room is as strong as it’s been since quite possibly 2005. Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu are the leaders from the offensive side, and Lucas Giolito has turned into the Mentor Extraordinaire on the pitching side. The addition of Adam Eaton should hopefully be nothing more than what it is at the face: a slightly better platoon player in RF with Adam Engel.

Lance Lynn

2020 Stats: 6-3/3.32 ERA/89 K/1.06 WHIP/4.19 FIP/1.5 WAR

2019 Stats: 16-11/3.67 ERA/246 K/3.13 FIP/6.8 WAR

On the other side of all of this was the story that broke late last night: that Rick Hahn had sent promising young arm Dane Dunning and Avery Weems (the Sox 6th round selection in 2019) to the Rangers for their ace Lance Lynn.

Looking at Lynn’s stats over the past few years, one thing comes flying out at you. His strikeout numbers jumped huge in 2019, almost 100 Ks more than the 160 he had in 2018. He accomplished this by having TJ surgery in 2016, then moving to the 3rd base side of the rubber in 2017. Oh, and he also started throwing his 4 seam fastball more than any other pitcher in the league. He also managed to add 1.2 mph to his average velocity to the pitch, which is not something that normally happens in 30+ year old pitchers in MLB.

He also increased his control with his cutter, consistently able to throw it away from righties and get swinging strikes, or jam it in on the hands of left handed hitters, blowing up bats and generating weaker contact. The chart below shows clearly his ability to keep the pitch close enough to the zone to force swings (courtesy of Thomas Harrigan @ MLB.COM)

On top of the increased Ks, Lynn eats innings like dots for PacMan. He threw 208 in 2019, the 4th time in his career breaking the 200 inning mark. All this combined makes him a hell of a number 2 starter behind Lucas Giolito, slotting Dallas Keuchel in the 3 spot where he really should’ve been the whole time.

While I really am going to miss Dane Dunning, at best he caps out at a league average 4th starter. The fact that Rick Hahn was able to score someone who was able to put forth stats like that on an abysmal Rangers team is the kind of moves a team who wants to sit at the big boys table makes.

I understand some folks reticence at trading one of the prized prospects collected by Hahn, but ask yourself this question: If the Fernando Tatis Jr trade had never happened, would you still feel the same way about this deal?

The shell shock that some people (rightfully) have about the Tatis trade has lead them to clutch the Sox prospects tighter than Vince McMahon holding onto the idea his wrestlers are independent contractors. It’s an understandable feeling, but one we’re going to have to get past as Dunning will not be the last precious prospect to move on.

Still left for Rick Hahn: solving the closer position, and adding a DH in case Andrew Vaughn isn’t ready for the full time role in 2021. I’m sure I’ll be back here sooner rather than later, so stay tuned.

 

 

Baseball

Well that’s not what I was expecting.

Honestly, when I heard that today was the day for Rick Hahn’s “End Of Season” press conference/wrap party I assumed that this was going to be more of the same from him. You know, the “we like our team, we like our players, obviously this isn’t what we wanted for an end result but we’re happy with the progress…” etc, etc, etc. What I absolutely did not expect was what went down today, which was basically a bloodletting from Renteria on down. So where does this all leave us?

Well first off, it’s obviously the end of Ricky’s time here with the White Sox organization. His tenure was basically what everyone expected it to be when sold the Rebuild by Rick Hahn. His end record of 236-309 was actually better than what one would expect with the talent he was given. While it’s a surprise that he was let go (moreso because of the history of Reinsdorf loyally holding onto managers until well beyond their expiration date), looking at the last 10 days of his career with the Sox, it’s also understandable.

Don Cooper’s exit was also a surprise, but one that I thought at the end of the season had a better chance of occurring than Ricky getting the boot. Cooper had been with the team since 2002, shepherding some of the best pitchers the organization had ever seen. Yet time comes for all coaches, and in Coop’s case the science of pitching had passed him by about 8 years ago. Not the type of guy to give a shit about spin rate or advanced stats, Coop’s welcome seemed to wear out just before Chris Sale went full Michael Meyers on the throwback jerseys. The fact that guys like Lucas Giolito were buying Rapsodo machines on their own to analyze their deliveries, or that Zack Burdi was making mechanical adjustments by watching videos on YouTube doesn’t speak much to the impact that Cooper was having on the younger arms.

So now the Sox are left with openings at the top of their coaching pyramid, at a time where there aren’t a ton of options that don’t either come with baggage (AJ Hinch and Alex Cora), a ton of experience (Sandy Alomar Jr), or a functioning parietal lobe of their brain (Ned Yost). In a perfect world Cleveland would move on from Terry Francona leaving him in the cold for the Sox to snap up, but this probably isn’t gonna happen. With the comments Rick Hahn made today about playoff experience being something they’d be focusing on in their search leads me to believe one of the 4 guys mentioned above may have the inside track.

Hinch and Cora are both seasoned managers, and have taken a team with a young core group of players to the promised land. They’ve also both had good relationships with the top available RF free agent in George Springer, which is probably the most Rick Hahn thing ever. They also both come with the concrete shoes of having been managers of a team who laid down Cheat Beats all the way to the World Series. Is that something that we as fans would be OK with? I honestly don’t know.

Sandy Alomar Jr. checks all of Rick Hahn’s boxes for having playoff experience with the Indians, but not as a head coach. He also has the added benefit of being a manager with a Spanish speaking background, which for the Sox core is almost like being able to speak French while coaching the Montreal Canadiens. Plus he’s familiar with the team after spending a few seasons here as a player.

Ned Yost is a neanderthal, and if Rick Hahn considers hiring him Tim Anderson should push him onto the Dan Ryan during rush hour.

As far as pitching coach goes, it seems like the Sox have been grooming Matt Zaleski in the minors for quite some time now. He’s a fan of advanced stats and biomechanics, and has helped most of the Sox young pitching core at one point or another in their minor league careers. It wouldn’t shock me if he got the call to fill in Coop’s shoes.

Ultimately the thing that a move like this signifies that the Sox front office is no longer satisfied with simple progression as a whole. It also changes my thinking about them crying poor this off-season and not filling the holes in the lineup that need to be filled in. I fully expect Nomar Mazara to be non-tendered and replaced by a player outside the system. With COVID affecting the amount of money teams will be willing to spend, the Sox could find themselves in a situation where if they’re willing to shell out the cash, there could be bargains to be had (which is extremely On Brand for Jerry Reinsdorf).

If they’re not willing to open the purse strings and jump into the free agent pool, then this shakeup was all a giant waste of time.

 

Other Notes From Hahn’s Presser:

-The Sox are treating the DH position this off-season as Andrew Vaughn’s to lose, much like CF for Luis Robert and 2B for Nick Madrigal were this year.

-Garret Crochet’s UCL is still in one piece, and it was a flexor strain that caused his forearm stress. Flexor strains can still be harbingers for TJ, so he’s not out of the woods yet, but for now he should be ready for spring training

-Jimmy Lambert also has a forearm issue, albeit one more severe than Crochet’s. Still should be ready for spring training.

-Nick Madrigal underwent his expected shoulder surgery this last week, and if his rehab goes according to timeline may miss the beginning of spring training.

-Eloy’s foot strain was nothing more than that, and should be good to go.

-Ozzie Guillen is not a candidate to fill the coaching vacancy (nor should he ever have been).

 

That’s about it for now. I hadn’t expected to be writing again this soon, but Hahn threw the curveball today. I’ll be back after the Rays win the World Series to talk about who stays and who goes this off-season.

Rest in peace, Joe Morgan.

Baseball

September 5th, 2018. A day that will live in infamy, as it was the last major league start where Michael Kopech took the bump for the White Sox. He only lasted 3-1/3rd innings in a game beset by weather delays. The whole start Kopech just didn’t look right. His velocity was down, and none of his stuff was dancing like we’d seen during his first couple starts. After the game came the news he was going for a scan on his pitching arm, and all of us Sox fans knew in our hearts what that was going to lead to.

Two weeks later he underwent successful Tommy John surgery, putting the final nail in the Shit Coffin that was the Sox 2018 season. It wasn’t so much that he was lost for the rest of 2018, that turd was flushed long before he ever came up from the minors. It was more that he was the only bright spot that year. A reminder to the loyal that while this season may suck, it sucks for a REASON. A brighter future awaits next year. Then in a puff of smoke and 6 hours of elbow surgery that brighter 2019 we dreamed of was gone like a hanging Ross Detwiler curve.

Every five days last season I wondered “man, how different would this game have been if it was Kopech starting instead of Dylan Covey-Detwiler-Despaigne?” How much closer to .500 would they have been if Kopech had been firing 99 mph fastballs and punching out chumps instead of us watching yet another Dylan Covey “sinkerball” penetrate the stratosphere with a 300 mph exit velocity? Now, with the 2020 season (eventually) here, (hopefully) we get to see what kind of devastation a bionic Michael Kopech can unleash upon the league.

 

2018 Stats (AAA Charlotte)

Games Started: 24

7 Wins and 7 Losses

3.70 ERA   1.27 WHIP

170 K  60 BB  9 HR

12.11 K/9 Innings  4.27 BB/9 Innings

3.30 FIP

 

Last Week On Nitro: Since Kopech only started 5 games at the major league level in 2018 (and I’m assuming at least a few of those were with his UCL in tatters) I decided to eschew the normal stats and post what he did at AAA Charlotte in 2018. A few of those things jump out at you, the obvious one being the 170 strikeouts in 120 innings for a 12.11 K/9. That strikeout level is cartoonishly awesome, and I have a hard time getting stats like that playing on rookie level in The Show on PS4 (gamertag Ahota88, come at me) (Actually don’t, I’m not very good at all). For comparison his 12.11 K/9 would’ve tied for 4th in the league last year with Justin Verlander. Granted, those stats came against minor leaguers but hitting stats in AAA have been crazy inflated for the past few years since they switched to the plutonium ball, so it’s not totally dismissive.

The other thing that stands out is the 4.27 walks per nine innings. That’s…not great. It would’ve landed him 3rd from the bottom in all qualified starters last year. Looking a little closer, a majority of those walks came in the first two months of the season where (if you’ll remember, and it was 2018 so I’ll forgive you if you don’t) he was famously struggling with his command. Once the calendar flipped to July, he found his command and never looked back. Up through June, he walked 52 batters and then from July through the end of August when he was called up he only walked 8 in 8 starts. That’s WAAAAY more what we would want to see command wise. I’d also point out that despite the crazy high walk rate, his WHIP was only 1.27 and that’s with getting sub par defense behind him as evident by his 3.30 FIP! If he would’ve kept the walk rate that he had in the last few months of his time in AAA his WHIP would’ve been close to 1, which is pretty bananas.

After his stint skull-punching his way through AAA rosters, he finally got the call from Rick Hahn to the big league team on August 21st against the Twins. In what would become an ongoing theme for his short time in the majors, rain cut that start short. In that brief glimpse, however, we saw more of the same stuff he displayed down in AAA with his fastball touching 99 mph and his slider diving away from right handed hitters. He struck out 4 in 3 and 1/3rd innings, and looked every bit the top prospect arm he was billed as. Sadly for us, a little over a month later he was done and we’ve barely seen him since. Before the league shut down due to the pandemic, he logged a single inning down in spring training. In that single inning, he threw 11 pitches, 4 of which were clocked at over 100 mph. *shocked face emoji*

 

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Kopech this year? Honestly at this point it will completely depend on how long we are without baseball. I’m sure he’s back home right now throwing into a net or something but if the season was normal the Sox were not planning on having him with the big league team until May at the earliest. If the league starts play at some point in June the possibility exists that he’s on the “opening day” roster as the Sox 6th starter.

If that’s the case, then the best scenario for him is probably 10 starts or so over the course of the shortened season, with 75-90 strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA.  The possibility exists for him to log more innings than that, given Gio Gonzalez’ recent injury history and need for maintenance days. Really, though, as long as he can stay healthy and take the ball every 6 days or so I will consider the 2020 season a win for Michael Kopech and the White Sox.

 

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Absolute worst case scenario for the Sox here is an injury filled return for Kopech, and he ends up as the White Sox version of Brent Honeywell: infinite talent, but infinite injury. The other issue here is the original Tommy John surgery itself. Pitchers on average are about 78% successful at returning to peak form after a TJ surgery, which while very high, still leaves the possibility that he comes back not as he was.

In this scenario, he’s forced to completely overhaul his approach to challenging hitters. This brings to mind John Danks after his shoulder surgery, and that may have set back Jerry Reinsdorf’s willingness to pay for a pitcher back about a decade. If this were to happen, he goes from a potential ace to maybe a 5th starter or more likely a long reliever. This would make us all very sad, as I don’t want anything other than Kopech destroying the world with 100 mph fastballs.

 

Bah Gawd That’s Kopech’s Music!: If the season starts at some point in June, the odds are either Kopech starts in the bullpen to stretch him out or Ricky Renteria gets with the times and provides him with an opener. In both these scenarios there is no reason not to let him off the chain and have him throw smoke right out of the gate. I would think the Sox are going to try and get him close to 100 innings in a shortened season. A 3.90 ERA with over 100 strikeouts would be acceptable in this situation as long as his velocity and movement is still close to where it was.

In reality, just getting to watch Kopech on the mound again for the first time in almost 20+ months will be enough to put a smile on most Sox fans faces. Shortening the season by a few months and having him ready to go for a late opening day could be the only side benefit of having this awful pandemic sweeping the world. Hopefully we will see him sooner rather than later, and all of you are safe and healthy out there. Cheers!

Baseball

With the position players all wrapped up, we come to the spot on the diamond that will matter the most to the playoff hopes of the White Sox, the pitcher’s mound. From where things stand offensively for the Sox with additions made in the off-season, run production is not going to be an issue for the team moving forward. If the Sox truly have deigns of making the playoffs it’s the pitching rotation that’s going to have to step up and mow some people down.

Since we’ve gone all in with the pro wrestling analogies so far, we may as well keep it going. Every good faction in wrestling needs a leader. Evolution had HHH. DX had Shawn Michaels, and the nWo had Kevin Nash. I guess that makes Lucas Giolito the Kevin Nash of the White Sox rotation.

 

2019 Stats

Games Started: 29

14 Wins 9 Losses

3.41 ERA 1.064 WHIP

228 Ks 56 BB 24 HR

11.62 K/9 3.43 FIP

5.1 WAR

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 for Lucas Giolito was an amazing leap forward from his status in 2018 as “World’s Worst Starting Pitcher” (at least according to Fangraphs) to “Top 10 Starter In MLB Worthy of Cy Young Votes” (Also according to Fangraphs). He bettered his stats from the previous year in every meaningful category, but none more impressive than his K/9 rate, which jumped from 6.49 to 11.62. Giolito credits this jump to work he did in the previous off-season to completely overhaul his mechanics and delivery to give his fastball more movement and allow more pinpoint accuracy at the top of the strike zone.

The results were nothing less than phenomenal, as his 5.1 WAR was second on the team only to Yoan Moncada‘s 5.7 tally. The stats could’ve been even better, but a lat strain caused him to be shut down early and miss his final 3 starts of the year (2 of which would’ve been against the moribund Tigers offense). That likely cost him a few AL Cy Young votes, but ultimately his progress in 2019 is far more important than any award and he’s cemented as the White Sox ace for the next 5 years unless a resurgent Michael Kopech takes it from him.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Lucas Giolito this season is he continues his upward rise towards the top of the American League pitching lists. He’s able to stay healthy, and avoid the post All Star break slump that ended up costing him about a half point of ERA in 2019. He breaks the 275 K plateau, bumping up his WAR for the season to above 6, making him the first Sox player to crack that ceiling since Mark Buherle almost did it in 2005 with a 5.9 season. He also finishes top 3 in AL Cy Young votes, and secures his 2nd All Star Game appearance.

If his delivery arm slot holds up and he’s able to replicate the successes of last season, I’m certain Rick Hahn will reach out to Giolito’s camp and begin discussions for a contract extension. While I don’t think the deal would end up nearly as team friendly as the one signed by Chris Sale back in 2013, there would still be value for both sides of the aisle by having the team buy out his remaining arbitration years. Keeping Giolito in a Sox jersey for as long as possible would reduce the sting of being forced to send the team’s previous young ace away.

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Worst case scenario for Lucas Giolito has already happened, and it was called the entire 2018 season. I’ll throw up his stats from that godawful year as a comparison to the 2019 ones above:

Lucas Giolito 2018 Statline

Games Started: 32

10 Wins 13 Losses

6.13 ERA 1.48 WHIP

120 K 90 BB 27 HR

6.49 K/9 5.56 FIP

Just looking at those numbers sends a cold shiver down my spine. Having personally watched multiple Giolito starts in 2018, I can say those numbers were all very well deserved. Thankfully, Giolito’s underlying numbers last season supports his turnaround as being genuine. He actually had worse batted ball luck in 2019, based on his .273 vs .268 BABIP numbers. While nothing is impossible, I certainly would bet on the 2019 Lucas Giolito showing up this year as opposed to the 2018 version.

The other thing that could derail his season would be injuries, but seeing as though he’s already had Tommy John surgery the odds of that recurrence would be pretty low. Other than that, he’s been pretty durable throughout his career with the last few weeks of September being the only extended time missed. Fingers crossed this trend continues.

Bah Gawd That’s Giolito’s Music!: This season is going to be more of the same for Lucas Giolito. I would fully expect any innings restraints to be off him, so barring any major time missed for injury I would think he’d eclipse the 200 inning mark for the first time in his career.

Adding in the new high in innings would also give him the chance to blow past the 250 strikeout line, which when factoring in the framing skills of Yasmani Grandal seems all the more likely (I also feel like I’m going to be talking about Grandal a lot during the pitching portion of the previews, in a very good way).

My final stat line for Giolito looks something like this:

17 w 8 L/3.32 ERA/1.14 WHIP/266K/64 BB/25 HR/3.38 FIP/6.1 WAR

Home runs are always going to be an issue for pitchers who ride the top of the zone like Lucas does, aided and abetted by the bandbox nature of The Down Arrow. As long as he can keep those under 30, I see no reason for a huge jump in any of his peripheral stats. The defense behind him could definitely be an issue, as outside of Luis Robert in center field there isn’t much in the way of plus defenders there until Nick Madrigal makes his triumphant entrance at second base.

With some reinforcements coming in behind Lucas in the rotation, this season looks like it could be the sequel to his triumphant coming out party in 2019. Strap in, everybody. Looks like it’s gonna be a fun year of baseball on the South Side.

 

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

Well that was a fun few months, wasn’t it?

Honestly if you had asked me back at the end of October what my hopes were for a good White Sox off season I would have told you I would’ve been satisfied with the team adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-8 WAR by plugging up the Black Hole of Sadness that was RF, DH and the 5th starter positions.

After the past few winters and the lack of anything that could be described as “remotely exciting,” my expectations were not enormous, despite this off season looming as the type that could be critical to make the last step from “rebuilding” to “competing” a reality. Which is understandable, as you can only watch guys like AJ Reed and Dylan Covey so long before your soul becomes jaded and calloused.

So when the Sox blew the market open just before Thanksgiving by signing the best (switch hitting) catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal to a 4-year, $73 million dollar deal I nearly drove off the road and through the razor wire-covered fence separating me from the Air National Guard base in Atlantic City. Thankfully that didn’t happen, because then I would’ve missed out on the Sox hot pursuit of Zack Wheeler. While not ultimately successful, the rumors of the contract offered to Wheeler showed that Rick Hahn truly was not going to be fucking around this winter.

The Sox also traded for Nomar Mazara to play in a potential platoon in RF this season, which hopefully assures positive production out of the right field position for the first time in what feels like decades. The trade itself initially didn’t move the needle very much for me, but after reading between the lines of what Rick Hahn has said about Mazara’s potential and how little the Sox committed to the position financially makes me think there might be bigger things down the road for that spot in the OF (man George Springer would look good out there).

Lest anyone think Hahn was done, he then went and solved the 5th starter spot by welcoming back Gio Gonzalez to the South Side for a 3rd time on a 1 year deal. It doesn’t really need to be said, but Gio compared to the dreck that had been oozing out there every 5th day is a drastic upgrade to the staff. A few days later, Hahn put an end to the narrative that the Sox would never deal with a Scott Boras client by inking Dallas Keuchel to what is essentially a 4-year deal with club options. Keuchel isn’t Zack Wheeler, but he’s not exactly Jamie Navarro either.

At this point most of us figured that Hahn was about finished with signing people, and the majority of fans out there would have considered this winter to be a success. Yet Hahnta Claus had a few more gifts to deliver, the first showing up on Christmas day with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 1 year deal worth $13 million with a club option for 2021.

Encarnacion is not the same player he was when he was batting .280 for the Blue Jays with 80 HR and 200 RBI. That being said he’s far from a league average player. While missing some games last season split in-between the Indians and Yankees due to a wrist fracture, Encarnacion was still able to mash 34 taters and knock in 89 RBI, all while maintaining a .344 OBP and ending the year with a 129 wRC+ rating. While his K rate has risen by about 4% in the last 2 seasons, his walk rate has stayed the same, which is what you’d expect from a player entering his age 37 season. If he can keep both at about 20 and 10% respectively there’s no reason to expect anything less than a 2.5 WAR season from him.

This is a sneaky-solid signing for the Sox, as Encarnacion has essentially been the same player for the last 8 years. Never less than 30 home runs in a season, and always right around an .875 OPS. His splits work pretty much the same against pitchers of either handedness, which solves some issues the Sox had against right handed pitching last season.

This also creates a hydra option at DH for Ricky Renteria, as you now have Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and James McCann available for the position. Managing Abreu and Encarnacion’s workload this season should be fairly simple work and keep both of them fresh throughout the year. It’s also an enormous upgrade at DH, and Encarnacion has the distinct chance to become the best hitter the Sox have played there since Jim Thome got run off because Ozzie and Kenny Williams fucking hated each other.

So at this point Hahn had solved the issues in RF, DH, 4SP and 5SP. Fuck it, may as well avoid the service time questions about Luis Robert by signing him to what amounts to an 8 year deal and buying him out of all his arbitration years. This deal at it’s core is very similar to the ones Hahn signed Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Timmy Anderson and Eloy Jiminez to. By betting heavily on what is essentially your future, the Sox get cost certainty for their payroll and potentially room to expand it the next two seasons.

This also all but guarantees that Robert will be the starting CF for the Sox on opening day, which makes the potential starting outfield look like Eloy/Robert/Mazara which is infinitely more palatable than what last year’s Eloy/Engel/A Department Store Mannequin.

With the starting outfield now pretty much set, Hahn added a solid bullpen arm in Steve Cishek on a one year deal for $5.25 million with a team option $6.75 million. Cishek had two good years with the Cubs, taking on a pretty hefty workload with the dumpster fire state of their bullpen. He racked up 134 innings in two seasons with a 2.55 ERA. He held righties to a minuscule .183/.260/.293, and his numbers against lefties weren’t to the point where he’s a specialist (.217/.367/.361).

While his peripherals sound a few alarm bells with a 4.54 FIP, some of that can be attributed to the sheer amount of work he was forced into with the Cubs. His strand rate was in line with his career averages, as were his BB and K rates, so the hope is with more workload management he can stave off any regression in the Sox bullpen.

So as it stands right now, the Sox opening day roster looks something like this:

C: Grandal/McCann

1B: Abreu/Encarnacion/Grandal

2B: Garcia

SS: Anderson

3B: Moncada

LF: Jimenez

CF: Robert

RF: Mazara

DH: Encarnacion/Abreu/Grandal

SP1: Giolito

SP2: Keuchel

SP3: Cease

SP4: Gonzalez

SP5: Lopez/Kopech/Rodon?

CP: Colome

RP: Marshall

RP: Herrera

RP: Cishek

RP: Bummer

 

Now that’s a lineup that will not only put some butts in seats (glares at Kenny Williams), but will give the Twins and Indians notice that the Central division is no longer a two horse race. For the first time in what feels like forever, hope blooms on the corner of 35th and Shields. How long that will last will depend on whether the Sox horrible injury luck persists into the 2020 season, and whether or not Hahn has the flexibility to trade or sign for the last few pieces needed for that final leap. It’s time to have fun watching Sox baseball again, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time considering the state of the other sports teams in Chicago. Game on!

 

 

Baseball

Hey, look! Some of the money got spent!

Honestly, I cant tell you how surprised I was to open up my twitter app last night during the 49ers game and see the following come across my feed:

At first I had to double check it wasn’t some asshole’s parody account (though the Bruce Levine one is pretty damn funny), and when it began showing up on MLBTR along with other beat writers it seemed the Sox had actually signed him. So now what?

Dallas Keuchel is not the same pitcher he was four years ago when he won the Cy Young for the AL with the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros. He is, however, an expert sinkerballer and a guy who generates ground balls at an astounding rate. Keuchel’s career average for GB% hovers just a tick under 60% (59.2% to be exact), which is second only to Marcus Stroman in the league for the last five years.

This is a very good thing, as The Down Arrow is not exactly a pitcher friendly park. Having an innings-eater who gets hitters to pound the ball into the dirt is a very handy thing for the Sox to have. With both Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito living life at the top of the strike zone, someone like Keuchel will go a long way to preventing Luis Robert’s hamstrings from flaming into dust his rookie season. It’s also gonna mean a lot more work for Tim Anderson, so here’s hoping he’s been working on his AL-worst fielding percentage this winter.

In addition to all the ground balls, Keuchel has thrown more than 150 innings (not including last year’s shortened season due to not having a contract until June) in all but one of his seasons, so durability is not an issue for the guy. Having a quality pitch framer for him last season in Tyler Flowers (skypoint) helped him bring his K/9 back up above seven for the first time in four years, so Yasmani Grandal should be able to continue that trend.

To top that off, he has a career ERA+ average of 110, which for comparison we turn to this tweet from @MrDelicious13:

 

With the last two signings, Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez (at least statistically speaking) immediately become the 2nd and 3rd best pitchers on the Sox rotation. It also means the days of seeing Ross Detwiler and Dylan Covey serve up plates of meatballs to opposing hitters are dead and buried. For the first time in what feels like eons the Sox will have major league quality starters at the 1-5 spots in their rotation. Granted Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez are still unknown quantities at this point, but they’ve both shown flashes of dominance thus far in their careers and (at least in Cease’s case) are still valued members of The Future™.

This also creates a glut of potential starters for the Sox going forward, as the impending returns of Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon from Tommy John surgery creates a scenario where the team has the flexibility to make some trades for a proven bat provided everyone stays (or comes back) healthy. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Hahn uses this as a reason to start Kopech in the minors as a way of both building up his arm strength and recapturing a year of service time. I’m assuming the Sox opening day rotation looks something like this:

  1. Lucas Giolito
  2. Dallas Keuchel
  3. Dylan Cease
  4. Gio Gonzalez
  5. Reynaldo Lopez

 

Finally I can look at the 4th and 5th starter spots and not feel like someone just scrubbed my eyes with a urinal puck. What a great feeling, lets keep it up!

In other interesting news, Dallas Keuchel is repped by none other than Jerry Reinsdorf’s arch nemesis Scott Boras. This explodes the narrative that the Sox were never interested in doing business with Boras clients, or at the bare minimum presents a new path forward for the Sox front office in the way they pursue free agents in the off-season. It also inches the Sox payroll close to the $100 million mark, with Keuchel’s contract for three years, $55 million (for an AAV of about 18 mil per). It also has a vesting option for a 4th year if he hits innings pitched numbers in the 2nd and 3rd year of the contract. With Keuchel turning 32 before the season starts that puts him at 36 in the 4th year of the deal which might look a little iffy but fuck it, it’s not my money.

So the Sox still need another bat (unless you’re totally wowed by Cheslor Cuthbert, and if you are I’d like to congratulate you on surviving this long with head trauma) and most likely another bullpen arm (Hello Dellin Betances!), but even if none of those things come to pass we can finally say the Sox have had a successful off-season. It doesn’t quite wash away the disappointment of losing the MannyDerby last season, or make me forget that Odrisamer Despaigne and Yonder Alonso were things last year, but it goes a long way towards making me hopeful that this rebuild is not going to stretch on ad infinitum.

Good work, Hahn and co. Now don’t jerk around with Luis Robert’s service time, because I’ve seen enough of Adam Engel starting in CF to last a lifetime.

Baseball

The White Sox fulfilled half of what GM Rick Hahn said he sought to do to the 2020 rotation (and an organizational prophecy to re-acquire him a third time!) by signing journeyman LHP Gio Gonzalez on Thursday afternoon. The terms are not yet known, but I’d assume it’s a year and under $6M. Again, totally fair.

Gonzalez won’t get the tingles going for anyone the way the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes did, but he’s perfectly fine as your back end hurler that helps bide time until the Michael Kopechs, Carlos Rodons and Dane Dunnings are ready to take those innings back. He’s a career 3.68 ERA/8.6 K/9/3.8 BB/9 guy that basically won’t kill you, the type of arm that probably would’ve been good for 3-5 wins last year over the sub-replacement options the White Sox threw out there almost 40% of the season. His ground ball rate (45ish%) and HR/9 rate (0.9 or so/9) will also be welcome on a team that could use a little more and less of each, respectively. Fangraphs projects him at similar numbers and 1.5 WAR for 2020, so yea they’ll most definitely take that from a #5 considering the last few years worth of results.

Originally drafted by Chicago in 2004 (though never playing an MLB game for them in two (!!) stints), Gio the elder does come with some warts. He missed a good two-plus months in 2019 to start the season, not signing until late March only to be cut by the Yankees. He battled “dead arm” and surfaced with the Brewers to put up a respectable 1.4 WAR/1.9 bWAR with a 3.50 ERA/8K/9 over 87.1 IP (19G/17GS). He’s been incredibly durable over his career, so the injuries/slow start in 2019 and his not going late into games can probably be chalked up to sitting around most of the off-season and missing spring training completely. His velocity and spin rate are slowly diminishing, but so are every other 34+ y/o not named Verlander or Greinke.

Gonzalez actually improved in a lot of areas over his sort-of-rough 2018, and it doesn’t take much for one to connect some dots and see that, hey, I wonder if new White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal had anything to do with the improvement? Well we’re all about to find as the pair will team up again in 2020 on the Southside. Sometimes these things write themselves.

While this isn’t a bad signing, it could start to look that way if the White Sox don’t look to add one of the remaining better starting pitching options remaining on the free agent or trade markets. Gonzalez is perfectly palatable as an aging and hopefully mostly effective rotation filler, but depending on your opinion he’s anywhere from the fourth to second best major league starting pitcher on the roster.

This depends on how you feel about Reynaldo Lopez being consistent and how Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech can start their second seasons with the big club (with one coming off a year on the shelf). I’m going to guess not many of you are hip to any of those three slotting in at #2 caliber material just yet, so signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel or trading for Jon Gray(yes, please) or David Price (gross) is still ideal to the White Sox really start pushing the Twins for the division crown in 2020 and creating a winning culture.

Funny, since the Sox will likely be battling those Twins for the services of all the aforementioned (besides Price). There’s a clear path here to making some noise and getting the fan base excited about more than just the waves of prospects set to potentially be sort of good. Signing Gonzalez can be a part of that, or it can be the signal that management really is punting this thing until 2021 (for the most part) if they keep signing off the proverbial scrap heap.

Baseball

Jose Abreu and the White Sox did what we all thought they were going to do and agreed to a multi-year contract in lieu of the qualifying offer the Cuban first baseman accepted just over a week ago. With his countryman Yasmani Grandal now in the fold too, Abreu’s signing makes things more complicated than the QO reality of a few days ago.

The three-year, $50M pact was met with a mostly collective “sure. cool. whatever.” Not everyone was willing to congratulate Abreu and look ahead in what’s become a pretty active early off-season for the Sox, though. A vocal sect of media and fans are a bit sour on going to a three-year commitment with the streaky 32 year-old slugger when the team had him for one year, seemingly the preferred position from an analytical standpoint.

But this deal isn’t really about analytics, and if you can’t see the intangibles at play you’re really not even trying. Abreu and Jerry Reinsdorf apparently have a pretty great relationship, because his new paper represents the same kind of loyalty that Jerry shows his front office. Abreu has done a lot to keep the Sox relevant through the failed runs earlier in the decade and the subsequent tear down and rebuild they find themselves in at the end of it. Declining wRC+ be damned, Jerry decided he was going to welcome Jose into the family.

So is this going to be the regret that the un-silent minority thinks it is? Are the leadership and RBI binges, Cuban mentor/ambassador qualities all enough to justify the term/dollars? Is it really even that much in dollars? What does it mean for the future at first base and DH, specifically Andrew Vaughn?

First, the doom-and-gloom outlook. Yes, Abreu hasn’t been the same hitter the last two years that he was in his first four stateside. He dealt with many a nagging injury in 2018, but his 116 wRC+ across 2018-19 is more than 20 points worse than his 2014-17 average of 139. Sure, a continued decline is a possibility for a slugger on the fringes of his prime. But the underlying numbers say his 2019 wasn’t as bad as the surface suggests (highest hard-hit rate in his career, 2nd highest barrel rate) and FanGraphs Steamer projections have him at 32/89/.332 for 2020. Another addition to the lineup via RF could help improve/protect Abreu further as he ages.

The 3/$50M price looks a bit rough, again, on the surface, but I don’t need to delve further into how Abreu is the heart of this team, looked up to by many of the young players set to take the Sox to the next level. Eloy said he’s like a father. Yeah, an $18M cheerleader doesn’t look great in 2022, but the dollars here are all more complicated than they appear as well. Abreu will collect on that $50M, but he won’t see the last payment of it until 2026 with $4M in deferred money. Add to that a $5M signing bonus, and the deal is actually $11M/’20, $16M/’21, $14M/’18 for 3/$41. This could’ve definitely been worse in terms of loyalty deals, and as stated Abreu might justify this with his bat regardless.

So where does that bat fit across these next three seasons? This is where it gets interesting. The Sox don’t lack for players that will push Abreu through this deal, especially with Grandal onboard through ’23. Abreu, Grandal, James McCann, Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes look like they’re set to create a timeshare between 1B/DH/C in 2020. 2019 third overall pick Andrew Vaughn looks set to push for work with the big club by the end of 2020 but you can argue they’ve got plenty of cover to keep him in minors regardless, barring injury to at least two of those five; and even that would have to coincide with Vaughn forcing the issue in a major way with his bat. Like with Eloy, Robert, and Nick Madrigal the Sox have shown they’re willing to let the kids marinate. Maybe it’s different if they’re pushing for the playoffs, but that’s a bridge to be crossed when it approaches.

So what of the two years beyond next season? Well, while everyone wants Vaughn, or even Gavin Sheets for that matter, to force the issue we all know nothing is certain. So Vaughn can’t just be expected to be mashing in the MLB by the end of 2020. Given the track record, there are many worse options than having Abreu, with the aforementioned contingent, making up the playing time at first base. This gets real muddy if Eloy can’t stay in the field, but with reports that he’s headed to winterball this week to specifically work on his defense (“his goal is to win a Gold Glove in the MLB” says Hector Gomez) he appears seriously committed to improving that aspect of his game and staying in Left.

Basically, you can’t sort out how to deal with Abreu and his time at 1B/DH and who else is pushing for those ABs until they get there. And the Sox absolutely need him in 2020 at the very least, and at first for the most part. Easing him into more DH time helps the team solve its problems there as well, possibly to the point of moving him there full time by the end of this deal. 30 HR and a 116 wRC+ from the DH position in ’21-22 would be the best DH season Sox fans have seen in…half a decade? longer?

Rick Hahn has also been a pretty complimentary of Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes since the end of the season, going as far as to protect former AAA Rule 5 draftee Mercedes with a 40-man spot after a strong offensive season in Charlotte’s bandbox of a stadium. Collins very well could find himself in another organization if the right(fielder) fit is available via trade. I’d think they look to dangle guys like Collins, Sheets, Blake Rutherford, players they know have tough paths to real roles with this team that could help improve them elsewhere. If you’re banking of using Abreu as a bridge to Vaughn, six years of control on Collins might be better used by another team, but 2020 will also see the addition of a 26th roster spot – conceivably making room for everyone for a year, at least (whether that space is best used for a 1B/DH/C collective is probably a whole other post).

If you want to get crazy maybe Vaughn himself becomes expendable for a Mookie Betts deal, but I’d sooner expect the Bears to win the Super Bowl this season. Vaughn is a part of the plan moving forward, Abreu deal or not. Collins is the guy who just had his path to more at bats immediately affected by the signings last week. Maybe Abreu invited him to the celebration in Miami before he changes teams. It’s the least he could do for making him expendable.