2013 American League Preview: Chicago White Sox

Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Let's Go Tribe's look at the Indians' competition around the American League continues with the Chicago White Sox, a team filled with hitters who've killed the Tribe.

Chicago White Sox

2012 Record: 85-77 (2nd in A.L. Central), 11-7 vs. Cleveland

748 runs scored (4th of 14 in A.L.), 676 runs allowed (6th of 14 in A.L.)

The White Sox entered 2012 having been written off by many. Mark Burhrle had left as a free agent. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios had been two of the very worst players in all of baseball in 2011. They weren't a young team and the farm system didn't have much to offer. They seemed overdue for a rebuild that the front office had refused to start, and it looked like it was time to pay the piper.

Chicago played .500 ball for the first few weeks of the season. They didn't look great, but Detroit was playing pretty mediocre ball, and a nine-game winning streak in late May moved the White Sox into 1st place. They stayed there for most of the year, in what was always a tight race. Their biggest lead was 3.5 games and they were never more than 1.5 games back... until the last week of the season, when a 2-10 stretch to end September took them from a three-game lead to a three-game deficit. After sitting on top for most of the season, Chicago fell short of the playoffs.

2012 good news:

Alex Rios and Adam Dunn rebounded from their abysmal 2011 figures. Dunn only batted .204 and struck out 222 times, but he walked 105 times and he slugged 41 home runs. Rios hit .304 with 70 extra-base hits.

Paul Konerko continued to defy age, leading the team with an .857 OPS (128 OPS+).

A.J. Pierzynski had a career year at age 35, hitting a career high 27 home runs (second in history to only Carlton Fisk in 1985 among catchers age 35+).

23-year-old Chris Sale was one of the five best pitchers in the American League (142 ERA+ and 192 K in 192 innings) and Jake Peavy wasn't far behind (129 ERA+ and 194 K in 219 innings). Few teams could match that 1-2 punch. Jose Quintana, also just 23, pitched well after being added to the rotation at mid-season.

The team's middle relief was strong throughout the year.

Philip Humber threw a perfect game.

2012 bad news:

Second baseman Gordon Beckham (78 OPS+) and shortstop Alexei Ramirez (74 OPS+) each had a very poor year at the plate.

Konerko killed the ball for the first couple months (1.097 OPS through the end of May), but REALLY fell off after that (.738 OPS after that). Maybe he turns it around again, but the end might also be approaching in a hurry for him.

John Danks (who is signed for another four years at $14.25 million a pop) missed most of the season with a shoulder injury.

No one pitched very well as the closer. Matt Thornton and Hector Santiago both struggled in that spot before having more success in the 7th and 8th innings. That may have been small sample noise, but blown games hurt them. Addison Reed eventually held down the job after much shuffling early on, but his ERA of 4.75 for the year doesn't inspire a world of confidence.

Philip Humber pitched a bunch of VERY imperfect games, leading to a 6.44 ERA (68 ERA+) and eventual demotion.

Key off-season additions:

Jeff Keppinger (3B), Matt Lindstrom (RP)

Key off-season departures:

Philip Humber (SP), Brett, Myers (P), Francisco Liriano (SP), A.J. Pierzynski (C), Kevin Youkilis (3B/1B)

2013 Payroll: ~$120 million

Projected 2013 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Tyler Flowers

2

1B

Paul Konerko

3

2B

Gordon Beckham

1

3B

Jeff Keppinger

2

SS

Alexei Ramirez

3

LF

Dayan Viciedo

1

CF

Alejandro De Aza

2

RF

Alex Rios

2

DH

Adam Dunn

2

TOTAL

18

Indian Killers:

Dayan Viciedo - 99 PA, .345/.424/.621, 1.045 OPS, 7 HR, 20 R, 21 RBI

Alejandro De Aza - 125 PA, .377/.468/.575, 1.043 OPS, 2 HR, 14 XBH, 24 R, 21 RBI

For both of those guys, These are their highest counting totals and their best rate stats against any of the opponents they've got 40+ PA against.

Adam Dunn - 292 PA, .252/.366/.520, .887 OPS, 18 HR, 39 R, 46 RBI

Those 18 home runs are his most against an A.L. team by far (Texas is next with 11).

Paul Konerko - 967 PA, .279/.357/.498, .855 OPS, 46 HR, 121 R, 171 RBI

Those are almost exactly Konerko's career rates, so it's not as though he's hit especially well against the Indians, but he is the active leader in just about every counting stat against the Tribe, including hits, 2B, HR, runs, and RBI.

Ugh, that's a lot of guys with a lot of strong production against the Indians. I have to hope there's some serious regression to the mean, especially from those first two.

Projected 2013 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

Chris Sale

5

2

Jake Peavy

3

3

John Danks*

2

4

Gavin Floyd

3

5

Jose Quintana

3

RP

Bullpen

5

TOTAL

21

* Danks will begin the season on the disabled list and is expected to miss three weeks or so. Dylan Axelrod will likely be part of the rotation until Danks returns.

Team Projections:

PECOTA: 77-85 (3rd in Central), 719 runs scored, 756 runs allowed

Cairo: 77-85 (4th in Central), 730 runs scored, 783 runs allowed

2013 Outlook:

The White Sox were better than I expected in 2012 and they have a history of outperforming their projections (based largely on being the healthiest team in baseball over the last decade), so they should not be counted out. Their rotation looks almost as strong as Detroit's and their bullpen might be the best in the division. That said, they've got some serious obstacles to overcome if they're going to challenge for the division title again this season.

Tyler Flowers has been "the catcher of the future" for years now, but his big league play hasn't really lived up to that billing. Pierzynski wasn't going to repeat his 2012, but that's still a lot of production to replace. Gordon Beckham also hasn't looked like the player many expected. The rest of the lineup is mostly on the wrong side of 30 and there have already been signs of decline. The pitching looks great, but last year was Jake Peavy's first full season since 2008 and Chris Sale's slight build and violent delivery don't seem a match made for longevity (admittedly, that's very subjective). Meanwhile, John Danks' recovery has been slow thus far. Any team can have pitching injuries, but are the Sox at greater risk than most?

If the pitching does stay healthy, Chicago has a chance, but they'll need to slow Father Time as well, especially because with a weak farm system that's unlikely to provide real help in 2013. The White Sox have had incredible health in recent years, so if any team can hold off age and injury, it's probably them. I think the more likely outcome is their lineup doesn't score enough runs (note: U.S. Cellular is a strong park for offense, which makes their hitting look better than it is, and masks how good their pitching is), no matter how the arms hold up. I expect a middling season for Chicago, veterans with trade value might be on their way out of town come July.

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