As a life-long White Sox fan, the 2020 season feels like a dream come true. Sure the Sox are playing .500 ball through their first 16 games in 60-game season, which is not supremely impressive. However, when looking at the talent that this team has plus many of the team’s strengths, I feel confident that the White Sox will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 this season.
Let’s start with their offense. The line-up has many young stars such as Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, and Eloy Jiménez, along with veteran power hitters in José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, and Yasmani Grandal. At the same time offense ranks 14th in all of baseball in runs per game at 4.31 and has the 9th highest K% at 25.6%, which isn’t quite spectacular considering the depth the line-up has. However, when looking at some of the advanced metrics, I believe that the offense moving forward has the capability to improve for the remainder of the season.
Seven of the Sox hitters have a hard hit rate of at least 38%, led by Eloy Jiménez who has a hard hit rate of 52.6%. Four White Sox hitters rank in the top 100 in all of baseball in average exit velocity and Robert has the third hardest this season behind two of the games top sluggers: Pete Alonso and Giancarlo Stanton. First-year White Sox Nomar Mazara, Grandal, and Encarnación, all ranked in the top 100 last year in total number of barrels. Mazara has just returned from the IL, while Encarnación has missed nearly a week due to injury. Grandal only has one barrel this year, but had an impressive 81 total barrels combined in 2018 and 2019, demonstrating that he has elite power.
Even with many power options, players who do not boast elite power metrics, such as Adam Engel and Leury García have become reliable hitters in 2020. Engel’s OPS is .977 and Garcia’s is .777, which are significant upgrades from last season as the two both posted an OPS in the .600s in 2019. Backup C James McCann has made the most of his playing time, posting a 1.127 OPS in just 27 plate appearances. Let’s not forget that 2019 AL batting champ Tim Anderson and promising 2B Nick Madrigal are both on the IL. When they return, the Sox will finally be at full strength this season. With the combination of powerful bats, improving hitters, and young talent I believe that the White Sox offense will take off sooner rather than later putting them in prime position to clinch a postseason berth.
While the offense has not exceeded the first part of the season, the White Sox bullpen certainly has. The White Sox have formidable set-up man/closer combination in Evan Marshall and Alex Colomé. The duo has combined to only give up one earned run this season and both are among the best at forcing weak contact. Marshall has a fantastic K% at 37.5% and both have a high whiff%. Aaron Bummer has emerged as one of the best left-handed relievers in the Majors. The sinker-baller has a K% at 40% and opponents are expected to slug just .216 against him, putting him in the 93rd percentile for both of these stats.
Bummer’s recent trip to the IL is a concern, but when he comes back, opponents will have trouble scoring runs late in the ballgame as they have to face the gauntlet of Bummer, Marshall, and Colomé. Veteran lefty Ross Detweiler and rookie Matt Foster provide excellent long relief options as they have yet to allow any runs in ten combined appearances.
Rotation depth is a concern for the White Sox, but Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel pose a formidable top of the rotation. After a tough Opening Day start, Giolito has delivered three straight solid performances in which he has allowed only four earned runs and struck out 24 batters over that span. Keuchel has posted a 2.55 ERA in his first three starts and has a ground ball rate at 56.9%, fourth in all of baseball. While Dylan Cease has improved over the course of the season, his lack of strikeouts and 1.50 WHIP is a cause for concern. Cease has tremendous potential with an explosive fastball and great vertical movement on his breaking pitches. If Cease can improve his control and keep his pitch count down, he will give hitters a tough time at the plate providing the rotation with another valuable arm.
16 games are a small sample size, but in a 60-game season it represents just over a quarter of a team’s games. However, with an explosive and deep offense that can score runs in bunches the Sox can put pressure on teams both early and late in games. The bullpen has shown time and time again that they can protect leads late in the ball game. While the 8-8 start is not overly-satisfying, the make-up of this roster and the many strengths the Sox possess indicate that they are well-equipped to end their long postseason drought.
Cover photo courtesy of mlb.com