What Has Gone Wrong for the Chicago White Sox?
Whether or not the preseason hype was warranted, the White Sox have not lived up to it.
The southsiders are 28-30 and three games behind Kansas City in the American League Central, though their record partially masks the fact that they have been one of the worst teams in baseball so far.
Chicago’s minus-49 run differential is the worst mark in the American League and third worst in the Majors, and the White Sox rank better than only the Phillies at the bottom of our power rankings.
The club made a number of high profile acquisitions this offseason to bolster a thin roster, but aside from closer David Robertson (and to a lesser extent, first baseman Adam LaRoche), these players have yet to meet expectations.
The former Yankee, Robertson, is off to a superb start (2.10 ERA, 53 ERA-, 53 FIP- in 25.2 innings), but he has been as valuable in terms of fWAR (0.8) as fellow newcomers Jeff Samardzija (1.0), LaRoche (0.6), and Melky Cabrera (-0.8) combined.
LaRoche has showed signs of rebounding from a slow start, posting a 145 wRC+ in May after hitting 20.0% below average in the first month of the season. Samardzija has posted a squarely league average FIP (after adjustments for league and ballpark), but a 66.3% strand rate has contributed to a 4.93 ERA (125 ERA-). From a pure run prevention standpoint, Samardzija has been a replacement-level pitcher this season, according FanGraphs’ RA9-WAR.
Cabrera, though, who was signed to a 3-year, $42 million contract in December, has been the worst of the bunch, hitting .233/.272/.269 (48 wRC+).
The lack of impact from the new additions compounds the problem that the roster was not very strong to begin with, as the White Sox position players were 28th in the Majors in fWAR and their pitchers were 26th last season. As a result, they have struggled in nearly every facet of the game in 2015.
Starting pitching has been the rare area where Chicago hasn’t struggled, as the White Sox starters rank seventh in MLB in strikeout rate (21.5%) and 10th in FIP-.
The peripherals have not translated to run prevention though, as the starting rotation is 21st in ERA (4.32) and tied for 19th in ERA- (109). The rotation’s 70.1% strand rate (seventh lowest in the Majors) has not helped things, but the biggest culprit has been a shaky defense.
Whatever measure you’d like to look at to measure fielding prowess, the White Sox end up looking atrocious.
They have only converted 66.3% of balls in play into outs, tying for last in the Majors, according to Baseball-Reference. The White Sox are also 28th in terms of UZR and 29th in defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.
The bullpen also shows a disparity in terms of peripherals and keeping runs off the board (101 ERA-, 98 FIP-), and the final result is a team that has allowed the fifth-most runs per game in the Majors (4.54).
Unfortunately for Chicago fans, the team has not compensated for its subpar defense with its bats.
The White Sox position players rank last in MLB this season in fWAR at minus-1.4, making them the only group below replacement level.
The team is posting a collective slash line of .241/.296/.352, which (after adjusting for league and ballpark) makes them the third-worst hitting team in baseball (given their 79 wRC+).
While he is off the pace of his terrific rookie campaign, Jose Abreu has hit well this season (126 wRC+), as has Avisail Garcia (127 wRC+) and LaRoche (118 wRC+). Outside of this trio, though, no one else on Chicago has a wRC+ higher than 89.
And the offensive woes don’t stop there.
As if the poor hitting was not enough, the White Sox also struggle running the bases, ranking last in baserunning runs above average (minus-10.6), according to FanGraphs.
Only three teams have been caught stealing at a higher rate than the White Sox, who have only been successful on 56.0% of their stolen base attempts (the league average is 70.0%).
They are also last in terms of taking extra bases on balls in play, taking more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double just 32.0% of the time, according to Baseball-Reference (the league average is 39.0%).
The poor hitting and baserunning have yielded just 3.63 runs per game, the third lowest average in the big leagues.
The good news is that as bad as the White Sox have played, an 11-7 record in one-run games (sixth-best in MLB) has kept the team from falling too far behind in the postseason hunt.
The bad news is that this performance in close games is not sustainable, and the projections don’t see Chicago’s overall performance improving.
Our model projects the White Sox to go 48-56 for the rest of the season to finish 76-86. We give them just a 5.1% chance to make the playoffs. The playoff odds at FanGraphs (9.3%) and Baseball Prospectus (9.8%) also suggest playoff baseball on the south side of Chicago is unlikely.
We may not have needed more evidence the "stars and scrubs" model of team construction is less than ideal, but the 2015 White Sox are giving it to us anyway.