It’s September, and that means the playoff races are heating up in Major League Baseball. However, not everyone makes it to the promised land. Tom Wright tells us what went right and what went wrong in the elimination of the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox are in a bit of a pickle. If baseball rosters ever reduced to five players, the Pale Hose would be one of the best teams in the league. Their frontline stars, Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, are phenomenal talents, and their top five of Sale, Abreu, Adam Eaton, David Robertson and Jose Quintana are competitive with the top five of any team in baseball.
Sadly for the Sox, this league of five-on-five baseball doesn’t exist, and the remainder of the roster isn’t all that good. There are a couple players who are decent, like last year’s draft pick Carlos Rodon or converted starter Zach Duke, but most of the roster is pretty bad. Former prospects have begun to collect at the end of the bench like barnacles, serving little purpose other than to remind fans of a time when Gordon Beckham, Mike Olt and Conor Gillaspie were the future of baseball. The White Sox do have a number of promising young players on the roster like Avisail Garcia, Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Saladino, but the lack of organizational depth has thrust them into starting roles before they were ready, generally with unfortunate results.
Now, for a team with as little talent as the White Sox, it is imperative to try to find every little edge or advantage possible. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that the White Sox don’t do that either. The Sox are a team that does all the little things wrong; they’re dead last in the majors in defense, 26th in baserunning (according to Fangraphs’ UBR stat), tied for first in runners thrown out, 27th in stolen base percentage, 26th in walk percentage and 6th in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Several of the pitchers who appeared to have down years (especially Sale) were actually victims of bad defense; Sale’s xFIP was his career best, and Jeff Samardzija‘s 5.04 ERA was almost a run worse than he would have been with a neutral defense and neutral luck.
Of course, GM Rick Hahn inherited a team where many of these problems were already in place. The White Sox have long been the home to big, plodding sluggers and people who get thrown out on the basepaths a lot. Even in their World Series year of 2005, the sluggers compensated for the White Sox unusual penchant for running into outs by hitting home runs at a prodigious clip. Unfortunately, as the home run hitters went away, the lack of baserunning discipline remained, and now they’re just the bad team that doesn’t really do anything right.
This offseason, Hahn attempted to add some veteran presence and a few more wins to the team, but the acquisitions were largely unimpressive. Melky Cabrera has spent most of the season overcoming a slow start to put together a largely lukewarm year in left field. Samardzija has been mostly mediocre, apart from an absolutely awful month of August (and early September) where it appears likely that he was tipping his fastball. Last year, Hahn’s primary signing was Jose Abreu, a high-profile gamble that turned out to be an absolute home run of an acquisition, and it’s unrealistic to expect a GM to hit the lottery every time, but he’ll have to do a little better than this year’s crop if he wants to contend soon.
Going forward, Rick Hahn is in a bit of a squeeze. His conundrum mirrors that of his division-mates in Detroit; he’s got one or two superstars, a couple more players who are pretty good… and the rest. Does he blow up the team and rebuild? That’s possible, but how do you explain to your fans that you’re selling off a potential generational talent (Cabrera in Detroit’s case, Sale in Chicago’s)? How likely are you to get a return whose value is even close to the player you’re selling? Hahn’s path is fraught with danger – if he goes for contention and loses, his stars walk away for nothing, but if he sells off his stars for cents on the dollar, he may well go down history as one of the guys that sold off a generational talent for pennies on the dollar like Harry Frazee or The Guy Who Traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio.
No pressure, Mr. Hahn!
The White Sox last made the playoffs in 2011. Their most recent World Series was in 2005 – the last one before that was in 1917.
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