With a roster filled with players whose future with the team is surrounded by question marks, it’s tough to predict where the White Sox will finish in 2017, but like many outlets have done this week, we will take our best crack at predicting the season ahead.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona next week for the start of White Sox spring training, the question of where the White Sox will fall in 2017 has arose this week with the release of season predictions by major-media outlets like USA Today Sports, and the annual PECOTA projections, but with a roster featuring a handful of players whose future with the team is in question it becomes increasingly difficult to predict an accurate win-loss record.
First of all, for those wondering what the hell PECOTA is, it’s an acronym for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, brought to you by the minds at Baseball Prospectus. The system is used for forecasting seasons and player performances in those seasons, and basically forecasts several summary diagnostics such as breakout rates, improve rates, and attrition rates, as well as the market values of the players.
You’re welcome for the quite possibly unnecessary preface to the PECOTA projections, now down to the real business, how many games will the Chicago White Sox win in their earliest season of their rebuild on the south side?
As it stands right now the White Sox will enter spring training short only Chris Sale and Adam Eaton (as far as everyday players are concerned, sorry J.B. Shuck, no one is going to factor you into any wins or losses) from the 2016 squad that won an underwhelming 78 games, and finished 16.5 games out of first place in the American League Central Division.
Some have the White Sox finishing with as high as 76 wins (PECOTA), and some as low as 68 wins (USA Today Sports), and I can see them falling anywhere in between those two numbers, even closer to the high-end if the youngsters auditioning to remain a part of the next chapter in White Sox baseball put on an above replacement level showing.
To project the White Sox win totals for the 2017 season without a fancy algorithm based formula, we first have to project what the 2017 Opening day roster will look like, so here it goes;
Catcher: Omar Narvaez, First Base: Jose Abreu, Second Base: Brett Lawrie, Third Base: Todd Frazier, Shortstop: Tim Anderson, Left Field: Melky Cabrera, Center Field: Charlie Tilson, Right Field: Avisail Garcia, Designated Hitter: Matt Davidson.
The only changes in the lineup from the 2016 to the 2017 season are the additions of Derek Holland in the starting rotation, the return of the most annoying catcher to watch on a television broadcast in the history of baseball (Geovany Soto), a healthy Charlie Tilson in center-field, and likely a healthy Matt Davidson in the designated hitter’s role, and of course the notable subtractions of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.
I’m going to put the White Sox at 74-88 in 2017, four games worse than their 2016 campaign, and again in fourth place in the American League Central in front of only the Minnesota Twins. I’m sure you’re semi skeptical about the miniscule difference in the 2016 and projected 2017 finish, considering Sale and Eaton are no longer in town, but I have a few factors that will keep the White Sox in the 70-75 win range in 2017.
Number one, the White Sox will have a team that includes some youngsters that are well aware that this season may be their best, and last chance to earn a place in the White Sox rebuilt core of young talent in the coming seasons. Charlie Tilson, Tyler Saladino, Carlos Sanchez, Omar Narvaez, and even some of the players that I expect to start the season at the minor-league level like Kevan Smith, Rymer Liriano, etc.
These players will have a large sample size this season, especially after the All-Star break when veterans being traded for even more youthful talent allow more playing time, and this will be their chance to earn a bid somewhere in the White Sox future plans.
For some like Cody Asche, this may be their last chance to make it work in Major League Baseball as well. Prospects like Matt Davidson, who have fell below lofty expectations for some time will have possibly their last chance to make a positive impression as well.
Despite the popular belief, losing baseball can actually be fun to watch, so long as the product on the field is competitive enough to surprise you, and make you think about where they may fall into the future. There’s a good chance that the White Sox will showcase some very motivated young players that fit that description this season, and that often results in some entertaining baseball.
Another reason for the ever so slight decline this season is that the White Sox bullpen is better than 2016, at least for now. Last season, the White Sox missed the presence of Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka for the majority of the season, and featured Matt Albers as their go-to middle innings reliever. Good news, Albers is gone, and both Putnam and Petricka are healthy. Nate Jones is healthy, and Dan Jennings will look to build on an impressive 2016 as the White Sox left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.
Tim Anderson is primed for another season of considerable progression in 2017. Anderson showed us in 2016 that he is ready for the major-league level, hitting .283 over 99 games for the White Sox, and surprising many with his plus defensive ability, one of his major negative marks coming up through the White Sox minor-league system.
Lastly, but most importantly, Robin Ventura is not around to give away ballgames with poor tactical decisions, and an even lesser ability to motivate his team. New White Sox skipper Rick Renteria is well regarded as an above average manager, and has made it clear that he will instill a new brand of baseball on the south side, one that features players that will be required to work hard, hustle, and play for the logo on the front of their jersey rather than the name on the back.
In the process of crunching numbers to reach my win-loss projection for the 2017 season, I put together some projected individual statistic leaders for the 2017 season;
Batting Average: Tim Anderson (.283), Home Runs: Todd Frazier (35), RBI: Todd Frazier (87), Runs: Tim Anderson (75), Doubles: Jose Abreu (31), Triples: Charlie Tilson (7), Stolen Bases: Tim Anderson (22).
The thick of things in 2017 is that White Sox baseball will be more enjoyable to watch in 2017, regardless of the win-loss record. The lack of expectation to win with the current roster, the overwhelming support and trust in the rebuilding process thus far, and a new brand of pride and hustle will keep the fans more than entertained in the initial season of the White Sox rebuild.