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Grading the Development of Young White Sox Players

With the White Sox 2018 season now in the books, Dom Partipilo grades the development of the young players after this season.

It’s October, and the MLB postseason is just getting started, which is very exciting! What’s not exciting for two thirds of the teams’ fans is that it’s time to reminisce about why their teams didn’t make it to the postseason.

For most White Sox fans, missing the postseason in 2018 is no surprise. The team is obviously in the middle of a rebuild and wasn’t expected to compete this season. What is a bit surprising is the team’s record – even some of the most pessimistic fans weren’t expecting 100 losses. It’s hitting a lot of fans a little bit harder than anticipated, but there have still been a lot of eyes on the team.

For now, I’d like to focus more about some of the individual players rather than the team. Every fan has their own personal expectations about what they’d like to see from up-and-coming young players, and it’s nice to be able to gauge how well the actual performance from these players matches personal expectations. I’d like to make some brief comments, both objective and subjective, about some of the young players everyone has kept their eyes on throughout the season. I won’t touch on all of them, but maybe some of these players have been better or worse than we think.

Just for fun, I’m going to grade them based on a combination of how they performed and how well they seemed to have developed over the course of the 2018 season. It’s just my opinion, so please don’t kick my door down with torches and pitchforks in hand.

This is lengthy, so I also put TLDR (too long, didn’t read) blurbs at the end of each of these if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing.

Tim Anderson (Grade: B)

Tim Anderson might be my favorite White Sox player to talk about right now. I wrote about him back in January, noting a couple of things:

  • His elite raw speed and untapped ability to steal bases needed to be utilized more, building off of this piece from Owen Schoenfeld of The Loop Sports.
  • His walk rate had been really low, and that finding ways to get on base more often would expose more of his ceiling, especially because of how efficient he is at stealing bases and running the bases in general.
  • His defense wasn’t spectacular, relative to other shortstops, but not because of his high error count. I mentioned that his range alone provided a fairly high floor for him defensively, and that he’d be excellent if he could improve his hands.

Well, what did he do?!

  • He stole 14 bases in his first 15 attempts in 2018, which made him 23 for his last 24 at that point! It eventually leveled off and he was caught plenty of times later in the season, but it was nice to see that elite speed had been acknowledged. This is most certainly a valuable weapon if used the correct way.
  • He matched his 2017 walk total by May 18 of the 2018 season, in only 41 games! His season walk rate moved up 2.9% from 2017 (to 5.0%, which is far from great, but certainly a step in the right direction).
  • His defense also took a massive step in the right direction, with plays like this one popping up very frequently, especially toward the end of the season.

The issue here: after the flurry of quality offensive production to start the season, Anderson only batted .246/.265/.395 with a 2.4% walk rate for his last 87 games. Now, be aware that I’m selectively excluding the good part of his season, but my point is that we pretty much just saw 2017 Tim Anderson at the plate for the back half of the season. Is that a little bit concerning? Sure, but I feel a lot better about him now than I did at the end of the 2017 season. Combine his first-half offense with his second-half defense and I’d be giving him an A.

TLDR version: Anderson showed noticeable improvement this season. To start the season, he was really good offensively. To end the season, he was really good defensively. Overall, I feel a lot better about him now than I did after the 2017 season.

Daniel Palka (Grade: B-)

Daniel Palka has been one of the big surprises of the 2018 season and has received a lot of attention as a fan favorite because of it. This has mainly been within the White Sox bubble, but he’s even received small doses of some national attention.

As a baseball fan, you’ve got to love watching this guy at the plate. He takes very aggressive swings and arguably hits the ball harder than anyone not named Giancarlo Stanton. Palka is another player I’ve written about at one point, mostly because of his volatility as a hitter.

One concern is his on-base percentage. His inability to take walks at a high enough rate in his short time with the White Sox has been a product of shaky plate discipline. He has monumental power, but it’s only barely enough to overcome his mediocre .294 on-base percentage. He’d be a tremendous hitter if he could improve his plate discipline only slightly.

The other thing here is that Palka may be best served as a designated hitter, since his defense is…uhh…not the best you’ll ever see. If he’s only an average hitter who provides no value elsewhere, it’s hard to make a case for him as an everyday player, no matter how fun he is to watch.

A reasonable comparison would be Joey Gallo, but Palka isn’t quite as “true outcome-y” as Gallo. I think a more reasonable ceiling comparison would be Khris Davis.

For now, I hope we can just have fun watching him, even if it’s only going to be a part of a DH platoon split with Matt Davidson for a little while.

TLDR version: Daniel Palka’s power at the plate is very fun to watch, but the lack of value he provides elsewhere means he will need to improve his on-base percentage to make a case as an everyday player once the White Sox become competitive again.

Mystery Player (Grade: C+)

It’s hard to talk about Mystery Player without feeling the urge to defend him. He constantly gets picked apart for his inconsistent defense and his low batting average, and he justifiably gets negatively criticized for his high strikeout rate.

If I told you that, through just over a full season of career games with a team (203), a White Sox player would have provided:

  • League average production at the plate
  • League average defense
  • Major League plate discipline
  • Above average base running ability
  • Encouraging batted ball statistics

…would you be upset about it? Most rational fans wouldn’t be, especially considering the high ceiling, high floor, and multi-dimensional resources Mystery Player has to offer to provide value to a team.

In case it isn’t painfully obvious by now, I’m talking about Yoán Moncada.

Moncada is batting .234/.321/.403 with a .315 wOBA and 99 wRC+ in his career with the White Sox. He’s been about as average as it gets during his first two seasons in the league (an average player batted .248/.318/.409 with a .315 wOBA in 2018).

As you may already know, Moncada is a very patient hitter who does not swing the bat much (about 87% of the league swings more often than he does). This has resulted in the obvious: more walks and more looking strikeouts.

The story that has surfaced throughout the season has been the amount of borderline pitches on which he has struck out looking (i.e. close two-strike pitches that have been called strike three). Moncada was called out on strikes on a pitch that was strictly out of the zone 22 times in 2018! No other player in baseball had more than 18! Upon further examination, though, you’ll find that this is largely just a product of how seldom Moncada likes to take the bat off of his shoulder. Because of this, he had an above-average amount of in-zone called balls too, but he certainly wasn’t helped by umpires with two strikes this season.

Anyway, is he frustrating to watch? Yeah, sometimes. Did he improve a whole lot in 2018? Eh, not really…but here’s the thing: given that many fans have already written him off as a bust, I feel that it’s appropriate to remind everyone that he hasn’t been nearly as bad as many fans think he’s been. I feel that I’ve barked enough about this and about how we need to be patient with him, so I won’t get too deep into it this time.

TLDR version: Yoan Moncada has been an average player so far. If you told me he’d be a 3-win player in his first 200 games with the White Sox, I’d comfortably accept it. It’s wise to remain patient with him.

Lucas Giolito (Grade: D)

When I last wrote anything about Lucas Giolito, it was the beginning of May. At that point, Giolito had put together the worst April of any MLB pitcher up to that point in the season. He was missing his targets by several inches (sometimes feet), and he seemed to have very little command of his pitches. He was walking as many batters as he was striking out. His ERA was 7.71. His peripherals looked awful. Honestly, I couldn’t have imagined a start much sloppier than the one Giolito slapped together in April. Despite the very small sample size, I criticized him very heavily for this. A good pitcher would have never put together a month that bad. Unfortunately, the rest of his first half wasn’t a whole lot better.

The nice thing, though, was that there was almost no room to go down from there. The whole season, while not quite linear, seemed to be a gradual progression in the right direction for him. His strikeout and walk rates made their way out of the gutter once the second half rolled around, and there are many potential reasons for this. I personally think the largest contributing factor to this was his two-seamer becoming much more prominent.

I was particularly impressed with his first 10 starts after the All-Star Break, where he struck out a batter per inning and posted an ERA, FIP, and xFIP all at 4.00 or less. Take it with a grain of salt, because that was Giolito’s best 10-start stretch at any point during the season.

I’m going to be honest and say I still don’t feel great about Giolito moving forward, but I also was never really that high on him in the first place. At this point, I’d be pleased if he could turn into a decent back-end starter.

TLDR version: Giolito had a brutal start to the season, and he seemed to work his way out of it as the season went on, but I still don’t feel great about him.  

Reynaldo López (Grade: B-)

Reynaldo López had a confusing start to the season because it involved a smoke-and-mirrors ERA that stayed below 3.00 for over a month. Unfortunately, López wasn’t missing many bats. He also sprinkled in lots of hard-hit fly-ball outs and plenty of walks here and there. Not a good recipe for sustainability.

Eventually Reynaldo’s really low ERA came back down (up?) to Earth, but not necessarily because he was pitching worse. While he did have 11 starts in which he only struck out three batters or fewer, he also managed to flash a lot of upside, including a 10-strikeout game against the Angels and a 10-strikeout game against a very dangerous Athletics team.

Like Giolito, he was much better later in the season. López, however, was borderline elite during his last 7 starts of the season:

IP 45.2 (over 6 ½ IP per start)
ERA 1.38
FIP 2.61
K% 27.0% (9.46 K/9)
BB% 7.9% (2.76 BB/9)
WHIP 0.92
wOBA .222
xwOBA .279

Obviously this was only 7 starts, so nothing substantial can be concluded from that, but it has to make you feel pretty good about López going into the off-season. He’s still one of my personal favorites and we’ll have to see if he is capable of being consistently good in the long run.

TLDR version: López had a shaky first half of the season that was disguised as being good. Fortunately, he put together a very strong finish at the end of the season, leaving me feeling pretty optimistic about him going into the off-season.  

Carlos Rodón (Grade: C-)

Can someone tell me what the heck is going on with Carlos Rodón? He’s obviously had some issues staying healthy (most recently a shoulder injury), but he hadn’t really shown any signs of it affecting his performance before this season.

This year, he doesn’t even seem like the same pitcher. He’s missing bats at a much lower rate than ever (9.0%, compared to 10.0%+ for his career prior to this season), which means he’s not striking batters out. His strikeout rate went from a career high in 2017 (25.6%) to a career low in 2018 (17.6%), which means he went from being well above average to well below average at striking batters out. I don’t know about you, but given that the rest of his true outcome rates haven’t changed much, that’s awfully concerning.

The natural responses to this are probably things like:

  • Maybe he’s “pitching to contact” so he can go deeper into games!
  • What if the quality of contact against him isn’t as good. Would it be forgivable?
  • What if he’s still not fully healthy? Maybe the off-season will help him mold his way back to his old self!

I can’t say with certainty that Rodón isn’t trying to avoid bats, but think about how ridiculous that sounds. Carlos Rodón. With that stuff. Trying to induce contact. I just don’t see it. Sorry.

If the contact against Rodón would be weaker, it’d be slightly more forgivable. I’m upset to say that things have not gone that way, since there doesn’t seem to be any glaring evidence that the contact against him has been weaker. The average launch angle against him, however, went up from 11.7 degrees in 2017 to 16.7 degrees in 2018! That is A LOT! The result, as you might infer, is that his fly ball rate has drastically increased. If you follow modern baseball, you’re probably aware that this is often not a pitcher’s best friend. The flood of fly balls drove his xFIP up to 5.40, which is easily a career high. This isn’t to say fly ball pitchers can’t be successful (Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have fairly high fly ball rates). It’s just that this isn’t the Carlos Rodón we’ve seen in the past.

The metric that makes Rodón’s numbers look a little bit less scary is his average-ish .325 xwOBA, which might mean the hard contact is on the ground and the soft contact is in the air. Either way, it doesn’t make me feel spectacular.

If he’s still not fully healthy, is that a good thing? Does that mean we never saw the true Carlos Rodón in 2018? If so, I hope the off-season spits out the Carlos Rodón of the past. I still believe he has All-Star-level talent, despite the scary 2018 season.

TLDR version: Carlos Rodón’s peripherals didn’t look very promising in 2018, mostly because of a large dip in his ability to miss bats. However, I still believe he has the capacity to be one of the team’s top starters once the White Sox are ready to contend.  

Michael Kopech (Grade: A)

I was going to touch a little bit on Michael Kopech, but writing about it honestly makes me upset.

Lots of very experienced baseball writers were expressing their admiration and he really looked like he was going to be a no-doubter. His numbers won’t show how great he was right when he came up because his pitches lost effectiveness (specifically a 3-mile-per-hour dip in fastball velocity from his first start to his last) for obvious reasons.

Tommy John Surgery might not impact him too heavily, if at all, but it’s obviously not what you’d like to see. I feel really bad for the kid, because he looked great in his short time pitching at the MLB level.

Again, these are just my opinions. It’s okay if you don’t agree, but I’m just trying to be realistic about the status of the White Sox rebuild. This is the part where I could ramble on with a bunch of cliches about how it’s a slow process and that we need to be patient, but we all know that already. Trust me, I miss watching a competitive team, too.

I’d like to believe that 2018 was truly the lowest valley of the rebuild, and hopefully it only goes up from here. How could you not enjoy watching your team’s ascension from the bottom?! The desperate, yet realistic hope for a prosperous future is enough to give any passionate fan the butterflies.

Follow Dom on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images


1 comment on “Grading the Development of Young White Sox Players

  1. Scott Ingram

    I keep rooting for the White Sox for numerous reasons, maybe because they ALWAYS face second-class status in their own city, even during eras when they have clearly been better than the Cubs. The Sox are the “Mets” of Chicago. No matter how good they become, they will always be second fiddle to the Cubs, which is the same predicament faced by the Mets with the Yankees.

    Having said that, there clearly has been a disconnect with the hype received about the Sox’ Prospects & their eventual production in the big leagues. To me, this seems to reflect badly on the Sox’ Player Development/Coaching Staffs in the Minor Leagues. If these hyped Prospects truly have this much talent, then the results should be much better at the Major League level.

    And I’m not just referring to this current crop of Prospects who are trying to make their way with
    the Sox. This has been a recurring theme with the
    Sox for 10+ seasons or more. Their Prospects have been hyped for yrs now & the failure rate for Sox Prospects has been higher than most teams in baseball, possibly matched only by the Orioles for
    incompetence in Player Development.

    Is it time for a Massive Overhaul of the Sox’ Player Development/Coaching Staffs in the Minor Leagues?
    How about their Scouts, as well? The entire Player Procurement/Development process for the Sox has been bad since they won the World Series in 2005.

    My grade for the Sox’ Scouting/Player Development since 2005 would be a D+.

    Again, I’m a Sox fan but I also try to be objective in assessing their Organization’s failures.

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