The 2019 season is going to be a slow death march for our White Sox once again. I think most people realized this team was heading for its seventh consecutive losing season when they broke camp in Arizona. So what has the first month of this grueling campaign taught us? Are there any bright spots? What needs to change to so we can see some semblance of progress?
The Sox entered the month of May with a 12-14 record, and you may be reading this thinking to yourself, “hey that’s not that bad” until you consider they spent the final two weeks of the month playing against juggernauts like: Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore. Our boys played 14 consecutive games against these three second division teams to close out the month and were able to go an uninspiring 8-6. The schedule in May and June is going to be a lot more challenging than what they saw in April and, well, I’m expecting it to be a bloodbath. With all that being said, lets take a look back at the season’s first month.
This discussion begins the only place it could, with Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada. The left side of the infield was awesome for the season’s opening month, there is no other way to put it. In fact, this was exactly what the Sox envisioned with these two (on the offensive side anyway). Anderson slashed .375/.394/.615 which was good for a 172 wRC+ en route to winning American League Player of the Month honors. TA has continued to bring his expressive personality to the field to the delight of just about everyone not from Kansas City, because apparently you can’t flip a bat towards your own dugout in an attempt to wake a team up in the middle of a sluggish performance. TA has shown flashes like this since arriving on the South Side in June of 2016, but this was by far the best month of his early career. There is going to be some regression to follow this because Tim is what he is as a player. He’s a low OBP guy that does strike out a decent amount. But if Tim is able to keep the slumps brief, I see no reason why he won’t be a 25/25 guy this year and that has tremendous value.
The centerpiece of the deal that sent Chris Sale to Boston in December 2016, Yoan Moncada had a phenomenal first month. His heroics in the Home Opener got the crowd energized and he carried it through the entire month. Yoan slashed .314/.374/.571 which was good for a 153 wRC+. Additionally, he saw his K% drop to 22.6% and I realize there’s a certain section of the fanbase who will read this and scream, “he still strikes out too much” but the fact is that is a significant improvement over where he was in 2018. The change in his approach has been noticeable as he has worked himself into hitters counts and when getting there, unlike 2018, he is looking to do damage with them instead of being passive at the dish. Now, Yoan is still going to go through tough patches where he will strike out a healthy amount, but again, the key will be keeping those periods short because I believe we are starting to see the guy the Sox believe can be a 4-5 win player with consistency.
The best off-season acquisition for the team through the season’s opening month has been…*checks notes* James McCann? Yes, in fact this is the case. McCann was the source of much derision following his signing but he had a spectacular opening month on the South Side. McCann slashed .357/.400/.536 which was good for a 155 wRC+. I don’t think anyone expected this from a guy that has been atrocious with the bat his last few years in Detroit, but it was certainly a welcomed surprise. McCann has been hitting cleanup against lefties to this point and actually has made it seem like a good idea. Do I expect it continue? Not really, but it’s certainly been better than the alternative. In fact, McCann has caused some to wonder if the other catcher on the roster will be the casualty when the team decides Zack Collins is done hitting homers in Charlotte at some point in the next month or two.
Right handed reliever, Kelvin Herrera put together a strong month out of what was otherwise a really shaky bullpen to open the year. Herrera pitched to a 2.67 FIP and 10.13 K/9. Herrera has looked like a solid acquisition for this club that desperately needs someone, anyone, to record outs (I hear that’s important to this game). If Herrera can keep looking at least like some semblance of the guy he was in Kansas City, then the Sox may be able to parlay him into a decent prospect from a contender that needs relief help.
The final positive for the month of April came from the elder statesmen of the team, Jose Abreu. Pito got off to a slow start but turned it on at the end of the month and finished with a .279/.350/.500 month and a 126 wRC+. So basically, a typical Jose Abreu month. In the final year of his deal, if Abreu is able to keep producing at this clip I have to think some contender will eventually want to bring him on board for a pennant push. The guy is simply a professional hitter and will make a lineup better. I know the Sox have had relatively unrealistic demands for him in trade discussions, so whether or not this ultimately comes to fruition remains to be seen.
There were some in between performances for the Sox during the month of April. I’m hopeful that some of these issues will progress over the season’s remaining five months and eventually turn into positives, because boy do they need them. At the top of this list is Lucas Giolito. Giolito closed out April with a 5.30 ERA and you’re probably asking yourself, “how can that be described as anything other than bad?” Well, here’s how: if you dig deeper and look at Giolito’s peripheral numbers, they are actually better than that superficial ERA. Giolito posted a 3.83 FIP and 3.73 xFIP during the season’s opening month, which shows that there are better things to come. Most encouraging for Lucas is the 11.09 K/9. His fastball velocity has is averaging 93.4 MPH, which is a full tick above where he was during the 2018 season. Additionally, his xwOBA is at .310 right now, which is a little better than league average. When you compare that to a .350 xwOBA from 2018, there is a noticeable improvement to Giolito’s performance. On the downside, the 4.82 BB/9 is still far too high for long-term success. Giolito finding a way to consistently pound the strike zone and limit the free passes will be a key to seeing how his season plays out. If he is able to keep that number down, he will cement himself as, at least, a mid-rotation starter going forward.
Eloy Jimenez‘s first cup of coffee in the show, wasn’t the strongest. He slashed .241/.294/.380 while playing an adventurous left field. In fact, those outfield adventures landed him on the DL following an ankle injury he sustained on 4/26 while “trying” to rob a home run. I’m not going to harp on a guy who didn’t set the world on fire when he was seeing the best pitching in the world for the first time in his life. There are necessary adjustments Eloy will need to make, but there’s no reason to believe based on his pedigree he won’t do so.
Carlos Rodon put together an interesting first month, to say the least. Rodon, who adopted an approach that relied more heavily on his slider than in years past, saw his strike out rate jump to 11.61 K/9. He closed the month with a 4.94 ERA but a solid 3.78 FIP. There were some rough spots, however, particularly his start against Tampa during the season’s first homestand. It’s this inconsistency that has been a hallmark of Rodon’s young career and is not something you expect out of a guy that was taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 draft. To complicate matters, Rodon left his start against Baltimore in the 4th inning on May 1st and there is growing speculation that he will require Tommy John surgery that will shut him down for at least 12 months. This is yet another setback for this rebuild, if it is indeed the case.
Closer Alex Colome, who was acquired in exchange for Omar Narvaez this winter, had an uneven first month on the South Side. Colome posted a 4.24 FIP which is sub-optimal for a 9th inning reliever. He’s averaging 8.53 K/9 but a concerning 1.42 HR/9 so far in the season, and I’m no expert, but I believe that number is too high for someone at the back end of the bullpen. Colome needs a quick turnaround if he can have his trade value salvaged.
The most disappointing part of the season’s first month for me was Reynaldo Lopez. To start the year, ReyLo has posted a 6.03 ERA, 5.27 FIP, and 5.39 xFIP with some of the hardest contact against him in the entire league. If you take out his two starts where he did some serious bum slaying against Detroit, the numbers are just putrid. Everyone will look to that start against the Tigers when he struck out 14 in 6 innings of work, but that doesn’t negate the issues he’s had in his other starts. Yes, his strike out rate has climbed to over 11 K/9, but he’s issuing 4.88 BB/9 while allowing 2.01 HR/9. The low spin fastball that he features despite having top level velocity, is getting hammered all over the park with consistency to start the season. During March/April the average Exit Velocity against Lopez’s fastball was 93.7 MPH. That’s really not a good look for a guy who fancies himself as a power pitcher and thinks he can overpower hitters. Something needs to change with ReyLo and it needs to change quick, otherwise the calls for him to be relegated to the bullpen will grow louder.
Another area that has disappointed me early on has been the overall work of the bullpen. Sox relievers posted a 4.79 FIP due in large part to a dismal 4.20 BB/9 and 1.43 HR/9. Going into the season, I thought the bullpen had a chance to be a low-key strength for this team. I was cautiously optimistic about youngsters like: Ian Hamilton, Caleb Frare, Jose Ruiz, and Ryan Burr. Well, Hamilton got hurt in Spring Training and is getting tattoo’d down in Charlotte, while Burr has the lowest ERA of the remaining 3 youngsters at 5.68, and the peripherals for the trio are even worse. Excuse me, I think my plate of crow of is ready…
Ivan Nova, who was acquired from Pittsburgh this winter looks like he’s cooked to be honest. He only had a 4.58 FIP during April, but the eye test was a lot more unkind to him. He simply is giving up a lot of hard contact and not missing enough bats. Add in veteran Ervin Santana to the mix, whose ERA was able to stay in single digits after 3 starts only because he was DFA’d, and you have the makings for a terrifyingly bad rotation. I can’t talk about these two any more because I just want to vomit thinking about it.
Then there’s the mess that is the outfield. Adam Engel was allowed to exist on the roster for another month. He’s shown himself again to be the worst hitter in the Major Leagues, and a guy that simply isn’t cut out to be here. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but having to watch him continue to take at bats at this point is simply insulting to this fan base. Then again, we’re Sox fans we should be used to being insulted by this organization. As bad as Engel was, he wasn’t the worst outfielder the Sox had to open the season. Twitter fan favorite, Daniel Palka posted a .029 SLG % in 13 games before being demoted to Charlotte. You read that correctly, he slugged .029! It’s truly amazing how a guy that slugged 27 homers a year ago, has seemingly fallen so hard so quickly.
All in all, it was a bit of a rough month at 35th/Shields. The positive developments of Moncada and Anderson at the plate are really the biggest takeaways from a positive standpoint. There will certainly be regression for the two over the season’s remaining 5 months, but there is plenty of reason to believe the Sox could have a pair of 3-4 win infielders on the left side this season and that is a nice development. Hopefully the additional infusion of prospects like: Dylan Cease, Zack Collins, Seby Zavala, and maybe Luis Robert (one can hope, right?) can make the rest of this season a little more interesting. Because as fellow TLS contributor James Fox likes to say frequently, “they still have too many bad players on this roster.” I fear the next few months could be really ugly before we start seeing more reinforcements.
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