The White Sox have officially reached the half way point in the 2019 season. They stand at 39-42 right now, but despite being on the way to their 7th consecutive losing season, things are looking up. Now, they are outperforming their Pythagorean record (42-44) and it’s really amazing considering they have had one legitimate Major League starting pitcher since Carlos Rodon went down with Tommy John surgery early May.
All things considered, I would say this has been a somewhat enjoyable first half to the season. We’ve seen some truly positive developments happen at 35th/Shields and it’s causing many of us to wonder if the worst truly is behind us. In fact, I joked about as much in late May:
*extreme narrator voice*
What if I told you, splitting a road series against the eventual World Series champions was the turning point in a rebuild?
— South Side Clown Show (@NWI_Steve) May 24, 2019
Since this tweet, the Sox have gone 17-16 including a brutal 17 game stretch against above .500 teams where the Sox managed to go 8-9. I know you’re probably saying “they’re a game over .500 in this 33 game stretch, so what?” Well, this is a team that is coming off their worst season since 1970, so being in a position where they sit 2 games below .500 at the All-Star break is pretty significant. This team is showing signs of life and I can tell you it’s been fun being at the ballpark again. This is honestly something we haven’t experienced since early May of 2016 and that was very short-lived. In reality, it hasn’t been since 2012 that there has been a feeling of hope at the ballpark.
I know a lot of people, myself included, haven’t been able to shake the irritation from this past winter. Given how this team has performed from essentially in-house improvement, one can’t help but wonder if this team could be a viable Wild Card competitor had the front office made serious attempts to improve this roster over the winter. There’s finally signs of hope and many of us have started to look ahead to this winter and trying to piece together a few moves that could push this team into serious contention. Before we get there, however, let’s take a look at some of the positives from this season’s first half of games.
It’s hard to say which development has been the most important in 2019 but Giolito is either 1 or 1A. This is a guy that was arguably the worst starter in Major League Baseball last season and he is now going to the All-Star Game. Lucas ranks 3rd in all of baseball in fWAR at 3.1 WAR. He has compiled a 3.15 ERA and 3.20 FIP. This is the player that Sox envisioned they were getting from the Washington Nationals when they sent Adam Eaton and his mortgage payment to the nation’s capitol. Giolito’s redone mechanics have led to more strikes being thrown, and more importantly a higher percentage of quality strikes. Giolito ranks near the top of the league in several Statcast metrics such as xwOBA, average exit velocity, and hard hit rate. This emergence into a top of the rotation arm was a badly needed development given the several steps backward taken by Reynaldo Lopez.
If Giolito isn’t the brightest spot of 2019, it is Moncada who has by all indications shed the label of #Bustcada that many dopes placed on him during 2018. The centerpiece of the rebuild is developing nicely this season, and would be an All-Star if not for an absolutely stacked hot corner. Through the 81 game point, Moncada is slashing: .304/.363/.546 good for a 139 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR. YoYo has taken down the strike out rate to 27% which is almost a full 6% decline from a year ago. The number is still high, but ultimately this may be what he is as a finished product from a bat-to-ball standpoint. We’ve seen a noticeable shift in Yoan’s approach as he is attacking pitches earlier in counts, particularly when getting ahead, which is something we didn’t see much of in 2018. He’s making pitchers pay with loads of hard contact, as he is again near the top of the league in terms of average exit velocity and hard hit rate.
On the defensive side, Moncada’s transition to the hot corner has gone better than I personally expected. There were some early season bumps in the road with throws across the diamond, but those have seemingly smoothed out as he is playing at least an average third base. He is currently sitting at -1 DRS, but the eye test says there has been noticeable improvement since the season’s early weeks. All things considered, Yoan looks like he is emerging into the monster we all hoped for when he was acquired for the best pitcher in the history of the franchise.
I have to eat a little crow here. When the Sox signed McCann this winter, I assumed he would be a place holder until Zack Collins or Seby Zavala were ready to take his job in June. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Among catchers with at least 100 PAs, McCann ranks 5th in all of baseball at 2.2 fWAR. McCann’s .317/.372/.507 slash line earned him his first All-Star appearance. Aside from his tremendous work with the bat, pitchers have raved as his receiving and game calling ability. Particularly Giolito as he has stated that he simply will not shake off McCann out of trust for the veteran backstop’s ability to call a game. It will be truly interesting to see if McCann can continue his great start after the Mid-Summer classic. If he does, he will put the Sox in difficult position regarding his future. McCann has one year of control remaining following this season, so does he fit into the team’s long-term plans?
TA got off to a blazing start this year, earning his first American League Player of the Month honor during the month of April. Overall his first half slash line stands at: .317/.342/.491. Timmy has hit 11 homers and stolen 15 bases already, making him seem like a lock to be a 25/25 guy before injuring his ankle that will cause him to miss the next 4-6 weeks. Anderson has shown some defensive lapses that have plagued him throughout the early part of his career. His 16 errors have played a major role in his -5 DRS (thanks Captain Obvious). Still despite the miscues, Anderson has produced 1.7 fWAR and looks like he was well on his way to being a 4 win player at shortstop, which is nothing to sneeze at. TA has continued to grow on an annual basis, and the 26-year-old has been at the forefront of the battle against baseball’s unwritten rules. He has garnered attention from national publications and has received public support from NBA and NFL players in recent weeks. All things considered, Timmy has proven himself to be a solid Major League player that sets a positive example in the clubhouse and the community.
Eloy’s first taste of the Big Leagues didn’t go as planned. When he went down with a high ankle sprain on April 26th he was slashing a paltry: .241/.294/.380 with just 3 home runs. I saw a few people here and there on Twitter dot com questioning why he received a contract before playing a game at the highest level given his early struggles. Eloy returned to the lineup on 5/20 and took about 10 days to get re-acclimated with Major League pitching. In the last 30 days, Jimenez is slashing: .275/.337/.582 with 8 jaw dropping home runs. We are starting to see the light tower power we were promised when he was acquired for Jose Quintana. Overall his first half line is: .240/.300/.471 with 15 homers. The arrow is pointing upward with Jimenez, however. I know I am of the belief that this guy is truly going to be a middle of the order monster as he continues to mature and understand what big league pitchers are attempting to do to him. I truly believe Jimenez will one day soon be the first player in franchise history to hit 50 home runs, and it is going to be glorious.
I wrote extensively about Bummer’s emergence in the Sox bullpen recently. He’s had a few bumps in the road since my column (no the Steve column jinx isn’t real, this isn’t a Sports Illustrated cover situation), but overall Bummer has still been phenomenal. He has developed into a weapon capable of retiring batters regardless of handedness, which is unbelievably valuable in today’s game. It will be interesting to see how Bummer responds to a high work load in the season’s second half, but if his arm is able to hold up, the Sox have a tremendous weapon at the back end of this bullpen.
So for all the consternation that surrounded this team coming into Spring Training after a failed winter, I think it’s safe to say things are trending in the right direction for our Sox. There are 5 definitive pieces to this team’s long-term future developing right before our eyes, and a 6th in McCann that could represent another valued piece. We can look at the players mentioned above and feel reasonably confident that they have secured their positions on what is hopefully the next competitive White Sox team. The truly encouraging thing with all these players, with the possible exception of McCann, is they all still have room for further development. There is superstar potential in this crop and that is a serious reason for optimism that we haven’t had in quite some time. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but you can absolutely see things starting to come together. There is progress being made, and for the first time in a long time, there is reason for hope at 35th/Shields. Harvey Dent famously said “The night is always darkest just before the dawn” in the 2008 classic, the Dark Knight. Well folks, the dawn may be here soon.
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