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The White Sox Are Best Suited to Overcome Sluggish April

Despite a slow start, the White Sox are in a good spot.

We’re at just about a month of the way through the 2022 Major League season, and the standings largely look like one might expect. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Brewers all sit atop their respective divisions. The Mets, too. Heck, the bottom of the standings looks awfully familiar, too: Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Arizona.

But lodged in between what has become standard protocol for some division races are teams trying to claw back from a slow start. Some are familiar contenders, some feature newfound aspirations. Defending champion Atlanta and the all-in-on-offense Phillies are chasing the Mets. The Astros are below the checks notes Angels. The Giants sit behind San Diego and Colorado. And the Chicago White Sox sit behind the Twins in the American League Central.

Not all disappointing teams are created equal. Disappointing is, in itself, a subjective term. I’m even using the term fairly loosely here. The Astros sitting within a couple of games of the Angels likely doesn’t qualify. Maybe the Giants behind both the Padres and Rockies does. The situation in the NL East surely fits the bill, with a defending champ and a heavy spender. And then there’s the White Sox.

The White Sox entered the 2022 season with legitimate title aspirations but began the month of May at 8-12, a record that included a run of eight straight losses. That streak ended with a win against Kansas City on April 27th, but was then followed up with another three losses in four games. Since then, they’ve managed to snag a game in Los Angeles Anaheim and take a pair against the Cubs. And there have been a few more since. It left the Sox in a better position, but still looking up at the scorching Twins in the standings.

 

Offensive Shortcomings

 

The White Sox were an elite offensive team in 2021 by most measures. They ranked seventh in the league in runs (796) and finished with a wRC+ of 109, which ranked fourth. They also struck out on the lower end of the spectrum, while posting the league’s fourth-highest walk percentage. In terms of on-base, the Sox did that better than 27 of 30 teams in 2021 (.336). By that criteria, the 2022 season has been very much not that. They’re currently 27th in the league in runs scored and have an ISO almost identical to that of the notoriously power-deficient Chicago Cubs. While their strikeout rate has remained similar, they sit at the very bottom of the league in walk rate. That’s obviously a heavy factor in their 28th-place ranking in OBP.

 

Defensive Struggles

 

Things start to get a even murkier when you consider their defensive performance. The Sox currently sit dead last in FanGraphs’ Def rating (-12.1). They’re also last in Outs Above Average (-13) and are tied for last in Defensive Runs Saved (-15). Tim Anderson has been especially bad, with seven errors already and grading out as Chicago’s worst defender. It’s not as if the White Sox were the 2015 Royals or 2016 Cubs with the gloves last year, but they were much closer to the middle of the pack.

 

Pitching A Positive

 

Even with the sluggish start, it hasn’t all been bad for the Sox. The bump has played host to several standout performances this year, largely from Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech. Their starting pitching ranks 11th in fWAR (1.9) and features a 3.65 ERA as a group. Their 10.30 K/9 trails only Milwaukee, though walks have been a bit of a problem at 4.05/9. Similarly, their relief corps has accumulated 1.0 WAR (9th) and stands at a 3.48 ERA and 9.62 K/9. Walks have also been an issue there, though, at 4.54 per nine. Regardless, the pitching represents a positive especially given that 10 of their wins have come while allowing three or fewer runs. When you consider their defensive performance, though, it’s no wonder that if you look something like FIP, the rankings for the pitching staff rise across the board.

But still, you’ve got a White Sox team that for the better part of a month couldn’t hit and couldn’t field. Where’s the hope?

 

Does Any of that Matter?

 

For one, they’re not quite healthy. Yoán Moncada hasn’t appeared in a game yet this season. Neither has Joe Kelly. Luis Robert missed a short stretch. Eloy Jiménez is out for at least six weeks. And that doesn’t even account for anything smaller and nagging. It’s certainly easy to say “they’ll get healthy and they’ll be fine.” But Moncada especially will be a boon to the lineup, both as a steady switch-hitting presence and a quality defender. Kelly’s another power arm in the bullpen. Jiménez has had his health woes, but you can’t understate the value of a bat with that upside.

You also have to account for their division. The Royals and Tigers were never going to contend this year. Cleveland doesn’t have the offensive chops to keep up with anyone in the long term. The main competition here is the Twins. Minnesota was never as bad as they appeared last year, given their own battle with the Injured List. But, on paper, this Sox squad appears well-suited to handle them as we begin to hit the summer months. Especially if Carlos Correa is going to be out a bit.

There are, of course, other factors at play as well that point towards improvement. They’re actually making more contact than they did last year. But quality of contact has gone down, with a HardHit% eight points lower than 2021. It’s not as if they suddenly forgot how to hit. It’s in the approach. A low walk rate and a lower quality of contact indicates a need for an improved approach more than anything. I’m obviously oversimplifying, but that’s the reality that the White Sox face. Should they do that, they have the offensive upside and the pitching to compensate for whatever they do (or don’t do) on defense.

Ultimately, though, this is just a better team than they’ve shown to this point. It’s certainly fortunate they play in a division that features a few teams still in their growth phase. But when you factor that in with what has been legitimate underperformance, there’s only one way for this team to go: Up.

This becomes even more evident given the past week. The Sox have won six in a row, even with the deficiencies described in the space above. There are going to be runs like that, and if the approach doesn’t improve, there will be runs like we saw in April. In any case, it’s quite clear that the Sox, given their depth and the divisional context, have more leeway to mess around in some of these April & May stretches. If we’re still talking about the same problems come, say, July, the conversation likely changes.

 

Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. A former high school English teacher, Randy now works in the corporate world and resides in Arizona.

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