Things are going to be a little different for the Chicago White Sox in 2012.
Mark Buehrle is gone. Ditto fiery manager Ozzie Guillen. Both of them took their talents to South Beach, leaving the White Sox without their ever-dependent staff ace and controversy lightning rod.
One of them will be missed. Or both. It depends on how the starting rotation performs, and if first-time manager Robin Ventura can keep his wits about him.
If all goes well, though, the White Sox will compete for the American League Central, and that's what it's all about.
Here's my two cents on how their outlook for the 2012 season is looking.
2011 Record: 79-83
Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): LHP Donnie Veal (FA), RHP Nestor Molina (from Toronto), LHP Pedro Hernandez (from San Diego), RHP Simon Castro (from San Diego), C Damaso Espino (FA), 3B Delwyn Young (FA), 1B Dan Johnson, OF Kosuke Fukudome (FA).
Key Departures: RHP Sergio Santos (to Toronto), OF Carlos Quentin (to San Diego), RHP Jason Frasor (to Toronto), SP Mark Buehrle (FA), OF Juan Pierre (FA), SS Omar Vizquel (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- John Danks (8-12, 4.33 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)
- Gavin Floyd (12-13, 4.37, 1.16)
- Philip Humber (9-9, 3.75, 1.18)
- Chris Sale (2-2, 2.79, 1.11)
- Jake Peavy (7-7, 4.92, 1.26)
C: A.J. Pierzynski (.287/.323/.405)
1B: Paul Konerko (.300/.388/.517)
2B: Gordon Beckham (.230/.296/.337)
3B: Brent Morel (.245/.287/.366)
SS: Alexei Ramirez (.269/.328/.399)
LF: Alejandro De Aza (.329/.400/.520)
CF: Alex Rios (.227/.265/.348)
RF: Dayan Viciedo (.282/.324/.417)
DH: Adam Dunn (.159/.292/.277)
Matt Thornton (L) (2-5, 3 SV, 20 HLD, 4 BLSV, 3.32 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)
Jesse Crain (R) (8-3, 1 SV, 24 HLD, 6 BLSV, 2.62, 1.24)
Will Ohman (L) (1-3, 3 HLD, 1 BLSV, 4.22, 1.31)
Addison Reed (R) (0-0, 3.68, 1.50)
Dylan Axelrod (R) (1-0, 2.89, 1.45)
Zach Stewart (R) (2-6, 5.88, 1.60)
Gregory Infante (R) (0-0, 0.00, 1.29)
Hector Santiago (L) (0-0, 0.00, 0.38)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
The White Sox got decent starting pitching in 2012. Not great, but decent.
One thing you have to give White Sox starters credit for is their inning count. They logged 1,021.2 innings, third-most in the American League behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels. They compiled 90 quality starts.
Nevertheless, they posted a 4.19 ERA, which placed them in the middle of the road among their AL counterparts. They gave up an AL-low 258 walks, but they balanced that out by giving up a total of 1,055 hits, second-most in the AL.
As mentioned above, Mark Buehrle is no longer in the mix, which is a big deal. Since 2000, his average season consists of 220 innings, an ERA in the high 3.00s and roughly 14 to 15 wins. That kind of steadiness and that kind of production will be missed.
The White Sox really don't have a top-of-the-rotation starter now. Gavin Floyd will top out at 200 innings and he'll post an ERA in the low 4.00s, but not much more than that. He's a guy who is as steady as they come in terms of his control, but his M.O. is to pitch to contact. That can get him in trouble on days when the ball is carrying, as Floyd has a tendency to give up the long ball.
John Danks is largely similar. He's reliable in the sense that he's not going to walk the ballpark, but his stuff is very hittable. Hitters hit .274 off Danks in 2011, giving up a relatively high .313 BABIP. If hitters make contact against Danks, the ball is going to find a hole.
Both Floyd and Danks are fine options as middle-of-the-rotation guys, but somebody on this staff is going to have to emerge as a stopper that the White Sox can trust to dominate on a given night. Every team needs a pitcher like that. Or at least, every team that has a mind to contend.
Jake Peavy is not this kind of pitcher anymore. He hasn't pitched 200 innings since 2007, and injuries have robbed him of his electric stuff (when he was on...man...). He showed in limited action that he at least knows where the ball is going, posting a BB/9 of 1.93, but he wasn't fooling anyone. After a strong start in May, Peavy got routinely knocked around in June, July and August. He ultimately had to shut it down early.
I do have hope for Philip Humber and Chris Sale, but I'll wait to address the two of them in further depth in just a moment. Both of them have the potential to make this rotation much better than it looks on paper.
And let's be honest, this rotation doesn't look good on paper.
Scouting the Bullpen
The White Sox got some good work out of Sergio Santos in 2011. He saved 30 games, stabilizing a White Sox bullpen that had its issues early in the season.
Just like Buehrle, Santos is gone now. The White Sox traded him to Toronto. With him out of the picture, the team doesn't have a clear closer.
There are three guys who could close games for the White Sox. Matt Thornton has tried his hand at closing before, and he has the stuff to do the job, but he wasn't able to do it last season. He gave up the job seemingly as soon as he got it.
Jesse Crain is another guy who could close. He doesn't have experience as a full-time closer, but he's been one of the more reliable setup guys in the league throughout his career. If he impresses Ventura in spring training, the White Sox could very well roll the dice on Crain as their closer.
Personally, I like Addison Reed. He's got a live fastball, and he certainly has the goods to rack up strikeouts. In limited big league action last season, Reed struck out 12 hitters in 7.1 innings. In two minor league seasons, Reed posted a K/9 of 12.9. He has closer stuff, and my gut tells me it's just a matter of time before he's closing games.
Finding a closer is this team's top priority, but the good news is that this bullpen appears to be fairly deep and fairly decent. Ventura will have a good balance of righties and lefties at his disposal, giving him plenty of options as far as creating a bridge to his closer on a given night.
Without a closer, though, this bullpen will struggle the same way it did at the beginning of last season. The very thought should give White Sox fans the willie-nillies.
Scouting the Hitting
We're used to the White Sox being one of the most powerful teams in the American League, but they regressed in a big way last season.
The Sox scored just 654 runs all season, 11th in the AL. They hit 154 home runs, tied for ninth in the AL. They slugged .388 as a team, 11th in the AL.
This is what happens when you have guys like Adam Dunn (.159/.292/.277), Alex Rios (.227/.265/.348) and Gordon Beckham (.230/.296/.337) dragging you down. Key members of Chicago's lineup just didn't hit. Plain and simple.
Dunn in particular has to be better this season (he can't be worse, for the record). The Sox need him to be the guy who hit 282 home runs between 2004 and 2010. That hitter was good for 40 homers, 100 RBI, 100 walks and a .900 OPS in a given season. That hitter is worth a four-year, $56 million contract.
In order to become that hitter again, Dunn needs to start by doing something other than walking and striking out every time he's at the plate. Exactly how he does that is up to him.
Who knows with Rios? He's never been the same since making two straight All-Star teams in 2006 and 2007. He really hit rock bottom last season, posting a .121 ISO and a .237 BABIP. He just couldn't hit the ball with any authority.
I don't have much faith in Beckham either. He looked pretty good since he debuted in 2009, but since then he's hit .241/.306/.356. He is what he is, and it seems he is not a star.
On the bright side, at least the White Sox still have Paul Konerko, who has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last two seasons. There's nothing not to like about .306/.391/.551 and an even 70 home runs. Konerko has had some bad seasons over the last couple of years, but he actually appears to be getting better.
You also have to be excited about Alejandro De Aza, who went on a tear once he started getting regular playing time in August and September last season. His BABIP was .404, which is a little too high, but at least it tells us that De Aza was putting the bat on the ball and putting it in the right places. Over a full season, he could be a dependable hitter.
Alas, dependable hitters are not commonplace in this lineup. The White Sox know what they're going to get out of Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez, but the rest of the rabble is full of wild cards and disappointments.
I expect the White Sox's offensive production to be very similar to what it was last year, if not worse.
I'm not a big fan of Danks, I'm not a big fan of Floyd and I think Peavy may be done.
I like Philip Humber, though.
It was a tale of two seasons for Humber in 2011. He was very good before the All-Star break, going 8-5 with a 3.10 ERA and posting an opponents' batting average of .281. His first season as a full-time starter was going very well.
And then it all fell apart in the second half. Humber won a single game and had an ERA over 5.00, and opponents hit him at a .287 clip. He just plain fell apart.
That was to be expected. We see relievers-turn-starters run out of gas all the time. Humber was merely the latest.
As a whole, the experience of 2011 should serve Humber well. The White Sox will gladly take the Humber of the first half last season, but Humber could be even better than that. He already gets a lot of ground balls, and the one positive thing he showed after the break last year is that he can rack up strikeouts too.
If Humber finds a good balance, he'll be the ace this staff needs.
I want to talk more about Paul Konerko, just because he deserves it.
Konerko was not better in 2011 than he was in 2010, when he hit .312 with 39 homers and posted an OPS of .977. He was, however, seemingly more selective.
Konerko's walk rate climbed from 11.4 percent in 2010 to 12.1 percent in 2011. His strikeout rate fell from 17.4 percent to 13.9 percent. He didn't hit for as much power, but it's worth noting that his line-drive percentage jumped up from 19.8 percent to 22.4 percent.
In short, Konerko is waiting for his pitches and he's squaring them up when he gets them. Not exactly obscure baseball science, but let's remember that Konerko was not exactly the most consistent hitter under the sun for a little while there.
He is now. Konerko knows what he's doing when he digs into the box. He's not a young man, but he's a savvy veteran and a damn good hitter.
I could go with a number of guys here, but I'm going to focus on Chris Sale.
Due mainly to a lack of better options, Sale is being converted from a reliever into a starter. I think it's a weird choice, as Sale's sharp fastball, nasty breaking stuff and funky delivery make him a perfect fit out in the pen.
But the White Sox are going to give it a shot. The pressure will be on Sale to get hitters out and provide innings on a consistent basis. It's going to be quite the change.
What worries me is that Sale is a strikeout pitcher. He has limited major league experience, but his K/9 for his time in the majors is 10.6, a high number. Strikeouts are all well and good, but Sale is going to need to pitch to contact if he wants to survive as a starter. He's not being asked to come in and get three outs. He's being asked to start and get at least 18 every night.
So we'll see. I love Sale's stuff as much as the next guy, but this is going to be a tough transformation for him.
If Sale handles it well, though, he's going to be a godsend for this rotation.
Prospect to Watch
If you ask ESPN's Keith Law, he'll tell you that the White Sox have the worst farm system in all of baseball. Harsh.
One guy does stand out, however, and that's Nestor Molina. He's the guy the Sox got from the Blue Jays in the Sergio Santos trade.
Molina has been around since 2007, very slowly making his way through Toronto's system. He didn't show a whole lot of progress.
Not up until 2011, anyway. Suddenly, there he was mowing hitters down in A-ball, posting a 2.58 ERA and a 9.6 K/9. The Jays eventually moved him up to Double-A.
Once there, Molina made five starts, in which he had an ERA of 0.41 and a K/9 of 13.5.
Not bad for a guy whose stuff is supposed to be just okay (ask Bleacher Report's Adam Wells). It sounds like he gets by on smoke and mirrors, and he's done so quite well.
Definitely keep an eye on him.
What the White Sox Will Do Well
You'll have to excuse me for using the word "if" a few too many times in this section.
If the White Sox get consistency from the back end of their starting rotation, they're going to have no trouble keeping games close and keeping pressure off their bullpen. Their starters logged a lot of innings last year, and they could do so again this year.
If some key hitters enjoy bounce-back seasons in 2012, the White Sox are going to be a much more effective offensive club. They'll be back to slugging the ball in no time.
If they figure out their closer scenario, their bullpen will be effective enough to get the job done.
Like I said at the very start, if all goes well, the White Sox will contend.
What the White Sox Won’t Do Well
You want the truth?
The White Sox don't have a good starting rotation, they don't have a good lineup and they have a bullpen that's waiting to fall apart.
In a nutshell, this version of the White Sox is not all that dissimilar from the version that won just 79 games last season.
Where will the White Sox finish in the AL Central in 2012?
If you want to have faith in everything working out for the White Sox, you'll have no trouble whatsoever that this team is capable of winning 90-plus games and making the playoffs.
I have no choice but to be objective, and I don't see a team capable of doing that when I look at the White Sox. In fact, I see a team that will be lucky to stay out of last place in the division.
If it's any consolation, I think they will.
Projected Record: 75-87, fourth in AL Central.
American League Central
National League West
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter: