2014 Chicago White Sox: 5 Things We Have Learned So Far
One thing that can be said about the 2014 Chicago White Sox is that they have certainly been more fun to watch than they were last season, but then again that's not saying much.
In 2013 the White Sox were one of the worst offensive (or most offensive, depending how you look at it) teams in all of baseball, which made for some long days at U.S. Cellular Field. This ineptitude led general manager Rick Hahn to desperately start searching last off season for somebody, anybody, who could come in and help reignite the stagnant offense.
Hahn had actually begun that process during last season when he acquired the highly regarded Avisail Garcia from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline. However, Garcia was lost to injury early this season. Thankfully, Hahn hadn't stopped there in his quest to rebuild the lineup, and the additional moves he's made have helped turn around the offense.
According to TeamRankings.com, the 2014 White Sox are averaging the most ninth-inning runs scored (.59) of any team in baseball, and they have also averaged the second-most runs scored (1.04) from the eighth inning on.
In other words, they don't quit—which seemed to be a problem last year.
Overall, the team is scoring 4.31 runs per game (ninth in MLB), which is a vast improvement on what they averaged last season (3.69) when they were the lowest-scoring team in the American League and second-lowest scoring team in all of baseball.
So things have definitely improved offensively in 2014 for the White Sox. Unfortunately, however, there are two other important aspects of the game: pitching and defense. And there is definite room for improvement in both areas.
The top three in the starting rotation have been solid, but the four and five spots have been inconsistent. More importantly, the bullpen has been a mess for most of the season as guys have failed to find their roles.
And defensively, well, let's just say that things can improve there as well.
As we head into July and towards the All-Star break, let's take a look at five things we have learned about the White Sox so far this season.
Jose Abreu Was Worth the Gamble
It turns out that Jose Abreu can indeed hit the baseball—and fairly well, I might add.
When the White Sox signed the Cuban native to a six-year, $68 million contract last October, it was considered by many to be a risk because he had never seen a pitch in the big leagues.
I think it's safe to say that those fears have been put to rest. At this point the Abreu deal appears to be a bargain for the White Sox.
He looks to be a heavy favorite for Rookie of the Year in the AL as he is at or near the top in every offensive category. He currently leads all rookies in runs scored (44), home runs (25), RBI (64), SLG (.625), OPS (.953) and WAR (2.3). He's also second in average (.279), hits (76) and doubles (17).
The South Side of Chicago has gotten used to heavy-hitting first basemen in recent years with Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and fan-favorite Paul Konerko.
Now it looks like Abreu is set to carry on that tradition. At 27 years old he certainly has a bright future ahead of him, and the White Sox are hopeful that he will anchor the middle of the lineup for years to come.
Avisail Garcia Has Definitely Been Missed
Eight games. That's all White Sox fans got to see of Avisail Garcia in the 2014 season.
He was lost for the season after diving for a fly ball against the Colorado Rockies in early April. Garcia suffered a torn labrum on the play, and with that the White Sox lost their starting right fielder and a guy who was set to hit in the middle of the lineup in front of Jose Abreu.
And with the way Abreu has been hitting, the idea of Garcia hitting in front of him is a frightening thought for opposing pitchers.
Instead, Sox fans have gotten to see a steady dose of Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo at the corner outfield positions. And we all know what that has produced: inconsistent hitting and bad defense.
When the White Sox acquired Garcia from Detroit at last year's trade deadline, they knew they were getting a guy who could be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. He was the second-rated prospect in the Tiger organization at the time he was acquired. He is a five-tool player who has big-time potential at the plate, a great arm in the outfield and surprisingly good speed.
He is on track to return next spring, and Sox fans should look forward to adding him back to the lineup.
With Adam Eaton in center field and Garcia returning in right next year, the White Sox have the foundation of a very productive outfield.
The Bullpen Needs Some Work
Coming into the season the White Sox bullpen was certainly a question mark, and to this point the answer is that there's lots of work to be done.
The bullpen is currently ranked 21st in baseball with a 3.89 ERA, but they are dead last in walks allowed with 138, which is 18 more than the next closest team. They also have the second-lowest ratio of strikeouts per nine innings (6.97). In addition, they are second-to-last in opponent OBP, allowing batters to reach base at a .342 clip. They're second-to-last in WHIP as well, with a 1.44 mark.
A bullpen that can't throw strikes and allows a lot of baserunners is going to lead to a lot of losses. And that's exactly what the White Sox have discovered this season.
They also lack a true closer, which doesn't help. Nate Jones was lost to back surgery to start the season, and Matt Lindstrom was later lost to an ankle injury until at least August. That didn't leave the team with many options. They eventually went with Ronald Bellisario—and all Sox fans know how that turned out. So now manager Robin Ventura has decided to go with the closer-by-committee approach because he really has no other choice.
There are actually a few decent young arms in the White Sox bullpen, but they just haven't had much time to develop. Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and the recently acquired Javy Guerra have all thrown the ball fairly well. Daniel Webb has the stuff to be successful as a late-inning guy, but he can't consistently get the ball over the plate.
At this point Rick Hahn knows that he will have to make some upgrades to the bullpen before next year if the White Sox want to be a real contender in the AL Central.
They Need a Productive Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
The first three in the White Sox starting rotation are all left-handed, and thus far they've all been solid.
Obviously Chris Sale (7-1, 2.30 ERA) is the ace and one of the best pitchers in the game, but the two guys after him have been fairly consistent as well. Jose Quintana and John Danks have both put together strong first halves to this season. They are both among the league leaders in quality starts with 13 and 12, respectively.
Quintana (5-7, 3.44 ERA) has once again been a tough-luck pitcher as he was in 2013 when he set an American League record with 17 no-decisions. So far this season he has five no-decisions and leads all of baseball with four tough losses (as defined by TeamRankings.com), which has led to his subpar record. However, we all know that a pitcher's record (and to some extent ERA) doesn't go a long way in showing how effective a pitcher really is, and Quintana has been effective for the most part.
The same can be said for John Danks (7-6, 4.26 ERA), who has pitched well after having a rough 2013 campaign when he finished 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA. He may never live up to his contract, which pays him $14.25 million this year and each of the next three years, but he is getting closer to being the pitcher he was from 2008-2010—a stretch when he threw at least 195 innings and won at least 12 games per year.
The White Sox certainly have enough quality lefties in their rotation. The question is can they find a consistent right-handed starter?
They thought they had that guy in Erik Johnson, but he struggled to start the season and was sent back to Triple-A Charlotte. Then Andre Rienzo was given a chance and had some early success, but has since been sent to the bullpen.
They called up Scott Carroll from Triple-A Charlotte and he started out well, but he was demoted to the pen and has since rejoined the rotation, taking the place of Rienzo. They also acquired Hector Noesi off waivers from the Texas Rangers in April and plugged him into the rotation as well. And while he hasn't been terrible, it's tough to know yet what you're going to get from him.
Needless to say, Hahn will have to address this prior to next season.
The Defense Is Still Bad
In 2013 the White Sox were almost the worst defensive team in baseball.
They finished 29th with a .980 fielding percentage and committed 121 errors. There was really nothing to do but improve. The feeling coming into this season was that last year's defensive problems were an anomaly and that they would get back on track. After all, in 2012 they led the league defensively, committing only 70 errors (.988 FPCT) all season, and they had mostly the same team coming back.
Unfortunately, this year is looking like a repeat of last season. The White Sox have already committed 58 errors (.982 FPCT) in 83 games, which ranks them 27th in baseball.
Errors don't always tell the whole story, either. The White Sox outfielders, primarily De Aza and Viciedo, have struggled with taking correct routes and not reaching balls they should get to. These mistakes, as well as throwing to the wrong base and missing cutoffs, are not seen in the box score, but are just as damaging defensively as the errors.
If you're thinking that these types of lapses shouldn't be happening at the major league level, you'd be right. It's a definite problem for Ventura and his staff. The up-the-middle defense has been improved with the addition of Eaton in center and the combo of Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham in the infield, but the defense everywhere else could stand to be improved.
It's again something that Hahn will have to address as the team looks ahead to 2015.