The key to the White Sox season lies in their offense. The team scored less than 4.5 runs per game last year and let two of their most productive hitters leave in free agency.
While their pitching looks very strong, they will need to be more productive to be considered a real contender. While there are some reasons to expect improved production, the offense could conceivably be worse if some things don't break in favor of the Sox.
We all know that we probably won't see this lineup often. Ozzie Guillen likes to use his bench and play the hot hand, and you never know exactly what he will do. Perhaps you saw this Tribune article from late last week suggesting that Mark Kotsay might bat third against righties and that Omar Vizquel could lead off against lefties.
It's best to no dwell on this because at this point all it can do is drive you to drink. For the purposes of this article, I am assuming that relative sanity prevails.
1). LF Juan Pierre
2009 stats: 57 runs, 0 homers, 31 RBI, .308/.365/.392
Ozzie loves speed and players that make contact at the top of the order, and that's exactly what they have with Pierre. He is a career .301 hitter that has stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last nine years.
Of course the major issue with Pierre is that he doesn't get on base at a very good clip, something that is generally crucial for a leadoff man. He had a solid .365 OBP last year, but his career rate is .348 and he's often been at or below .330. He also has very little power, hitting only one home run in the last three seasons.
Pierre has to get on base to be a valuable part of the Sox lineup. If he doesn't, the Sox could struggle to produce runs.
2). 2B Gordon Beckham
2009 stats: 58 runs, 14 homers, 63 RBI, .270/.347/.460
The Sox's top hitting prospect in recent memory got off to a rough start to his career, with only two hits and zero runs or RBI in his first 28 at bats.
However, he caught fire after that rough stretch. His average peaked at .316 on Aug. 4. That didn't last, but he still ended up with a solid .807 OPS. Now he'll move to second base and try to build on a strong debut.
Beckham has the potential to be a great all-around that can hit for average, drive the ball to the gaps, and take a walk when given the chance. He is clearly one of the major reasons for hope in the Sox lineup.
3). RF Carlos Quentin
2009 stats: 47 runs, 21 homers, 56 RBI, .236/.323/.456
Expectations were sky-high for Quentin after his MVP-caliber 2008 season, but he didn't come close to repeating it. Two of his old issues, injuries and an often suspect batting average, cropped up to hold him to a much more pedestrian line.
Carlos still hit for power (21 homers in only 351 at bats) and got on base from walks and hit by pitches (a whopping 15). However, he has to stay on the field and find the gaps more consistently to be a real impact player.
Quentin is one of the keys to the Sox offense. If he can even come close to his dominant performance in 2008, they should have a more productive offense. If he misses large chunks of games again while hitting below .250, it could be a long year for the offense.
4). 1B Paul Konerko
2009 stats : 75 runs, 28 homers, 88 RBI, .277/.353/.489
Konerko isn't the best first baseman in the league, but he continues to be a solid hitter in the middle of the order with power and plate discipline. Paulie posted a .842 OPS last year, which is right on his career average.
While his 40 homer days are probably in the past, he can still approach 30 with a respectable batting average and good walk rates.
Konerko has been very consistent in his Sox career, though at some point we are likely to see an age-related decline. Paul should be a fixture in the middle of the order, but if he does have an off year the Sox will lose a lot of their margin for error.
5). C A.J. Pierzynski
2009 stats: 57 runs, 13 homers, 49 RBI, .300/.331/.425
Pierzynski should probably hit lower in the order, but Ozzie likes to alternate righty and lefty hitters as much as possible.
A.J. is a solid but not spectacular hitter, which works because of the position he plays. He doesn't take many walks and only has decent power, but he is a good contact hitter.
While he should probably be batting lower in the order, his contact abilities should have some value with runners on base. If everything else goes well, A.J. at this spot probably won't kill them. If they have to rely on him to produce runs, things could get ugly.
6). CF Alex Rios
2009 stats: 63 runs, 17 homers, 71 RBI, .247/.296/.395
The waiver acquisition of Alex Rios went horribly wrong last year as he hit under .200 for the Sox.
Though he is able to hit the ball consistently and with authority when things are going right, he relies heavily on his batting average to carry his production. When he isn't getting hits, things can get extremely ugly for Rios.
Rios could make or break this offense. If he struggles again, the Sox will have sunk $10 million in a bottom of the order hitter. If he can get back to driving the ball to the gaps, the Sox will have another much-needed run producer.
7). 3B Mark Teahen
2009 stats: 69 runs, 12 homers, 50 RBI, .271/.325/.408
Teahen was miscast as a middle of the order hitter last year, where all but 35 of his at bats last year came between third and sixth in the order for the Royals. Teahen simply doesn't do anything well enough to be considered an impact hitter and can struggle with his strike out rates.
However, in the bottom of the order he should give the Sox decent production. His career line of .269/.331/.419 is far easier to handle in the seventh spot. He's basically a league average hitter.
8). DH Andruw Jones/Mark Kotsay
2009 stats: 43 runs, 17 homers, 43 RBI, .214/.323/.459 (Jones), 16 runs, 4 homers, 23 RBI, .278/.327/.390
Fans have griped about this situation for much of the offseason. These two players are likely to get the bulk of the at-bats at the DH position.
Jones gives them a lot of power, but isn't exactly a lock to hit his playing weight (listed at 230). Kotsay should provide a much better batting average, but has marginal extra base power at best.
Jones gives them at least some chance of catching lightning in a bottle given his all-star pedigree, but this situation is far from ideal. This is an area that the Sox could try to upgrade mid-season.
9). SS Alexei Ramirez
2009 stats: 71 runs, 15 homers, 68 RBI, .277/.333/.389
Ramirez can be a very maddening player. He can make consistent contact and has solid power, but he'll also take some god-awful swings that put him in bad spots. His walk rate improved considerably last season, but it still isn't great and he doesn't have much gap power.
While he has as much raw talent as anyone on the roster, it's hard to figure out exactly what you're going to get from Alexei. The most likely result is a solid batting average with 15-20 homers and not much else.
It's hard to predict a strong offensive season from the Sox given the number of relatively average hitters in the lineup. Konerko seems to be the only player you can reasonably assume will post an OPS comfortably above league average, and he's 34.
That said, there are some talented hitters in the lineup that could be difference makers. Beckham, Quentin, and Rios all have the capability to put up some impressive numbers. However, they will probably need at least two of them to produce to have a respectable offense.
That doesn't leave them much margin for error. On a different team that would be a killer. However, given the AL Central doesn't appear to have a dominant team and the Sox's projected pitching strength, they don't necessarily need to be among the league leaders in runs scored to contend for the division title.