Chicago White Sox's 5 Most Important Players for 2015 Success
With seven new high-profile additions, the Chicago White Sox will lift the lid on the 2015 season with a 25-man roster that is dramatically different than the one that opened last year’s campaign.
Because of the stark differences between the two rosters, expectations on the South Side are quite lofty. That leads to a natural question: Which players are the most important for success this season?
Well, that question can be answered in any number of ways, but we’ve identified five guys—two pitchers and one starter from each third of the lineup—who can sway the outcome on a nightly basis.
Keep in mind that there is no scientific formula used in determining the composition of this list. Just about every projected member of the Opening Day roster warrants inclusion on some level.
This is merely our take on the guys who will determine whether or not the 2015 White Sox make the playoffs or find themselves on the outside looking in for the seventh consecutive season.
Here are the five players whose performances are most important to success this season for manager Robin Ventura’s crew.
Zach Putnam, RHP
Yes, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn added David Robertson, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings to the bullpen this offseason. And yes, any one of them could get the nod, but we are going to go with Zach Putnam.
First off, his role as the right-handed setup man in front of Robertson is critical to the club’s fortunes. As the Kansas City Royals (and other clubs) proved last season, having a dominant right-hander to handle the duties in high-leverage situations is an integral part of an effective bullpen.
Second, Putnam is the only reliever from last season’s unit that put up solid numbers in tight situations. Actually, he was on point after getting called up.
For example, Putnam allowed a fine .217/.304/.261 slash line against in high-leverage situations. Better yet, his opponents' slash line dipped to .091/.200/.091 with two outs and runners in scoring position (RISP), per Baseball-Reference. Jake Petricka, on the other hand, allowed a .306/.372/.439 slash line in high-leverage situations, and his slash against with two outs and RISP was a woeful .300/.429/.450.
As pitching coach Don Cooper said, however, Putnam has to “back that up with another real good year” to legitimize his standing as a top-flight reliever, per ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla.
Got that right, Coop.
Looking forward, the need for Putnam to repeat last season’s successes is tangible. After all, it isn’t just about locking down the ninth inning—it’s about getting there in a position to win the game. There is a lot riding on Putnam's right arm.
John Danks, LHP
We all know that the effectiveness of the White Sox’s starting rotation hinges on the efforts of Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana. Thankfully, they have a track record of sustained excellence, making their contributions relatively certain.
John Danks does not have the same type of pedigree. If the club is going to reach the postseason, it will need at least one more starter to come through with a superior effort.
Like some of the other guys on this list, no one is looking for Danks to turn in an All-Star performance. What will not fly, however, is another season with an ERA and an FIP above 4.70, per Fangraphs, which is where he finished each of the past three seasons. True, his 2012 campaign was cut short due to injury, but the metrics are what the metrics are.
If, and this is a big if, Danks can post an ERA and an FIP below 4.00, Ventura and Cooper will have something to work with. If he notches several outings to start the season that are not up to expectations, however, the coaching staff may be forced to alter the rotation.
Avisail Garcia, RF
The White Sox need a total effort from Avisail Garcia.
They need him to play solid (if not exceptional) defense in right field. They need him to be a force on the basepaths, taking an extra base when possible. They need him to drive the gaps and hit the ball with authority.
In other words, the club needs Garcia to be the five-tool player he is purported to be.
After missing time last year from April to August with a torn labrum, Garcia went to work, losing “a significant amount of weight” this offseason, per CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes. He also posted an .894 OPS with five home runs and 22 RBI over 34 games in Venezuela this winter, per MLB.com’s Phil Rogers.
Those efforts must carry over into the regular season.
Let’s not forget that, as Rogers noted, Ventura will bat Garcia fifth. With the guys batting in front of him—Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche—all known for getting on base at prodigious clips, his ability to come through will be of utmost importance.
Tyler Flowers, C
It’s not that Tyler Flowers needs to miraculously morph into an All-Star backstop. His defense will never be anything more than adequate, and that’s all right. What the White Sox need is for Flowers to find some rhythm at the plate.
Consider this: In April and July last season, Flowers slashed out at .354/.398/.415 and .269/.315/.418, respectively. He also finished the month of September with a .985 OPS and five home runs. Unfortunately, he compiled a .401 OPS over 21 June contests and finished with an on-base percentage below .300 in May and August.
Even if his high-water marks aren’t quite as exceptional as his output last April, the ability for Flowers to find consistency at the plate will improve the offense as a whole. With bottom-of-the-lineup production at a premium around MLB, his performance will largely determine how effective the White Sox are scoring runs.
Simply put, the more often he gets on base batting eighth or ninth, the better. It will give guys like Eaton the opportunity to move him along and players like Cabrera and Abreu the chance to drive him in.
Jose Abreu, 1B
By far, the biggest key to success for the White Sox in 2015 rests on the shoulders of Abreu. Sure, a similar statement could be made about Sale, but Abreu is the linchpin in what is a revamped lineup.
Without him performing at a high level, the strengths of Eaton and Cabrera aren’t as impactful. Likewise, the RBI opportunities for LaRoche, Garcia and Conor Gillaspie dry up if he isn’t getting on base and driving the gaps.
Let’s not overlook the fact that while the pitching staff improved greatly from last season, there are still holes at the back end of the rotation and in the relief corps. In other words, the offense will drive this club.
To be clear, Abreu doesn’t need to finish with a .964 OPS to be effective. Frankly, expecting him to repeat his rookie successes is unrealistic. But if his propensity to swing at pitches well out of the zone (broken down here by Nick Ashbourne of Beyond the Box Score) ends up becoming problematic and he struggles in April and May, the White Sox are in trouble.
Unless otherwise noted, all traditional and advanced statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. Contract information pulled from Cot's Contracts. Transaction information is courtesy of MLB.com.