Tim Anderson Is Right: The AL Should Fear the White Sox

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 2, 2021

Chicago White Sox's Tim Anderson reacts after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning during a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Among other things, spring training is bulletin board material season in Major League Baseball. It seems that nobody understands this better than Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.

Though he initially hesitated to take the bait from Danny Parkins of 670 The Score on Friday, Anderson relented and literally said "f--k it" as he agreed that his White Sox are the best team in the American League:

Bold? Undoubtedly.

Foolish? Not so much.

Because even though Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs project the White Sox to finish with 80-something wins in 2021, to the naked eye they look like a well-rounded team that could chase after 95 or even 100 wins.

   

The 2020 White Sox, Recapped

  • Tied for the fourth-best record in the AL at 35-25
  • Tied for the AL lead with plus-60 run differential
  • Made the playoffs for the first time since 2008
  • Lost Wild Card Series vs. Oakland Athletics, 2-1
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Their Offense Is Terrifying

If there's at least one justification for Anderson's sky-high rating, it's the upside of the offense that he's a part of.

The White Sox were an offensive powerhouse in 2020, leading the AL with 96 home runs and finishing second behind the New York Yankees with 5.1 runs per game.

Driving the bus were Anderson, AL MVP Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez, who collectively hit .312/.354/.570 with 43 homers. For the sabermetrically inclined, their combined wRC+ was a well-above-average 150.

Anderson, 27, and Jimenez, 24, are in their primes, and Abreu's trajectory suggests he'll continue to be an excellent run producer in 2021 despite having turned 34 in January. And even if the three of them do regress, the White Sox can hope progress by others will make up for it.

Yoan Moncada, for example, had a hard time recovering from the coronavirus last season and recorded a 96 wRC+. But if he's healthy, there's a good chance he'll revert to his 2019 form. He had a 140 wRC+ and 25 homers that year, not to mention stellar peripherals.

There's also Luis Robert, whose rookie year was a tale of two seasons. If he takes away the right lessons—i.e., when pitchers adjust, adjust back—he could look less like someone who had a 21 wRC+ in September and more like someone who had a 157 wRC+ beforehand.

The White Sox also stand to reap numbers from prospects Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn. The former hit .340 in 29 games last year despite having only one healthy shoulder. The latter is a highly regarded slugger whose eyes are on Chicago's designated hitter job.

Because catcher Yasmani Grandal and newcomer/old fried Adam Eaton are none too shabby in their own rights, the White Sox could play the bulk of the season with an above-average hitter in all nine spots in their lineup.

So, never mind just as good. There's a possibility the White Sox offense will be even better than it was a year ago.

   

Don't Underrate Their Defense or Rotation

Because the White Sox were so dangerous at the plate, it was perhaps easy to miss that their regulars were also very good in the field.

Chicago ranked third in the AL with 23 defensive runs saved and first with 10 outs above average. And while Robert stood out with his Gold Glove Award work in center field, both the infield and outfield finished in the black in outs above average.

There's little reason to think the defense will be worse, which is certainly good news for the club's pitching staff. And on that front, the White Sox boast arguably the best threesome of starters of any AL club.

With newcomer Lance Lynn joining incumbent aces Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, the rotation is now headed by a veteran trio that accounted for a 2.99 ERA over 219.2 innings last year. Giolito, in particular, is an elite strikeout artist who also has the highest WAR projection of any pitcher for 2021 according to ZiPS.

Matt Marton/Associated Press

There's a bit more uncertainty in the back half of the rotation, but at least it's an interesting brand of uncertainty.

Despite his heretofore iffy results, Dylan Cease may yet ride his high-velocity, high-spin fastball to greatness. Top prospect Michael Kopech is a high-octane hurler as well, and he's raring to go after missing 2019 because of Tommy John surgery and opting out of 2020.

In 2020, White Sox starters finished with a sturdy 3.85 ERA even though the bag was decidedly mixed after Giolito and Keuchel. If all goes according to plan, the bag will be much less mixed, and the ERA will be much lower.

   

And Definitely Don't Underrate Their Bullpen

With respect to Eaton and Lynn, the biggest addition the White Sox made this offseason was closer Liam Hendriks, whom they signed for $54 million over four years.

Hendriks was a mere middle reliever for the first eight seasons of his career. That changed in 2019 and 2020, across which he racked up a 1.79 ERA and 137 more strikeouts than walks in 110.1 innings for the A's. Per rWAR, he's been the most valuable reliever in the majors over the last two years.

Underneath Hendriks on that list are two of his new bullpenmates: Aaron Bummer (second) and Evan Marshall (14th). Between them, they boast a 2.22 ERA since the start of '19.

And yet arguably the most exciting relief arm belongs to Garrett Crochet.

Like they did with Chris Sale a decade earlier, the White Sox put Crochet in their pen mere weeks after choosing him in the 2020 draft. It soon became apparent why they were comfortable doing so, as Crochet topped 100 mph with nearly half his 94 pitches. And now, the plan is to use Crochet as a multi-inning fireman in the mold of Josh Hader.

Especially since Bummer (strained biceps) and Crochet (strained flexor) were bit by the injury bug in 2020, health will determine the effectiveness of the bullpen. But in the best-case scenario, this dynamic foursome could make the relief corps one of the best in the business.

If there are reasons to doubt the White Sox, they pertain to new manager Tony La Russa and the quality of the American League Central around them.

He may be a Hall of Famer, but La Russa last managed in 2011 and is generally an odd fit. The AL Central, meanwhile, has been the weakest of the league's three divisions in recent years. On a related note, the White Sox's Game 1 win in last year's Wild Card Series is the AL Central's only playoff win since 2017.

But at least until teams start playing games that count, sizing up clubs on paper is the best anyone can do. And since the White Sox are lacking for nothing on that front, Anderson's take doesn't come recommended with any measure of salt.

   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.