2011 MLB Preview: 15 Predictions for the 'All In' Chicago White Sox
Heading into the 2011 MLB season, the White Sox have high hopes for winning the AL Central division, and with good reason. From the first player on the roster to the 25th player, the White Sox possess one of the most balanced and well-rounded rosters in MLB.
The offense is very deadly with Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Carlos Quentin in the line-up. Brent Morel, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez are three players who headline a good defensive unit that should help out the pitching staff.
Speaking of the pitching staff, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd are part of a very strong and deep starting rotation. Matt Thornton, Chris Sale and Sergio Santos are three key members of a very solid bullpen who should help the starters close out games when called upon.
These are just some of the players who help the White Sox to be one of the most balanced teams in the league. Here are five individual player predictions and 10 team predictions that I believe will be accomplished by the end of the season.
If most of these predictions were to come true, they would play a big role in helping the White Sox march into the playoffs.
Mark Buehrle Will Pitch over 200 Innings... Again
This is more of a fact than a prediction.
However, an injury could occur or he could actually get tired/sore midway through the season... but I doubt it.
Although he hasn't been pitching as many innings during the last five seasons as a starter as he did during his first five seasons as a starter, he is still one of the most durable pitchers in baseball—and has been since 2001. He has pitched 2,220 innings since that year, and I don't see any reason why he should slow down and not add another 210 innings to that total this season.
It could even be a little more if he is asked to make some extra starts due to the absence of Jake Peavy and the luxury of off days.
Matt Thornton Will Save More Than 35 Games This Season
Matt Thornton was named the closer of the Chicago White Sox for the upcoming season, and I believe he will hold that position for the entire season. He has been the most consistent White Sox relief pitcher for the last five seasons, appearing in at least 60 games in each of those five seasons.
He posted a solid ERA in his first season with the White Sox before watching it rise during his second season with the team. However, in the last three seasons, he has grown into one of the best set-up men in all of baseball, posting 2.67, 2.74, 2.67 ERAs in each of those three seasons, respectively.
I don't see his ERA dipping this year.
In fact, it might improve. As his strikeouts have been increasing over the last three seasons, he is seemingly becoming more and more comfortable with the team. With the pressure on him to hold his position as the team's closer, we should see the best of what Thornton has to offer.
Because I expect the team's win total to increase from last year, 35 seems like a completely reasonable number of saves for Thornton. In fact, I not only think it's reasonable, but I expect him to save at least that many games if he is able to hold down the closer role.
Carlos Quentin Will Lead the League in Getting Hit by Pitches
Last season, Carlos Quentin finished fourth in the league in the hit-by-pitch category.
However, he did play about 30 games less than the top three league leaders, and he had been near the top of the leaderboard in this department for the previous three seasons before 2010. He set a record in 2008 by getting hit by a pitch in six straight games. In 2004, he set an all-time minor league record for getting hit by pitches 43 times across two levels.
Due to the fact that he stands on the inside of the plate and gets thrown inside a lot, and because I expect him to play the entire 2011 season healthy, he should have no problem finally leading the league in getting hit by pitches.
In my opinion, there is no easier way to get a free base, although it could be painful sometimes.
Jake Peavy Will Make 25 Starts This Season
I know this sounds like a very optimistic outlook, but I believe that once Jake Peavy comes back from his DL stint at the beginning of the season, he will stay healthy throughout the rest of the season. Maybe he'll miss a start or two at one point due to soreness, but this will not affect him to the point where he has to miss more than two starts.
He should miss somewhere between five and six starts at the beginning of the season before making his return (if everything goes as planned). Although he will probably be throwing fewer pitches than regular during his first few starts, due to Ozzie's cautious approach with him, he should be back to his old self, in terms of health, by mid-May.
Adam Dunn Will Finish in the Top Two in the League in Strikeouts
Adam Dunn is known for three things: hitting home runs, taking a lot of walks, and striking out a lot. He finished second in the league last year with 199 strikeouts, and this year should be no different.
The main reason why he strikes out a lot is because he takes a lot of pitches, which is also the reason for the amount of walks he draws. This spring, Dunn has struck out 27 times in 65 at-bats, basically showcasing that he still plans on taking a lot of pitches, regardless of whether he is playing in the American or National League.
This could be a positive for the Chicago White Sox if he manages to draw a lot of walks to go along with those strikeouts.
The White Sox Will Hit 200 Home Runs as a Team
With the addition of Adam Dunn to their line-up, the Chicago White Sox should possess one of the most powerful teams in the league—at least from the two through seven spots in the batting order.
Dunn should have no problem hitting 40 home runs in the hitter-friendly US Cellular Field, while Paul Konerko should hit around 35 home runs to follow up his 39 home run effort from last season. As long as his batting average could stay around the .290 mark, I don't think his home run total will dip down to 30 as many people are predicting.
Carlos Quentin has looked strong and healthy during spring training, meaning he should be able to hit about 30 home runs this season. Add in an approximate 20 home runs each from Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez, around 15 from Gordon Beckham, and an estimated 10 home runs from both AJ Pierzynski and Brent Morel.
That adds up to 180 home runs from eight starters on the team. With Ramon Castro and Mark Teahen on the bench, and Dayan Viciedo ready to step in if someone gets injured, I don't think finding the other 20 home runs in an effort to reach that 200 mark will be a problem for this team.
The White Sox Will Steal 150 Bases Again This Season
Last season, the Chicago White Sox, as a team, stole 160 bases.
Although Andruw Jones' departure does hurt the team in this department, and in the previous department as well, Ozzie Guillen's love for aggressiveness on the base paths from his players will help this team squeeze by the 150 mark again for a second straight season.
Juan Pierre will probably remain as aggressive as he was last year on the base paths, and I expect him to swap around 60 bases for the White Sox this year. Count Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez in for another 30 and 15 stolen bases, respectively.
With Ozzie Guillen stating that he wants both Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham to be more aggressive on the base paths, I predict that they will combine to steal at least 25 bases this year. Add in about five more stolen bases from the rest of the line-up, and about 20 more from the bench (Omar Vizquel, Mark Teahen, Brent Lillibridge, Lastings Milledge and Ramon Castro), and you have the reason for my belief that the White Sox will steal over 150 bases again this season.
The White Sox Will Commit Less Than 100 Errors as a Team This Season
Last season, the Chicago White Sox committed 103 errors.
Not since 2006 have the White Sox committed less than 100 errors throughout the entire year. I think this season will finally bring an end to that streak.
The reason for this is plain and simple: Brent Morel. The third baseman committed 23 errors last season—no thanks to Mark Teahen, Jayson Nix, and Dayan Viciedo. This number should drop significantly this season with the defensive-oriented, Joe Crede-esque Morel guarding the left side of the infield. Expect the 23 errors to be slashed by ten.
Yes—Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre and AJ Pierzynski are not getting younger and you could expect a few more errors out of them.This is along with a couple more errors out of the first base position, with Adam Dunn and Teahen expected to spend some time there.
However, I could see Alexei Ramirez's total number of errors dropping a little bit from the 20 he committed last season, therefore making sure the White Sox do not commit 100 errors as a team throughout the entire year.
Not One Starter on the White Sox Will Bat .300
Last season, the Chicago White Sox had one starter in their line-up possess a batting average over .300 at the end of the season.
Paul Konerko, for only the third time in his career, held his batting average over .300 with a .312 average. I do not expect him to do the same thing this year, as I predict his average will drop between the .280-.290 range, which is still very solid.
I see Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez keeping their averages in the same range as Paul Konerko. Although I believe Gordon Beckham will flirt with the .300 mark, he will come up just short this season.
Not One Starter on the White Sox Will Bat Under .250
Yes, I know in order for this to occur, Carlos Quentin will have to hit the ball for a better average than he has over the last two seasons. Brent Morel will have to compile some more hits than most experts are predicting. Adam Dunn's production, in term of hitting the ball for average, will have to stay exactly where he's been at for his entire career, and will not be able to drop.
However, I think all three of these goals will come to fruition. Quentin has had a very solid spring and looks healthy and ready to play some good baseball this season. The extra work he put in this offseason should pay off.
Morel also has looked solid this spring, and I expect him to hit for a good average as a member of this team, like he did in the minors for the Chicago White Sox.
Adam Dunn might struggle a little bit in April to keep his batting average over .250, but once he gets accustomed to this team, he shouldn't have trouble keeping his average between .255-.260.
The rest of the players in this line-up should have no problem keeping their averages up at about the .270 mark.
The White Sox Will Lead the League in Batting Average with RISP
Last season, the White Sox hit .277 with runners in scoring position, which was good for third in the league.
This year, I'm expecting more of the same from the White Sox in regards to coming through in the clutch.
Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and AJ Pierzynski all batted over.300 last season with runners in scoring position, while Juan Pierre and Carlos Quentin hit just below the .300 mark. All five of these men have been around in the league for a while and should be accustomed to these types of situations. Therefore, they should be able to repeat this production when there are runners on in scoring position this season.
Also, if Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham could improve on their batting averages from last season with runners on in scoring position, then the rest of the league better watch out when the White Sox get base runners onto second or third base.
In addition, taking advantage of their limited at-bats, Brent Lillibridge, Lastings Milledge and Ramon Castro all hit over .333 with runners in scoring position last season, further strengthening my argument.
The White Sox Will Finish Atop the League in Batting Average for Pinch-Hitters
The Chicago White Sox did not utilize a lot of pinch-hitters throughout last season. White Sox pinch-hitters had only 76 at-bats throughout the entire year.
However, the pinch-hitters who did come off the bench for the White Sox were very productive, possessing a team batting average of .263—good for fourth in the league. They should be even more productive this season.
The White Sox bench is very strong, headlined by Omar Vizquel, Mark Teahen and Lastings Milledge. Vizquel, seemingly ageless, should have another productive year for the White Sox off the bench, on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, Teahen and Milledge both had good spring trainings and look ready to hit the ball well when called upon by Ozzie Guillen.
In addition, Ramon Castro adds some power off the bench. If Dayan Viciedo gets called up as a bench player (highly unlikely), this would improve the production of the White Sox bench even more than expected.
The White Sox Rotation Will Finish in the Top Three in Quality Starts
The Chicago White Sox finished tied for sixth last season, with two other teams, in quality starts pitched with 94.
However, they were only two behind the second place Chicago Cubs. This season, I'm expecting them to finish in the top three in this category along with the Oakland Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies. However, the San Francisco Giants could move any of these three teams out of the top three.
The White Sox potentially possess one of the deepest rotations in the entire league, depending on the health of Jake Peavy. Even without Jake Peavy, although none of the other four starters are absolute studs, all of them are above average starters with good stuff. All four of them should give the White Sox a chance to win just about every game they start.
All four pitchers are very durable as well, as Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd and John Danks have all pitched at least 180 innings each season over the last three seasons. Mark Buehrle is one of the most durable players in the game today, as he has pitched at least 200 innings every year over the last 10 years.
When Jake Peavy returns to the rotation, they will add another very good starter who is not as durable as the other four starters, but is just as good, if not better.
The White Sox Will Have Two 15-Game Winners in Their Rotation
Last season, John Danks won 15 games for the Chicago White Sox for the first time in his career.
I expect him to increase on that total this year, as he is still young and we have seen improvements from him every year that he has been with the team.
Although none of the other White Sox starters surpassed 13 wins last year, I don't think that will be the case this year. With an improved offense behind them, and each one of them capable of winning 15 games, I believe one or more of them will step up to win 15 games this year.
Gavin Floyd, Mark Buehrle and a healthy Jake Peavy have all won 15 games in a season before, and Edwin Jackson has come close twice with 14 and 13 wins in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
I believe Edwin Jackson has the best chance of these four pitchers to win 15 games this season, as he has pitched really well in the American League over the last two seasons. He won four games for the White Sox last season, after coming over in a midseason trade, while posting a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts. Although I don't think he will continue to keep his ERA that low as a pitcher on the White Sox, I do believe that he will be able to keep his ERA under four.
It should help that he will be the fourth starter on this team, which means facing weaker competition on the other side of the mound. Although, the rotation could get messed up if he is named the second starter on this team or if they skip a few Phil Humber starts due to off days.
Also, don't be surprised at all if it's Buehrle or Floyd who win 15 games this upcoming season—or maybe even all three of them.
The White Sox Bullpen Will Finish in the Top Five in Strikeouts Per Nine Innings
The Chicago White Sox bullpen ranked fourth last year in strikeouts per nine innings.
Just about the entire core of their bullpen, Matt Thornton, Bobby Jenks, JJ Putz, Scott Linebrink and Sergio Santos, all had a high number of strikeouts.
Yes—three of those players from last year's core are gone. However, they will be replaced by three pitchers who should fill the voids they leave behind, as they are also able to strikeout a lot of hitters of their own.
Chris Sale only pitched 23.1 innings last year on the major league level, but managed to strike out 32 batters. He should easily replace the strikeout numbers put up by Putz last season. Will Ohman struck out 43 batters in 42 innings last year, which should go a long way in replacing the production of Jenks, in terms of strikeouts. Finally, Jesse Crain had nearly identical numbers last season, in terms of strikeouts per nine innings, as Linebrink.
Having these three pitchers for an entire season should keep the White Sox bullpen at the top of the list in the strikeouts per nine innings category.