PECOTA put the White Sox at 3rd in the AL Central behind The Twins and The Cleveland Baseball Assemblage. The projections say no playoffs. Similarly dropping but still ahead of the Sox, the reigning AL Champs in Tampa…the Champas? The Rays are projected to finish behind the Yankees but ahead of the Jays in the AL East. Criticized and yet adored for their advanced stats -happy and unique handling of pitching and platoon-happy lineups, the Rays are quite a hard team to predict. Previously we looked at the Jays, The Cleveland Baseball Assemblage, the St. Paul-adjacent Twins and the Yanks showing that the Sox have better talent at enough positions that they should beat out the Cleveland Baseball Assemblage easily and do no worse hang evenly with the Twins in the AL Central, whilst being better setup overall than the oddly-rotationed Yankees and the still-building Jays. Still to come we’ll see how the Southsiders stack up against The Houston Astros, The oddly-projected California LA Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland A’s, being the top AL teams and therefore the Sox’ top competition. So without further ado, PECOTA select your chicken embryos and let’s see why the White Sox are better than the Yankees.
Also, I guess I’m saying the Rays are baseball nerds. That’s cool though.
Ranking the former Devil Rays and the White Sox by position:
Rotation: White Sox over Rays. Inconsistent, Old, Lost, Fine and Meh, aka Tyler Glasnow, Rich Hill, Chris Archer, Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha. Gone are Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, replaced by Rich Hill and Michael Wacha/Chris Archer. Wacha and Archer are reclamation projects, with Wacha’s Cardinals success seeming like an outlier while Archer is trying to go home to rediscover his glory days. Glasnow has been up and down in his career, and is hardly the legit ace that Giolito is. The Rays have promising arms standing by, but their immediate impact is questionable. The Sox’ top 3 are way above the Rays, and even though Cease, Kopech and the rest are unsettled this is still a pretty big win for the White Sox.
Bullpen: White Sox over Rays. The Rays have talent and use guys well, typically getting a solid group effort. They pioneered, sort of, the creative usages that the Sox will supposedly employ with Michael Kopech this year. The Rays’ relief are projected by Fangraphs to be decent if not plain old good. The Sox ‘pen could be elite and just being solid won’t beat the stuff that the White Sox will run out there. Nick Anderson/Diego Castillo as closers vs. Liam Hendriks is a definite tilt in the Sox favor. Even if Blake Snell return prize Luis Patiño joins the pen it won’t be enough. This isn’t as far a gap as the starters, but still a White Sox winner.
Outfield: White Sox over Rays. Both teams really can claim four starters, the Rays with post-season beast Randy Arozarena, the solid but underwhelming Kevin Kiermeier, the solid Austin Meadows and the underrated Manny Margot. The Sox have the better talent in Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, and the Adams Eaton and Engel are better than Kiermeier and Margot. Arozarena will likely regress as his career numbers aren’t as good as 2020, but if Robert really breaks out he could be better than Randy at his 2020 best. Two pretty solid foursomes…still chalk one more up for the Sox.
Shortstop: White Sox over Rays. This is harder to handicap than it seems because it’s hard to say who the Rays SS is. Willy Adames is underwhelming at best and is penciled in as the starter. Ubër Prospect and oddly specific command Wander Franco waits in the wings. But Brandon Lowe can slide around the infield and so can Mike Brosseau. Assuming it’s Adames, Tim Anderson’s bat is way way better. Franco might be better down the road but he’s still an unknown. The other guys? Lowe is real good and Brosseau a good utility guy. Unless Franco comes up and lights the league afire…TA for the Sox winner.
Third Base: White Sox over Rays. Yoán Moncada, recording star and former top prospect who is looking to improve on his breakout 2019 and forget the Covid-19, versus Joey Wendle or Yandy Diaz. Diaz hits the ball stupid hard but never stays healthy for long, and Wendle is the guy I literally forgot to include in the SS breakdown a paragraph ago. Neither of them are in Moncada’s league as a player. I’ve never heard either of them sing but let’s assume they can’t touch that level of fire either.
Second Base: Rays over White Sox. Nick Madrigal is our special little schmoo, but he’s a one-ish trick pony in terms of getting on base and running. Lowe has power, and will K more than Madrigal, but still gets on base decently though he’s no thief. So power or just getting on and being a pest? Madrigal has to prove it a little more than Lowe at this point. Next year is a different story. Because Lowe will probably be playing 3B.
First Base: White Sox over Rays. MVPito! The Rays traded Nate Lowe to the Rangers, evidently committed to Ji-Man Choi, a useful but not particularly great bat, and one who will share duties with Yandy Diaz. Choi is simply not on Abreu’s level, but he’s good enough to man the position on a winner. Abreu doesn’t need to repeat MVP to be the better bet.
Catcher: White Sox over the Rays. Mike Zunino is a human glove that occasionally runs into a baseball with his bat. Francisco Mejia, once the top catching prospect in baseball, is on his third team trying to prove he can do it in the majors. Yasmani Grandal is entirely another level from the ideal backup and the draft bust. This isn’t even close.
DH: White Sox over Rays. The Rays seem likely to try and rotate at DH, using the OF depth and getting Brosseau starts in a platoon with Yoshi Tsutsugo. Yoshi hit under the Mendoza line last year, with a weak OPS. Vaughn or whoever starts the season at DH should be better, in Vaughn’s case it better be better by a bunch.
Position by position, the White Sox have the better rotation, bullpen, outfield, first baseman, third baseman, shortstop, DH and catcher, but have a little catching up to do at second base. The only thing worrying about the Rays? They always have players waiting to step in. What kind of nerds plan ahead like that??
Without delving deep into analytics, PECOTA projecting the Rays to finish higher in their division and win a few more than the White Sox is not logical. Perhaps PECOTA is aping Mr. Spock in finding that the having is not so great a thing as the wanting, because the Sox have the talent and the Rays are wanting.
José Abreu tested positive for the ‘rona and immediately there was panic in the streets, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that Pito would go the way of Yoan Moncada and have a down year trying to get over Covid. Not much mention of who would cover first in his absence, because fortunately the games are over a month away.
But…injury is part of the game and the budget conscious Sox should expect that every key player will miss time. Let’s check in real quick to make sure they are adequately covered if there’s another Covid-19 scare or an injury.
OF: Adam Engel and Leury Garcia could start if needed. Luis Gonzalez, maybe Yermin Mercedes or Gavin Sheets are in the minors and looking to make the jump soon.
Bullpen: with the additions of Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet to the relief corps., the Sox won’t need to tap into their upper minors pitching depth to start the season. Bummer and possibly Heuer or Marshall could close if Liam Hendriks good the shelf. Obviously if 3-4 guys are out at once it’ll be bad.
Barely Adequate Coverage:
C: Jonathon Lucroy is a former all star and maybe gets a little magic back. Zack Collins or Seby Zavala playing daily would be an issue, though Collins would likely do better with a starting role and regular at-bats.
2B/SS: Leury again, although Danny Mendick would be problematic in long stretches.
Rotation: if the Ethan Katz mechanics massacre works with Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo Lopez, having them return to the major league starters they were supposed to be, the Sox have a 6 man rotation. Add in that sometime this season Michael Kopech is supposed to return to a starting role, plus guys like Jonathon Stiever and Jimmy Lambert in the minors, there are options. But that all still starts with Rodón and Lopez. If they resemble their 2020 selves, the Sox have a rotation depth issue.
DH: You can rotate guys, primarily the OF crew. Less of a worry, but a likely dropoff.
1B: Last year, Yasmani Grandal was effectively the backup at first. This year, James McCann isn’t here, meaning that moving Yas out from behind the plate isn’t as easy. Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn and maybe Jake Burger would have to fill in. While Vaughn is expected to be the DH, the other two are slated for AA/AAA. Zack Collins might make the move, but that’s still a guy who has a lot to prove in the majors. Anyone else is playing out of position. This is where signing Mitch Moreland would have been useful. There’s no plan b.
3B: Yoan or no one. Effectively it’s Danny Mendick. Jake Burger has next in the minors, but just like with first he’s in need of seasoning in Charlotte (sorry). Last year the non-Yoans were Yolmer Sanchez, Cheslor Cuthbert and Ryan Goins. They all Goins away this offseason (so sorry). Ti’Quan Forbes, Zack Remillard and former Star Trek character Damek Tomscha manned 3B between AA and AAA in 2019. There’s no one in particular in camp that would serve as a long-term 3B. Andrew Vaughn? He took reps at third in Single A…that’s…that works?
So…in case of emergency…who’s on first? I don’t know…wait…that’s third base…
I stumbled across a video of all eight inside the park homers from 2020 whilst having a, umm, quiet moment. Private moment, mostly quiet. The first highlight was Diamondback Kole Calhoun getting a wicked ricochet in the right field corner and the Astros getting unlucky. The fourth was Phillies CF Roman Quinn diving and having an Austin Hays liner just skip under him, the next video a Trea Turner ball over Quinn’s head caroming into left off the wall. The seventh? George Springer gets a lucky bounceinto center after sending a fly off the left field wall. The last one was Mets 1B Dominic Smith playing left field and getting hurt hitting the wall, letting the ball trickle away. All variations on bad luck with one bad gamble.
The three I didn’t mention? Pure comedy of errors. In the sixth highlight, Byron Buxton crushes one to center and the CF leaps, falls on the landing and the ball goes over his head, bouncing past him off the wall. The fourth highlight? JaCoby Jones of the Tigers lines one to center, and the CF just flat misses the catch. Right through him. Ball to the wall. The second highlight? Easy fly to left, LF misses it, crashes into the seats on the left field line, gets caught in the net, but recovers too late to get Christian Yelich.
In case you don’t recall the last one, it was Eloy Jimenez. More worryingly? Buxton victimized Luis Robert and Sizzle Jones’ liner featured Adam Engel with le whiff.
I remembered Eloy, forgot Luis and Adam, and in juxtaposition to the other parkers…let’s just say I’m glad I was sitting where I was sitting.