These three Sox can tilt the balance

Ozzie Guillen might not be a fan of opening the season in balmy Cleveland, where a few inches of snow prevented the White Sox from getting a workout in. But hey, if the Sox were playing in warmer weather, we wouldn't be treated to seeing Matt Thornton bruise people with snowballs.

Anyway, I'd planned to make this a series throughout the week, but I was hit by a truck. Below the jump, I've identified who I believe to be the three biggest difference-makers in 2011.

Offense: Gordon Beckham

Up and down the White Sox lineup, there is very little in the way of untapped potential. Juan Pierre, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and A.J. Pierzynski have been noted for their consistency, while Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios have all leveled out. OK, technically Brent Morel is all potential at this point, but he could potentially be Joe Randa (belated spoiler alert).

Barring a Konerko-like surprise, Beckham is the only player in position to blow up all his projections. On FanGraphs, the friendliest line is the fans' projection: .278/.347/.443. That's worse than he did his rookie season, when he was learning a new position on the fly at the major-league level a year after being drafted.

Sure, his 2010 was so much worse that it's going to depress his outlook. But here's the line I keep coming back to:

.342/.401/.574

That's what he hit from July 7 to August 30 last year. Sure, there's some favoritism in those endpoints, but there's a reason for both. That period encapsulates Beckham's return from a three-game benching in favor of Brent Lillibridge, up to the point where Frank Herrmann's fastball crushed his hand.

I'm not saying Beckham can knock that out over a whole season, but at the end of August, it looked like only an errant fastball could stop him. Given that he showed no repercussions in the spring with regards to power, I'm on the Beckham bandwagon. I'm thinking he'll hit more like .290/.360/.475, and his line-drive-hitting style will be a nice change of pace amongst a bunch of flyballing types.

Rotation: Gavin Floyd

John Danks is the new ace, Mark Buehrle will scrape together 200 good-enough innings, and the jury's out on Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson for completely different reasons (J.J. did nice work on his slider, by the way). But Floyd is the guy who can tilt the scales in either direction, as he's shown before.

As the fifth starter in 2008, Floyd broke out in a big way by posting a 10-5 record with a 3.63 ERA in the first half. He hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA in the first half since. Hell, he's needed until June to get his ERA under 6.00, and his lousy pitching over the first two months of 2010 was one of the main reasons why Kenny Williams was considering a fire sale.

The math says to not count on him starting well -- even in 2008, his first-half peripherals were weak -- but should he ever find a way to begin the season on a roll, that would send shockwaves down the division. Nobody's harder to hit when he's on than Floyd, and here's hoping he finds the switch before a third of the season has elapsed.

Bullpen: Chris Sale

This was Matt Thornton's role for years, but now that he's relegated to the closer role, somebody else has to hold the bridge together.

Enter Chris Sale, who should be able to do the job, especially since he was actually way tougher on righties than he was on lefties last year.

 

Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
vs RHB as LHP 56 50 5 6 0 0 2 0 0 6 23 .120 .214 .240 .454 .160
vs LHB as LHP 36 31 1 9 1 0 0 0 0 4 9 .290 .371 .323 .694 .409

 

I would count on those evening out this season, and that would almost be preferable. If he's a setup man, it doesn't matter if he's unfair against one side, but that he can get both sides out.

The question for Sale - what happens when he slumps for the first time? Everybody handles it differently, and as Beckham showed last season, rediscovering true talent isn't as easy as it seems. The Sox don't have any measurable insurance against a Sale flop, so it's going to take some careful managing on the part of Guillen to make sure that any negative momentum doesn't end up snowballing.

Star-divide

Here's the good news: We won't have to speak only in hypotheticals for much longer.

Happy Opening Day, everybody!

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