Early ZiPS projections have White Sox playing catch-up

Things are looking up for Dayan Viciedo, but they'll need to aim higher. - Jason Miller

The stats say it's a weak year for incumbents, so Rick Hahn has his work cut out for him.

Finally working the general managers meetings without "assistant" affixed to his title, Rick Hahn knows he has some work to do.

Over at ESPN.com, Dan Szymborski quantifies the road ahead, starting with the talent currently on hand. In his first look at 2013 for the AL Central, his ZIPs projections place the White Sox (81-81) solidly second behind the Tigers (87-75), and the culprits should surprise nobody -- the hole at third base and the thin bench.

A quick rundown of the lineup:

This looks pretty bleak, but it's not ZiPS' fault. Out of all these players, only Paul Konerko rolls into 2013 with even two straight years that are acceptable on his Baseball-Reference.com page. Everybody else has a blemish in that small window, whether due to an injury (Morel), one serious down year (Rios, Dunn, Ramirez), or a lack of a track record (Viciedo, Flowers, De Aza, Morel again).

You can find room for improvement without perverting logic, though. If you buy what Rios did in 2012 way more than his stinkbomb in 2011 ... or if you think De Aza can at least repeat last season ... or if you think Viciedo is ready to take a major next step ... individually, those are all reasonable predictions. They require a bit more faith than the available proof can support, so the Sox will need some luck for all three to align.

(And lest you think ZiPS is down on everybody, Beckham's triple-slash line gives him a greater OPS than in any of his last three seasons, which is the sad thing.)

Probably the best news: ZiPS projects a 3.43 ERA for Chris Sale over 175 innings. That may not seem worth writing home about, but nobody else on the Sox has a sub-3.00 projection, and it's easily the second-best in the AL Central on both sides. Justin Verlander leads the division with a 3.09 ERA.

Sale's higher ERA is just a matter of regression for a guy who has only done it once, but the system likes him quite a bit. If you want to see ZiPS trash an ERA, take a look at Minnesota's Scott Diamond.

Diamond gave the Twins a 3.54 ERA over 173 innings last season, but he struck out only 90 guys. That's a hard K-rate to withstand, and ZiPS isn't looking the other way. For 2013, ZIPs projects a 4.85 ERA for Diamond. With tales like that in mind, ZiPS almost likes Sale as much as White Sox fans do.

David Schoenfield posted a companion piece to the projections that assesses the rosters and gaps for each AL Central team, but he keeps saying "Kenny Williams" when he means to say "Hahn." This will probably happen a lot.

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