The first half of the season is in the books, and the White Sox are 37-44. That's only a one-game improvement over their 2014 record, and so it's an obvious disappointment after an offseason of significant investments in the current push.
Yet it doesn't quite feel right to use one record to sum up this team, because none of the team's three facets is anything resembling average.
The pitching, for the most part, is quite good. Their 4.03 ERA is only 11th in the league, but their Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) is fourth in the AL at 3.65, and the staff's collective fWAR is third in the league.
And I'm leaning on FIP over ERA because the defense can't be counted on to provide reasonable support.
MLB leaderboard Which teams have the most Defensive Runs Saved in 2015 (with shifts factored in)? pic.twitter.com/Gph14qhOPk— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) July 7, 2015
(And it has a defensive efficiency to match with a league-worst .679).
Compounding the problems for the non-pitchers, the hitting is equally putrid. The offense isn't in the toilet -- it's in hell's toilet.
The Sox are last in all of baseball in runs per game at 3.41, and that includes the teams that don't use a designated hitter. It's pretty simple to explain how this happened:
- Take an offense with the third-worst average in the AL (.241)...
- Give them the second-worst OBP (.295) ...
- Make them the league's worst baserunners (15.6 runs below average) ...
- And then remove almost all traces of power hitting.
That last point is the killer. They're dead last in all of baseball in extra-base hits with 186, and it's not even close (the Marlins are 29th ... with 199). They somehow have the lowest total of homers and doubles. The offense is so bad at home -- where it hasn't topped four runs in 24 consecutive games -- that it's completely screwed up U.S. Cellular Field's park factors.
The quick-and-dirty explanation of park factors: They help estimate the effect a park has on a team's offense or pitching. 100 is an average park -- higher than 100 is a hitter-friendly park, and lower leans toward pitchers. The Cell has traditionally been one of the best places to hit in all of baseball, but the Sox have dragged it down close to Petco Park levels.
- 2012: 114
- 2013: 100
- 2014: 100
- 2015: 85
They're on pace for 552 runs, which would be the lowest season output by any White Sox offense since World War II that wasn't suppressed by the Years of the Pitcher (1967 and 1968). When you combine the offensive numbers and defensive metrics into team Wins Above Replacement, you get the full picture of just how terrible the position players have been.
The two systems -- Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs -- aren't close to agreeing right now, which isn't surprising since it's a half-season of defensive metrics, so we'll have to assess them individually.
B-Ref says White Sox position players have accumulated just 1.1 WAR over 81 games. That's the worst in the American League (Seattle is 14th at 5.2), and the second-worst in baseball (the Phillies, 0.1).
And that's the far friendlier assessment.
FanGraphs says White Sox position players are 4.4 wins below replacement, well behind the laughingstock Phillies (2.2 WAR). To put that into context, there's only one team that FanGraphs said had a worse crop of position players over the last 35 years -- the 1998 Twins, pegged at -4.5 WAR.
The White Sox are on pace for -8.8 WAR, which would be worse than every team since World War II except the 1979 Oakland Athletics, who posted a WAR of -9.7.
Chances are the White Sox won't slip quite that far over the second half -- it's pretty much historically impossible to that unproductive for that long -- but for 81 games, the White Sox' position players were as bad as you thought, and then some.
To underscore that point, let's do what we do every time at this point in the season: double the numbers for the hitters and the pitchers. When you stare into the chart of White Sox position players, the chart of White Sox position players stares back into you.
White Sox hitters
No. 1: Starter or reserve, the only position player exceeding expectations is the backup catcher.player. Tyler Flowers has hoisted his numbers above replacement level, too. For all the hand-wringing over catcher, the Sox are on track to get an acceptable yield from their investment in the position.
No. 2: Melky Cabrera is this year's most contentious defensive battleground. UZR hates him, Defensive Runs Saved says he's average, and that explains the war between the WARs. I'd split the difference and say he's slightly below average, and that he seems to understand his limitations.
No. 3: Most critical second half for the White Sox? I'd say Avisail Garcia, who really couldn't afford to absorb a drop in power.
No. 4: Most critical second half for the individual? Conor Gillaspie. The Sox have been prepared to phase him out of their plans, and he's giving them ample reason to stay on that course.
No. 5: Only three players have been caught stealing eight times without stealing a base during a season. Pete Runnels owns the record, going 0-for-10 in 1952.
White Sox pitchers
No. 1: Every White Sox starter has a FIP lower than his ERA, which means the defense is basically an equal-opportunity offender.
No. 2: The last White Sox team to have three starters top 215 innings? The 2005 rotation, with Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland. This year's trio will fall short, either because of trades or a September slowdown.
No. 3: Zach Putnam's strikeout rate is just wacky.
No. 4: Zach Duke is very lucky to have an ERA that starts with "3" when you see that home run rate.
No. 5: Bryan Ward is the only pitcher in White Sox history to post an ERA of 7.50 over 40 games. He had a 7.55 ERA in 1999, although that was during the height of sillyball, so his 66 ERA+ was a step above Dan Jennings' 51.