Right before Rick Hahn and the White Sox will lay out their vision of the upcoming season at SoxFest, FanGraphs delivered the mathematical assessment of what lies in store for 2016 by posting Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections.
The findings shouldn't surprise you -- the Sox made considerable headway in improving their team, but they just need Hahn to start the stalled car one more time to put together a more compelling contender.
Nevertheless, the team is in better shape than it was last year, when comparing this year's projections to the ones from the year before (use the slider to compare):
No. 1: Jose Abreu is projected to repeat his 2015.
Which is fine, and his defense has also gained some respectability, making the supposed 1 WAR lost in those graphics is nothing but a rounding error, really.
- 2015 projected: 147 OPS+, .389 wOBA, -4 Def, 3.5 zWAR
- 2015 actual: 135 OPS+, .361 wOBA
- 2016 projected: 136 OPS+, .361 wOBA, -2 Def, 3.1 zWAR
No. 2: Todd Frazier helps a ton -- in math form.
Adam Eaton should've never finished second on the Sox in homers, but he did. Frazier's there to ensure it doesn't happen again. ZiPS pegs him for .255/.318/.449 with 30 doubles and 25 homers, which is a step up from the Conor Gillaspie-led pack from last season. He's also projected to play good defense, which is an even larger leap from Gillaspie. My kingdom for a smooth transition.
No. 3: It's the same middle infield situation as last year, inverted.
The White Sox entered last year with Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Sanchez good for 3 WAR between them. Ramirez fought a losing battle with his decline, Sanchez never quite solidified his status despite a good glove. Between them, they weren't even worth 2 WAR.
This time around, Tyler Saladino is playing the Sanchez role of "potentially overwhelmed glove man," while Brett Lawrie is there to play "high-floor veteran with caution flags." They're just on opposite sides of the diamond this time -- and ZiPS may be a little exuberant about Saladino's defense in a full-time role.
No. 4: The catching situation is the same size, different shape.
Geovany Soto signed after the White Sox' ZiPS projections were posted last year, so he wasn't accounted for in the 2015 half of the graphics above. His presence would've boosted the Sox to the 2 WAR mark, which is still short of what Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro are estimated to contribute in 2016.
However, here's where we note that framing numbers are not included in WAR. Given that Tyler Flowers is one of the best, Soto wasn't bad, and Navarro and Avila are thoroughly underwhelming, the early math says they're just about in the same place in terms of wins. My interpretation is the Sox are attempting a gambit where the offensive contributions from the catchers play up more in the context of this team than extra strikes would have, but we'll find out more about that this weekend.
No. 5: Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera suffer for their sins.
Last year, LaRoche and Cabrera were projected for 3.2 WAR between them, and you could construct a case where both beat their projections handily.
This time around, they're projected for 1.3 WAR between them, and while Cabrera is a decent bet to be average, one can easily envision a scenario in which LaRoche (0.3 WAR) is out of the mix by June.
No. 6: The bullpen is better in spite of Zach Duke.
While Duke's season was a disappointment along the lines of Cabrera's performance, he actually gains a tenth of a win. Then again, ZiPS wasn't bullish on Duke last season, as his breakout 2014 was bogged down by the three years of nothingness that preceded it. So the fact that Duke pitched in 71 games adds to his credentials, even if they were OK at best, and should've been worse when looking at his peripherals.
As for the rest of the group, Nate Jones (0.7 zWAR) pushes out Javy Guerra (-0.3 zWAR), so there's another full win right there.
No. 7: Carlos Rodon makes the leap.
It's hard for a projection system to account for a rookie like Rodon considering the limited body of work. Even though the minor-league info was scant, though, ZiPS projected Rodon to be a decent contributor in 2015, Rodon exceeded it, and now ZiPS is buying Year Two.
- 2015 projected: 111 IP, 25.0 K%, 13.8%, 4.39 ERA, 4.93 FIP, 1.2 zWAR
- 2015 actual: 139.1 IP, 22.9 K%, 11.7 BB%, 3.75 ERA, 3.87 FIP
- 2016 projected: 158 IP, 24.8 K%, 9.2 BB%, 3.81 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.2 zWAR
The ERA and FIP might not look that impressive, but projection systems are inherently conservative. Looking at it another way, Rodon is estimated to deliver Jose Quintana's run-prevention projection from 2015, which nobody has any problems with. Speaking of which...
No. 8: Even ZiPS detects Jose Quintana's awful luck.
Not in the form of a win-loss record, but in the form of a huge divide between his ERA (3.73) and FIP (3.29), which is the largest separation for any of the starters.
No. 9: Chris Sale is good.
Even though projection systems are supposed to suppress excitement, Chris Sale is still projected to deliver a 2.99 ERA and 2.77 FIP, and a whopping 5.9 zWAR. As Carson Cistulli wrote in the ZiPS post:
Leo Tolstoy writes in one of his cold Russian novels that "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The veracity of that particular comment is debatable. How it’s relevant to the White Sox rotation, though, is because of left-handed ace Chris Sale (195.2 IP, 5.9 zWAR), who is rendered dull almost for his lack of weaknesses. Sale is actually projected to produce the second-best season of his career.
No. 10: Avisail Garcia is not.
He was projected to be roughly replacement-level in 2015, but it could be waved away because 1) it was worth the Sox' while to play him, and 2) you could attribute some of the pessimism to injury noise. This time around, he still has the physical presence, but he doesn't have any of the disclaimers. It's hard to bank on faith in the former, which is why we've been going around and around on outfielders all winter.