Here’s another weird thing about a White Sox rebuilding season: projections.
Back when the White Sox used to ostensibly shape a contender over an offseason, we’d look at individual projections and figure out how and why it could coalesce into a high-80s win total, or, more likely, where ambitions were most likely to fall apart.
Looking at the ZiPS projections for the 2017 White Sox posted on FanGraphs Wednesday, now it’s much more of an a la carte affair. The illustration of the starting nine that results from Dan Szymborski’s spreadsheets is a mess, but that’s what it looks like when a team punts several positions and orients itself toward a top-three draft pick in 2018. Instead of perusing the projections for the trouble spots first, I’m instead looking at the players who are the best bets to hang around throughout the process. It’s all about hunting for diamonds in the rough of a rough diamond.
If you’re new to projections, they’re supposed to be neutral by nature, neither enthusiastic nor pessimistic. The lines that do jump out are the ones that suggest a player has established a new normal, for better or for worse. Looking up and down the tables, here are the noteworthy developments that stood out to me:
That’s good: Todd Frazier’s forecast. 243/.310/.450, 30 homers, .270 BABIP, 22.9 percent K rate — that could definitely be worse considering his profile’s various big jumps in different directions. It undersells his isolated power from the last two years (.240) while tilting toward his new-high strikeout rate from last season (24.5 percent). However, it gives him back the 31 points of BABIP he lost in 2016. That’s feasible since he still had a similar problem with pop-ups with the White Sox in 2015. He just hit fewer line drives around them in his first year with the Sox.
That’s bad: The outfield. Jason Coats is the second-best of the bunch, and he has a ZiPS projection of .248/.294/.400. He and Charlie Tilson only project as 1 WAR players if you round up, which is more than you can say about Avisail Garcia.
That’s good: Tim Anderson. In 2016, ZiPS projected him to be a decent bench player (0.7 zWAR) who might struggle with his first taste of everyday play. Then he arrived and hit .283/.306/.432 while playing a surprisingly dynamic shortstop in his rookie season. Now ZiPS is projecting a 2.2 zWAR for 2017, which is the mark of a decent starter. That didn’t take long, and it’s a fair estimate considering the variance. I can see Anderson repeating his rookie-season line over 162 games, which would be worthy of All-Star consideration. I can just as easily see him having a bad month or two out of the gate as he fights the book.
That’s bad: Catcher. Roberto Pena, who hit .235/.273/.376 between Double-A and Triple-A in Houston’s organization last season, projects better than any other Sox catcher due to his defense. ZiPS is bearish as Mark Bortz on Omar Narvaez (.245/.298/.299), mostly because his MLB production came out of nowhere last season.
That’s good: Yoan Moncada. It’s already projecting him to be a 2.2-zWAR player, even after his ugly audition last season. The White Sox haven’t had a prospect like him in a long time.
That’s bad: The sixth starter. Chris Volstad is the only one who approaches replacement level of the bunch, and he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014. Carson Fulmer has the third-worst projections in the organization, in front of only El’Hajj Muhammad and Matt Lollis. He doesn’t deserve such bearish projections if the worst from last season — the mechanical tug of war, the rushing without a role — is behind him. The Sox’ decision to rebuild may benefit him more than anybody.
That’s good: Carlos Rodon. Considering everything he’s been through the last couple years — the accelerated timetable, the massive variation in strike zones, the wrist injury — a 3.87 ERA and a 3-zWAR estimate reflects a talent level that’s on solid ground despite whatever’s going on around him.
That’s bad: David Robertson. “Bad” is relative, because ZiPS still projects him to be a comfortably above-average MLB reliever. However, because of the control problems he experienced in 2016, he hiked his projected walk rate by a full walk, and the homer projection breached the 1.00 HR/9 line, too. His history says he can outperform these estimates, though, and if he starts the season on the White Sox, a good half could/should beef up his market.
That’s good: James Shields. ZiPS projects a 4.88 ERA over 166 innings, which is an adequate back-end starter.
That’s bad: James Shields. ZiPS may not be equipped to process a Shields-scale meltdown without becoming accidentally sentient.
That’s good: Tyler Saladino. He’s often overlooked when discussing the White Sox’ draft successes. It’s not easy to turn a seventh-round pick into a good bench player, but there he is, projected for 1.6 zWAR over only 397 plate appearances.
That’s bad: Brian Clark. His most comparable player is Steve Sharts, who never made it out of Triple-A.
That’s good: Brian Clark. His most comparable player is Steve Sharts.