PART ONE: THE OFFENSE
With the 2020 Winter Meetings now officially in the books and the offseason work well underway, the time has come for a balanced and concerted retrospective on the White Sox players and staff for the 2020 season.
It’s no secret that the year was a smashing success and the trajectory appears to be continuing upward, but there is room for improvement. In the first of a three part series, here’s how we at South Side Sox grade each offensive player for their performance on a team that looks poised to compete for multiple championships over the next decade.
Grading is formulated based on a combination of stats, playing time, contributions in the clutch, clubhouse presence, relation of output to salary, relation of output to designated role, official accolades, and fan response. Following every grade is the player’s WAR according to Baseball-Reference. If the player contributed a positive WAR, it’s followed by the player’s 162-game projected WAR.
Part two, covering pitchers, and part three, looking at executives and management, will be released over the course of the next month.
José Abreu: A+ (3.1 WAR/8.4 WAR)
MVP. Silver Slugger. Hank Aaron Award. Played in all 60 games in the abbreviated season. Finished the year with a spectacular slash line of .317/.370/.617, bolstered by 19 home runs, 43 runs, and 60 RBsI, averaging a run driven in per game. Abreu elevated his career WAR to 24.0, in what was his best season yet. Extrapolated for 162 games, he was on pace to hit a staggering 55 homers, with 162 RBIs. And at $12.7 million for the year, no one in the league was more of a value. If we were grading the entire league, he’d be valedictorian; in 2020, José Abreu was the best player in baseball, on the best offense in baseball. All hail the king.
Tim Anderson: A+ (2.5 WAR/6.8 WAR)
Fernando Tatís Jr. who? Despite a pretty gnarly hitting skid in the final few weeks of the season, TA7 still managed to finish seventh in MVP voting and contended for the batting title in 2020. When Anderson is in the lineup and locked in, three hits is essentially a guarantee, and the rest of the team plays better. His .886 OPS was fourth in the majors among shortstops, and first in the AL. But let’s not mince words: Anderson is one of the best hitters in all of baseball at any position. Furthermore, his defense improved. His role as leader of this team was cemented by his leadership on and off the field, and he showed Chicago who the best shortstop in town really is. (Sorry, Javy. Get thee to a batting cage.) And, oh, by the way: In a full season, TA7 was on pace to have 180 hits, 120 runs, and 30 HR. That’s a lot of spaghetti.
Luis Robert: A (1.8 WAR/4.9 WAR)
It’s true he finished the season with a .233 batting average, but Robert finished second in ROTY voting and won a Gold Glove. Add on to that 11 astronomical home runs and a stat line that would have likely normalized with a full season of at-bats. Robert still managed a solid 1.8 WAR in just 60 games. He showed elite skills on the base paths, and his stat line over 162 games would have projected to .250/25/75, with 25 steals. He’s sure to be a 30/30 player for years to come. La Pantera was the teacher’s pet in 2020.
Eloy Jiménez: A- (1.4 WAR/3.8 WAR)
Despite some pretty poor defensive play, Jiménez showed consistent prowess at the plate and locked in a Silver Slugger in the process. The Big Baby has led the majors in home runs to dead center over the last two seasons, and he finished in the Top 25 in HR, RBIs, and OPS across both leagues in 2020. Jiménez has some refining to do at the plate, but he’s seeing pitchers better and has become one of the best long-ball threats in the majors. He takes home a grade he can be proud to show his mom.
Yasmani Grandal: A- (0.8 WAR/2.2 WAR)
Despite starting out of the gates slowly, Grandal finished strong in 2020. He showed great poise and leadership all year and ended up with a Gold Glove nomination. Among all catchers, he finished the season first in walks, third in runs and OPS, and finished in the Top 10 in everything else. Grandal needs to swing less at high fastballs, but he proved he can play 1B and DH just as well as catcher, extending his positional value. Rick Hahn’s big signing from 2019 is paying dividends, and Yaz is earning his paycheck in spades. (It’s also worth noting that FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, which factor catcher framing more significantly into WAR measures, gave Grandal WARs of 1.7 and 1.4, respectively.)
James McCann: B+ (1.3 WAR/3.5 WAR)
With yet another solid offensive season in 2020, McCann played far past the expectations of the best backup catcher in baseball. Never mind the .280/25/75 stat line he put up for his White Sox career in just more than 600 at-bats, McCann also earned a Gold Glove nomination of his own. As a backup. If not for a stubborn manager with an unearned allegiance to Edwin Encarnación, Big Game James would have rotated DH/C with Grandal every day for any other team. Oh, and McCann called Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter. He more than earned his four-year, $40 million offering from the Mets — and he’ll forever be a White Sox fan favorite.
Nick Madrigal: B+ (0.5 WAR/1.4 WAR)
Coined as “Nicky Two Strikes” by Jason Benetti (the best play-by-play announcer in professional sports), Madrigal made his money with a two-strike count in 2020. He also hit a remarkable .340 across 109 AB and collected 35 hits in 29 games, but would have had more if not for an injury that came as a result of a bad base running decision just days after his debut. Madrigal needs to clean up his defensive play a bit, and will hopefully adopt better habits on the base paths with Tony La Russa as his manager, but the second baseman proved already that perhaps no one in baseball is a better true contact hitter — supported by a strikeout rate below 5%.
Yoán Moncada: B+ (0.7 WAR/1.9 WAR)
It wasn’t a banner year for the former No. 1 prospect, but considering his difficult recovery from Covid-19, Moncada deserves recognition for putting together some excellent at-bats that didn’t always materialize into production and getting a Gold Glove nomination of his own. And while he might have struggled a bit to find his groove at the plate, Moncada didn’t show signs of regression. All things considered, with rest and a full spring training in 2021, the third baseman seems poised to return to form as a switch-hitting offensive machine with Gold Glove-caliber defensive play. But he’ll need to regain his confidence at the plate, like he started to do down the stretch.
Danny Mendick: B+ (0.7 WAR/1.9 WAR)
White Sox fans and players alike love Danny’s dance parties, so it’s no surprise that many Sox fans attributed the team’s hot streak to Mendick’s presence in the clubhouse. Like his utility counterpart Leury García, Mendick is a phenomenal defender. Given the opportunity, he could become a Top 10 second baseman, as he showed the league by earning a Gold Glove nomination despite not being a starter. But his .243 batting average left something to be desired considering he had nearly 110 at-bats in 2020. Even so, Mendick has done more than enough to ensure his spot as the platoon infielder for the Sox in 2021.
Adam Engel: B (0.5 WAR/1.4 WAR)
What a difference a year makes. In 2019, fans were begging management to trade Engel for any value whatsoever. By the end of the 2020 season, fans were begging for Nomar Mazara to be benched in favor of Engel getting everyday playing time. Rightfully so. Engel finished the year with a .295/.333/.477 slash line and some clutch, timely hits to match. Defensively, few were better. He even preserved Giolito’s no-hitter with a spectacular defensive play on a hard-hit ball for the 27th out. Engel will likely platoon with Adam Eaton in right field and spell Eloy in left in 2020, but he hasn’t hit his peak yet. The Sox are lucky to have him.
Yolmer Sánchez: B- (0.3 WAR/0.8 WAR)
It was a welcome return to Chicago for Yolmer, and no one deserved it more. When the Sox need for a utility bench player aligned with Sánchez being released by the Giants, his presence was an emotional lift for a team that was already soaring. Sánchez didn’t get many opportunities to play, but he did hit at a .316 clip with an OPS of 1.164 in his limited opportunities. And while he didn’t fit into the long-term plans, it was a classy gesture and a savvy move for the Sox to bring him in as they charged into the postseason. Sox fans owe Yolmer their gratitude for his consistent play and elite sportsmanship over the years. And we at South Side Sox owe him a good grade for his contributions to the team in 2020.
Leury García: C+ (0.7 WAR/1.9 WAR )
Possibly one of the most undervalued utility players in the majors, in 2020 García’s OPS soared to a career-high .758, but his season was cut painfully short by injury. Missing most of an already-shortened season proved detrimental to the team, but not his value. Look for this grade to rise in 2021.
Jarrod Dyson: C (-0.1 WAR)
Dyson was hardly a factor at the plate after arriving from the Pirates and he only stole two bases for the Sox, but he did provide some insurance off the bench that the team sorely needed. Dyson hit .300 after the trade in his limited plate appearances, played great defense when called upon and had a run for every hit — but ultimately ended up making very little impact.
Yermín Mercedes: C- (0.0 WAR)
Mercedes had just one plate appearance in 2020 and it amounted to nothing more than a ground out, for a -100 OPS+. A victim of too much depth at catcher, Mercedes just didn’t factor into the plans of the team this year. But in Spring Training and Summer Camp, Mercedes showed pop, and he has continued to do so in the Dominican League this winter. Rick Hahn has indicated that he’s pleased with the backup catching options his team has to back up Grandal in 2021, but 2020 wasn’t Mercedes’ time. He’ll likely get more chances to improve his stock in 2021 with McCann in New York.
Zack Collins: D+ (-0.2 WAR)
In his 120 career major league plate appearances, it hasn’t gone well for Zack. And in 2020, he didn’t do much to earn future opportunities. In 18 plate appearances, he had just one hit, 0 HR, 0 RBIs, a pathetic .292 OPS, and an astronomical K rate of more than 40%. Collins is still quite young (25) and he has all the skills to translate into a top-tier major league catcher, but he clearly still has miles to go before he’s ready for that kind of responsibility.
Nomar Mazara: D (-0.1 WAR)
Nomar played some decent defense in right field and he put together some really impressive at-bats down the stretch, but it was all too little too late. After giving up Steele Walker in the trade (who had one of the best hit tools among all White Sox prospects), the hope was that a change of scenery would spark change in the underperforming Mazara. It did change — just not for the better. With only one homer in nearly 150 at-bats, a case of strep throat that kept him out of the lineup for too long, an OPS of less than .600 and a batting average sub-.230, Mazara proved himself a bust. And if not for drawing high pitch counts and getting a few unexpected clutch hits against lefties in the final weeks of the season, Mazara would have earned an F. The Nomar Mazara Experiment bordered on being a complete failure, and a D is generous.
Ryan Goins: D (-0.3 WAR)
This year, Sox fans saw why Goins’ career batting average floats near .220 with almost 1,600 at-bats under his belt. He’s a hard-working, team-oriented player who brings positional depth to multiple positions in a pinch, but that’s about as far as his value spreads.
Cheslor Cuthbert: D (0.0 WAR)
Like Mercedes, in Cuthbert’s only at-bat he managed to a -100 OPS+, but unlike Mercedes, Cuthbert has no potential for growth. Matched with a career slash of .250/.300/.378 and a -1.2 WAR, it’s clear why the corner infielder hasn’t been given more opportunities.
Luis González: D (0.0 WAR)
In three games and two plate appearances, González had no hits and dropped an easy fly ball to center field against the horrendous Tigers. It probably amounts simply to nerves; González has a remarkable hit tool and shows excellent defensive flashes in the outfield. And ultimately, there isn’t enough evidence that his stock has fallen, mostly because González just wasn’t ready and the Sox had to force the issue because of injuries and Covid-19 restrictions. But González still needs lots of polish before making the leap to the majors.
Nicky Delmonico: D- (-0.4 WAR)
Once a fan favorite for his contributions to the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Delmonico has devolved into an absolute mess, leading to his DFA in August. In three seasons, Delmonico’s batting average plummeted more than 110 points, his OPS almost 500, and his career WAR dropped from 1.2 to -0.4. Delmonico will always have a special place in the hearts and minds of Sox fans, with the potential to be the next Aaron Rowand (or at least the next Ross Gload). But sadly, Delmonico ended being more like Brian Anderson than anyone else.
Edwin Encarnación: F (-0.3 WAR)
The Parrot came out 10 times in 2020, but literally every other offensive category was abysmal for Edwin. With 160 at-bats thanks only to an undying loyalty from Ricky Renteria, Edwin hit a paltry .157/.250/.377, a horrendous regression from years before. And with a $12 million contract (prorated down to $4.4 mil due to the pandemic), few players evaded earning their paychecks like Encarnacion. He looked lost more often than not, and his bat speed bordered on embarrassing. His contract was the biggest waste of money the Sox have suffered through since Adam LaRoche got so busy trying to make his son Drake an employee he forgot how to hit. Needless to say, the worst player on the team in 2020 was Encarnación — and it wasn’t even close.
Most of the hitters on this team were, all things considered, exceptional. Despite some weak bench depth and a roster that was riddled with injuries for much of the shortened season, the White Sox outperformed just about every preseason expectation and came within one game of winning the AL Central despite being projected to finish a distant third. With Abreu, Anderson, Moncada, Jiménez, Grandal, Robert, and Madrigal, the Sox have a formidable core that should contend for the best offense in baseball for years to come. The glaring holes at RF and DH need to be addressed (Adam Eaton doesn’t figure into the long-term plans), but the White Sox are still quite young and will continue to add players as they get better.
For the other 29 teams in baseball, that’s probably a terrifying thought.