Yes, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections whiffed on the 2005 White Sox. It’s true that traditionally — at least at its inception, after which I frankly stopped paying close attention — the White Sox have proven an uncommonly elusive team to project with the system.
However, anyone too angry over the 2021 PECOTA projection that places the White Sox at just 83-79 this season, in third place in the AL Central and out of the playoffs, is shouting at clouds — and perhaps ignoring some very worrying signs.
As tiresome as it’s been to start a ramp-up to reporting day and the regular season with several stories lamenting this swing-and-miss (or, better, called third strike) offseason, listen, it’s where the White Sox are at. The Central remains competitive, with the Twins in control, Cleveland trying to give up but simply boasting too much young talent to discount, and improving Royals and Tigers teams.
Should the division have been a cakewalk for the White Sox in 2021? Sure. Will it? Well ...
Let’s establish that all PECOTA, or any projection system, purports to do is provide most likely outcomes. In Baseball Prospectus’ sims, the White Sox won as many as 106 games — and as few as 62. The median of all those outcomes? Just 83 wins. Are any of you shocked at that?
In the rotation, PECOTA foresees about what we already know: A strong top three, a bit of a fall-back from Dallas Keuchel ... and nothing. In the pen, Liam Hendriks puts up a potent 1.4 WARP, Aaron Bummer and Matt Foster half that, and generally speaking a slate of higher-than-expected ERAs. All told, 16.0 WARP on the pitching side. Frankly, that feels a bit generous.
On offense, I mean, gulp. PECOTA sees the Sox offense falling back to Earth a bit. Every starter but Adam Eaton (1.6 WARP) crosses that 2.0 bar of “major league starter.” Yasmani Grandal projects to a near All-Star at 4.2 WARP, and Eloy Jiménez somehow overcomes his defensive shortcomings to be a 3.1 WARP player. But otherwise, it’s an disappointing bunch, at 19.6 WARP overall.
José Abreu (.818) and Jiménez (.845) are the only hitters projected at better than an .800 OPS. Somewhat surprisingly, the team is projected to hold steady as a strong defensive team, even with Abreu taking a step back from his stretch toward a Gold Glove in 2020.
Players like Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and Luis Robert receive what look like some dour projections — but nothing catastrophic. However, in two key areas, the White Sox youth gamble projects to fail, badly. Zack Collins, getting 220 plate appearances as the No. 2 catcher, logs a -0.4 WARP that is largely defense-fueled. Meanwhile primary DH Andrew Vaughn is at -0.8, slashing .220/.289/.335 in 400 PAs.
The division leaders are not out of sight, by any means. A year ago, Minnesota was being talked up as a surefire 100+ win team, and Cleveland still solidly ahead. In 2021, Minny looks to barely scratch 90 wins, Cleveland in free-fall ... and the White Sox failing to exploit those weaknesses.
Perhaps BP is trying to goose the front office (as if)? The White Sox are the only winning team in the AL not projected for the postseason, and only one of two (Atlanta Braves) in all of baseball.