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A Tale of Two Settees

Is it the best of times for the White Sox, or is it the worst of times?

Here we are at the All-Star break, the traditional, albeit inaccurate, halfway point of the baseball season, the time for reflection on the first half and anticipation of the second half. That means it’s time for the optimists and pessimists among White Sox fans to pull up settees across from each other and hash things over.

On the one side, we have a not merely glass-half-full, but glass-filled-to-the-very-brim-with-ambrosia Pollyanna who has bought season tickets just to have a crack at the sure-to-come World Series seats. On the other, a not merely glass-half-empty, but nothing-in-the-glass-but-some-blue-green-sludge-at-the-bottom Gloomy Gus who plans to be out of town by mid-October.

Each has good reason to take the position he has, with fandom — especially White Sox fandom — being the mix of euphoria and despair that it is.

Can they resolve their differences? Let us see.

Pollyanna The White Sox are incredible, headed to the World Series for sure ... 54-35, 19 games better than .500, best record in the American League. They’re a cinch to make the playoffs, and then cruise right through.

Gus That’s all very nice, and they are a cinch to make the playoffs given the pathetic nature of their division, but that may be it. Their record is built on the backs of teams that don’t even belong in the majors. They play in the American League Central, a division so bad it should be called Triple-A North Central. The division is 17 games worse than .500, by far the worst record of any division, seven games worse than the second-worst NL East. The AL West is plus-17.

You can’t blame the team for their division. Besides, they play other teams, and did I mention the White Sox are 19 games over .500? Isn’t the idea to beat up on bad teams and hold your own with the good ones?

They do play other teams. But the sites that do a good job of measuring strength of schedule say the White Sox have had by far the softest schedule in the majors — basically more cookies than Nabisco. So the record has to be considered in that light. They’re 15 over within the division, so only four over outside it. And that’s only because they’re so good at the beat-up-on-the-bad-teams part — the hold-your-own-with-the-good-ones, not so much. Take away the 10-0 against Baltimore and Texas, the White Sox are 10-17 against the rest of the AL, which means against any and all teams they might have to face in the playoffs. Overall, they’re 16-24 against teams that are .500 or better, not far off the 14-22 against playoff teams they were last year — playoff teams that then went 1-12 when they had to face quality opponents.

Look at the run differential — +117! That’s amazing, second only to the Astros.

True enough. Except they have a +124 differential against the Tigers, Royals, Orioles, Rangers, and Twins, +41 against the Twins alone. So they’re -7 against everyone else, which means anyone who has any chance whatsoever of making the playoffs.

But that’s without Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert. They’ll make all the difference.

They should. They better. But that’s with Yasmani Grandal, and now Zack Collins is the main catcher. Do you have any idea how absolutely horrible Collins is defensively? He’s horrible framing, horrible at blocking pitches, allows twice the league average in wild pitches per game. And he’s incompetent at throwing out runners — without the false credit he’s gotten for pickoffs by pitchers, he’s catching fewer than 10% of runners!

But he can improve!

You just keep on believing.

Besides, it’s not like all the players do poorly against winning teams.

Poorly? Usually, but not necessarily. But poorer, for sure. Since we’re on Collins, his average drops from .239 to .218 going from losing teams to winners, his OPS falls from .766 to .641. Not nearly as bad a differential as most.


Really. AL average OPS is .725 and Grandal is the only White Sox player who appeared in at least half the games with a higher one against winning teams, at .740, and now he’s gone for who knows how long. Grandal’s OPS against losers is .913, by the way, so you see the differentials.

It stands to reason they’d do better against weaker teams. Everyone does.

Sure, but this much? Tim Anderson is at .717, compared to .808 against bad teams — and his average drops from .326 to .285. The only other starter with an average against winners better than the overall league average (.240) is Yoán Moncada, down from the .289 he hits against weak opponents to .252, with his OPS dropping from .891 to .668. Andrew Vaughn falls from .285/.857 to .206/.646, Leury García from .317/.848 to .186/.477, and poor José Abreu from .313/.925 to .183/.622. Overall, the team falls from .281/.836 to .228/.658, with runs per game dropping from 5.96 to 4.1. None of that inspires confidence for playoffs.

Well, so what? Playoffs are all about pitching. Everyone knows that. Good pitching beats good hitting, and all that. And the Sox starting pitching has been terrific.

It sure has. Against bad teams.

Here we go again.

Let’s take Dylan Cease. His ERA is a very pretty 2.74 against teams worse .500. Against others? 7.52. Not a typo: 7.52. He ready for prime time?

You don’t need five starters in the playoffs. Cease will be a long reliever, or maybe not even on the roster, so he doesn’t matter.

Who starts Game 1 for you?

Lance Lynn.

Lynn has a spectacular 0.82 ERA against losers, a very pedestrian 3.79 against potential playoff opponents.

Carlos Rodón?

Better choice. Rodón has actually done better against good teams, a 2.06 ERA compared to 2.59. That’s helped by his no-hitter versus Cleveland, of course, but still damned good. Lynn and Dallas Keuchel are a coin flip for next, Keuchel coming in right behind Lynn at 3.81, which is better than he has done against the usual gimmes. Lucas Giolito is really struggling against good teams, with a 4.80 ERA. Only Rodón looks strong against tough competition.

I’m sure they’ll be do fine when needed.

Hope so. Before the season, there was a whole lot of talk about controlling innings and pitches because of the short season in 2020, but that hasn’t been happening with the White Sox starters. They’ve thrown at least 100 pitches 31 times, far more than any other team — the Dodgers are next, at 22. Maybe the Hall-of-Famer Baseball Person knows more than everybody else and sees increased pitches as the way to build stamina for later, not a way to wear down your staff. Time will tell.

Well, we’ve got time for the bullpen to straighten out, and Liam Hendriks has been terrific.

He’s definitely awesome when he’s on, but he’s blown four times as many saves as Alex Colomé did last year, and we all know what happened to him. And post-crackdown, Hendriks has been quite a bit less awesome.

You’re being really unfair about a team that has been incredibly unlucky with injuries.

You mean incredibly unlucky with outfield injuries They’ve been moderately unlucky with other position injuries, and incredibly lucky with starting pitcher injuries — Lynn missed one turn, Rodón had one delayed a couple of days with a stomach flu. That’s unlikely to hold.

Look, fact is, neither one of us knows how good this team really is.

That we can agree on. And we won’t find out until a stretch of games against tough teams in August. And if not then, in October, when they’re bound to be playing unless a couple of those starting pitchers go down for the count.

Besides, Rick Hahn may trade for some help.

Yep. Anything is possible.