It is still early to draw conclusions about the White Sox (3-1), who have a lot of players who were elsewhere in 2021. But a good place to start would be the depth. Considering how important it is to avoid having weak links on a baseball team, depth in baseball is more important than it is in most other sports.
The White Sox had great luck in 2021 with regards to their pitchers’ health. The only White Sox starting pitcher who did not reach the 150-inning mark was Carlos Rodón (132 2⁄3 IP) —and he more than made up for this by leading the staff in fWAR (4.9) despite missing more time than any other starter on the team. As a result of the staff’s ability to stay on the field, the pitching depth was rarely tested last year.
Fast forward to the home opener of 2022, and things are going quite differently. With Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn already on the injured list, the South Siders have already had to tap into the depth. On the fourth game of the season, and the first at Guaranteed Rate Field, Vince Velásquez started on the mound for the White Sox, and he pitched four innings. Across 94 1⁄3 innings last year, Velásquez was sub-replacement-level, with a 6.30 ERA and 5.88 FIP. Rookie Bennett Sousa and Reynaldo López were middle relievers in this game, as the two of them covered the fifth and sixth innings. In terms of WAR, FanGraphs ranked these three pitchers 10th, 11th, and 15th among White Sox pitchers on its preseason depth chart projections.
In, say, 2019, if the White Sox used three pitchers ranked that low on their depth chart to cover six innings, a poor result would have been nearly certain. During the home opener of 2022, though, these pitchers combined to allow only one run on three hits. From there, the White Sox were able to hand the game over to more established relievers Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, and Liam Hendriks, who sealed the deal.
As Hawk Harrelson says, to have a successful season, teams usually need to find ways to win games they aren’t supposed to win. During Tuesday’s victory, the White Sox offense was below average, only managing three runs on six hits. Also, the first six innings were covered by pitchers who were not projected to do anything special this season. However, largely thanks to the depth, the South Siders prevailed.
The home opener was just Game No. 4 out of 162, and it is helpful to avoid overreacting to one contest, especially this early on. But this game seemed to give us an early answer to a couple of important question marks. The depth and the ability of the White Sox to win games they aren’t supposed to appear to be better than they have been for the club in many years. If those trends continue, it will significantly boost for the team’s chances to experience real postseason success for the first time in 17 years.