No, no, it wasn’t always this way. Sure, the White Sox have been at or near the bottom in every defensive evaluation throughout the current baker’s decade of years in the wilderness (yeah, yeah, there were 1 1⁄2 winning seasons in there, but they were more the result of marshmallow schedules than real performance, witness the postseason outcomes of the two Central Divisions).
But there was a time the White Sox defense was terrific.
Back when the White Sox ran off 17 straight winning seasons, the success was largely built around defense — especially the critical part, defense up the middle. In the 1959 World Series year, future Hall-of-Famers Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox at short and second, and mere mortals Jim Landis in center and Sherm Lollar behind the plate combined for 10.2 dWAR (Baseball-Reference stats will be used throughout this piece), and third basemen/utilitymen Billy Goodman and Bubba Phillips added 1.6. The team total was lower, (6.9), dragged down by corner outfielders and first basemen, but those negatives were partially because the way dWAR is determined makes life tough on those positions, especially first basemen.
That was a higher dWAR than any MLB team in 2023, and 11.9 higher than the 2023 fumble-fingered Sox. Ah, if only a nice time machine could be brought into play.
More recently, the 2005 Series champs were fairly solid defensively. Up the middle, A.J. Pierzyinski, (2.0), Aaron Rowand (1.9) Juan Uribe (1.4) and Tadahito Uguchi (0.5) totalled 5.8 dWAR, with Joe Crede adding 0.6 at third. Even with Carl Everett (-1.0) and Paul Konerko (-0.8) dragging things down, the team totaled 4.0, good for eighth in MLB (and what would have been fifth this year).
BUT THAT’S JUST ANCIENT HISTORY, RIGHT?
Since the crater opened up in 2013, the White Sox haven’t had a single full season with a dWAR in positive territory. They were +1.8 in 2020, led by Luis Robert Jr.’s 1.0 and saved by José Abreu’s one year in positivity at 0.2 (it’s almost impossible for a first basemen to score on the plus side, so that rates notice — even the J.T. Snows and Keith Hernandezes of the world were almost always negative), but that was just over 60 games, so maybe they just didn’t get too worn out thinking about the long haul.
The Sox were at -5.0 this year, ranking 28th in baseball, as well as -5.8 in 2022 (29th), -3.1 in 2021 (24th, even with a winning season). You haven’t been wrong — the White Sox are awful with the glove, and have been been for a long time.
BUT WHAT IF WE DID SOME REALLY SERIOUS CHERRY-PICKING?
I thought you’d never ask.
But since you did, I ran a little experiment, picking the best dWAR year (except the 2020 outlier) at each (primary player) position since 2013. Well, each position except pitcher, since once Mark Buehrle left, the most that could be hoped for from a Sox pitcher defensively has been that he only occasionally has pickoff throws to first end that up waaaay down the right field foul line (well, except, for the brief moment of glory of Matt “Like a Cat” Albers and Jake Peavy’s Gold Glove outta nowhere).
Let’s see how that went:
C James McCann (2019) 1.3
1B José Abreu (2017) -0.7
2B Yolmer Sánchez (2017) 1.7
3B Yolmer Sánchez (2018) 1.0
SS Tim Anderson (2018) 2.3
LF Nicky Delmonico (2017) -0.1
CF Adam Eaton (2014) 1.7
RF Adam Eaton (2016) 2.3
Now, some of that seems impossible, right?
For one, Anderson, usual defensive liability, with 2.3 dWAR in 2018? But it’s true. Also only had 20 errors that year. He’s been nowhere near that any other year, and negative in many years (especially 2023), but he had the one good season in the field, even if memory brings to mind TA routinely turning his glove the wrong way when he first came up.
For another, Adam Eaton, best dWAR in both center and right? Strange, huh, but Robert has never topped that 1.7, even this year, when he came in at 1.1. The 2016 figure is probably enhanced by the fact Eaton also played center, but that was only about one-fourth of the time. You and I may not believe it, but we didn’t create the algorithm. Talk about going downhill really, really fast.
So what if we, living in a dream world, combine all the very best years of the very best defenders?
Why they, add up to 9.5 dWAR, and never mind carping about the fact we have Yolmer and Eaton playing two different positions in two different years in our dream defensive team. That’s almost as good as the up-the-middle-defenders of the 1959 team. If you limit Yolmer to one slot, you don’t lose much to Yoán Moncada’s 0.7 in 2021, but take away Eaton in right and it goes all the way negative.
Heck, if you don’t get picky like that, it’s more than any MLB team since 2019, when the Astros also had 9.5, albeit with players only being counted once and no cherry-picking of seasons — and they won 107 games!! Of course, if you put all 11 seasons together, the Sox won more than 107 games, and there’s every chance they’ll top that number if you add the next three or four seasons together, too.
But maybe not without better D.
Oh — did you notice none of the top scorers are still with the team?