The excitement of the World Baseball Classic may have rendered the MLB regular season just an afterthought, but word is they’re going to play it anyway, so, with Opening Day coming up next week, it’s time to take a look at how the White Sox are likely to fare. As the author of quite possibly the very worst March Madness bracket among the 20 million entered on ESPN (I’m afraid to look), I’m uniquely qualified to forecast the 2023 baseball season — on the basis that the law of averages says I’m bound to do well.
Or something like that.
So far this spring, White Sox play has shown:
- The best hitter on the team is Hanser Alberto and that he may, after many years of proving otherwise, be able to hit right-handed pitching when it matters (he won’t)
- Romy González is not a major-leaguer, so the Sox shouldn’t keep him on the 26-man roster (he isn’t, but they will)
- Adam Haseley is the best choice for backup outfielder (probably, but don’t tell Danny Mendick) but they’ll keep Leury García instead, because $$$$. Adding Haseley to first the 40-man, then the 26-man, would lead to an abundance of lefties in the outfield — but that didn’t hurt Japan a lick
Still, if spring results mattered, the Royals will be coasting to the AL Central crown, with the Guardians in the cellar, so let’s properly ignore all of that and move on.
Hereinafter, I am generating the only White Sox team prediction you need to know, so you can bet the other way. This is no fly-by-night, pick-a-number game, though — no way. Just as many, many math teachers tried to get me to do lo those many, many years ago, I show my work. And I don’t cheat with any of that uppity statistical analysis WAR-y stuff, either.
WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
The White Sox were kind enough to end last season right at .500, at 81-81, so that makes it a perfect place to start.
LET’S ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVES FIRST
Otherwise, it gets depressing. Fortunately, there are a number of positives to consider:
GETTING RID OF THE HOFBP
Pedro Grifol has said and done all the right things since being named manager of the Sox, but he could be an Azarbaijani 12-year-old idly poking keys on an iPad for pitching change calls and things would still be far improved from last season. The HOFBP’s bizarre in-game decisions, his mancrush on Leury García, and such aside, no longer having the stifling atmosphere he created for the team is sufficient for a major upswing.
Nothing the White Sox or any players could do is more important than him being gone.
+ 6 wins
NEW POSITION PLAYERS
Andrew Benintendi is having a rough spring, and Oscar Colás has hit reality since starting out on a direct line to the Hall of Fame, but at the very least they are both outfielders, an innovative thought for the Sox. They may not outhit the corner outfielders of 2022, but they should spend considerably less time wandering around the field in a daze, occasionally ramming into walls and other players, then throwing the ball back to a player visible only to them — which is worth a few games on defense alone.
Add to that having Elvis Andrus for a full season, a benefit despite replacing the best defensive player on the team last year.
+ 3 wins
Obviously, a lot of key White Sox players performed miserably in 2022, and at least a couple should have a solid rebound in 2023. Yoán Moncada played very well for Cuba, even making the WBC All-Star team, and looked interested in baseball again. Lucas Giolito has decided not to emulate The Amazing Hulk any longer and has had a nice spring. The two have much positive upside, especially if Giolito finds an undetectable Spider Tack substitute.
Big rebounds from others, like Yasmani Grandal and Leury, are a nice dream. Fuggedaboutit.
+ 4 wins
FEWER POSITION PLAYER INJURIES
The White Sox (and, yes, we fans) love to whine about injury problems in 2022, even though the club was only slightly worse than the league average by most measurements. What was on the heavy side, though, was the time lost by position players, especially Luis Robert Jr., Eloy Jiménez and Tim Anderson.
Get those three back, playing full seasons in top form, and there are all kinds of extra games to be won. Problem is, none of the three is likely to have such a season, because they have a long history of enjoying the IL for extended periods,
Tim hasn’t played more than 123 games since 2018. Luis’s 98 games last season were 30 more than the year before, and Eloy topped out (by far) at 122 games in 2019. Luis and Eloy weren’t exactly Lou Gehrig in the minors or in Cuba, either.
Still, we have to hope for some improvement.
+ 3 wins
WOW! THAT’S A LOT OF WINS!!!
To show the work: 81 + 6 + 3 + 4 + 3 = 97 !!!
That is a lot of wins!! Enough to take the AL Central with ease!! Watch our smoke, Guardians and Twins!! And even Royals!!
But hold it, before you get too excited. There are a few negatives to consider first:
ALAS, TIME TO LET THE NEGATIVES REAR THEIR UGLY HEADS, OH, WOE
THE LOSS OF JOSÉ ABREU
Losing your best hitter without much trying to keep him is terrible. Losing the only player on the team who manages to stay on the field much is just as bad. Losing the team leader and one of the few players who looked last year like they enjoyed playing baseball and remembered how it’s supposed to be done is even worse.
Jose played 157 games last year, in his age-35 season, in a body that has absorbed a repeated barrage of pitches. AJ Pollock was next, at 138. Nuff said. The loss of Abreu is probably much worse than what I’m counting it as, but we’ll have to hope not.
Andrew Vaughn may well do fine at first. He ain’t José.
- 5 wins
GOING FROM JOHNNY CUETO TO MIKE CLEVINGER
Cueto was Rick Hahn’s lucky bottom-fishing expedition of 2022, providing not only excellent starting pitching, but doing so with class and making the game look like fun. Going from him to a narcissistic jerk who, if he doesn’t poison a clubhouse will at least make it smell really bad, is a giant step backward.
It didn’t take finding out who Olivia Finestead is to know that Clevinger is a lowlife human being — there was a ton of evidence before that, from lying to his team and teammates about his COVID violations to being Trevor Bauer’s wingman, all of it apparently completely unknown to Hahn. But that’s not the only problem.
The pure baseball problem is that recovery from a second Tommy John surgery is a whole lot shakier than it is the first time around. Well more than 80% of MLB pitchers make it back and do well after the first time under the knife. Only about 60% do so after No. 2, and while there are notable exceptions, on average they don’t last long (apparently something to do with scar tissue from the first time). Clevinger was good last season for about as long as expected on average, and then collapsed. Hahn signed him anyway. Nice job, Rick.
- 3 wins
CURRENT AND PROBABLE INJURIES TO PITCHERS
While the White Sox front office and fans engaged in much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over position player injuries last year, the team actually did very well of the pitcher injury front. That’s unlikely to happen again.
Among relievers, Garrett Crochet missed the whole season and Aaron Bummer had his usual IL stints, but injuries were otherwise pleasantly rare, This season begins with Crochet out until at least mid-May, and the big blow, Liam Hendriks recovering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It’s possible Hendriks will make it back by June or so, and probable the Sox will rush things, because that’s what they do and Liam’s the kind of guy who would take the mound if he had to be carried there on a stretcher. Count on more relievers to fall as the season goes on, because that’s just how things work.
The Sox were even more fortunate when it came to starters in 2022. Giolito went on the IL with a core injury during his Opening Day start but returned quickly, albeit ineffectively. Lance Lynn was on the IL until June, and the day after his first decision (June 21) the Sox were right at .500, where they also ended the year — so getting the two stars back didn’t turn out to mattter.
How lucky were the White Sox with starting pitching in 2022? Dylan Cease started 32 games, the Dallas Keuchel/Cueto combo started 33, Giolito 30, Michael Kopech 25 and Lynn 21. That’s 141, with Davis Martin picking up some of the rest as the IL sub and 27th man in for doubleheaders.
That’s really good luck with pitcher injuries, and unlikely to happen again. And it’s not like Lynn looks like he’s lost any of the weight that slams down on his knees.
With a farm system devoid of any help but Martin. there’s no way to recover, even from a single, substantial injury.
- 3 wins
While it’s nice to think about players improving from last season’s performances, it’s inevitable some will have a lesser season this time around. The most obvious candidate is Dylan Cease, not because he shouldn’t be excellent, but because the bar was set so high. Good as they are, the players who did well when they weren’t injured in 2022 may well go through an extended slump or two this season as well.
With a little luck, the regressions will only amount to half of the progressions.
- 2 wins
Gone are the good old days of playing the Tigers 19 times a year. Or playing the AL Central 76 times (albeit the Sox managed to have a losing record vs. that terrible division last year). In 2023, things get a lot harder.
Their only two winning seasons in the last decade were 2020 and 2021. The pandemic shortened 2020 to 60 games, and played only teams in the pathetic Central divisions, which got seven teams into the playoffs and went 2-14 against the rest of MLB. In 2021, the White Sox enjoyed a schedule where they played almost two-thirds of their games against teams with losing records —104 of 162 — and got to pick on the NL Central again.
No such luck this time around, with the more-or-less balanced schedule. No such records, either.
- 3 wins
LET’S DO THE MATH AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS!
97 -5 -3 -3 -2 -3 = 81
81? That’s where we started! This was way too much work to end up right back at GO, so let’s add a category:
FAN WISHFUL THINKING
+ 1 win
Which lands us at 82. That’s much better.
WHILE WE’RE AT IT...
There’s only one sure thing for the season. If the White Sox do well, the unholy trinity of Jerry Reinsdorf-Ken Williams-Rick Hahn will be very happy to take credit. If they do badly, the gruesome threesome will blame the fans for not being supportive enough.
They may have early numbers on their side. An email about Opening Day got me curious about avails for the game, and there are thousands of empty seats at the GuRF. Thousands! For Opening Day.
That Other Team in Town doesn’t show a grid, so I couldn’t tell how their opening is going, but Cleveland is sold out (understandable) and Detroit is almost sold out (confounding). Milwaukee is well-sold, much better than the Sox. The Twins aren’t doing really well, but still better than the Sox, at least on an eyeball evaluation of little dots representing seats.
Could it be because of last year’s underperformance? Or disdain for the ownership and front office? Or a result of the Clevinger debacle? All three?
Whichever the reason(s), unless things change, the empty seats on Opening Day will speak loud and clear.