Well, the White Sox are playing some sort of baseball so far this season. Yes, it’s still April, and yes, they’ve only played 16 games — it’s a small sample size — but I have yet to see many compelling signs that this team’s supposed new and improved 2023 version is substantially better than the 2022 one. It really shouldn’t be a surprise, because the team pretty much has run out the same core roster except for a few minor changes. There’s only so much a primarily new coaching staff can do when the personnel on the field is mostly the same.
I wanted to dig through the stats to put some facts to the eye test. Being a self-confessed emotional fan, I often think I see a pattern of play when in reality, it tends to be more of a recency or historical bias. So let’s take a look.
In brief, the pitching has been as awful as you think it has. Only three hurlers have earned a quality start this season; Dylan Cease on Opening Day, Lucas Giolito on April 12 against Minnesota, and [redacted] on April 14 against the Orioles. Opponents have absolutely CRUSHED South Side pitching, both starting and bullpen, but much more so the pen as of late. In addition to allowing the second-most runs AND walks in the majors, they are also tied for fifth with the Baltimore Orioles with a .270 opponent batting average. So if it seems like the Sox have allowed significant traffic on the base paths, you’re not hallucinating. After the team’s Sunday loss, Cease spoke to the media and said, “We’ve got to clean it up.” No, kidding, Dylan. Now stop talking and get it done. If the hurlers minimize the number of base-runners, they’ll be well on their way to improvement.
There’s a bit of good and bad news here. Right now, the team fielding percentage ranks 24th in all of baseball, at .982. If that number looks familiar, it’s because they ended the 2022 season with a fielding percentage of, wait for it, .982. Granted, they were ranked 28th then. So I suppose one could argue that technically they have improved in ranking, but not in actual defensive ability.
Here’s a fun one that might make you feel a little hopeful: Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Per Major League Baseball, UZR quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It considers errors, range, outfield arm, and double-play ability. Its formula differs slightly from DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), but the concept is the same. In 2022, as a team, the Sox were dead last at 30th in UZR at -40.5 (for reference, zero is the league average). Think about that for a minute. ZERO is the league average, and the Sox had a -40.5. Here’s the good news, though. This season, Chicago ranks 13th and has a UZR of ZERO. Yippee for league average! Having actual outfielders who can play defense is most likely the culprit here, and getting a healthy Yoán Moncada, hopefully back sooner than later at third base, should keep that UZR moving on up.
This hitters are all over the place, a kind of frenzied mashup of pluses and minuses. Let’s start with the positives. The Sox are averaging 4.63 runs per game, hovering around the league average and up from 4.23 from last year. They rank sixth in hits with 149, eighth in batting average at .261. and 11th in slugging at .418. Most notably, they are second in doubles with 38, an impressive 26% of their hits. Has the singles machine and ghost of Frank Menechino finally vanished? These numbers should only improve upon Tim Anderson’s return and if Eloy Jiménez can ever get his bat going again.
However, with this team, you know if there are ups, there are also plenty of downs. The team OBP ranks 19th, at .316. This is because they don’t walk, and they actually DO swing at everything (25th in walks and 17th in strikeouts). Is it possible to teach more patience at the plate because they REALLY need it? It seems that this is one of the most significant weaknesses of this team right now, and more walks and fewer strikeouts alone could swing the team back to a winning record.
Again, it’s early, it’s April, and it’s cold (sound familiar?). I’m not sure how these things only affect the Sox and not other teams, but this is what I’m told. Wait and see, too, the Sox say; we’ve got something to prove. Well, White Sox, we’re sick of waiting; it’s time for action. Please see the notes above.