Five years ago, with dire times ahead and the impending doom of a 2018 chock-full-of-rebuild summer, an opportunity presented itself at South Side Sox: Race to the Bottom.
I was just three months into running things here, and the challenge of writing about the same pathetic game action, night-in and night-out (with a much smaller staff than now, I’ll add), led to a historical sidebar. As the season played on, we’d compare the 2018 team against the worst in White Sox history: 1932, 1948, 1970.
This year, while I was on the dire side of the prediction scale (77 wins), the 22 writers who made preseason predictions here came to a consensus of an 84-78 season. In other words, no one on the planet was anticipating this first four weeks of the White Sox season.
As the South Siders were in the process of falling to 7-18 on the season yesterday, I had a whim: What have been the worst Aprils over 122 years of MLB White Sox history? I asked this question, not even conceiving of the fact that we were back in pre-contention window, low-ebb rebuild times that would be suitable to revive Race to the Bottom. No, I just wanted to learn whether the White Sox had ever been this ice-cold to start a season.
Quickly shifting to a nice, round, 25-game sample, the yield is sobering:
Only three teams in White Sox history lost more of their first 25 games than the 2023 club — and in each case (1948, 1950, 1942), by just one additional loss. And the three teams that were worse all fell in the three-decade abyss years, post-Black Sox gutting and pre-Frank Lane/Paul Richards resurgence. It’s notable that the 1950 team, which started as bad as any White Sox team, ever, and finished with just 60 wins by season’s end, then improved by 21 wins in 1951 to start a run of 17 consecutive winning seasons.
The 2023 team, whether or not it will cross the 60-win mark, will spill into neither a winning 2024 season nor a run of winning years that will stretch to 2040.
The news isn’t all terrible for the 2023 club, as both 1997 and 2001 White Sox teams with horrible starts bounced back to respectability — the 2001 club even finished better than .500, at 83-79. But it’s telling that among these nine teams in White Sox history that won fewer than one-third of its first 25 games (over a 162-game campaign, that’s 15% of the season), only one finished with a winning record and none made the postseason.
With 85% of the season left, the White Sox will have to play at a better clip to avoid Worst White Sox Ever status: 46-91, to be exact, a .336 winning percentage.
Of course, that’s entirely doable, and Worst Team Ever isn’t even on the radar, yet. But in another month, still marred by pathetic play, well ...
Also noteworthy is how bad the top White Sox player is. While acknowledging the small sample size of the season, right now Luis Robert Jr. leads the White Sox in WAR, with just 0.7. At that pace, he’ll finish with 4.3 WAR in 2023. That would rank in a tie for 110th-best WAR (over 123 seasons) for a team leader in White Sox history. (For those wondering, the all-time worst full-season WAR mark for a White Sox team leader came in 1986, when Harold Baines led the club with a mere 2.9 WAR.)
If the White Sox continue to play at a sub-.400 rate (just 10 teams in White Sox history have finished with a winning percentage worse than .400, so it’s rare to be that bad), we’ll trot out another edition of Race to the Bottom in May.
For now, with 15% of the season gone, the White Sox are on pace to be the worst South Side club in history, projecting to a 45-117 record.