Almost exactly one year ago, the White Sox (30-40) completed a three-game series against the Dodgers (39-30). That series was memorable, not because the Dodgers took two out of three but because of how winnable the last game of the series was. Now, in 2023, the South Siders just wrapped up a series in Los Angeles that ended with a loss in a winnable game. So, let’s compare some of the team’s key aspects to how they were at that point last year.
Josh Harrison was slashing .180/.258/.288 after the 2022 series finale against the Dodgers. Harrison got off to a terrible start, and was probably close to being designated for assignment as a result. Surprisingly, he recovered and finished at .256/.317/.370 to finish in average starter territory in terms of WAR. Regardless of that strong recovery after his first two months, after the season the White Sox decided they were better off looking elsewhere at this position with Harrison at age 35, and so far, Harrison has struggled in 2023.
How did the White Sox address this area of need, though? They stood pat, with the exception of a late offseason re-signing of Elvis Andrus, and the results have been bad, at best. The production of 2023 White Sox second basemen is the worst in MLB, in terms of both wRC+ (45) and fWAR (-1.0). As a group, they are collectively hitting .190/.237/.302, virtually the same as Harrison before he started heating up a year ago. Romy González and Lenyn Sosa have not been ready to perform at a serviceable level in the majors, and although Andrus has had a great career, he just might not have it anymore.
Adam Engel, who played right field for the White Sox during the series finale in 2022, was slashing .242/.300/.350. This was decent for a defense-first outfielder with lots of speed, but he struggled immensely down the stretch, so the White Sox desperately needed help here.
The 2023 White Sox added nobody from outside the organization, sticking with Triple-A Charlotte’s Oscar Colás as their Plan A option. The results have been poor, as the organization is once again in a rough spot for this position. After Colás slashed .211/.265/.276 with subpar defense during his first month, he found himself back in Triple-A. As has been the case many times throughout the Hahn era, Plans B and C have not been much better; White Sox right fielders as a whole rank 26th in wRC+ (82) and 29th in fWAR (-0.6).
At the time of last year’s series against the Dodgers, Tim Anderson (often seen as the heart and soul of the White Sox) was injured. However, Anderson had appeared in 40 games, and he was terrific, slashing .356/.393/.503 at a premium position, asserting himself as one of the league’s most valuable players. Anderson struggled down the stretch, slashing .249/.287/.290 after his return, but he still finished with roughly league-average value. Anderson had a strong track record, and the White Sox had multiple players take the field while injured last year, so perhaps that happened with Anderson. Therefore, it was reasonable to expect him to return in 2023 to the form we had seen from 2019 through the first two months of 2022.
So far, that has not happened. Anderson is slashing .251/.290/.296, nearly identical to the version of him from the second half of 2022. Collectively, White Sox shortstops, led by Anderson, are slashing .228/.284/.274. This group ranks 29th in wRC+ (56) and 28th in fWAR (-0.4). Unlike second base and right field, which have been problematic for years, the front office can hardly be blamed for not prioritizing shortstop during the 2022-23 offseason. This position should have been an area of strength, but it has not turned out that way.
During the rubber match of last year’s series against the Dodgers, Tony La Russa left Dylan Cease in too long. Cease allowed six runs and threw 110 pitches in 4 2⁄3 innings. Oddly enough, all of those runs were unearned, but Cease’s stuff was far from its best. La Russa seemed to defend the decision to keep him in the game by noting he wanted to give Cease a chance to earn the win. Do MLB managers still care about such things?
There was the whole issue of the insane 1-2 intentional walk to Trea Turner that set up Max Muncy for an important three-run homer. This was arguably the low point of the brief second La Russa era with the White Sox. When asked about his rationale, La Russa was defiant and said that the intentional walk was not a difficult decision.
In addition, when that infamous intentional walk happened, the pitcher was Bennett Sousa. Sousa took over on the mound when the team was trailing by one at the beginning of the top of the sixth. That game was still winnable despite the Dodgers’ six-run fifth, so the decision to turn to Sousa, who entered that game with a 6.50 ERA, was strange, too.
Fortunately, Pedro Grifol has been a step up from La Russa; unfortunately, that does not say much. Grifol typically does not leave pitchers in for longer than they should be in, at least not for the sake of a pitcher win (a highly misleading stat). Also, he has issued zero intentional walks on a 1-2 count. However, the Sox Populi initial reactions to Grifol’s hiring have been accurate; while Grifol was not the worst choice, there is nothing spectacular about him.
Lineup construction remains an issue. Anderson should not still be normally leading off, given his prolonged slump. Andrew Benintendi often bats second, and along with Anderson, he is among the only qualified hitters without a home run this season.
Strangely, despite Jake Burger’s unexpected All-Star caliber season at the plate (.248/.296/.606), he has only had 174 plate appearances. In past seasons, Burger has struggled against right-handed pitchers, but he has hit them well in 2023 (.248/.286/.590).
Choice of relievers is also still an issue, albeit less often than it was with La Russa. In the series finale on Thursday night, a pivotal moment in the game was when Reynaldo López inherited runners on first and second with one out. The White Sox had a 4-0 lead in the sixth, but keeping the ball in the park has been a major issue for López (1.84 HR/9 before this game). Using López in this situation was more defensible than using Sousa in the 2022 game, but Grifol had better options.
After that infamous, 11-9 loss to wrap up the 2022 series against the Dodgers, the White Sox were 26-29. That record put them in third place in the AL Central, trailing the Twins by five games and the Guardians by two games. Their run differential was -57, so their mediocre record was actually outperforming their poor Pythagorean record (21-34).
The 2023 White Sox stand at 30-40, which also puts them in third place, trailing the Twins by 5 1⁄2 games and the Guardians by three. Hey, their distance behind those two teams is strikingly similar to how it was after last year’s Dodgers series. With a -53 run differential, the White Sox’s Pythagorean record matches their actual record.
During the press conference at the end of the 2022 season, Rick Hahn spoke about the need to regain fans’ trust. Those words were refreshing in that he seemed to understand the urgency of the situation. The 2022 White Sox failed to make the playoffs in a season they were supposed to be among the best in baseball, and Hahn appeared to recognize that significant action was required. He needed to prove that 2022 was an aberration and that next year would be different.
But are the White Sox in a better position than they were at this time last year — one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory? Hardly.