After a 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Friday, me and a few others discussed the White Sox, as we often do. At some point, we started to talk about stars, and if the White Sox have any potential stars. We did not even get into the idea of having superstars, because if you don’t have any star-level talent, obviously you do not have superstars. We also spent some time wondering whether the team has had any stars in recent memory.
This made me think, “Who are the recent White Sox stars?”
I argued that we have a potential star in Luis Robert Jr., and a former star in Tim Anderson. I would also say that José Abreu was also in that stratosphere at times when he was in Chicago. None fit superstar billing, although MLB treated Anderson as a potential face of the league for a little while and even feature him in ads this season about the new rules that the league added during the offseason.
For this project, I decided to use bWAR (aka rWAR, from Baseball-Reference), because if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent countless hours on that site looking up random stats, falling into an endless rabbit hole. I took a look at the all-time, single-season leaders in bWAR for the team (no one that’s been on the team in the last decade is on this list, which shocks absolutely no one.)
Now for anyone that does not know about the concept of WAR, it stands for wins above replacement. Your average everyday position player should be worth around 2.0 WAR per season, the same for an average starting pitcher. If you’re a reliever who can earn more that 1.0 WAR a season, you more than likely are in the race for reliever of the year.
Good players are usually in the 3-5 WAR range, with the higher end of that being All-Star level talents. Anything higher than that is considered superstar range. Currently, Robert Jr. leads the team with 2.9 bWAR, while Lucas Giolito is second with 2.1 bWAR.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s look and see where the White Sox sit when it comes to having stars.
In 2022, Dylan Cease had 6.4 bWAR, which makes sense as the runner-up in AL Cy Young voting. Good start, but it looks like he will not hit that level this season, and before last season, Cease never showed more than glimpses of what we saw in 2022.
In 2021, the team was led by Lance Lynn (remember when everyone loved him?) when he finished the season with 5.5 bWAR. Before he was traded to the White Sox, Lynn dominated in Texas for years. Since that 2021 season, he has been below-average at best, and straight-up bad at worst, which has been the 2023 Lance Lynn Experience.
We’re going to skip 2020, because that was no a full season and no one in baseball had time to build up to superstar-level WAR. But in 2019, the team had two players reach 5 bWAR! Giolito hit 5.5 bWAR, and Yoán Moncada had 5.2. In comparison, the World Series Champion Washington Nationals had five players reach that number. Their opponents in that series, the Houston Astros, had four.
In 2017 and 2018, no White Sox player hit 5 bWAR. In 2016, two White Sox eclipsed it, as Adam Eaton got all the way to 6.6 bWAR and José Quintana landed at 5.3 bWAR. In 2015, once again no one could get to 5 bWAR.
The 2014 season was much better year, as Chris Sale (6.1 bWAR,) José Abreu (5.8 bWAR,) and Eaton (5.2 bWAR) led the White Sox. In 2013, Sale (6.5 bWAR,) and Quintana (5.1 bWAR) paced the team.
Now, one thing you may notice is that besides Eaton, Quintana and Sale, no one was able to get on this list in two straight years. There were three seasons in which no one on the team was considered superstar level, according to bWAR. Now, bWAR is not gospel and it is constantly being worked on to improve. It’s not the only way to determine stardom. You could argue that there has not been a superstar on the South Side since Frank Thomas. Sale, Anderson and Abreu have all had times of being treated like stars throughout their time in Chicago, but have not always played to the level of superstars.
No matter how you look at it, the White Sox have not consistently had star talent in years. And yeah, you can have seasons without superstars where you are successful. In 2005, the White Sox had nobody with 5 bWAR, and look at how that ended. The sum is often greater than the parts.
But, if you want to achieve long-term success, having stars is the way. The 2022 Houston Astros had four players with 5 bWAR. The 2021 Braves? Only one, but Freddie Freeman hit 4.9 bWAR and in half a season Ronald Acuna Jr. piled up 3.7 bWAR and was an MVP favorite before a horrible ACL tear. The 2018 Boston Red Sox had three players hit 5 bWAR, and two more right below that number — Mookie Betts had 10.7 bWAR alone!
Superstars are the best way to win. The White Sox consistently lack superstars and when they get them, they trade them or let them leave in free agency. Until that changes, don’t expect sustained success.