2011 Season Forecast: Chicago White Sox

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  88 – 74
2009:  79 – 83
2008:  89 – 74
2007:  72 – 90
2006:  90 – 72

The White Sox have been competitive for much of the last six or seven years, 2007 notwithstanding.

Runs Scored: 752 (7th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 704 ( 8th in the AL)

With this combination, the White Sox would be expected to win 86 games or so – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the beginning of the season, many expected the White Sox to contend with the Twins for the AL Central crown, and they contended until the last few days of the season.

The Sox actually got off to kind of a slow start, having losing records in April and May.  At one point, the Sox were eight games under .500 and threatening to finish in last place at 24 – 33 after a loss to Detroit.  However, the Sox got SCORCHING HOT, winning eleven in a row and fifteen of sixteen to sprint back into the race.  (Of course, they played the Cubs, Pirates, Nationals, and Braves for that stretch, losing only a 1 – 0 game to Ted Lilly and the Cubs which likely saved Lou Piniella’s job.)  Another nine game winning streak got the Sox to 50 – 39, at which point people started to think playoffs.

Once they had to face teams in their division, however, the Sox fell back.  Only one more hot streak – a seven game winning streak in the beginning of September – kept them alive.  Then, facing the Twins and Tigers, the Sox lost eight in a row (the last two to Oakland), and they were done.  The Twins beat the Sox 13 times, the difference between first and second place.

During the season, the Sox acquired two players, trading Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg to Arizona for Edwin Jackson and claiming Manny Ramirez from the Dodgers after he had been waived.  Neither player figured heavily in the team’s fortunes down the stretch.  Jackson pitched reasonably well in his eleven starts; Manny – not so much, but only batted 69 times.
Starters:

The Sox have a LOT of quality starting pitching.  John Danks was fantastic – 213 innings and saving his team 24 runs over that span.  Mark Buehrle did what he always does, throws strikes, eats innings, and wins games.  Gavin Floyd was saddled with a losing record but, like Buehrle is an above average pitcher with a record of durability.  Jake Peavy was expected to be the ace, but he suffered a significant tear in a muscle behind his throwing shoulder and hopes to be back for much of the 2011 season after having an experimental surgery to repair it.  Last year’s #5, Freddy Garcia, was surprisingly effective in 28 starts but won’t be back because Edwin Jackson is about the best fifth starter you can possibly imagine.  37 wins in the last three years, a no-hitter last year, and a power arm.  It’s hard to find a better overall rotation outside of Philadelphia anywhere.

Relievers:

Bobby Jenks and his 4.44 ERA is no longer the closer, having moved on to Boston.  And, J.J. Putz, the former set up man, is a closer in Arizona.  Don’t worry about the Pale Hose, though, because the rest of the bullpen is as good as the rotation.  Chris Sale was impressive in 23.1 innings, striking out 32 batters and allowing just 15 hits – and becomes the new closer.  His late season dominance allowed Jenks, who was losing his effectiveness, to leave town.  Scott Thornton has been a solid reliever for a couple of years now and becomes the lock down set up man.  Sergio Santos was effective, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman have been imported to provide middle inning support options, and Tony Pena can do the job as a swing man or long reliever.

Catching:

The Sox have a decent tandem in A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro.  Pierzynski is starting to show signs of age, but is still reasonably effective.  Castro is a good enough hitter to warrant more playing time if needed.  As a defensive unit, the two were above average in five categories (ERA, Winning Percentage, Caught Stealing, Mistakes per Game, and Fielding Percentage on plays other than strikeouts), and below average only in mobility categories.

Infield:

Both offensively and defensively, you had two positions working in the Sox favor, and two working the other way.  Paul Konerko remains a sturdy bat in the middle of the lineup, but defensively he and his 2010 backup, Mark Kotsay, are well below average.  At second base, Gordon Beckham, you had the opposite.  Beckham has decent enough defensive skills, but didn’t hold his own with the bat in 2010, unlike what he suggested was possible in 2009.  At short, Alexei Ramirez was solid offensively despite a rather low OBP because he hit for power and had a reasonably good batting average.  And, defensively, he played at a gold glove level.  Then you have the hole at third, where Mark Teahan had an off year and couldn’t stay healthy either – costing the team runs with the glove and bat.  The person who played the most at third was the elder statesman, Omar Vizquel, who looked very out of place defensively and hit like Paul Bako with even less power.

Arriving to help the cause is Brent Morel, a third round pick in 2008 out of Cal Poly, who has shown a plus bat and some power.  In AA and AAA, he hit 10 – 60 – .322 and earned a 21 game tryout with the Sox in September.  If Morel can hold his own at the position and hit .280 with a dozen homers, this would be a significant step up for the Sox over what played there in 2010.

Outfield:

Alex Rios came over from Toronto, played center extremely well, and put a lot of runs on the board – his best season since signing that huge contract a few years ago.  Juan Pierre remains the left fielder – though Mighty Casey can’t explain it.  For a guy who is supposed to be fast, he’s NOT a plus range fielder, and unless he’s hitting .320, he’s a waste of at bats.  In right, Carlos Quentin was so bad defensively that he offset whatever benefits having Rios and Pierre in center and left may have provided.  His power is still around, but he misses a lot games (much less pitches).  I think the Sox will miss Andruw Jones, who can’t really cover any ground but hit 19 homers in essentially a half season of at bats.  Alejando De Aza is the new fourth outfielder, a guy I used to root for in Florida, and is running out of chances to stick.  He can play a little.

DH:

Last year, there was a rotation of hitters, none who will be anywhere as good as the newly signed free agent, Adam Dunn.  Dunn is an offensive force, and gives the team depth at left or first base, too.  (He can’t field them, but he can certainly hit enough so that you won’t notice too much.)

Down on the Farm:

Brett Morel we covered…  Behind him on the AAA depth chart is 3B-1B candidate Dayan Viciedo, a 22-year-old Cuban kid with serious power and upside and didn’t disappoint when given a shot with the parent club in 2010.  If Paul Konerko starts to get old, Viciedo could step in and be a quality first baseman for more than a decade.  Pitcher Daniel Hudson looked to be close to ready, but was sent to Arizona for Edwin Jackson at the trade deadline.  Hudson looked like he could be as good as Jackson, but Arizona is rebuilding while the White Sox are merely retooling.

At AA Birmingham, first baseman Jimmy Gallagher had a season that looks like something on the back of Mark Grace’s baseball card, but may not have a future here unless it’s as a pinch hitter.  The pitcher who stands out, to me anyway, is reliever Deunte Heath, who fanned 84 in 57.2 innings, but may have issues harnessing his control.  Anthony Carter also had a decent season in relief.

A guy who seems to have the team’s eye is Gregory Infante, who converted from a starter to a reliever and blew through A+ Winston-Salem and then Birmingham.  69Ks in 60 innings, didn’t allow a single homer (just 12 in 291 minor league innings), and for a really young kid out of Caracas, Venezuela, he may get a shot at closing in AAA.  A guy you may read about in 2011 could be Justin Greene, a centerfielder with speed and power who also blew through A+ and landed at AA.  Dylan Axelrod had a 1.99 ERA in Winston-Salem, earning a promotion to AA, and things are finally starting to click for him.  Working against him is the fact that he’s a late round pick originally drafted by San Diego, and the Sox having a lot of starters at the big league level who aren’t going away anytime soon.

2011 Forecast:

I’m feeling a bit optimistic about the Sox, mostly because Dunn and Morel could quickly address the two biggest weaknesses they have.  You have the potential regression of Pierzinski, Konerko, Pierre, Rios, and Quentin, weighed against the potential of gaining 80 or more offensive runs with Morel and Dunn.  The pitching staff will be equally solid and could be marginally better – and would be really good if there weren’t two holes on the same side of the field (Konerko, Quentin).  Still – a full season of Morel at third should help the overall defense, too.  I like getting Jenks out of the closer role, and the Sox pen is still very, very good.  I like the White Sox scoring 825 runs and allowing barely 700, which puts the sox at 95 wins.  I also think the Sox could win the World Series, another shot across the bow at Cub fans who continue to wait for a miracle that won’t arrive until they figure out how to manage resources.

Working against the Sox is the idea that Jake Peavy’s shoulder may explode at any moment, and Ozzie Guillen imploding after another irrational outburst at his general manager, who has assembled quite the roster.  Ozzie – sit back and enjoy the ride to the playoffs.

Phillies Return to World Series; Other News We Missed Watching Playoff Games…

Sorry for the extended absence…  A very busy work schedule, some play time with my son, and a lack of an internet connection at home (until resolved by Comcast yesterday) has kept me from blogging.  I’ll be better going forward…

PHILLIES SMOKE DODGERS…

Having watched it, I feel goofy for having picked the Phillies to finish second in the NL East (Mets injury implosion notwithstanding).  The potent lineup smoked a makeshift Dodger rotation that had trouble throwing strikes – and if you put people on base, the Phillies have too much power to get away with it.  And, they have just enough pitching.  Going forward, the question will be do the Phillies have enough pitching to keep up with the bats of the Yankees who face John Lackey and the Angels in game five tonight…  At least you’ll likely see a lot of offense if the Yankees and Phillies face off in the Series.

IN OTHER NEWS

When the Series makes it to television next Wednesday (ugh), you will see Ozzie Guillen on your television.  Guillen will do pregame and postgame sessions with Chris Rose, Mark Grace, and Eric Karros.  Can’t we get a pitcher in the broadcast booth?  Where is Jim Kaat when we need him???  [SI]

Someone you won’t see is Steve Phillips – but we’ll get to that later.

Aroldis Chapman is interviewing with various teams trying to sign a free agent deal.  The Cuban refugee with the 100 MPH fastball is likely to sign with…  New York or Boston?  NO WAY!!!

Managers and Coaches

The Chicago Cubs hired former Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo to be the hitting coach for 2010.  Jaramillo replaces Von Joshua, who will accept the same role for the Cubs’ AAA Iowa team.  [SI]

The Tampa Rays hired Derek Shelton to replace Steve Henderson as the hitting coach for 2010.  Shelton had been the hitting coach for Cleveland since 2005.  I don’t understand how Henderson got fired – the Rays had more homers, walks, and runs than in 2008…  [SI]

Bobby Valentine, Manny Acta, Travis Fryman, Torey Lovullo, and Don Mattingly are on the interview list for the Cleveland Indians manager position.  I’d rather have Mattingly, if it were me.  [ESPN, MLB]

Former Arizona and Seattle pitching coach Bryan Price was tabbed for the Cincinnati Reds pitching coach position.  [MLB]

Boston Red Sox Assistant GM Jed Hoyer may sign to be the GM of the San Diego Padres.  Hoyer will have his work cut out for him, and not nearly the same amount of resources as his boss, Theo Epstein, enjoys in Boston…  [ESPN]

Joe Torre wants to manage in 2010, and his GM Nick Colletti already has his long-term deal with the Dodgers.   I’d be surprised if Torre isn’t back for one more go.  [MLB]

GM Dan O’Dowd and Manager Jim Tracy are close to deals to remain with Colorado…  [MLB]

Rick Peterson, former Mets and A’s pitching coach and now pitching guru, will get a chance to prove his genius as pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers.  Peterson is a new breed – has a psychology degree, which helps, and is a proponent of bio-metrics – using physiology to help with mechanics and strength.  [MLB]

Phil Garner wants his old job back as manager of the Houston Astros.  [MLB]

Infield coach Perry Hill wants out of Pittsburgh, even though Pittsburgh picked up his option.   Is it that bad? [ESPN]

Check Out the Red Carpet Photos…

The Sporting News is handing out some awards – leading off with the Rookies of the Year.  J.A. Happ got the nod in the NL, while Gordon Beckham gets the hardware in the AL.  I haven’t given this much thought, but is Happ really better than Marlins outfielder Chris Coughlin?  Not in my book.  [MLB/TSN]

Want a Good Argument?

Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite writers, lists the top ten “pure hitters” since 1947.  No – Bill Madlock didn’t make the top ten, but for a couple of years there, I loved watching him hit.  [SI]

Jayhawk Alum and ESPN blogger Rob Neyer wonders if Bobby Abreu or Johnny Damon has a better shot at the Hall of Fame…  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!

Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols had successful surgery to remove bone chips from his ailing elbow.  I pity pitchers next year.  [SI]

Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge is headed for surgery to repair a sore left knee that hampered the second half of his all-star season.  [MLB]

The Transaction Wire…

The Cubs claimed former Marlins outfielder Alejandro De Aza off of waivers.  I liked that kid – saw him play in spring training a few times.  Once, I sat next to some little fella’ who had De Aza’s signature on his scorecard the year De Aza stole the centerfield job.  Ankle injuries spoiled the fun, so I hope he gets another shot.  This follows the Cubs releasing outfielder So Taguchi.

Will Ohman filed for free agency.  Good luck with that.

Is it Over?

The Mets released 40-year-old reliever Ken Takahashi.  The Japanese vet wasn’t horrible, but his release opens a slot on the 40 man roster.  I thought he could pitch, but he’s not a long-term solution to any problems.  [MLB]

Meanwhile, another Japanese import, catcher Kenji Johjima is going back to Japan and forfeiting more than $15 million dollars of his three year deal with Seattle.  Johjima had been relegated to second string behind Rob Johnson and wants to finish his career near his home.  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

A couple of Hall of Famers – Jimmy Foxx (1907) and Ichiro Suzuki (1973) head today’s birthday list.  Others being remembered with cards and cake include:  Jumbo Elliott (1900), Harry “the Hat” Walker (1916), Ron Jackson (1933), Wilbur Wood (1941 – my dad’s age), Jamie Quirk (1954), Frank DiPino (1956), Gerald Young (1964 – remember the promise he showed in 1987?), Michael Barrett (1976), and Yankees second sacker Robinson Cano (1982).

Afterthoughts… Steve Phillips was granted a leave of absence from ESPN when the 22-year-old ESPN office assistant with whom he was having an affair went all psycho and threatened Phillips’ wife and family.  Marni Phillips, who had to deal with Phillips getting in too deep while working for the Mets following another similar scandal (which led to an out-of-court settlement of a sexual harrassment charge), has filed for divorce.  Phillips may have had a good track record as a GM, but many in the blogosphere are less enamored of his taste in women.  [ESPN, The Hollywood Gossip]

Former Closer Now Former Blue Jay; Rolen Keeps Rollin’

One time closer and fantasy baseball stud B.J. Ryan’s career came to an anti-climactic end.  Ryan was released by the Toronto Blue Jays in order to open up a spot for the new closer, Scott Downs.

Somebody is going to give Ryan a shot – he had 32 saves just last year, but he has struggled with his control in 2009 and had moved further and further down the depth chart.  (The Marlins fan in me would love to see him in AAA New Orleans, find his control, and help the Fish down the stretch.)  [SI]

FoxSports writer Jon Paul Morosi says that the Marlins are chasing Pirates closer Matt Capps, but so far the Pirates aren’t interested in the return package – namely, outfielder Jeremy Hermida. [FoxSports]

If you want more trade rumors, check out what Ken Rosenthal has to say on FoxSports.com.

The Cubs can’t keep anyone healthy.  Geovany Soto injured his oblique during batting practice, which could cost him the rest of July before he plays again. [ESPN]

Another team fighting the injury bug is the Angels, who have outfielder Torii Hunter sitting out with a pretty serious groin strain.  [ESPN]

Speaking of strained groins, Aubrey Huff strained his groin when caught in a rundown on Wednesday.  Huff says he’s day-to-day. [MLB]

Meanwhile, fans of the Fish await good news about shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who has sat out three games with a right hip flexor injury.  Andy Gonzalez arrives from AAA to play, while outfielder Alejandro De Aza returns to AAA.  [SI]

Earlier this year, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had a 30-game hitting streak.  Now, veteran third sacker Scott Rolen has a 25-game hitting streak. [MLB]

Hurry Back!  Ronald Belisario, mentioned yesterday, heads to the DL to rest his irritated elbow.

Welcome Back!  Marlins reliever Kiko Calero, Yankees catcher Jose Molina, Reds reliever Aaron Laffey, Mets starter Oliver Perez.

Afterthoughts…  Lenny Dykstra filed for bankruptcy, claiming he has liabilities between $10 and $50 million.  Wasn’t he offering financial advice to major leaguers not too long ago? [SI]

Peavy Stays a Padre – Sox Crushed Twice in Loss to Twins, Too.

Was it that big a story? I guess so – but three of the top twenty baseball headlines featured Jake Peavy… Peavy, as you all know, rejected a trade that would have sent the Padre ace to the White Sox for four propsects, and a huge reduction in salary expenses, citing a desire to stay home and in the National League.

So, the White Sox went out and lost to the Twins 20 – 1.  Jose Morales, who caught the game, was sent back to AAA when it was over so the Twins could bring back Delmon Young.

Games to watch? Randy Johnson faces the Mariners in search of win #299. ESPN’s Steve Phillips say watch the long ball in the Phillies – Yankees series this weekend. Buster Olney says that the new Yankee Stadium is on pace for more than 300 (!) homers this year. (Olney’s blog is pretty complete, by the way. He relies on a big staff, I guess. I’m a staff of one.)

Joba Chamberlain’s knee checked out after being hit by a liner last night.  The Yankee starter left the game in the first inning… He may miss a start, but I don’t think he will.

Tony Gwynn, JR. scored the winning run for the Padres against the Giants last night. C’mon – that’s cool. Gwynn arrived in San Diego yesterday after being traded by the Brewers (actually, the Nashville Sounds) for outfielder Jody Gerut.

MLB.com is reporting that Alfonso Soriano may move to second base in the future, according to Cubs manager Lou Piniella. They need a shortstop with range and for Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto to start hitting, and this is what he comes up with?

Edinson Volquez hits the DL with a strained back, and Homer Bailey – a prospect for most of this decade – returns to the Reds. If it’s gonna happen for Homer, it’s got to happen now or he’ll be done as a prospect soon. And it’s not like he was smoking AAA, either. As for Volquez, it’s muscular and not structural, according to Dusty Baker.

Texas starter Vincente Padilla, expected to be an ace this year, hasn’t been healthy – he goes to the DL with a strained shoulder. Coming back from the DL is closer Frank Francisco.

Day-to-day? Jose Reyes (still) with what has been diagnosed as tendonitis in his calf. Chipper Jones has a foot injury (Bunions?). He’s hurt a lot these days. Bobby Abreu sprained a toe and will likely miss the weekend.

On the mend? John Smoltz threw three scoreless last night. Brandon Webb is healing, progressing slowly. Rick Ankiel might be close, but not close enough for a call up.

The Marlins are keeping the transaction fax machine busy. Alfredo Amezega is on the DL with a bruised knee. So, they brought up onetime starter Alejandro De Aza – for a couple of days. He’s back in AAA now. David Davidson was called up, and Andy Gonzalez sent back down. Then, they activated Cristian Martinez from AAA. Martinez gave up a game-winning homer in the eighth inning last night and was immediately dispatched back to AAA.

Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes went on the DL with a strained hamstring, so Tommy Hanson was bypassed for his roommate – Kris Medlen. Medlen was awesome in the minors and may be a long term prospect, but he was swatted around by Colorado yesterday. Medlin throws low 90s with a mean change up and a breaking ball that’s okay. The Braves also placed Omar Infante on the DL with a broken left hand.

Toronto’s Travis Snider will get time to get out of his funk in AAA, as will Brewer Hernan Iribarren. Welcome back to the majors, R.J. Swindle (still rooting for him). Another prospect deemed not ready? Bryan Augenstein. He’ll be back.

Frank Catalanotto signed a minor league deal with the Huntsville Stars. He can still play.