For the longest time, the loudest critics of the Chicago White Sox were their own fans. And rightly so. Since 2008, the South Siders haven’t made the postseason and really only came close once. Front office actions were characterized by idleness, cheap moves, and downright stupid decisions.
Since the rebuild has commenced, fans have been generally more positive, but still vocally upset at certain times. The frustration came to a fervent peak this February, when Rick Hahn and Co. struck out on acquiring star third baseman Manny Machado, who signed with San Diego for more guaranteed money. After a couple years of assuring fans “the money will be spent,” missing out on Manny due to an underwhelming offer brought appropriate outrage.
Yet Hahn has maintained the same aggressive mantra over the course of 2019, and to the surprise of many fans has delivered in free agency. In mid-November he struck swiftly by signing premier catcher Yasmani Grandal. Quieting annoyed fans upset about a dull Winter Meetings, the Sox have since inked Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel, and Edwin Encarnacion all in the span of one week.
Currently, the White Sox fanbase appears to be content. I know I am. To maintain balance in the universe, I suppose, outside critics have surfaced. Let’s dive into some of the censure.
Many people on Twitter opined that Dallas Keuchel is washed up. Yes, this isn’t the 2015 Cy Young Winner Dallas Keuchel. But what these critics fail to realize is that there’s a huge difference between washed up and veteran.
Keuchel had a down year in 2019, recording a 3.75 ERA to go along with a 4.06 xFIP and 1.37 WHIP. Notably, those aren’t bad numbers. His ERA was still 15% above league average, and the similar xFIP indicates his ERA was an accurate indicator of his performance. While the 1.37 WHIP is fairly high, keep in mind that Keuchel is a ground ball artist (60.1% GB rate) and his walk rate was significantly higher than his career average. I believe the walks should decrease in 2020 and Keuchel should be able to thrive at a ~1.25 WHIP encompassing many ground ball singles.
Importantly, Keuchel didn’t join the Braves until early June this season. His training regimen and overall routine were very different than years past, and he will likely benefit from having a regular pre-season in 2020. For example, June was his worst month in 2019, as he got knocked around for a 1.131 OPS against in his first two starts of the season in June. After that point, he never posted a month with a higher OPS against than .766.
There’s additional reason to believe Keuchel is a safe bet to pitch well in 2020. Considering that 2019 was a down year and Keuchel will be just 32 next season, he’s likely to regress (progress in this case) towards the mean in 2020. After being worth 0.8 fWAR (0.042 fWAR/start) in 2019, Steamer projects him to be worth 2.4 fWAR (0.075 fWAR/start) in 2020.
Lastly, Keuchel demonstrated the ability limit runs in 2019, with superior statistics in high-leverage situations compared to low and medium-leverage. It resulted in a 3.75 ERA that was nearly identical to his 3.74 ERA mark from 2018 despite worse peripherals. At the end of the day preventing runs is what matters most, and Keuchel proved he could do that.
Complementing the “washed” claims, many said that Chicago overpaid for Keuchel. However, there are many reasons why Keuchel will be well worth the 3 year, $55.5 million deal he signed.
Primarily, the White Sox had a huge void to fill in their rotation. Without adding another pitcher, Chicago would have been forced to start Dylan Covey or Ross Detwiler until Michael Kopech or Carlos Rodon looked healthy. In addition, even when one of those two comes back, Reynaldo Lopez and his sky-high ERA would still be in the rotation. Chicago finally has pitching depth with Keuchel.
Hahn and Co. also prevented any possibility of Keuchel going to the Twins and improving their rotation by acquiring him themselves. Speaking of Minnesota, consider that Keuchel excels against left-handed hitters (2.58 xFIP) and the Twins’ lineup boasts five lefties. Since Minnesota is Chicago’s prime division competitor in 2020, Keuchel’s likely success against them will mean a lot.
Furthermore, Keuchel had to deal with fearsome lineups in the NL East last season, and pitched much better outside of his division. His numbers will probably improve when facing the Tigers and Royals upwards of five times a season.
At the end of the day, the White Sox are replacing proven failures in their rotation with a proven winner in Dallas Keuchel.
Although criticism of the Encarnacion signing isn’t as prevalent as Keuchel condemnation, we still have some experts expressing it on Twitter.
Encarnacion is washed. 😂😂
— Charming Cubs fan (@MrSoprano21) December 26, 2019
Edwin Encarnacion has indeed battled through multiple minor injuries the past couple years. But he’s still averaged 123 games played over the previous two seasons, and especially made the most of his 2019 appearances.
In 109 games, Encarnacion posted a 129 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR between the Indians and Yankees. That wRC+ would have ranked third on the White Sox last year, behind only Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect Encarnacion to record another equally impressive campaign offensively. But considering he did all that at age 36, actually improving from 2018, a 3-fWAR season is within reach if he stays healthy.
Our final piece of negativity towards the signings comes from esteemed Cubs writer and Twitter presence Bleacher Nation. I say that without sarcasm, as Brett Taylor, the man behind the account, tends to have well-informed opinions. But he believes the White Sox have a surplus of power and lack of defense.
I respect that the White Sox are just gonna push – lots of questions on how they make the defense work when they have like four DHs, but hey, give it a go. https://t.co/BemuMFVAaH
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) December 26, 2019
Brett isn’t entirely wrong on this point. Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez are defensive liabilities, though not to the point where it’s a major problem. They might be better suited as DHs, but that’s only in an ideal world where Chicago has better options at first base and left field. The fact of the matter is that the White Sox don’t have superior options, and forcing one of your best overall players into a role they oppose is a bad idea.
Given that Abreu and Jimenez will play in the field, then signing someone like Encarnacion makes perfect sense. Had the White Sox failed to bring on a DH, they would have been stuck with the same assortment of no-names who put up a league-worst 80 OPS+ last season. Adding The Parrot represents a huge upgrade in offensive production.
Besides, there’s reason to believe Eloy’s defense will improve, especially next to defensive stud Luis Robert in center field. In addition, while the defensive metrics don’t favor Abreu, he makes the plays he needs to and limits errors.
All in all, the South Sider’s free agent splashes have silenced some critics and created others. The bottom line is that for 14 years, they’ve done little to prove them wrong. 2020 is the year to turn that around.
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Featured Photo: Cleveland Indians/Twitter