While we are still over a month from the beginning of Spring Training, the starting position players for the Chicago White Sox already seem to be set. With the team grabbing headlines due to their recent signings, vocal dissenters – often from opposing fanbases – have chimed in with thoughts on the 2020 team’s defensive potential. Simply put, there seems to be a growing narrative that the White Sox will be held back by their defense in 2020. I do not believe this will be the case.
As things stand, the White Sox figure to have 4 plus defenders, 2 neutral or unpredictable defenders, and 2 negative value defensive players in their regular lineup. Those negative value defenders happen to play at the two least important defensive positions in the modern game (first base and left field). White Sox fans should not have a hard time guessing: these two players are Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez. Advanced metrics have never held Abreu’s defense at first base in high regard, but many fans seem to be unaware that most defensive metrics are unable to measure the aptitude of first basemen when they pick throws out of the dirt from infielders. This is a skill in which Abreu has never been noticeably deficient, and the aspects of first base defense that are measured by modern metrics are insignificant when compared to other positions. While defense in left field is easier to measure, it too happens to be one of the least important positions on a relative basis. Eloy Jimenez was undeniably poor as a fielder in 2019, but unlike Abreu, Jimenez is young and athletic enough to improve defensively. He flashed defensive competence over small samples in 2019, especially during the latter half of the season.
The neutral or unpredictable defenders I mentioned in the prior paragraph are Nomar Mazara (neutral) and Tim Anderson (unpredictable). Mazara is a prototypical corner outfielder in that his mobility and range are subpar, but he has a cannon for an arm and makes the easy plays. Cumulatively, he figures to be neither a liability nor a strength in right field. Anderson, on the other hand, seems to alternate between good and bad defense at shortstop every season: he was solid defensively in 2016 and 2018, but lackluster in 2017 and 2019. Unlike first base and left field, shortstop is a very important defensive position – perhaps the most important defensive position – so getting the 2016/2018 version of Anderson in 2020 will be key. One cannot say with certainty what Anderson will provide defensively next season, even if his ceiling is still enormously high. Yet, even if his defense does not suffice, it is foolish to assume that the White Sox would be a poor defensive team overall.
The remaining defenders that I have not mentioned all project to be above-average at their positions. Yasmani Grandal, Nick Madrigal, Luis Robert, and Yoan Moncada should all provide solid defense for the 2020 White Sox. Grandal was acquired in large part for his elite defense at a premium position. Madrigal’s defense at second base may be his most valuable asset throughout a rookie season in which he (like all rookies) will need to adjust to MLB pitching. Robert’s off-the-charts speed and rocket arm in center field make him a good bet to be an immediate plus defender, and he may also help the rest of the outfield due to his impressive range. Finally, Moncada was one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball in 2019. He had some issues with throwing errors early on, which led to some odd discrepancies between various metrics’ evaluations of his season. These errors, however, can be explained by the fact that he was new to the position. Once they were ironed out, he was truly automatic.
One of the less talked about developments from this season: in addition to his .913 OPS and 140 wRC+, Yoan Moncada grades (Fangraphs) as the 3rd best defensive 3B in baseball behind Chapman and Arenado. https://t.co/Wrojfl8PpZ— Nik Gaur (@Gaur_Nik) September 26, 2019
The 2020 Chicago White Sox may not be an elite defensive team, but they have the potential to be very good. It is difficult for me to envision a scenario in which they are truly bad, as many seem to be suggesting lately. While I have confidence that Anderson’s defense will improve at shortstop, it is possible that it does not; yet, even in this event, the projected positive contributions from Moncada, Grandal, Robert, and Madrigal at four of the five most important defensive positions are far more meaningful than potential struggles from Abreu, Jimenez, and Anderson. Thus, barring major injuries or inexplicable regression from prime players, I believe the 2020 White Sox will be no worse than an average defensive team. Accordingly, the influx of new position players is arguably just as important to the team’s defense as it is to its offense.
Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more White Sox content!
Featured Photo: FotoGenocide_/Twitter