Football season is behind us, and we are one step closer to the return of the Chicago White Sox – both literally, and in the sense that the last time the White Sox had such a well-rounded and talented roster on paper, Luis Robert was not yet a teenager. Most respected algorithms seem to have the 2020 White Sox win total in the mid-80s. Such an outlook may be fair, but it is important to note that the team has a relatively high variance due to its abundance of young talent. In other words, there are many scenarios in which the White Sox could substantially differ from these preseason projections.
Projection systems struggle with young players. Rookies, for example, are safe bets to have minimal contribution. Yet, players such as Luis Robert may be exceptions. Furthermore, young players with one standout season following a mediocre year or two, such as Yoan Moncada, are perhaps equally unpredictable, since algorithms are wary of placing too much weight on the most recent season. Thus, these systems often understandably take conservative approaches to forecasting the performance of young players.
Why are the White Sox in particular such an interesting case? Most notably, their 2020 roster is overflowing with young talent. There is a nonzero chance that several of these players significantly outperform their projections, and this would seismically alter the expectations for the team’s overall performance.
For example, let’s pretend that one of Gio Gonzalez or Dallas Keuchel has an uncharacteristically disappointing 2020 season. While this would not be ideal, the team’s young, high-ceiling starting depth would act as an unofficial safeguard. Any of Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, or Reynaldo Lopez, for instance, could feasibly perform near his ceiling sooner than predicted and reach the ace-like status that Lucas Giolito attained in 2019. A 4-6 WAR season from one of these arms would do wonders in counteracting a down year from a veteran. While it is unrealistic to expect such an output from any of those three starters, their high ceilings at least make it a distinct possibility. Hence, there is a heightened level of variance that needs to be considered with the starting rotation.
The same is true of position players. Perhaps Nomar Mazara does not take the step forward that many are anticipating, or Nick Madrigal takes longer to adjust to MLB pitching than expected. The White Sox are again safeguarded by high-ceiling talent such as Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yoan Moncada, who is so naturally gifted that he may be capable of taking yet another step forward in 2020. Jimenez was a force to be reckoned with when healthy last year, and Robert figures to have an immediate impact on defense and the basepaths alone. Can you imagine how dangerous he could be if he taps into his power early like Jimenez did last year? Such a development would surely compensate for unexpected poor performance from another position. Moreover, it would not be a surprise if Mazara or Madrigal themselves are the ones who have unexpectedly great years. Such is the beauty of a young and talented roster: even the hypothetical cautionary examples can be viewed through an optimistic lens.
While the White Sox are not the only team with young talent, they are the only team that will provide regular playing time to approximately a dozen high-ceiling players yet to enter their primes. Some may fall short of expectations, but others can surpass them with ease, much like Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, and Lucas Giolito did last year. Thus, even if a mid-80s win output is considered the average by most projections, the team’s variance likely gives it a statistically significant chance at transcending that total. If several of the players discussed play towards their ceilings in 2020, the team will not only be competitive, but will become the team to beat in its division.
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