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What can White Sox learn from slow-starting World Series champs?

by Tommy Gross

At this point in the season, saying the White Sox haven’t performed up to expectations is an understatement. Until recently, the offense has struggled to put anything together for long stretches and still ranks in the bottom five for both wOBA and SLG. Yasmani Grandal, Josh Harrison, and Leury Garcia are all struggling at the plate, as none of them have an OPS above .550. Yoan Moncada has struggled to get things going in his first 100 plate appearances of the season and the advanced metrics don’t show that he is getting too unlucky either. Hopefully, his Detroit series shows he’s making strides. As a whole, the offense is hitting .239/.294/.362 with a 91 wRC+.

The pitching has largely kept the team afloat through 61 games, as the staff is sixth in strikeouts and has a 4.09 ERA and a 3.99 FIP, even with Dallas Keuchel, Vince Velasquez, and Bennett Sousa accounting for nearly 30% of the runs given up this season.

All told, the White Sox are sitting a tick below .500 at 30-31, so talking about World Series aspirations right now is difficult for fans. However, there are some recent World Series winners that, while they may be exceptions to the rule of early success, can still provide glimmers of hope for the White Sox 60 games into the season.

Let’s take a look at three of them.


2019 Washington Nationals

A year after losing Bryce Harper to free agency, the 2019 Nats finished second in the NL East with a record of 93-69 and were the home team for the Wild Card game. They beat Milwaukee in that matchup and went on to win the NLDS in five games over the Dodgers. They then swept the Cardinals in the NLCS and finally won the World Series in seven games against America’s newest baseball enemy, the Houston Astros.

The Nationals shocked everybody. Nobody thought they could get through those tough NL playoff series. Before the season started, not a lot of people even picked them to make the playoffs. They persevered, but they didn’t always play well, though.

Washington was in a very similar boat as our beloved South Siders. Through the first 60 games, the 2019 Nationals were 27-33. They had a slash line of .251/.324/.428 with a 92 wRC+ and had an ERA of 4.65 and a FIP of 4.26. At the time, a 4.65 ERA was the 19th best in the majors. So, the champs were a below-average team through the first 60 games, yet they still went on to pull it off.


2021 Atlanta Braves

Just a few months ago, the Atlanta Braves won their first World Series of the 21st century. For the past couple of years, the Braves have always been a “radar team” when it comes to World Series picks, but if you remember, they started out in a tough spot – and that was even before they lost Ronald Acuna Jr. to an ACL injury in early July. Through their first 60 games, the Braves were 29-31. They had a slash line of .236/.317/.426 with a 95 wRC+ and also had a 4.46 ERA (20th in the league) and a 4.35 FIP (23rd in the league).

Just like the 2019 Nationals, this team was a below-average club early on. They didn’t start clicking until after the All-Star break. The biggest change for the Braves? Trade deadline acquisitions. With Jorge Soler from Kansas City, Eddie Rosario from Cleveland, and Adam Duvall from Miami, the Braves completely rebuilt their outfield in the second half of the season while dedicating themselves more deeply to analytics. With some help, these three players all had stellar turnarounds in the second half of the season after poor starts to begin.

The Braves were stuck at .500 for large portions of the World Series season. They made the right moves, got hot at the right time, and with the right shake-up, won the World Series.


2015 Kansas City Royals

Editor’s Note: Baseball Bits made a great video on the 2015 Kansas City Royals that is the source of some of these stats.

The Royals only hit 95 home runs during their 2015 campaign. For reference, the Yankees and Braves have already hit more than 95 homers this season. The 2015 Royals struggled offensively and through 60 games, their slash line was .267/.317/.403 with a 95 wRC+ as a team. Their ERA was 3.41 (5th in the league), FIP was 3.89, and an xFIP of 4.32 (27th in the league). They were a pretty good pitching team based on ERA, but FIP and xFIP might say that was a bit of an anomaly. However, they were getting results on the mound and, much like the White Sox through 60 games, were helping out their struggling offense.

This Royals team was actually really good at stealing bases, despite their offensive shortcomings. Their efficiency was 67%, which put them top-five in the league. At the moment, the White Sox are 17th in the league in stolen bases, but also own a whopping 93% efficiency. All those stats would tell you the Royals were probably below .500, but through 60 games they had something that the White Sox don’t have the luxury of having: a winning record. They had solid results to put them at 35-25 and got quite lucky in many of those wins. They didn’t have the below .500 record like the White Sox, but there were obvious flaws that the Royals were able to overcome on their way to the World Series.


Fun Facts

Who doesn’t love some fun facts? Here are a few for you to think about:

  • The 1987 Minnesota Twins won the World Series with a negative run differential.
  • The 2013 Dodgers started 38-43 through the first 81 games and went on to win the division.
  • The 1982 Cardinals didn’t have a 20-home run player on the team when they won the World Series.
  • Our editor-in-chief Jordan Lazowski hasn’t won #SoxMath this year.

The last one might be irrelevant, but it’s interesting nonetheless.


Conclusion

A thing to note is that the three featured teams played during the Statcast Era. They all knew about the value of analytics, and the fun part about analytics is that there are always anomalies. Even though the White Sox have played poorly this season, the season is not over. The South Siders still have over 100 games left and a lot of great teams have proven that they can rebound in the second half. That’s not to say that the White Sox don’t have flaws as a team or shouldn’t at least be a bit concerned about their struggles. However, a weaker AL Central, on top of some of the previous history shared above, can at least provide a glimmer of hope for the next 100 games.

All the White Sox need to do is make the playoffs any way they can. Most of the time, the best team in the league doesn’t win the World Series. The Pale Hose don’t need to be the best, but they do have to take steps every day to become a better team and start stringing together some wins. The offense will pick up. Grandal and Moncada will start hitting better (hopefully) and fans will start to see how dangerous this team can become. Once this begins to happen, it will be incumbent on the front office – just as the 2021 Braves prove – to make the right moves at the deadline to give the South Siders their best possible chance to win it all.

Baseball is weird. It will surprise you. Try to keep your heads up through the summer.


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Featured Photo: © Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports


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