While the 2021 White Sox season did not yield a deep playoff run, it left fans hopeful that a strong contention window had begun. The 2022 season harshly pushed back on this narrative, even though the team makeup remained largely unchanged.
With so many different places to look for how things went wrong, it can be hard to find a good place to start. However, some notable record splits provide insight into exactly how this team lagged so far behind its prior year’s counterpart.
Home vs Road Record
In stark contrast to last season, the 2022 White Sox struggled to win at home. A .457 win percentage is a far cry from last year’s .654. On the road, the team performed slightly better than they did last year, but not remotely close enough to make up for the large gap in home performance.
Potential cause: The home run. Guaranteed Rate Field is a hitter-friendly ballpark, and the White Sox took advantage of that fact in 2021. In 2022, the team struggled to hit for power both away and at home; however, that fact was more evident at home as visitors too often out-homered the White Sox in the hitter-friendly park.
Looking Forward: Hitting for power is an area the White Sox must improve in next season in order to contend. Ideally, new manager Pedro Grifol will focus on this and hire a hitting coach who also views this as an area desperately in need of improvement. The White Sox could certainly benefit from adding some power bats during the offseason. However, what the team needs most is more consistent power from their core group of hitters that struggled to hit for power throughout last season.
Record vs. AL Central
This is the most frustrating split the 2022 White Sox faced. They finished below .500 against their most important opponents: those in the AL Central. Additionally, this division was the weakest in the AL, and likely the weakest in the entire league over the course of this season. In 2021, the White Sox separated themselves from the AL Central by dominating it. One of many reasons they failed to win the division race in 2022 was that they could not consistently succeed against these teams
Potential Cause: As poor as this division played in 2022, it still improved from 2021, when every team besides the White Sox finished below .500. However, this is not a compelling excuse for how poorly the White Sox fared in divisional games this year. Ultimately, there was not one main factor causing this split that belabored the White Sox throughout the year. Rather, it was a microcosm of their season: lackluster offense and the inability to consistently win series against average or below-average opponents.
Looking Forward: The path to an AL Central title likely becomes more difficult than in the last two years. The Guardians team that won the division this past year broke out ahead of their contention timeline and has an impressive young core that will continue to be a problem. The Twins possess a strong enough core to remain competitive. The Tigers and Royals both hope to be at the end stages of their rebuilds, and could also conceivably compete soon. The White Sox must win more division games next year to maintain a chance at winning the AL Central. The new scheduling rules that lower the amount of division games make this even more necessary, as each game will have increased importance.
Record in One Run Games
While it feels like the 2022 team performed worse in every way, they actually performed better in one-run contests than their 2021 counterparts. Their winning percentage in one-run games improved by nearly 20 points, from .627 to .429. This improvement likely kept the White Sox alive in the AL Central race for longer than they deserved throughout the year. If the team maintained its lackluster winning percentage in one-run games from 2021, they may have bowed out of the division race even earlier.
Potential Cause: The initial reason for this difference that comes to mind is an improvement to the bullpen, as close games require strong bullpen performances to secure victory. Upon further analysis, though, this argument falls flat. Sure, the White Sox bolstered the bullpen with additions of Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly this season, but the bullpen was also decimated by a season-long injury to Garrett Crochet and an injury that sidelined Aaron Bummer for an extended portion of the year. Liam Hendriks, the most likely face to see in a one-run game, was and continues to be a premier closer. It seems doubtful, then, that bullpen improvement is the root cause.
What can explain this change, then? The most simple explanation is probably the right one: mean reversion. Close games tend to be tossups by their nature, which implies a team should win about half of them on average. Therefore, when the team gets a larger sample, their winning percentage should be closer to .500. When the two years are combined, this trend is more evident, as the winning percentage in one-run games over the past two seasons was .529.
Looking Forward: The White Sox currently have a lot of money tied up in their bullpen. As examined above, though, the bullpen itself does not necessarily correlate to a great record in one-run games. The bullpen situation should still be considered this offseason, however. If the White Sox choose to be aggressive in the trade market this offseason, it would make sense to give up pieces from a position of strength. If the team trusted Kendall Graveman or Reynaldo Lopez enough to close, would they think about moving on from Liam Hendriks? As offseason trade and signing rumors heat up, the bullpen situation is certainly worth monitoring.
Of course, these splits do not tell the whole story of the underperformance witnessed throughout 2022. Rather, they can be used as helpful indicators for the struggles this year’s team has faced, and the steps they will need to take in 2023. To win the division and make the deep playoff run that is expected of this core, the White Sox will have to start hitting the ball out of the ballpark and winning division games, while also continuing to pull out close wins.
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