The White Sox Are Demonstrating Why Good Enough Often Isn’t Good Enough

Tim Anderson
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox remain serious playoff contenders in 2022, but I doubt many would classify this season as a roaring success. With what appeared in the preseason to be the AL Central’s strongest roster, Chicago has not gone on a leisurely stroll to October. Instead, it’s locked in a brutal three-way clash with Cleveland and Minnesota and currently stands 1.5 games behind both.

The reasons for the team’s struggles are myriad. The entire offense failed to produce, especially early in the season, finishing April with a .212/.264/.348 line and an 8–12 record. When healthy, Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada have not hit at all, leaving two offensive problems in unexpected places. Lance Lynn got a late start to the season and has generally been ineffective. The manager has an odd fetish for getting Leury Garcia into the lineup at every possible juncture. We can play this game all day, but we can now throw a new problem onto the pile in the loss of starting shortstop Tim Anderson to an injured ligament in his left middle finger that requires surgery. Anderson is expected to miss four-to-six weeks of play and make a full recovery, but with only eight weeks left in the regular season, that’s a lot of missed time.

After the trade deadline, I projected the White Sox as having the biggest loss in playoff probability of any team due to transactions made around baseball at the deadline. Whereas they would have been projected with a 59.5% shot at the postseason with the pre-deadline rosters, they came out afterward at 52.2%. Despite not actually losing any ground in the last week to their rivals in the standings, replacing Anderson with a combination of Garcia and Lenyn Sosa sends another chunk of the team’s playoff hopes into eternal oblivion.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL Central (8/11)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Cleveland Guardians 84 78 .519 39.2% 12.3% 51.5% 1.1%
Minnesota Twins 84 78 .519 35.7% 12.6% 48.3% 1.3%
Chicago White Sox 83 79 1 .512 25.1% 11.5% 36.6% 0.9%
Kansas City Royals 67 95 17 .414 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 64 98 20 .395 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

For the first time this season, the Sox are projected to have a worse chance at taking the division than both the Twins and Guardians, and roughly a quarter of the scenarios in which they make the playoffs have evaporated. Losing a win is a very big deal for a team in such a tight race, and that gets even a bit worse for Chicago because of the change in MLB’s rules for divisional ties, with tiebreakers being used instead of bonus baseball. Right now, should there be a tiebreaker needed, ZiPS estimates that the Guardians will beat the Sox 74% of the time, and the Twins will come out on top in 69% (not nice!) of tiebreakers. And all that is with projections that assume that Anderson misses an average of five weeks. If he has a setback and can’t get back for the rest of the regular season, it obviously gets worse; in the simulations when he didn’t return (about 10% of sims), Chicago only made the playoffs about three times in ten.

A team can be forgiven for missing the playoffs when its best efforts failed. But did the White Sox really make their best efforts? While they didn’t literally do nothing at the deadline, picking up relief pitcher Jake Diekman in return for Reese McGuire paled in comparison to efforts made by other teams around the league. Despite the team’s holes, both the obvious ones and the suprises, and a farm system with precious little to offer in ways of reinforcements, this minor trade was the first one that the organization had made since April.

To be fair, acquiring Juan Soto or someone like him would almost certainly have been an impossible feat given the lack of high-end talent on Chicago’s farm. But lesser hitters who fit roles that the Sox neglected went for prices that the team could have afforded. Even in one of the weakest systems in baseball, 21 White Sox prospects have a FV of 40 or more. Whit Merrifield, who can play second and the outfield, was acquired by the Blue Jays for two 40-FV prospects. Brandon Drury, who could take over second or spell Moncada at third, went for a single prospect with a 40 FV, Victor Acosta, who now ranks just 23rd in Cincinnati’s system. In other words, there were deals out there that the White Sox would have had the currency to close.

This pattern of being content with just being good enough was displayed last winter as well. Despite ranking fourth in the American League in wRC+ in 2021, the offense had obvious needs: another corner outfield bat so that Andrew Vaughn could be a full-time DH; a second baseman; and additional depth to take into account the recent injury histories of Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert. Where stability was needed, the White Sox went with risk and thrift; AJ Pollock was excellent in 2021, but also 34 years old and with a long injury history, and second base was patched up on the cheap with Garcia and Josh Harrison. Outside of that, the team basically stood pat on the offensive side, because, after all, this team was good enough to win the Central by 13 games last year.

Without the good in-season minor league depth that other teams can tap into, and in the middle of their contention window, the White Sox had ample motivation to do as much as they could last winter to protect themselves from their risks. You don’t buy insurance for when everything’s going right. The situations with Jiménez, Moncada, Grandal, and now Anderson represent unexpected bad luck for Chicago. But if Fortune truly favors the bold, it’s no surprise why the White Sox appear to have been abandoned.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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MTFmember
1 month ago

Does LaRussa take the blame, does Hahn, or will both go?

sadtrombonemember
1 month ago
Reply to  MTF

Something tells me no one is going anywhere.

Psychic... Powerless...
1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yeah, Reinsdorf is loyal to a fault. And when TLR and Hahn do leave, the Sox are likely to go with internal replacements rather than conducting legitimate external searches.

Last edited 1 month ago by Psychic... Powerless...
Max Power
1 month ago

This org is like the Rockies but they play in an easier division and a bigger market, and managed to time a contention window when the rest of the division was in various down-cycles.

Philmember
1 month ago
Reply to  Max Power

Hey! The Rockies would never have traded away a possible HoF shortstop for James Shields.

Granted, that’s because they seem to regard trades as something only other teams can do – but the point still stands.

Another Old Guymember
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

I am not defending the trade (as it is hard to defend trading for Shields as his trend was very downhill by that point), but the White Sox were 29-27 and two games out of first place on June 4, 2016 when the trade was made. Why they could not have obtained a 40 FV or less prospect for him, I have no clue! Having said that, at that early point in his minor league career, Tatis was valued as a 50 FV prospect and not a 65 FV prospect as he was rated before his big league debut. It was still a poor trade, but it was less horrific considering the situation at the time it occurred.

Lanidrac
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

No, but the Rockies did trade away a possible HoF third baseman (and threw in $51M) for Austin Gomber and a bunch of lottery tickets.

Last edited 1 month ago by Lanidrac