The White Sox Are Utterly Terrible

Dylan Cease Andrew Vaughn
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Say this for the White Sox: They scored runs on Thursday. Sure, they were thrashed 14–5 by the Rays, which extended their losing streak to eight games, but they ended their scoreless streak at 25 innings, scored more runs than they had in the previous four games (three), and matched their total of hits from the previous three games (11). When you’ve lost 13 out of your last 15 games, this counts as progress.

Chicago’s current skid has dropped the team’s record to 7–19, the third-worst in the majors. There’s no ambiguity about whether the White Sox are bad: they also have the third-worst run differential and projected winning percentage, according to both PythagenPat and BaseRuns:

White Sox via Projected Standings
Team W L Win% Rdif RS/G RA/G Pyth Win% BaseRuns Win%
Athletics 5 21 .192 -113 3.81 8.15 .175 .231
Royals 6 20 .231 -59 3.19 5.46 .269 .286
White Sox 7 19 .269 -58 3.88 6.12 .293 .292

In the words of James Brown, “People, it’s bad.”

This was supposed to be a better team, competitive in the AL Central if not a juggernaut. Under new manager Pedro Grifol, who replaced the retired Tony La Russa after the team declined from 93 wins and the division title in 2021 to 81 wins last year, the White Sox were forecast for about 80 wins via our preseason Playoff Odds, albeit with a 30.5% chance of making the postseason. To date, however, no team’s preseason odds have plummeted further:

White Sox Change in Playoff Odds
Date Proj W Proj L Proj Win% GB Win Div Clinch Bye Clinch WC Playoffs Win WS
Preaseason 79.7 82.3 .492 2.9 21.4% 6.3% 9.1% 30.5% 0.9%
Thru 4/27 72.9 89.1 .484 13.4 3.2% 0.2% 1.3% 4.5% 0.1%
Change -6.8 +6.8 -.008 +10.5 -18.2% -6.1% -7.8% -26.0% -0.8%

Of the other 29 teams, only the Cardinals (down 25.3%, from 67.4% to 42.1%) and Mariners (down 23.8%, from 40.5% to 16.7%) have fallen nearly as far, but both are at least still in double-digit territory. Not so the White Sox.

As you can surmise from that first table, the White Sox have major issues on both sides of the ball. Through Thursday, their 3.88 runs per game and .373 slugging percentage both ranked 11th in the AL, their .289 on-base percentage and 84 wRC+ 13th, and their 6.6% walk rate 14th. They’ve scored three or fewer runs in 14 of their 26 games; only twice during this losing streak have they scored more than three. Thursday’s loss broke a five-game streak in which they collected five or fewer hits and a four-game streak in which they collected four or fewer; over the latter stretch, they totaled just six runs, batting .122/.175/.199.

To be fair, injuries have played a significant part in the offense’s woes. Eloy Jiménez, Tim Anderson, and Yoán Moncada have all spent time on the injured list this month, an all-too-familiar situation given that the trio totaled just 267 games last year. Jiménez missed eight games after suffering a low-grade left hamstring strain; last year, he missed 65 games from late April to early July after tearing a hamstring tendon in his right knee, though when he did play, his 144 wRC+ led the team. This year, the 26-year-old slugger has yet to get it going, batting just .174/.240/.304 (51 wRC+) in 75 PA. His 42.3% chase rate, 19.8% swinging-strike rate and 30.7% strikeout rate are all well above career norms, a pattern that strongly suggests a hitter who’s pressing.

Anderson, whose 2022 season ended last August when he tore ligaments in his left middle finger, was hitting .298/.327/.404 through his first 11 games before spraining his left knee on April 10. The good news is that he’s heading for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte this weekend. Moncada, who was limited to 104 games and a 76 wRC+ last year by three separate trips to the IL (strains of the oblique and both hamstrings), started out hot, hitting .308/.325/.564 with a pair of homers through his first nine games. He hasn’t played since April 9, though, due to what was initially termed lower back soreness but has since been diagnosed as a protruding disc that’s impinging upon a nerve. While he has increased his level of activity in recent days, he’s not yet ready to start a rehab assignment. The possibility of offseason surgery looms, though the odds still favor avoiding it. Via the Chicago Sun Times‘ Daryl Van Schouwen:

“My understanding medically is that about 80% of them, they’re able to calm down naturally, and then you go on with your life,” [general manager Rick] Hahn said. “And then about maybe two out of every 10, you have to have some sort of intervention in the offseason. It’s trending the right way right now. Hopefully he continues to progress over these seven or eight days and will have an assignment soon after.”

Even if one accounts for the aforementioned injuries, only two of the team’s top seven players in terms of plate appearances — everybody with 60 or more — have a wRC+ of 100 or better: Yasmani Grandal (120 in a welcome bounceback from last year) and Andrew Vaughn (100), though the latter has fallen far short of the 137 wRC+ put up by José Abreu, who departed via free agency. Letting Abreu go doesn’t look like the worst idea given that he’s 36 and has just a 54 wRC+ with the Astros so far, but Andrew Benintendi, Chicago’s big free-agent addition — his five-year, $75 million deal represented the largest guaranteed contract in club history — has hit a thin .283/.333/.337 (88 wRC+). Luis Robert Jr. has been underwhelming (.223/.252/.427, 80 wRC+). Elvis Andrus, re-signed in late February, has been sub-replacement level (.187/.250/.220, 31 wRC+), as has rookie Oscar Colás (.221/.284/.294, 64 wRC+). Part-time infielders Lenyn Sosa and Romy Gonzalez have combined for 78 PA; the former has a 1 wRC+, the latter -6. Somebody open a window, please.

The White Sox can’t even point to a lack of luck — an abundance of hard-hit balls that aren’t turning into hits — in accounting for their offensive struggles. On a team-wide basis, their 6.9% barrel rate is 21st in the majors, but their 87.5 mph average exit velocity and 34% hard-hit rate both rank among the bottom six teams. Their .362 xSLG is 28th, three points below their actual SLG, and their .287 xwOBA is dead last, two points below their actual wOBA. Individually, only Anderson, Vaughn, third base fill-in Jake Burger, and part-timer Gavin Sheets have xwOBAs above .291. A terrible performance deserves a terrible joke: This team is xwOBAgone.

If all of the team’s problems could be laid at the feet of the offense, that would be one thing, but relative to the major league average scoring rate of 4.56 runs per game, the White Sox have been further off the mark in terms of run prevention, giving up a ghastly 6.12 runs per game; only the A’s have been worse. Their rotation, which placed 15th in our preseason Positional Power Rankings and has gotten all 26 starts from the projected starting five, is third-to-last in the AL in ERA (5.55), FIP (5.37), and HR/9 (1.67), and in a virtual tie for last in walk rate (10.4%).

Individually, Dylan Cease (4.15 ERA, 4.08 FIP) and Lucas Giolito (4.50 ERA, 4.28 FIP) have both pitched respectably, and the team is 5–6 in their starts, in part because both pitchers have been backed with more than four runs per game. Giolito is the only one of the quintet with a single-digit walk rate (5%), and his fluffed-up ERA is largely a product of allowing seven of his 14 earned runs to the red-hot Pirates in a four-inning start on April 7. Cease is walking 10.6% of hitters and has been pulled after four-plus innings in each of his last two starts; he’s allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in eight innings in those turns, both against Tampa Bay, and they’ve more than doubled his ERA.

As for the others, both Lance Lynn (7.52 ERA, 5.97 FIP) and Michael Kopech (7.01 ERA, 7.40 FIP) have been dreadful, and Mike Clevinger (4.81 ERA, 5.45 FIP) merely bad; the team is 2–13 in their starts. Kopech has been rocked for a 9.88 xERA, the majors’ highest mark of any pitcher with at least 20 innings, and among that set only Ken Waldichuk has a higher FIP or home run rate than his 2.81 per nine. Pour a 13.4% walk rate all over his 93 mph average exit velo, 20.3% barrel rate, and 58.1% hard-hit rate, and you’ve got an open-and-shut case of arson. Lynn’s 2.39 homers per nine, 10.5% walk rate, and 6.40 xERA look good only by comparison. Clevinger isn’t missing bats; his 6.8% swinging-strike rate is well below his career mark (12%) or even last year’s post-Tommy John surgery mark (10.6%). His 16.1% strikeout rate, meanwhile, is 9.3 points below his career mark and 2.7 points below last year, and he’s walking 12.5% of hitters.

Speaking broadly, with this group it comes down to location, location, location. Collectively, this quintet’s 104 Stuff+ score is the fifth-best in the AL, but their 99 Location+ is 13th, and they’re below 100 in that department in every offering but four-seam (100) and cutter (110), the last of which is almost entirely Lynn’s doing — and his Stuff+ score for the pitch is just 91.

The starters have been bad, but at least they’ve absorbed innings; the food is terrible but the portions generous. The unit’s 5.2 innings per turn (that’s decimal, not 5 2/3) is right at the league average, a blessing when it comes to a bullpen with a 6.06 ERA (14th in the AL), 4.76 FIP (13th), and 12.2% walk rate (13th). At least some of the problem can be explained by the loss of Liam Hendriks, who underwent chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and thankfully was declared cancer-free last week; he’s hoping to be cleared to start a rehab assignment soon, with a return later in May. That doesn’t explain why the normally reliable Aaron Bummer, Jake Diekman, Kendall Graveman, and Reynaldo López have pitched badly, with ERAs of 4.66 or higher, and both Diekman and López above 7.00. The latter, the team’s fill-in closer in Hendriks’ absence, has allowed four homers in 10.2 innings and is 3-for-5 in save opportunities, though one of his two blown saves was in the seventh inning; the other was a grisly April 21 loss to the Rays in which he blew a two-run lead by serving up homers to Christian Bethancourt and Brandon Lowe, the latter a two-run walk-off. How bad are things? Only one other time has the team even had a save opportunity to blow, and that was in the seventh inning of their second game of the season.

The returns of Hendriks and Garrett Crochet, the latter from Tommy John surgery, should both help the bullpen. The White Sox hope that Joe Kelly, who was activated earlier this week after missing two weeks due to a groin stain, can help as well, though his 6.42 ERA and 12.8% walk rate since donning the Pale Hose last year doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

It’s fair to wonder if Grifol, a first-time manager, is in over his head, but Hahn has already stepped forward to claim responsibility. “Put it on me… That’s the job. That’s the absolute gig,” he told reporters earlier this week. “I’ll tell you this — and let’s make it real clear — it sure as heck isn’t on Pedro [Grifol] and his coaching staff.”

Certainly, one can point to the Benintendi and Clevinger signings — the latter punctuated by a domestic violence investigation (though he was cleared) — at the expense of other potential moves as one facet of the team’s woes. Likewise the farm system, which ranked dead last last year according to both us and Baseball America’s organizational rankings and is only up to 23rd in the former and 28th in the latter this year. A lot of this comes back to ownership as well, as the team’s Opening Day payroll was down over $12 million relative to last year ($181.2 million versus $193.4 million), admittedly after increasing by $65 million the year before.

Already the vultures are circling, the possibility of a sell-off looming. Among the pending free agents (Giolito, Grandal, Andrus, Clevinger, López, and Keynan Middleton), only the first two would bring back much value given their current performances. Among those with club options (Anderson, Graveman, Hendriks, and Lynn), Chicago could get more, but trading its star shortstop and closer would both be unpopular moves that would hardly solve all the ills.

At some point, this team figures to improve upon this miserable early-season performance; nobody is as bad as they look during a losing streak. Still, it’s looking like it could be a long summer on the South Side.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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9 months ago

The way White Sox management has messed up their contention window has to be seen to be believed. If the Sox hadn’t made that incredible run in ’05, this team would be looked at as the AL Rockies.

9 months ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

The Rockies are horrendous, but competing against the Dodgers, Giants, and now Padres is a tall task. The Sox divisional rivals are all small market teams.

Max Power
9 months ago
Reply to  kipsooth

And playing at altitude is hard, maybe impossible, to figure out. That doesn’t mean the Rockies are smart, but there are far smarter people who still wouldn’t be able to figure it out.

9 months ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

yeah their ownership/FO doesn’t seem to get nearly the criticism they deserve

Last edited 9 months ago by diamonddores
9 months ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

It’s not because of that. The Rockies were also good from 2007-2010. The difference is that the White Sox seemed like they had executed a rebuild after doing very well in 2020 and 2021, and even last year they weren’t bad. That kind of wiped the slate clean. But if this is the new normal for the White Sox, they’re not going to escape it this time around.

9 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It is the complete disintegration of a team that most thought was on the rise that is so confounding. In 2022 the White Sox were a prohibitive favorite to win the AL Central and were seen as the season’s biggest disappointment but were still seen as legitimate contenders in 2023.The offense has been a disaster. Why, perhaps because not a single one of their touted hitters has amounted to much. Robert, Jimenez, Vaughn and, especially, Moncada have been shown to be far less than was advertised. The addition of Benintendi, who is the definition of an empty batting average, hasn’t helped. Kopech is another disappointment. Lynn, a huge man, showed signs of aging last year and looks cooked. Summarizing, it looks like this entire group was simply overrated.