The Chicago White Sox have been rebuilding in recent years, and in this COVID-shortened season showed their great progress.
In many respects, this was a year of ‘almosts’ for the south siders. The Sox almost won the AL Central, finishing one game behind the Twins, after Chicago had spent the first three weeks of September in first place. They almost defeated the Athletics and advanced to the ALDS, but after taking the first game in a three-game set, they lost two straight to the A’s. The Sox almost had a winning record in one-run games, going 5-8 in their near-misses.
Let’s start with the good aspects of 2020. Chicago put up the second-best wRC+ in the American League, only behind the thumpin’ Yankees. They got solid production from nearly every spot in the lineup, led by Jose Abreu’s 19 home runs and .317 average.
Shortstop Tim Anderson continues to emerge as one of the cornerstones in Chicago’s lineup. The 27 year old has gotten better every year, this season picking up on the offense success he had over the last two years. Though he could stand to walk more, his .322/.357/.529 slash lin and 10 home runs in 49 games is quite an asset to have from a shortstop.
In his first year with the Sox, Yasmani Grandal was as-advertised behind the plate, and ended the season with a solid .351 OBP in large part to his excellent eye.
23-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez likely had a strong season, mashing 14 home runs in just 55 games, and posting a solid .296/.322/.559 slash line. His home run in game three of the wild card series with Oakland wasn’t enough to propel the Sox to the LDS, but it did demonstrate that he’s fully capable of helping carry an offense in elimination games.
On the other side of the ball, Lucas Giolito emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Not only did Giolito throw the first no-hitter of 2020, demonstrating how he can dominate a lineup, but his stats all season matched his stuff. Though Dallas Keuchel is not the MVP-caliber pitcher he once was, he’s still an effective starter.
Now, the downside.
The major problem this season was that despite the White Sox dominating bad teams (something good teams must do to succeed) they struggled mightily against good teams. Chicago went 18-2 against the Tigers and Royals, but against teams that finished the season over .500, they were a middling 12-19, including going 2-8 against division-rival Cleveland, and 5-5 against the Twins, who overtook them for the pennant in the last week of the season. Now, we all recognize that winning the division is pretty much pointless, and teams don’t really care about their seeding, but the larger point is that if Chicago is going to ascend to the upper-echelon of AL teams, they have to perform better against their inevitable playoff rivals.
On the offensive side, the Sox have some thumpers on offense, and overall finished with a strong wRC+, but this team does not walk very much at all. Their 7.9 percent walk rate was the worst walk-rate of any of the 16 playoff teams, much more aligned with the Pirates, Royals, and Rangers rather than their AL foes Yankees (best BB% in MLB at 11.4), A’s (second in the AL at 10.8) and Rays (right behind Oakland at 10.7).
Without Yasmani Grandal in the lineup every day, that number would be considerably lower.
Overall, there was a lot to like out of the White Sox this year. They are young, fun to watch, and very likely to be contenders in coming years. Considering they last made the postseason in 2008, this season is certainly a step-forward for a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for over a decade.