Part of the '3.9 crew': Jay warms up before one of the few games he actually played in during 2019. (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)
Though the 2019 White Sox season had some good, there was also plenty of bad to talk about.
In Year 3 of the rebuild, in what was undoubtedly the worst division in baseball, the White Sox only managed 72 wins. The AL Central had one of the worst teams in the history of baseball, the 114-loss Tigers, and a terrible, 103-loss Royals team. Cleveland finished with 93 wins, but they were wounded this year, and feasted on Detroit and Kansas City. The Twins were legitimate, but how much of their success was real, and how much was weak competition?
The fact is, the White Sox should've been better in 2019, especially with the performances the top half of this roster provided. But as the case has been for quite a while now, the front office just can't seem to stop tripping over itself. Here's how.
Notable offseason additions for the Sox included trading for Manny Bañuelos, Yonder Alonso, Alex Colomé, and Iván Nova, and signing Jon Jay, James McCann, and Kelvin Herrera. Last but not least, the White Sox picked up A.J Reed over the All Star break.
The combined bWAR of those eight players was 3.9. It bears repeating: The combined bWAR of those eight players was 3.9!!!!!
To have eight players added to a team only produce 3.9 WAR is an unmitigated disaster! Sure, McCann was a pretty nice find. He had a career year in 2019, but basically disappeared in the second half of the season. I'd bet on him returning to his career norms. Colomé had a pretty good year, but seems to have had some good luck contribute to his results. Nova was average to slightly-above average, but was a disaster early in the season.
The rest of the additions were hot garbage, and there's really no way to argue otherwise. The White Sox spent approximately $40 million on those eight players in 2019.
Manny Machado had a 3.3 bWAR by himself, and signed for $30 million per year. Bryce Harper was a 4.2 bWAR player in 2019, and signed for about $25 million per season. The position Harper plays is a black hole for the Sox, and now they're in desperate need for someone exactly like him.
For the fans that want to argue that it's still early in the rebuild, and the White Sox weren't supposed to win yet, fine. So they are still in building mode? If they are, shouldn't their pro scouting be able to net them better major league players, so they can trade them midseason for minor league depth, or become long term contributors to the big league club? The minor league system is very top-heavy right now, and better offseason additions would've been helpful to help supplant that talent.
The truth is, this issue is nothing new. The Sox have had a terrible time identifying even average major league talent in trades and free agency going on a decade now. It's fiscally responsible to shop for the best players when they're available, as opposed to shopping for quantity in the bargain bin. There's a reason the lower-end players are available, and in terms of value and sunk cost, they end up costing a team more in the long run. Collectively, they contribute less positive results on the field than the more expensive players do. Even with some of the high-end talent the Sox have in house, it will be very difficult building a perennial contender if they don't fix these scouting problems, and the 2020 offseason is quickly approaching. Remember, "the money will be spent."
The White Sox are a team that has been plagued by a lack of on-base prowess for quite a while now. Most of the players on the team have an overly-aggressive approach at the plate that repeatedly gets exploited by opposing pitchers, leading to high strikeout rates, a lack of power, a lack of walks, and fewer runs scored overall. Opposing pitchers aren't forced to throw strikes against the Sox, and the fewer strikes they have to throw, the less they have to use the middle of the plate, where hitters do most of their damage.
This is why the Sox parted ways with former hitting coach Todd Steverson, and hired Frank Menechino in his place. The on-base problems may be coaching issues, scouting issues, or a combination of the two. Consider that the White Sox were 23rd in the baseball with a .314 OBP (13th in the AL), 24th in OPS at .728 (12th), 24th in runs scored with 708 (13th), 25th in dingers with 182 (13th), 30th in walks with 378 (15th) ... you get the idea. Only Arizona, Boston, Miami, and the Mets hit more ground balls than the White Sox. They were also 29th in baseball with 462 extra base hits.
It's important to do as much damage at the plate as possible in today's game, but when you are constantly giving up outs by bunting, runs become even more scarce. The Sox had three players in the top six in sacrifice bunts in 2019: Leury García led the A.L with 11, Yolmer Sánchez was tied for third with 7, and part-time player Ryan Cordell was tied for sixth with 6.
This is too much bunting. If the team is to get into the upper echelon of the league in scoring runs, the bunting has to stop, period. What plagued the 2019 White Sox on offense is equal parts philosophy, scouting/talent evaluation, and approach from the individual players.
Make no mistake; This isn't an easy problem to fix. It's not as simple as adding Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. The front office has to find better players in free agency, trades, and the players that are already here have to improve.
Obviously, injuries really hurt the White Sox starting pitching depth. Losing Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning, and Jimmy Lambert to Tommy John surgery were big blows to the staff and its depth. There was a dose of bad luck that struck the White Sox in 2019, but good teams largely have the depth to survive the bad luck (and only Rodón's midseason injury should have thrown the major league rotation into a lurch).
The problem with the rotation is that other than Lucas Giolito, nobody else on the staff really shined. Nova had some good moments, as did Reynaldo López,, but both were inconsistent throughout the year. They each had disastrous stretches of the season, with Reylo's being more concerning.
Reylo certainly looked like a pretty good prospect with a live arm, but he hasn't established any above average secondary pitches. His pitches have good velocity, but hitters can catch up to that velocity when they know they can just spit on the secondary offerings. There's too much hard contact, too many walks, too many fly balls, and not enough missed bats (5.38 ERA, 184 innings, 169 strikeouts, 203 hits, 35 dingers allowed, and 65 walks). At times, Reylo battled with his command and seemed to lose his focus. Time is running out for him to be a success as a starting pitcher, and the Sox aren't in development mode any longer. It's either Reylo steps up his game in 2020, or it's time for a change either to the bullpen or into trade bait.
Dylan Cease deserves time to develop and has good stuff, but why oh why can't any White Sox prospects come up and light the world on fire immediately? Walks plagued Cease in his rookie campaign, but he has great breaking stuff, and a very good fastball. Can he develop a changeup and improve his command in his sophomore season? Only time will tell.
What there's no excuse for, is the ridiculous lack of options the Sox had in terms of starting pitching depth in 2019. They literally ran out of major league-capable starting pitching. Bad player evaluation is what nets you Erving Santana (9.45 ERA), Bañuelos (6.93 ERA), Odrisamer Despaigne (9.45 ERA), Dylan Covey (7.98 ERA), Ross Detwiler (6.59 ERA), Carson Fulmer (2015 8th pick, 6.26 ERA), and Hector Santiago (6.66 ERA). Maybe a couple of those guys deserved a look and a chance in 2019, but what in the hell did anyone learn from starting Santana, Santiago, Despaigne, Detwiler, and Covey 32 times? This is completely inexcusable from a front office that has to find a way to scramble for better back-up plans.
Diamonds in the rough are essential for successful rebuilds. So far it's just been charlatans.