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White Sox have nowhere to go but up

As the White Sox contemplate three losing seasons in a row for the first time since the late 1990s, and a ninth season in 10 without a postseason to follow, at least they know where the current problem lies.

They can’t hit.

They can’t field.

And they don’t run the bases all that well, either.

Other than that, there’s not much to clean up as they sort through yet another disappointing campaign that has one week to go.

It’s worth mentioning these last three seasons, all under fourth-year manager Robin Ventura who had a winner his first year (the 2012 team that flopped at the finish after being in first place for 117 days), are collectively 48 more games under .500 than the three consecutive losers of 1997 (80-81), 1998 (80-82) and 1999 (75-86), all of which could at least say they finished second in the AL Central.

The current Sox are in danger of finishing fifth, fourth and fifth in the division in the last three seasons.

These are dark times for the White Sox, with six losing seasons in the last nine. The last such sustained period of bad Sox baseball was a nine-year stretch from 1968-76 that included seven losing seasons.

This current bad period featured one playoff appearance in 2008, the only year that kept the Sox from being skunked since 2005. But even that was smeared by a 3 games to 1 series victory for the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.

Welcome to the smoldering age of White Sox baseball.

To be sure, this year’s team, brought to us with heightened expectations after free agents Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Zach Duke were signed and Jeff Samardzija was traded for in general manager Rick Hahn’s splashy offseason, has been a tough watch. According to FanGraphs’ in-depth metrics system for measuring player value and performance, the Sox rank 30th among 30 major league teams in defense and 30th in offense.

The man in the middle, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, ranks 19th among 21 at his position in defensive wins above replacement, Jose Abreu is 18th among 20 first basemen, Cabrera – thought to be an upgrade over Dayan Viciedo – is 14th among 15 left fielders, Adam Eaton is 20th of 22 center fielders and Avisail Garcia is 19th of 23 right fielders. Third baseman Conor Gillaspie (traded) and second baseman Micah Johnson (demoted to AAA) were Opening Day starters whose lacking defense played big over an 8-14 start.

If only the aforementioned defenders had been able to out-slug their weaknesses. But that was not to be for the Sox, who rank 12th among 15 AL teams in on-base percentage, 13th in homers and dead last in slugging, OPS and runs.

Combining all aspects of performance, FanGraphs rates Garcia, Cabrera and Ramirez last overall in WAR at their positions.

All of which makes the calm and collected Ventura, in a bad year to be managing across town from Joe Maddon, look bad to a beyond-frustrated fan base. Ventura and his coaching staff have another year left on their contracts, and while their players performed like guys who get their manager fired, the front office – while saying everybody is being evaluated and held accountable – seems to be leaning toward bringing Ventura back.

The bright side? Good and young left-handers Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon form what could be an excellent long-term core of a pitching staff, that with a decent bullpen, was good enough to win. Then again, that three-headed strength will be broken up if one is traded for desperately needed position player help this offseason.

Better luck this winter cleaning things up, Rick.