On one side, we have the lofty, jubilant, probably a bit over-the-skis notion that the White Sox will be a World Series team in 2021. On the other, we have that mean, old PECOTA, a heartless algorithm that predicts the Sox will go 83.1-78.9 this season and finish third in the American League Central.
The true believers over here, wafting through life on a buzz strong enough to last through October and the accompanying championship parade.
PECOTA over there, not knowing its butt from its elbow, possibly because it has neither.
So which is it?
The safe bet would be somewhere in the middle, maybe 87 victories and a second consecutive wild-card berth. But that’s like ordering a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. There’s no risk and not much of an epicurean reward.
If we’re dealing in possibility — and what else is the beginning of a baseball season but hope and possibility? — these Sox remind me of the 2015 Cubs. I know there are Sox fans who hate whenever their team is mentioned in the context of the crosstown rival Cubs, but bear with me. It’s an excellent context with which to be associated. Those Cubs surprised everybody by going 97-65 and making it to the National League Championship Series. The Mets swept them, but the Cubs’ young core learned valuable lessons, which they used to win the World Series the next season.
That’s how this Sox team feels right now . . . poised to be really, really good but not quite sure yet how to take full advantage of their talent. The only way to get experience is to get experience. It’s a pitch-and-Catch-22.
I’m not saying the Sox are a 97-victory team the way the Cubs ended up being in 2015, though it’s worth noting that exactly nobody predicted the North Siders would win that many games before the season began. But I am saying that the Sox seem to be in mid-progression here, and how high they end up this season depends on your level of belief right now. Mine is about as high as a Luis Robert home run.
If you Sox fans refuse to use the Cubs as a comparison, look to the Bulls of the late 1980s for inspiration. They twice lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Pistons before finally pushing through and winning their first NBA title in 1991. Better? I thought you’d think so.
The Sox don’t have a Michael Jordan, of course, but they do have an excellent collection of young talent that, together, should be formidable. It doesn’t take hallucinogens to see them in the ALCS or beyond this season. The doubters will say that the Twins are going to be very good again this season, and they’ll get no argument here. But the additions that Sox general manager Rick Hahn made during the offseason — starter Lance Lynn and closer Liam Hendriks — should help the club, which finished a game behind the Twins last season.
I keep looking at the Sox’ roster and see an energy, a force. Jose Abreu. Tim Anderson. Robert. Eloy Jimenez. Lucas Giolito. Dallas Keuchel. Yasmani Grandal. Nick Madrigal.
When you have that many players with ability, it doesn’t make a team slump-proof, but it should, in theory, take away the long losing streaks that make clubs question the meaning of life — and not in a good way. It certainly will help when injuries arrive, and they will.
PECOTA is Baseball Prospectus’ analytical system of predicting performance. When spitting out its so-so prediction for the Sox, it obviously is leaving plenty of room for a drop-off from some of the young players who performed well in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But what about the possibility of 25-year-old pitcher Dylan Cease taking a big leap in his third season? Or Yoan Moncada bouncing back in a big way from a tough season in which he hit .225 and had only six homers?
While we’re on the subject of PECOTA, what kind of thing predicts a record of 83.1-78.9? Not a human. Not a sports fan.
New manager Tony La Russa is one of the wild cards for the Sox. No one knows how the 76-year-old will relate to the players or how they’ll react to him. In some ways, he’s about as old-school as Oxford. No one knows what his effect will be on the Sox’ victory total in 2021, but baseball fans know he has won three World Series as an innovative manager.
Maybe an algorithm is equipped to know all the answers. For those of us with flesh and blood and a hunch, we’ll just have to wait and see.But I’m predicting 92 victories for the Sox. Maybe even 92.3.