So Just How Much Better Are The White Sox?
|Photo credit: Chicago White Sox
With the signing of Austin Jackson I believe it's safe to assume that the White Sox offseason has come to an end. At least when it comes to making moves that will have a direct impact on the Major League roster.
It was certainly a strange offseason, as it lasted longer than any other in terms of building the team over the winter. The trade for Todd Frazier happened in mid-December, but it feels like a year and 15 transactions ago already.
Frazier, of course, was the biggest move Rick Hahn made during the offseason, and he didn't have to pay much of a price to get him. I mean, any time you can get an All-Star third baseman who not only plays excellent defense but has 30+ home run power, and all you do is give up a likely reliever, a fourth outfielder and a player without a position, it's hard to say no.
What the White Sox did not do, however, was make a huge splash in free agency. Instead they searched the Amazon Lightning Deals of the free agent market, bringing in Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro, Jimmy Rollins, Mat Latos and Austin Jackson on one-year deals. Combine those signings with the Frazier trade and the Brett Lawrie deal, and the Sox are certainly going to look a lot different this year.
Think about it. Assuming everybody's healthy, when Robin Ventura fills out the first lineup card of the 2016 season, odds are the only players on it who will have started on Opening Day of 2015 will be Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Adam LaRoche (or maybe Avisail Garcia) and Melky Cabrera.
But while the lineup will certainly look different, just how much of an improvement should we be expecting?
It's impossible to know, but I tried to figure it out in a way that's not exactly scientific, but provides a nice idea of what we're dealing with.
I looked at the fWAR the Sox compiled at catcher, second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield last season. Then I compared it to the projected fWAR the Sox are expected to get -- based on Steamer projections -- from the replacements at each position, and there's a marked improvement.
In 2015, the White Sox received 1.3 fWAR from their catchers, -1.2 fWAR at second, -1.3 fWAR at third, -0.5 fWAR at short and 3.2 fWAR from their outfielders. Do that math and that all adds up to 1.5 fWAR. From seven total positions in your every day lineup.
I can't figure out why the Sox sucked so bad last year!
Now, let's compare that to how Steamer projects things to go in 2016, and keep in mind that Steamer, by and large, is typically your pessimistic projection system.
Catcher (Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro): 2.2 fWAR.
Second base (Brett Lawrie): 1.4 fWAR.
Third base (Todd Frazier): 3.4 fWAR.
Shortstop (Jimmy Rollins): 0.9 fWAR.
Outfield (Eaton, Cabrera, Jackson): 4.0 fWAR.
Add it all up and you get 11.9 fWAR in 2016, or 10.4 more WAR from those positions than you had last year. Now, for a second, let's all pretend that WAR equates directly to a team's win total. If you add 10 wins to last year's team, suddenly the White Sox are 86-76 and competing for a Wild Card spot.
Of course it doesn't work that way, but still, it's fun to dream!
Also, I know that there are other factors not considered here as well. Jimmy Rollins isn't going to play every day at shortstop, as Tyler Saladino will likely get plenty of time, and who knows how that will affect the numbers, and the same goes with Avisail in the outfield.
Also, we really don't know what to expect out of the designated hitter in 2016, but given the versatility Robin Ventura now has with that spot, it's hard to imagine the production being worse.
So, at the end of the day, even if the White Sox didn't make the huge free agent splash, the smaller deals they did make, combined with the Todd Frazier acquisition, could make for a marked improvement in 2016.
I know it's hard to believe, but we have reason to be optimistic in 2016. No matter how unnatural that feels.