Thursday, February 14, 2013

Oh, Hi White Sox

In this series, I'm going to take a look at each of the Tigers' Central Division foes, focusing on the major changes that have been made to their rosters. This should serve to get all of us caught up on the differences we'll see between the 2012 and 2013 rosters. I'm going to go at it alphabetically, so we're starting with the bad guys in white: Chicago.

Position Players
Adding: Jeff Keppinger, 3B
Losing: A.J. Pierzynski, C, Kevin Youkilis, 3B

The White Sox of 2013 are going to look a lot like the White Sox of 2012. If you go around the field and look at the position players, they figure to have the same starters as last year in seven of nine spots. The changes figure to be at third base and catcher and they will likely come with mixed results.

The good change will come at third base. The Sox third basemen last year combined to hit .201/.286/.314, despite Kevin Youkilis coming in after a trade and pulling those numbers up by hitting .230/.335/.410. Not exactly vintage Youk, but I'm sure it was a welcome change from what their other contributors at the hot corner chipped in.

In 2013, they're hoping Jeff Keppinger will be the one to step in and solidify the position. Keppinger hit .325/.367/.439 for the Rays last season and was their main replacement for Longoria at third base. Even with those solid numbers, though, he only started 104 games. Despite this being his age 33 season, he's only had more than 100 starts in a season three times. He's also never played more than 67 games at third base, having spent more time at each of the middle infield spots. Given those facts, it will be interesting to see how he holds up in a full-time role. Outpacing the Sox third base production will be pretty easy, but expecting anything like his 2012 production would be foolish.

Behind the plate, the Sox will be trying to replace a much more familiar face - A.J. Pierzynski. He won't be missed by Tiger fans, both because he's probably one of their most hated players and because he had a very good season last year. His line of .278/.326/.501 was the best of his career and also the first time he cleared .500 for his slugging percentage. Trying to reproduce those kind of numbers will be a stretch for his replacements, but it would have been a similar stretch for Pierzynski himself. His 2012 was markedly better than any season he's had since way back in 2003.

The task of trying to duplicate that production will fall to Tyler Flowers and Hector Gimenez. Flowers seems like he's been around forever as a catching prospect for the Sox, but at 27 he's still not put in the equivalent of a full season in the majors. He was a good offensive catcher in the minors, but in the majors he's been a low average guy (.205 hitter so far) who's walked enough and shown enough power to stay useful. The Sox will have to hope starting suits him. His backup, Gimenez, has a grand total of 20 major league plate appearances at the tender age of 30. I don't mean to dismiss him, though. He's shown a good bat in the minors, even if most of that success came at the Double A level. Together, I'd expect these two to put together something, in terms of overall production, that looks a lot more like Pierzynski's seasons between 2004 and 2011. The Sox would be happy with that, I'm sure.

Before we switch over to the pitching, let me just say I'd expect the White Sox offense as a whole to take a step backward this year. This is not a young lineup they've mostly stayed pat with. Where as a new year brings new hope for the young guys like Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo, it's another year for guys like Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn to lose a little more speed in their bats.

Adding: John Danks (kind of, as he was injured most of 2012), SP , Matt Lindstrom, RP
Losing: Francisco Liriano, SP, Brett Myers, RP 

If I'm right about the Chicago run production, their pitching may very well be up to the task of picking up the slack. They're returning their top three starters from last year, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale and Gavin Floyd. In the fourth spot, they're hoping to have John Danks back. He pitched his last game in 2012 on May 19th, but had been a very solid starter for the Sox in the years before his five year, $65 million contract. I'm not doing anything stupid like accusing him of taking the money and running. I'm just pointing out how big contracts to pitchers should come with lots of Tums. Or does baseball still prefer Rolaids?

In the fifth spot, the Sox may turn to Jose Quintana again. He was the team's de facto fourth starter last year and turned in a very solid 3.76 ERA in 136.1 innings, despite peripheral numbers that suggest he should have allowed more runs. Another possibility for that fifth spot is Hector Santiago, last year's failed closer experiment. He did some starting late last season and there seems to be talk of him being in a competition with Quintana. Regardless of whether it's Quintana or Santiago, Danks and the fifth starter seems like an improvement for the Sox in 2013. In 2012, Quintana was fine but Philip Humber and Francisco Liriano were a little shaky as the Sox looked for somebody to round out the rotation.

In the bullpen, the Sox seem like they're going to stick with the same guys for the most part. There's not much reason to change when you consider the seasons they got from guys like their eventual closer Addison Reed, Matt Thornton, Nate Jones, and Jesse Crain. They'll hope for the same reliability from that group and also hope that adding Matt Lindstrom to the mix will make that pen even tougher to score on late. He's been good the last couple years, turning in a 2.85 ERA in a hair over 100 innings.


Without doing the math, I get the feeling the overall difference from last year to this will be something of a push. Gains at third base, but a likely loss in production at catcher. Likely an overall step backward from the lineup but a pitching staff that's deeper and could easily offset those losses. Heading into the season, I'd expect that push and pull to land them right back between 80-85 wins. As Tiger fans, let's hope that just puts them in a compelling race for second.

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