A year ago, the Chicago White Sox slogged through an 81-81 season that was deeply disappointing given preseason expectations and their AL Central title in 2021. The hope was that the ChiSox would recover in 2023 and compete for a division title. Instead, Chicago is 7-17 and has lost six games in a row. They have the third worst record and fourth worst run difference (minus-41) in baseball.
“You should know I’m not in a good place right now. I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried,” said Kenny Williams, executive vice president of the White Sox. Chicago Sun Times earlier this week. “But this is where we are. And I’m not too comfortable being around right now, but you’re trying to get perspective. We’ve got (138) games and 5 1/2 months to go (seven games in the division If we are who we think we are, we will look back on this as a good test of character and drive.”
Tuesday’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays (TOR 7, CWS 0) was the season in a nutshell. Mike Clevinger was hit hard (the White Sox have the sixth-highest rotational ERA in baseball), while the offense yielded only four hits (eighth-lowest slugging percentage) and one walk (third-lowest on-base percentage). Chicago also has the second highest pursuit rate. This team swings a lot of.
The White Sox have some injuries, namely Tim Anderson (knee) and Yoan Moncada (back), and of course. However, injuries alone are not enough to explain the 7-17 start. Here’s a look at what went wrong for the White Sox and what could come next.
1. Jiménez and Robert don’t hit
When the ChiSox allowed stalwart José Abreu to leave as a free agent, they relinquished the center of the lineup to Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert. Both had strong but injury-interrupted seasons a year ago and were expected to take another step forward this year and become bona fide stars. It has not (yet) happened. Jiménez and Robert both started slowly.
Strikeout percentages that are high and slashes that are low equate to a lot of unproductive at bats. Robert has batted second more often than not, and Jiménez is the club’s regular hitter, so they occupied prominent lineup spots, and yet were comfortably below average at the plate. If two of your best players don’t contribute, you’re going to lose. That’s how it usually goes.
To be fair, Robert has played a spectacular midfield in the first month of the season. He leads baseball with seven defensive runs saved and he took a home run away from Matt Chapman earlier in the week.
Robert has not been a zero thanks to his glove. However, Jiménez is essentially a full-time DH, and a DH that hits like that is how you end up with minus-0.2 WAR in just 66 at bats. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s only minus 0.2 WAR. It feels like the damage could be worse. The bottom line is that these two core players have started the record quite slowly.
2. The new additions haven’t done much
Andrew Benintendi hits .294/.348/.353 so far which is the most Andrew Benintendi line Andrew Benintendied ever had. Not great, not terrible, just fine. Are fine. Benintendi is a singles batter and sometimes walker, which is exactly what he has given the White Sox since he signed his five-year, $75 million contract. Singles and single walks for relatively low impact 96 OPS+.
Rookie right fielder Oscar Colás took the club out of spring training and he has some growing pains (.219/.286/.281), which is to be expected. Not every talented young player gets off the ground and produces right away. Still, Colás is in the lineup just about every game, so if he’s not batting yet, it’s a hindrance to the offense in general.
In five starts, Clevinger has had two good outings and three less good outings, and the .266/.366/.426 opponent’s batting line with nearly as many walks (14) and strikeouts (18) in 24 1/3 innings suggest that things can get worse before they get better. The underlying numbers (FIP, xERA, etc.) indicate that he should have an ERA closer to 6.00 than his current 4.81.
Benintendi and Clevinger were Chicago’s two notable new players and Colás is the top prospect to make the jump to the big league-lineup. There is still plenty of season to play. So far these three haven’t moved the needle much, though, and with Jiménez and Robert failing to bat and Lance Lynn and Michael Kopech throwing poorly, their lack of impact is more acute.
3. They keep blowing leads
In their 17 losses, the White Sox have lost a four-run lead, four three-run leads, two two-run leads, and two one-run leads. They led in nine of 17 losses and led by several runs in seven of 17 losses. And not all of these inflated leads are on the bullpen. On several occasions, the starter let things slip in the middle innings. Sometimes even in the early innings.
Chicago’s pitching staff has 19 meltdowns, which are pitching appearances that reduce the team’s chance of winning by at least 6%. Only theOakland Athletics has more. Even if the offense isn’t great, the White Sox have had clues! The pitching staff just isn’t going to keep those leads afloat. Protect four of those seven blown multi-run leads and we’re talking an 11-13 team instead of a 7-17 team. 11-13 isn’t great, but it’s much tastier than 7-17.
Can they sell on the deadline?
According to SportsLine, the White Sox have seen their postseason odds fall from 22.0% on Opening Day to 19.3% on April 26. FanGraphs has a much harsher rating: 30.5% on Opening Day to 7.1% on April 26. With 138 games left and six postseason spots per league, it’s way too early to throw in the towel on the 2023 White Sox, even with a 7-17 record.
But if things don’t improve between now and July, yes, selling by the deadline will have to be a consideration. Lucas Giolito, Yasmani Grandal and Reynaldo López are pure rentals. Lynn has an $18 million club option for 2024. Aaron Bummer and Kendall Graveman are signed until 2024 at affordable salaries. There are some quality players to shop here.
Selling on the trade deadline doesn’t have to mean starting over either. It could be a retool in view of 2024 when guys like Anderson, Benintendi, Colás, Jiménez, Robert and Dylan Cease will still be around and in their primes. The New York Yankees sold on the 2016 trade deadline and went to the ALCS in 2017. That could be the model the White Sox are trying to follow.
Is Hahn’s job safe?
This is a results based business and the fact of the matter is that in the 10 full seasons since Rick Hahn was promoted to GM, the White Sox have only made the postseason twice, and one of the two was the 60-game pandemic season . in 2020. Hahn led the ChiSox through their firesale a few years ago (Chris Sale, José Quintana, etc.) and the result is this. It’s not great.
Another postseason-less season could lead to a front office change on the South Side, especially if the White Sox finish well below .500. If they fall a game or two short before the postseason, Hahn may be safe. But things are approaching the point where someone will be scapegoated, and it’s unlikely to be freshman manager Pedro Grifol. It then appears that Hahn could be in jeopardy if the ChiSox continue this slow start and once again fall far short of expectations.