Following sports news over the past months means hearing the same debates over and over. A common one in MLB circles is whether the Chicago White Sox are a good sleeper pick for 2020. Pick the White Sox! They’re my sleeper! That young core? They’re going all the way this year!
The Sox have become an ever-dangerous “popular sleeper” – a mediocre team so popular that only the first wave of bettors get a good value and favorable lines. When the entire betting public is leaning one direction, it’s best to swerve and avoid.
Why is everyone hot on the Sox right now? What makes them so special? I was wondering this myself so I did a little research to figure out what makes the White Sox such a popular sleeper pick.
White Sox Returning Players
The White Sox are returning a young, exciting core of players including outfielder Eloy Jimenez, shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoan Moncada, and Opening Day starting pitcher Lucas Giolito.
Eloy Jimenez – OF – White Sox
Most teams would trade just about anyone for Eloy Jimenez right now. The 23-year old outfielder was a top-3 prospect in baseball and is coming off a very impressive rookie 2019 season.
A big boy at 6’4 205, Eloy was graded an 80 in raw power – the highest grade available and the only time I’ve seen a prospect graded 80 in anything. Even Polar Bear Pete Alonso was not graded an 80 in raw power, and he hit 53 taters last year.
Jimenez is not a speed demon, but he won’t clog the bases. He can score from 1st on a double and go 1st-to-3rd in the right situations. Jimenez possesses a plus arm from the outfield, too – graded a 60.
The batting average was not quite there at .267 for Jimenez in 2019, but he hit 31 bombs and drove in 79 runs over a full season of work.
Eloy Jimenez was the top prospect in baseball before Little Vlad and Tatis Jr overtook him. The Sox are hoping 2019 was the beginning of a 500-homerun career for the big righty.
Yoan Moncada – 3B – White Sox
Yoan Moncada was once the White Sox’ prize prospect, but with 2 full seasons under his belt at 25 years old, the Cuban is now one of the older presences in the clubhouse.
Moncada powered through a brutal 2018 season and bounced back in a major way with an excellent 2019 campaign that reminded everyone why Moncada was once considered a surefire, can’t-miss prospect.
Moncada raised his batting average 80 points in 2019 – from .235 to .315. He also increased his homerun count from 17 to 25. Moncada was more productive at the plate, too, driving in 79 runs in 2019 compared to 61 in 2018.
Moncada’s strikeout rate dropped from a scary 33.4% in 2018 to a more manageable 27.5% in 2019. The youngster also began to shine on the defensive side of the ball, switching over to third base in 2019 after coming through the minors as a second baseman and playing there in the Bigs in 2018. Moncada posted a negative Def in 2018 but made great strides, posting a 6.1 Def in 2019 – fifth among third baseman and top-30 overall.
A kicker on Moncada’s 2019 improvement is that he batted 89 fewer times in 2019 and still eclipsed his numbers.
Blessed with great speed, Moncada also increased his stolen base success rate from 66% to 77% in 2019. The White Sox are hoping Moncada will be a perennial 30-30 threat.
Tim Anderson – SS – White Sox
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson had an amazing offensive 2019 season. Anderson had never been considered much of a hitter before the season and suddenly found himself on top of the leaderboards in many categories.
After hitting .257 and .240 respectively over his last two seasons, Anderson hit .335 in 2019. After striking out 26.7% and 24.6% respectively in 2017 and 2018, Anderson struck out just 21% of the time in 2019. After averaging a .404 slugging percentage his last two seasons, Anderson slugged .508 in 2019.
Anderson’s 2017 and 2018 offensive seasons were so poor that his cumulative Off was -19.6. Anderson’s combined Off between 2017 and 2018 is the 13th-lowest mark in the Major Leagues. In other words Tim Anderson was a defense-only shortstop before 2019, and then was suddenly in the race for a batting title. Anderson’s 2019 Off was 21.4 – 5th among shortstops and top-45 overall among Major League hitters.
Was this a fluke? A mere flurry of bloop hits and seeing-eye ground balls? Or was it a career revival? Did Anderson revamp his approach at the plate and become a new hitter?
A high BABIP is a red flag. Abnormally high BABIPs tell us that a hitter is getting slightly lucky – more bloops and balls that find holes than usual. Anderson’s BABIP in 2019 was .399. Seems pretty high, right? It is. Only one full-time player had a higher BABIP in 2019 – Anderson’s teammate Yoan Moncada.
While the crazy high BABIP indicates that Tim Anderson probably will not be a .330 hitter for the rest of his career, Anderson’s peripheral numbers indicate that he has made positive changes at the plate.
Anderson increased his line drive rate nearly 4% in 2019 while decreasing his flyball rate 6%. Anderson is not a huge man – standing 6’1 and weighing 185 pounds. Tim has learned that a hitter of his stature will not have much success in the Major Leagues trying to lift every pitch into the air. Infield pop-ups were down as a result of Anderson’s increased line drive rate, and his HR/FB% was up 2.5%.
Anderson has never been one to use all fields while hitting – he has always pulled about twice as many balls as he takes the opposite way. This approach changed dramatically in 2019. Anderson’s pull rate was down nearly 12% while he hit 9% more balls to center and 3% more the other way in 2019. He is also squaring the ball up slightly better, as his Hard% increased about 2% while his soft contact and medium contact rates both decreased.
Lucas Giolito – SP – White Sox
The White Sox 2020 Opening Day starter is the 26-year-old Lucas Giolito. Giolito had some of the worst numbers in all of the Major Leagues in 2018. The youngster bounced back with a 2019 worthy of giving him the title “Ace” heading into the 2020 season.
Check out some of these numbers, they are almost laughable. Giolito posted a 6.13 ERA in 2018. White Sox manager Rick Renteria just kept pushing Giolito out to the mound every fifth day. Giolito’s ERA was 3.41 in 2019 – which ranks 19th among qualified starting pitchers.
Giolito’s FIP tells us but this decrease in ERA is no fluke. His FIP was 3.43 in 2019, incredibly similar to his ERA. This is an awesome sign. Unlike Tim Anderson – who we know is getting a little lucky at the plate – luck is not a factor in Giolito’s resurgence.
Giolito’s command and ability to miss bats – especially with his devastating curveball – were on full display in 2019. His K/9 increased by 5 strikeouts in 2019 while his BB/9 decreased by 1.5. These are monumental shifts. His batting average against was a respectable .248 in 2019. He dropped that all the way to .203 in 2019.
Giolito was a hazard to anyone standing in or near the batter’s box in 2018. He plunked 15 hitters while throwing 13 wild pitches. Compare this to the new, under control Giolito in 2019 who hit just 4 batters and threw 6 wild pitches.
As a prospect, scouts raved about Giolito’s stuff. Sox fans have been waiting patiently – or not so patiently – for that raw potential to translate into on-field results. Giolito has shown that he can completely dominate the opposing line up and take over a game when he is on. He managed to throw 3 complete games in 2019 which was tied for the most in the Major Leagues with division rival Shane Bieber.
New White Sox Additions
Having players like Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito breakout is the same as receiving a brand new addition to your team. On top of their existing talent, the White Sox have added several players in the off-season in preparation for their 2020 run.
Yasmani Grandal – C – White Sox
The most significant newcomers in Chicago figures to be catcher Yasmani Grandal. Just last season, Grandal was rated the top catcher in the game by MLB Network.
Skeptical? I was too, so I looked up his numbers. Turned out there is a pretty strong case to put Grandal all at the top of the list of MLB catchers.
Defensively, Grandal is a great receiver. His 20.1 framing runs above average ranks third among all catchers. For those unfamiliar, FRAA is a relatively new sabermetric which assigns a number of runs that a catcher saves his team in comparison to a league-average catcher from framing pitches alone. Grandal also ranks in the top-half of the league in runs saved due to blocking wild pitches.
Unlike many catchers in today’s game, Grandal also contributes significantly to the offense. A switch-hitter, Grandal makes the Sox lineup more difficult to gameplan against. He is a very patient hitter who will draw walks and create havoc regardless of where you plug him in the lineup. Grandal can succeed at the top of the lineup as a tablesetter or in the middle of the lineup as a run producer. His 13.9% career walk rate illustrates his amazing plate discipline while his .794 career OPS indicates that his bat has little bit of pop.
Grandal is the consummate two-way catcher. 2019 marked the fifth-straight season in which Grandal posted a WAR of at least 4 wins. Grandal has a higher cumulative WAR than any other catcher over the past 5 years, including Buster Posey, JT Realmuto, and even the immortal Yadier Molina.
Grandal’s Def is just disgusting. Over the past 5 years he has racked up a score of 137.2 which dwarfs the second-highest mark, Buster Posey at 96.7.
Edwin Encarnacion – DH – White Sox
The Sox will slide newcomer Edwin Encarnacion into the DH slot in 2020. Encarnacion is getting up there in years – 2020 will be his age 37 season – but the dude can do nothing if not hit for power.
Encarnacio has hit 32 home runs in 8 straight seasons and has driven in 100 RBIs in 6 of those 8 seasons. He won’t be able to keep those numbers up forever, but even with a slight decline the Sox are adding a 25/80 guy to an already potent lineup.
Dallas Keuchel – SP – White Sox
Oh yeah … The White Sox added Dallas Keuchel as well. What has this guy done in his past? Oh, not much … just won the Cy Young.
White Sox Odds
Is Vegas giving the White Sox any credit in the odds for all this young potential? Despite being a very juicy team on paper, Bovada has the White Sox (+325) as the third-place team in the AL Central. The Minnesota Twins (-150) are large favorites. Cleveland (+300) is second.
The Sox are a very popular team in the betting market, and their odds continue to shorten as more fans pick them to win the division, pennant, or World Series. The White Sox are on a pace to overtake Cleveland as the second-favorite on Bovada in the AL Central.
At (+1100), the White Sox are tied for fifth in the American League along with the Oakland Athletics as AL pennant favorites. (+1100) puts the White Sox right behind Tampa (+800) and ahead of Cleveland (+1400).
It seems odd that Cleveland is more likely to win the AL Central but the White Sox are more likely to win the American League. I assure you Bovada did not post these odds originially, but heavy action on the White Sox to win the AL Pennant has forced Bovada to shorten their lines.
Although the White Sox are a sexy sleeper pick to win the AL Pennant, I would avoid placing my bet on any site where the line is all the way down to (+1100). I would try to find a book where the White Sox are not being bet so heavily and where their line has not been driven down – that will provide way more value.
The White Sox are also surprisingly high in the World Series favorites list, tied for 8th at (+2000). With the Sox are the Angels, Mets, Athletics, and the defending champion Washington Nationals. Cincinnati (+1800) is just ahead.
White Sox Recent 60-Game History
White Sox Division and Pennant Finishes
It surprises me that the White Sox are being bet so heavily to win a pennant or the World Series despite never showing anything in the past 15 years to excite bettors in the past. I always say that the betting public is reactionary. They love to get excited about a team after that team has gone on a brilliant run. By that time, the team is done playing good and the betting public gets burned.
I think that the media is pushing this White Sox sleeper narrative so hard that it is causing fans to blindly bet them even though their guts are telling them the White Sox have no shot. Anything can happen in a short season, they keep repeating. I guess …
Here’s what I’m talking about. I dug up some recent history and found that the White Sox have not even finished above third place in the AL Central since 2012. This means we have seen 7-straight seasons where the Sox have finished either third, fourth, or fifth in the AL Central – which is far from the strongest division in baseball.
The White Sox haven’t won their division since 2008 – which is now more than a decade ago. The White Sox last World Series appearance and win were both in 2005 over the then-National League and non-cheating Houston Astros.
White Sox First 60-Game Starts
Some teams seem to struggle in April every year – earning them the reputation of slow starters. Other teams start hot but always fall apart late in the year. We call these teams chokers.
In the shortened 2020 season, starting hot is crucial … but so is finishing strong. 60 games is not enough time to overcome a slump.
I am torn between whether the first 60 games of previous seasons or the final 60 games of previous seasons are a better approximation of how teams will fare in 2020. The argument for using the first 60 games is that it measures how a team plays immediately after Spring Training.
The argument for using the final 60 games of the season is that the 2020 season will be taking place during the exact same weeks and months. Weather plays a major factor in many MLB cities and many players or teams get off to cold starts because they play in cold weather locations. That will not be an issue this year with the season beginning in July.
I decided to dig up data for both.
2005 was the White Sox last really really good season. The Sox played pretty well in 2006 and 2008, but have never been more than mediocre in any other season. That is a lot of seasons of mediocre White Sox baseball we have witnessed over the past decade and a half.
Using Killersports query tool, I went back and grabbed the records from the first 60 games of the season for each White Sox season from their World series win 2005 up until last season.
Using projected MLB team win totals from Fanduel, I see that it will most likely take at least 33.5 wins to reach the playoffs in the American League this year. As this is clearly the White Sox goal, I put a simple red line across the graph to show where they need to get. Most of the columns fall shy of that red line – yeah, I see that too. It’s not good.
After red hot starts in ’05 and ’06, the Sox have had just 2 seasons in the past 13 years where they have been over .500 after their first 60 games.
White Sox Final 60-Game Finishes
Those garbage numbers don’t matter! Those stats come from April! Do you know how hard it is to play baseball in Chicago in April?!
Okay, you have a good point. I get it. Using data from the final 60 games would be more predictive … here are those numbers. They are even worse.
Unbelievably, since the White Sox won the ‘ship in 2005, they have not played above .500 over their final 60 games in any season. This raises so many questions. Is this simply because the White Sox are never a good team? Do they choke down the stretch? Do they have bad coaching? Is it because the weather starts to get cold again? Who knows … all that matters is the Sox stumble to the finish line every year.
Are the 2020 White Sox exciting? Absolutely! Do they have a lot of young talent? You betcha! Do I trust this organization enough to put my money on them? Nope.
Most of the White Sox players I’ve detailed are position players. The Sox have a strong lineup but are not very deep on the mound. This will stunt their record – even in a shortened season.
With the Sox’ lines being shortened by heavy action, I would avoid putting any money on 2020 Chicago White Sox futures bets. Who is a better sleeper pick? The Los Angeles Angels! I’d rather back the Angels.