White Sox take unexpected step back in 2013
Despite expectations, Chicago struggled at the plate and in the field
CHICAGO -- When the White Sox departed Arizona at the end of March, they thought a pretty solid team was making its way from Spring Training to Chicago.
Not a World Series champion, mind you. Certainly not a veritable playoff lock.
But if their top-flight pitching performed as expected and other intangibles broke favorably, the 2013 version would be as competitive as the '12 team that sat atop the American League Central for 117 days before a late-September collapse.
Never did the White Sox expect one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
"I don't want to say it's totally unexpected what has happened because it is conceivable that you would have a year to line up like this," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "We've had some years where things have broken our way and toward above the outer bounds of what people expected from our performance. This is just one of those years that's unfortunate.
"There is almost a bell curve of expected performance overall for a club when you make a prediction. You are most likely hitting it in the middle. But there are still things on the extreme, both positive and negative, that could occur over the course of a normal season. We've had a lot of things line up, whether it be due to age, or injury or underperformance, that pushed us to the lower extreme of the bell curve."
Instead of an offense that finished fourth in runs scored during the 2012 season, the White Sox fell at or near the bottom in that particular '13 category along with home runs, doubles, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. The defense and fundamentals that were as solid as any team in baseball last year became the worst in 2013.
As for the pitching ...
Well, the pitching actually did its job. It was not strong enough to prevent Hahn trading off veteran components in Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain. Josh Phegley replaced Tyler Flowers at catcher, Avisail Garcia entered the outfield as a cornerstone of the future and a plethora of prospects in Marcus Semien, Jake Petricka, Erik Johnson and even Jordan Danks received extended big league playing time.
An extended evaluation period replaced a planned postseason push.
"We weren't good enough offensively for most of this season to win. That's pretty obvious," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "Our pitching has done pretty well. They've had some games that haven't been their best, but for the most part, we are the reason we didn't win more games."
The season was not without a highlight or two, brought about by now two-time All-Star hurler Chris Sale, the growth of Jose Quintana as part of the starting rotation and closer Addison Reed leading the back end of the bullpen. Garcia also backed up the excitement the White Sox had for his acquisition.
Unfortunately for the White Sox, the negatives far outweighed the positives -- certainly not what they envisioned when the season began.
"We do see some flaws that need to be addressed," Hahn said. "We have been pretty candid about the improvements we want to make offensively and defensively and on the bases. We feel like we did some of that in July and hopefully over the coming weeks and months, we'll be able to continue that process."
Record: 63-99, last place in the AL Central.
Hitter of the Year: Alexei Ramirez's performance with the bat would have been a good one even if it didn't come in the middle of a huge White Sox offensive downturn. The shortstop set career highs in stolen bases and doubles. His power and run-production numbers were down once again, but Ramirez stayed consistent while hitting all over the lineup.
Pitcher of the Year: As long as Sale is part of the White Sox rotation, there's a good bet he's going to win this award. Because of poor run support, the left-hander's record wasn't near what it should have been. But Sale topped 200 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career, and was valuable enough that his bWar ranked fifth in the AL among all players. He set a single-season franchise record for most strikeouts by a left-hander.
Rookie of the Year: The original job title for Conor Gillaspie was utility infielder when he was acquired from the Giants during Spring Training, providing a much-needed left-handed hitter off the bench. But Gillaspie's strong offensive burst turned him into an everyday contributor at third base.
Defining moment: It could be the 1-0 Opening Day victory, when Tyler Flowers' solo homer provided the only run, because it all went downhill from there. It could be an extra-innings loss on Sept. 21 at Comerica Park, when Detroit rallied from a 6-0 deficit in the ninth. But on June 25, with the White Sox holding a one-run lead and two outs in the ninth, David Wright scored the game-tying run when Daniel Murphy's routine infield popup was dropped near the pitcher's mound by a hard-charging Gordon Beckham. This overall miserable team defense consistently left the White Sox in a hole all season.
What went right: Sale, Sale and more Sale. He put himself in AL Cy Young Award contention with accomplishments that included a near perfect game against the Angels and 28 straight scoreless innings … Hector Santiago had a career goal of becoming a starter and fulfilled that goal with overall success when moved into the rotation … Ask any pro scout watching the White Sox, and they will point to Garcia as an All-Star in the making. Garcia showed off his five-tool potential after his arrival in Chicago in early August … Phegley had a tremendous year at Triple-A Charlotte and then proved to himself and the White Sox that he could catch at the big league level … The White Sox certainly didn't want to go through this debacle, but they will benefit come June in the First-Year Player Draft and July with an increase in international spending. … Hahn's moves once the team fell out of contention gave the White Sox payroll flexibility moving forward … Although he started and finished poorly, Adam Dunn put together three strong months from June to August to show he remains a middle of the order presence … John Danks returned from season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery in August 2012 to make 22 starts and throw 138 1/3 innings in his first step back.
What went wrong: The defense and offense were among the worst in the American League from start to finish … Flowers had the unenviable task of following A.J. Pierzynski's successful eight-year run behind the plate. He struggled offensively and then had his season end prematurely due to shoulder surgery … To be the best, you have to beat the best. The White Sox did anything but that against the Tigers and Indians in the AL Central, finishing a combined 9-29 … Jeff Keppinger stood as the White Sox's major free agent acquisition coming into the season, set to play third base and around the infield. But Keppinger hit just .202 in April and never could get going … Injuries certainly didn't help a bad season, with Gavin Floyd, Paul Konerko, Flowers, Dayan Viciedo, Danks, Crain, Peavy and Beckham all missing significant chunks of time … Alejandro De Aza did the job at the top of the White Sox lineup with the bat, but his defense in center field and baserunning didn't come close to matching that offensive success … Although he put together a strong performance from June to August, Dunn's rough April, May and September left him searching for consistency missing since he joined the White Sox.
Biggest surprise: Nobody expected the defense and overall fundamentals to be as bad as they were, but that topic has been sufficiently covered. Quintana gets the positive nod, making a major jump from his first year as a starter. The White Sox clearly have a solid No. 2 to put behind Sale in their rotation.