By: Joe Botana
Introducing the “Innings of the Season” Series
Throughout the season, we’ll be taking periodic looks at the overall performance of the team. Just as a baseball game is divided into nine innings, a season can be divided into nine frames of eighteen games each. In this article, we look at the first inning of the White Sox’ 2016 Season.
Where we stand after the “first inning”
Actually, we are at the first inning plus one game. As of Sunday April 24th, the Sox record stands at 13 wins and 6 losses. This is a .684 winning percentage and good for first place in the ALCD. Performance has been equally good at home (6-3) and on the road (7-3).
The Sox’s winning percentage through the “first inning” of the season would project to a total of 111 wins. That’s obviously quite unlikely, since even their north-side rivals, who are expected by “experts” to garner the most wins for the year, are only expected to win approximately 100. Thus, fans should understand that we are dealing with a small sample size – this is just the first of nine “innings” – and some degradation of performance should be expected due to mean reversion.
Also, before White Sox fans get too excited, they should realize that the weighted average winning percentage of their opponents is only .453. In other words, the Sox success has come against teams with an overall losing record.
Comparison to the Consensus Model Prediction
The Model projects the Sox to win 81.3 games and to finish third in the ALCD. After the first inning, they are sitting in first place, leading the defending champion KC Royals by ½ games, and exceeding their projected wins to date of 9.5 by 3.5 wins, or 37%. It is early, but it is always better to be over performing than under performing against the projections. Interestingly, the model has three of the five ALCD teams correctly placed, with KC in second, Detroit in fourth, and Minnesota in last. Only the Sox and Indians have switched between first and third places.
At the end of the first inning of the 2016 season, the While Sox lead the AL in most of the main pitching categories. This includes ERA (2.28), Batting Average Against (.204), WHIP (1.02), OBP (.268) and OPS (.558). In most of these categories, they lead the AL by a wide margin.
The Sox stellar performance overall thus far has not been because of their offense, as they rank near the bottom of the AL in most offensive categories. They rank 12th in Team Batting Average (.227) and OBP (.293), 14th in OPS (.649) and runs scored (61), and dead last in RBIs (54). They do a bit better in both Home Runs (17) and Walks (52) where they rank 10th in both categories. In a category where it is good to be near the bottom, they rank 12th in strikeouts (135).
Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty
Good News and Surprises
- Key returning position players. Melky Cabrera, the Sox’s LF, is having a great start at the plate, batting .333 with a 405/485/890 slash line to comfortably lead the team. Adam Eaton is batting .292 with a 338/375/713 line. He also started the craziest triple play in team history against Texas last week. Both have been key contributors to make a sub-par overall offense adequate to get the job done in support of solid pitching.
- Key position player acquisitions. Lawrie, Rollins, and Frazier have been key contributors, as expected. Lawrie is second on the club with a .299 average, and sports a 373/433/806 slash line. Frazier’s average is only .205 but his OBP is a solid .275 and he leads the club in HRs (5) and RBIs (9). Rollins has also been a key contributor in clutch situations. These acquisitions sent a clear signal during the off season that the Sox were in win-now mode. Through the first inning of the 2016 season, they have helped do just that.
- Most of the starting rotation. Matt Latos has been the revelation during the start of the season, sporting a 0.74 ERA, a 0.82 WHIP, and a 4-0 record. This was unexpected and most welcome. Chris Sale has performed as is expected from a staff ace. He currently has an ERA of 1.80 and a WHIP of 0.67 while leading the club in strikeouts (26). Quintana and Rodon have not been as spectacular, but are 3-3 between them.
- The bullpen. A problem area in 2015, it has been rock solid thus far in this first inning of the 2016 season. Dave Robertson has 7 saves in 8 opportunities to go along with an ERA of 1.08 and a WHIP of 0.60. Matt Albers is 1-0 with an ERA of 0.00 in 9.2 innings and a WHIP of 0.83.
Bad News and Concerns
- The other member of the starting rotation. John Danks has been, well, awful through the first frame of the young season. He stands at 0-3, single-handedly responsible for half of the team’s losses, with an unsightly 6.23 ERA and a team second-worst 1.62 WHIP.
- Jose Abreu. After the season’s first frame, the Sox power hitting first baseman has a batting average of .183, a full 17 points south of the Mendoza line. His slash line is a puny 259/338/597. He does have 3 HRs and 8 RBIs which is good enough for second place behind Todd Frazier on the club in both categories. However, this would project to only 27 and 72 respectively for a full season, well below his 2015 output.
What Comes Next
The next inning consists of seventeen games against more formidable competition. They open away at Toronto for 4, then away at Baltimore for 4, and then return home for 3 vs Boston and 3 vs Minnesota, then finish the “inning” with 3 away vs. Texas. Unlike the last inning, most of these opponents have winning records, with a weighted winning percentage of nearly .500 (0.492 to be exact).
The keys to the next inning will be whether the stellar pitching performances thus far can continue as the rather dormant offense springs back to life. If both happen, the team may well build upon the early lead it built in the first inning of the 2016 season.