As we all know, the Chicago White Sox gave the Tigers all they could handle in 2012 before losing 11 of their final 16 games to miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The White Sox had a very quiet offseason. They brought back pitchers Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd, but didn't make a splash in the free agent market. They are a trendy pick to regress in 2013, but how far will they fall? The Tigers don't play the Sox until July, so we should know what kind of team they are by the time these two finally face off.
Manager: Robin Ventura (2nd year)
2012 record: 85-77, 2nd in AL Central
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
First series vs. Tigers: July 9-11 @ Comerica Park
The decision to hand center fielder Alejandro de Aza the leadoff role prior to the 2012 season was met with a bit of skepticism, but De Aza handled the move beautifully by hitting .281/.349/.410, stealing 26 bases, and scoring 81 runs in 131 games. Behind him, the second spot in the order was a complete mess. Robin Ventura tried several different players in the role, but they combined to hit just .221/.296/.354 last year. Enter Jeff Keppinger, who hit .325/.367/.439 last year with the Tampa Bay Rays. These numbers were well above his career norms -- a .332 BABIP may be to thank -- but even his career line of .288/.337/.396 will be a huge upgrade in the two spot.
The middle of the White Sox' order was buoyed by the resurgence of Alex Rios and Adam Dunn in 2012. Rios raised his OPS by a whopping 237 points from 2011, hitting .304/.334/.516 last season with 25 home runs and 91 RBI. Meanwhile, Dunn rebounded from a historically bad 2011 to return to the three true outcomes player he has been throughout his career. He led the league in walks (105) and strikeouts (221) while belting 41 home runs, the sixth time he has eclipsed the 40-homer mark in his career. Paul Konerko regressed slightly from the monster seasons he had in 2010 and 2011, but still hit .298/.371/.486 with 26 home runs in 2012.
Dayan Viciedo had an excellent season in left field for the Sox last season, hitting 25 home runs and driving in 78 RBI. His .300 on-base percentage, 5.2% walk rate, and -3.3 UZR were all very Delmon-esque, but the .188 ISO and aforementioned power numbers help offset the deficiencies. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez -- more commonly known as "Skeletor" around these parts -- hit a career worst .265/.287/.364 in 2012. He also seems to make at least one or two dazzling defensive plays every time the Sox and Tigers face off. I'd assume that he's an above average shortstop overall, but I don't need stats. I just know.
Behind the plate, Tyler Flowers will be tasked with replacing long-time backstop A.J. Pierzynski, who left for greener pastures in Texas. Flowers hit just .213/.296/.412 with seven home runs in 52 games last year, but fared much better this spring by hitting .261/.346/.435 in 52 plate appearances. Hector Gimenez is the backup catcher.
Second baseman Gordon Beckham still has yet to match the excellent numbers he put up in his rookie season in 2009, hitting just .234/.296/.371 with 16 home runs last season. Bench infielders Angel Sanchez and Conor Gillaspie probably don't pose much of a threat to taking Beckham's job if he struggles. Dewayne Wise is the team's fourth outfielder.
Chris Sale made the move from the bullpen to the rotation look easy in 2012, winning 17 games with a 3.05 ERA in 192 innings. The huge jump in workload was a concern for White Sox fans last season, but Sale handled it very well. He seemed to tire a bit down the stretch, going 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA in September. However, he only allowed more than three earned runs in one of those starts -- against the Tigers on September 2nd. This spring, Sale spent time developing his changeup against left-handed hitters, and the results seem to be working out in his favor.
The White Sox declined Jake Peavy's monster club option for 2013, instead signing him to a two-year extension with a vesting option in the 2015 season. I said it way back in April, and I was right: Peavy came back in a big way in 2012. He won 11 games with a 3.37 ERA/3.73 FIP/4.00 xFIP and struck out 194 batters in 219 innings of work.
Gavin Floyd continued two streaks in 2012: he had his fifth consecutive 10+ win season, and he once again dominated the Tigers lineup. In three starts against Detroit, Floyd was 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA while striking out 19 hitters in 17 2/3 innings. He will be a free agent after the 2013 season, in which I hope he signs with a National League team that doesn't play the Tigers again until Floyd has retired. Overall, Floyd upped his strikeout rate a bit, but saw his walk rate jump by over a batter per inning.
Left-hander Jose Quintana had a decent rookie season, winning six games with a 3.76 ERA. His 4.23 ERA and 4.33 xFIP indicate that he may have overperformed a bit, but a strong spring has fans excited about what the 24 year old can bring to the table. He only struck out 5.35 batters per nine innings last season, a number I would expect to improve as he gets more innings under his belt.
With John Danks on the disabled list to start the season after having shoulder surgery last August, the fifth starter battle between Dylan Axelrod and Hector Santiago just got extended for a few more weeks. Santiago made a strong case a couple days ago, but it looks like Axelrod has the first shot at Danks' place while the lefty recovers. Axelrod's 2012 numbers weren't pretty in large part thanks to walking 3.71 batters per nine innings.
Spring Training storylines
It has been a quiet spring for the most part in White Sox camp, which is why a post about new menu items at U.S. Cellular Field was one of the more popular pieces at South Side Sox in the past few weeks. Well, that and because it's about food.
Anyway, aside from the temporary fifth starter battle mentioned above, the real concern has been over the health of Alex Rios and Jesse Crain, who have been dealing with back and leg issues, respectively. Both players passed their physicals this week and should be good to go for Opening Day.
Player to watch: Alex Rios
I don't know whether to label Rios' excellent 2012 season as a fluke, or hand that label over to his abysmal 2011 season. He put up similar numbers when playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, and at 32 years old isn't exactly knocking on retirement's door just yet. It's easy to say "he'll fall somewhere in the middle," but I'm truly intrigued by what version of Rios we will see in 2013. It could go a long way in determining where the White Sox finish in the standings at season's end.
Once again, the White Sox are flying under the radar heading into the season. They overperformed last season, but probably won't fall as far as many people are projecting them to. I expect them to play well enough to compete with the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians for second place in the AL Central, and if anything, give the Sox a slight edge simply because they aren't the Kansas City Royals or Cleveland Indians. If Sale and Peavy can prove that 2012 was no mirage while the lineup continues to belt out home runs on a nightly basis -- because let's face it, nobody's getting on base that consistently -- then the White Sox should be on the right side of the .500 mark at the end of the year.