The Spin Cycle: What happened to the White Sox?


In 2021, the Chicago White Sox were one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. After finishing the regular season with a 93-69 record, the team handedly won the American League Central division by 13 games and seemed primed to become one of the American League’s better teams for the foreseeable future following years of mediocrity. However, just two years after managing the third seed in the MLB Postseason, the ChiSox have gotten caught up in their old, losing habits en route to a 7-17 record as of Wednesday afternoon through the first few weeks of the 2023 MLB season. 

Before Chicago’s magical 2021 season, the team had done a swell job acquiring young talent that would eventually develop into serviceable Major League players and (hopefully) guide the organization back to the playoffs. Things finally seemed to come together that year for the team, but almost inexplicably, something changed. Once on the verge of relevance, the team is back to being near the bottom of the AL hierarchy. So, what changed so quickly for the team? 

As mentioned previously, the White Sox managed to place 13 games better than the second-best team in the AL Central in 2021, the Minnesota Twins. If you do the math, you’ll come to realize that that means that in 2021, the second-best team in the AL Central finished with a 80-82 record, not even crossing the .500 mark. The Central division was the only division in MLB that season to not have two or more teams finish with a winning percentage of .500 or better. Since then, the four other teams in the division (Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City and Minnesota) have all taken steps towards improvement, while Chicago has more-or-less returned the same roster over the last few seasons in hopes of replicating their 2021 success. There’s no other way to analyze Chicago’s 2021 season other than to say that the team dominated in-division play, but were underwhelming against more-competitive competition. That does not bode well for the White Sox given MLB’s new system for scheduling games that puts less emphasis on in-division games and enables every MLB team playing each other at least once during the regular season. Not only are the teams around them getting better, but the ChiSox have been forced to play teams outside of their typical comfort zone, and the results have yet to translate to their new competition. 

Chicago has done very little to improve their roster in any major way since 2021. When comparing the 2021 offense to the team now, the biggest departure that the team has suffered has been Jose Abreu, now a member of the Houston Astros. Although they acquired outfielder Andrew Benintendi this offseason to improve the outfield, the team has sorely missed having a reliable, run-producing bat to stick in the middle of the lineup such as Abreu. Across the board, the team’s slugging and on-base plus slugging percentages are all down, and while the team ranks among the AL’s best in terms of extra-base hits, they also rank in the top-fifth of the league in strikeouts and bottom-fifth in runs batted in. 

Outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, once highly-touted prospects who had shown signs of stardom, have tapered off in terms of their offensive production, while injuries to players such as Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada have meant that the team has had to compete at less than full strength. Even so, an offense that contains the likes of Robert and Jimenez alongside names like Benintendi, Yasmani Grandal, and Andrew Vaughn should at least form a competitive batting order, though that has simply not been the case this season. Perhaps the biggest difference between th 2021 offense and this year’s squad has been the ability to draw walks. The ChiSox offense was patient in 2021, ranking second in the league in walks drawn, which allowed the team to put free runners on base and pressure opposing pitchers. This year has been the complete opposite: the team ranks 14th of the 15 AL teams in walks drawn. As a result, opposing pitchers have been mostly able to mow down the White Sox batting order without being pressured by runners on base. 

Pitching has been a drastic issue for Chicago this season, evident by the team’s 5.57 earned run average as a unit, ranking 14th in the AL. This comes after two years ago, the team was able to manage an overall ERA of 3.73, good enough for second in the league. The team returns four of their five starters from 2021, considering Carlos Rodon departed the team for the San Francisco Giants before becoming a member of the New York Yankees this past offseason, though replacing him this winter with tall right hander Mike Clevinger was thought to be a great addition to the pitching staff. Aside from ace Dylan Cease, all of Chicago’s starters have ERA greater than 4.50 in the early going of the campaign. Lance Lynn and Michael Kopech’s ERA’s have inflated to over 7.00 after a string of bad starts by the pair. This is the complete opposite of how things were two years ago, when Cease’s 3.91 ERA was by far the highest of the White Sox’s five starters. Meanwhile, key bullpen arms such as Reynaldo Lopex, Jos Ruiz, Aaron Bummer and Joe Kelly have been extremely underwhelming in the early going to make up an uninspiring bullpen unit. 

After taking major steps towards improvement just two years ago, the ChiSox have hit a wall. No longer do they have the luxury of a dominant offense and pitching staff — the days of reaping the benefits of a weak AL central are long gone. Major acquisitions need to be made if this team hopes to achieve any postseason success in the near future. Over the last few offseason, the team has failed to do so, and as a result, the Chicago White Sox have fallen back into mediocrity faster than they had climbed out of it. 

Leave a Reply