I was a bit surprised to note that, going backwards by 2010 win total, the White Sox (at 88) are the next team on the list. They just didn't seem nearly that good. And in fact, part of that is because, after losing eight in a row and ten out of twelve at the end of September and ending their season, they won nine of their last eleven, meaningless games. Still, they were a good team, and have gotten even better in the last couple weeks. Here are your questions:
1. Will Jake Peavy...anything?
The former Cy Young winner was already injured when the Sox acquired him in 2009, and had been relatively ineffective with the Padres when he was healthy enough to pitch, so the team had to know that they didn't really know what they were getting. And he finally did put together three very effective starts to end 2009, then started out just OK in 2010 (though he was better than he looked, with a 4.01 FIP compared to his 4.63 ERA) before shutting down with another injury. In a year and a couple months, Peavy's logged 127 innings with a 4.11 ERA, though he's continued striking out around eight batters per nine innings and keeping his walks down, essentially maintaining the same fastball velocity he had in his peak years.
At this writing, Peavy's status for the start of 2011 is very much up in the air. The shoulder injury Peavy suffered is quite serious and quite rare, and there aren't a lot of pitchers (if any) who have ever had to try to come back from it. Peavy has been told that he should be able to "go full-bore" in February, but the team won't really know what (if anything) they can expect from him until then, and even if he's completely healthy then, you have to figure they'll be holding their breath every time he takes the mound.
A rotation of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson is really good. That same rotation with vintage Peavy at the top might rival the Red Sox' for the best in the AL.
2. The offense is better. Is it better enough?
I feel as though, after the acquisition of Adam Dunn, people started looking at this offense as a real strength, when I think most of that is based on name recognition, not (recent) performance. Dunn addressed the team's biggest weakness -- the inexplicably Mark Kotsay-led designated hitter committee was truly horrid in 2010 -- but still gives the projected starting lineup only its third player, by OPS, who was meaningfully above average for his position in 2010:
- Paul Konerko hat one of the best offensive years in the AL, going ..312/.393/.584 (158 OPS+/160 wRC+);
- Alexei Ramirez hit .282/.313/.431 in a really down year for shortstops (97 OPS+ against an average of 83/97 wRC+); and
- Dunn put up a 138 OPS+/137 wRC+ in the weaker league.
That's really it -- three above-average hitters for their positions, and two real "impact" hitters. Carlos Quentin was right around average, and has the potential for more, and of course Gordon Beckham is all potential (and hit .291/.345/.481 in 288 PA from June 9 onward). Alexis Rios went in the opposite direction, starting off like an All-Star (I thought he was the biggest snub, actually) and fading away until he wound up with about an average center fielder's batting line.
And that's it for upside. A.J. Pierzynski depends entirely on a high batting average to be a remotely effective hitter, and that's getting less and less likely as he's getting slower and slower. Whoever they put at third base (provided they don't do something crazy like land Adrian Beltre) is a non-factor. And Juan Pierre is, well, himself.
It's just not a great lineup. And they won't need a great lineup in the AL Central and with the pitching they'll have (especially with Peavy healthy)...but the question here is whether this will be even a good lineup. The numbers might look pretty, thanks to the park they play in, but it might not actually be pretty. It'll depend heavily on further development from Beckham, on a resurgence from Quentin and Rios, and on Konerko avoiding falling too far off his unrepeatable 2010.
3. What Do They Have in Chris Sale?
Sale was one of the more interesting things from the 2010 Sox; drafted thirteenth overall in June, the comically skinny, pale, baby-faced, sidearming lefty was in Chicago by early August, and was absolutely mowing hitters down. He struck out an impressive 32 in less than 22 innings and put up a 1.92 ERA (2.74 FIP).
This is a pretty tired old story by now: prospect comes up and blows guys away in the bullpen, manager becomes determined to waste keep him there. There were, at first, pretty good reasons to be concerned about Sale's ability to get it done in the roatation, namely that he's a side-arming lefty who would normally be expected to struggle with righty batters; but in the big leagues, he permitted just twelve of fifty-six righties to reach base, and struck out twenty-three of them. That's a tiny sample, of course, but the strikeout rate has to be encouraging.
He'll turn twenty-two right before the season starts, and he's incredibly talented; it's way too early to consign him to the bullpen for life, thus much more than halving his potential future value. He just has to start, and probably should be starting this season, especially if Peavy or one of the other regulars is hurt. Unfortunately, Ozzie doesn't see it that way, even suggesting that Sale could take over as the team's closer, which would basically doom his career to mediocrity forever.
No matter what his role in 2011, though, he'll be fascinating to follow. Be sure to catch him pitching sometime, if you can. It's pretty fun to watch.