Breaking it Down with WAR: White Sox vs. Twins

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Breaking it Down with WAR: White Sox vs. Twins

Thursday, March 31, 2011
Posted 2:45 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Everywhere you look, theres talk of the AL Central Division race being a three-way thriller, surely undecided until late September. The defending champion Minnesota Twins appear weakened, but rarely pull their dogs from the fight until the last day of the season. Motown went loco, spending even more crazily than the Chicago White Sox, who appear to have the best balance in the division.

But no offense to the Bengals, this division will come down to the Chisox and Twinkies, as it has in two of the last three seasons.

So, how weakened are the Twins, and is the retooled White Sox offense and bullpen enough to make up the six games the team trailed Minnesota by in 2010? What follows is by no means a definitive outlook, but an educated projection, position by position, on how the two clubs stack up. (Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is the standardized figure Im using to compare players and teams.)
Catcher

A.J. Pierzynski is unlikely to have as poor a year as he did in 2010, but then, he did little this spring to inspire confidence, so lets chalk him up with the same 1.8 WAR performance as a year ago. Joe Mauer is all-world, of course, and with his knee woes likely behind him, its safe to predict a few more games played in 2011 and thus an uptick in WAR to 5.5.
Advantage: Twins (3.7)

First Base

Its still a question mark for Minny, as Justin Morneau continues his tentative return from the concussion that knocked him out of the second half of 2010. He may play more games this year, but his production is likely to take a dip (4.9 WAR). Still, Paul Konerkos gilded 2010 season is unlikely to be duplicated, so chalk him up for an even bigger WAR drop (to 3.1).
Advantage: Twins (1.8)

Second Base

The Twins bring another question mark to the season, with Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka manning the position full time. How his game will translate to the majors is hard to determine, but his skill set obviously fits the pesky Twinkies tendencies, so Ill project him a notch above Akinori Iwamuras strong debut in Tampa (2.9). On the Sox side, Gordon Beckham is poised for a breakoutdefensively settled at second, renewed confidence on the basepaths and seeing a steady diet of fastballs hitting in front of Adam Dunn means Bacon is due for a large jump in his production (to 3.1 WAR).
Advantage: White Sox (0.2)

Shortstop

Without a significant uptick in on-base percentage, its going to be hard for Alexei Ramirez to substantially add to his WAR numbers, but with continued stellar defense and perhaps a stronger running game, lets nudge him to 3.9 this season. Minnesotas similarly-monickered shortstop, Alexi Casilla, has little of Ramirezs ability or breakout potential (1.1 WAR).
Advantage: White Sox (2.8)

Third Base

Brent Morel is an X-factor for the Chisox this season, figuring to be a plus-WAR player based on defense alone, so with regular time on the diamond as anticipated, he earns a 1.3 projected WAR. Danny Valencia was a 2010 surprise for Minnesota, playing at a 2.7 WAR clip. In a sophomore season, expect a modest step back for Valencia, to 2.4.
Advantage: Twins (1.1)

Left Field
Juan Pierre just keeps on ticking for the White Sox. Its easy to expect some sort of stumble from the 68 stolen bags and a .341 on-base percentage, so his WAR will drop to 1.5. On the Minnesota side, Delmon Youngs defense alone could see him drop in WAR as well, an equal amount as Pierre (to 1.6).
Advantage: Twins (0.1)

Center Field

Alex Rios had an incredible comeback year in 2010 (to 3.7 WAR), and the White Soxs success this season is predicated on him coming close to matching that strong campaign. With all the tools in his box, dont expect much of a fall-off from him (3.6). Denard Span just keeps getting better for the Twins, so another jump in WAR (from 2.9) is far from guaranteed, but to be on the safe side, lets pencil him at 3.8.
Advantage: Twins (0.2)

Right Field

Two plodding players populate right for these two teams, Carlos Quentin on the South Side and Michael Cuddyer in Minny. Quentins durability and defensive weaknesses keep him from ever being an elite WAR player, but hes a safe bet to jump to 1.0 this season, and Cuddyer could easily match that.
Advantage: None

Designated Hitter

This ones tricky, as Jim Thome was dominant (3.6) a season ago, largely subbing for Morneau, but hes not only due for fewer at-bats, but has been supplanted at DH by Jason Kubel, who will be lucky to double his WAR in 2011 (to 0.6). The White Sox have imported Dunn, who will find it almost impossible not to duplicate his National League WAR of 3.9 in the bandboxy U.S. Cellular Field.
Advantage: White Sox (3.3)

Lineup Advantage: Twins (0.5)

Core Four on Bench

White Sox: Ramon Castro (0.6), Omar Vizquel (0.0), Mark Teahen (0.2), Lastings Milledge (1.2). Total: 2.0 WAR
Twins: Thome (1.8), Jason Repko (1.0), Drew Butera (0.5), Matt Tolbert (0.5). Total: 3.8 WAR

Bench Advantage: Twins (1.8)

Starting Rotation

The White Sox run out a strong first five, with the only real potential limitation being Jake Peavys injury, which earns him an overly conservative 2.8 WAR for 2011. John Danks should emulate 2010 (4.2), Mark Buehrle will take a slight hit (3.4), and Gavin Floyds predicted drop to 3.4 is well offset by what Edwin Jackson will bring to the rotation for a full year (3.5). Total Rotation: 17.3 WAR

Minnesota is more riddled with question marks, although many pundits dont seem to note it. It will be nearly impossible for Francisco Liriano to match 2010s 6.0 WAR, so he bumps down to 5.5, still the best on either team. I have doubts about Carl Pavanos ability to duplicate his 3.2 of last season, but well hold him steady there. Brian Duensing should benefit from a full season of starts, so he hops to 2.4, while Nick Blackburn also will benefit from a full season of starting and bump to 1.4. It may be overly generous, but Scott Baker should also see a WAR hop, to 3.2. Total Rotation: 15.7 WAR

Rotation Advantage: White Sox (1.6)

Bullpen
Matt Thornton is as steady as can be, whether as a closer or setup man, so he sticks at 2.2 WAR. Sergio Santos is in line for more responsibility, thus seeing his WAR double to 1.0. Chris Sale will encounter a sophomore slump or two, but his electric arm earns a 1.0. New acquisitions Jesse Crain and Will Ohman should also mostly duplicate past performance, Crain holding steady at 0.8 and Ohman dropping a tick in the AL, to 0.1. Long reliever Tony Pena should have a more productive season with the bullpen better settled, so well jump him to 0.4. Total Bullpen: 5.5 WAR

Joe Nathan had a poor spring but should be relied on to nearly duplicate his last healthy season WAR (1.9, 2009), so hell slot at 1.3. Kevin Slowey has been bounced from the rotation and into a Pena role, so his past WARs (2.2 in 2010) are no measure for his 2011 production (1.0). Matt Capps is taking on a new setup role and should see little room to improve on his poor 2009 WAR, so he hops to just 0.9. Jose Mijares, Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins are all pitchers of little distinction, so I forsee small ticks back for the two former hurlers (0.1 apiece) and a slight uptick for Perkins, also to 0.1. Total Bullpen: 3.5 WAR

Bullpen Advantage: White Sox (2.0)

Final WAR Tally

White Sox 48.1, Twins 46.8

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”

Trayce Thompson reflects upon 'two of the best months of my life' with White Sox

Trayce Thompson reflects upon 'two of the best months of my life' with White Sox

While many of the faces in the White Sox clubhouse may be relatively unfamiliar to fans, Trayce Thompson remembers them all.

Even with Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle gone, Thompson sees a lot of old friends in the White Sox clubhouse. A member of the organization from 2009-15, Thompson said his first trip back to Guaranteed Rate Field since he was traded has brought back a lot of good memories. Traded in the three-team deal that brought Frazier to the White Sox, Thompson started in center field for the Los Angeles Dodgers and hit ninth on Wednesday night.

“I won’t call him Yolmer,” Thompson said. “I played with Carlos (Sanchez) at every level. I played with Tim (Anderson) at Birmingham briefly. Tim’s an amazing kid, one of my favorites I’ve ever played with. Kevan Smith is one of my really close friends. I’ve known Matt Davidson longer than any guy on that team because we grew up in the same area. Me and (David Holmberg) were drafted together. We pretty much did everything together when we first got drafted. I’m glad to see all those guys. Luis Sierra, I know he’s one of the coaches … I lived with him when I was here.”

“It makes me happy, brings back a lot of good memories being here. And I’m happy to see a lot of my good friends that I played with kind of get an opportunity to play here a lot. It’s been fun for me to kind of follow them.”

A second-round pick by the White Sox in the 2009 draft, Thompson bloomed when he finally got his chance in the majors. Thompson arrived late in the 2015 season and slashed .295/.363/.533 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 135 plate appearances.  

“I had two of the best months of my life here,” Thompson said. “Some of the most fun baseball I’ve ever played in my life.”

It’s nearly a lifetime ago in terms of where the White Sox have been. Thompson’s White Sox manager, Robin Ventura, stepped down at the end of the 2016 season. Sale and Eaton were dealt in December, which has begun a team-driven exodus of talent.

Back problems limited Thompson to 80 games for the Dodgers in 2016, though he still managed to belt 13 home runs. Thompson said his back has been fine since March, although it requires constant maintenance. After spending much of the season at Triple-A, Thompson rejoined the Dodgers in late June and splits playing time in the outfield.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of this team,” Thompson said.

He also enjoys that some of his old teammates have moved on — and into great situations, too. For those still here, Thompson likes the opportunity his homegrown teammates have started to receive.

“It’s far different than what I became accustomed to going to big league camp,” Thompson said. “But I’m happy for Chris Sale to get an opportunity to play with a good team in Boston and happy for Q now. They’ve moved on to good teams and I’m happy for them. I’m happy for all the guys here now who have an opportunity to play. I know they’re obviously trying to win, but they’re kind of allowing the homegrown guys an opportunity, which I’m happy to see. It’s definitely a different feel.”