White Sox: Weighing projections for starting rotation

White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Will the White Sox have the starting pitching to win the AL Central?

The Chicago White Sox enter the 2021 season as the prohibitive favorites to win the American League Central after finishing in a second-place tie in the shortened-2020 season and making the postseason for the first time since 2008.

The White Sox tied with the Cleveland Indians, one game behind the division champion Minnesota Twins, two teams that are expected to take a step back in 2021.

FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections for 2021 have the White Sox as a slight favorite over the Twins in the AL Central, with the Indians expected to struggle to stay above the .500 mark along with the Kansas City Royals. The Detroit Tigers, meanwhile, are not expected to be ready to rise up the standings.

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There are several projection systems out there and in this article, we dive into a couple of those to get a sense of what to expect from the White Sox starting rotation this season.

While Alex Shapiro of NBC Sports Chicago was very excited about FanGraphs releasing its new ZIPS projections for 2021 because it predicts a big year from Chicago ace Lucas Giolito, this article looked at two other projections.

The first is FanGraphs’ Depth Charts individual projections, which blend ZIPS with another projection model known as Steamer, and the Marcels projection system published at Baseball-Reference.

So let’s start with a look at Giolito, since he is considered the No. 1 starter entering 2021.

Depth Charts has Giolito making 29 starts and posting a 3.53 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 174 innings, with a strikeout rate of 11.5 per nine innings, a walk rate of 3.09 per nine and a Fielding Independent ERA of 3.48.

Marcels, however, projects Giolito with a 4.17 ERA and 1.189 WHIP to go with a 10.4 K/9 rate, a 3.5 BB/9 rate over 175 innings. That rating is based 72 percent on performance with a 28 percent allowance for regression to the mean.

Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is now 33 and Marcels projects a 3.69 ERA and 1.308 WHIP over 156 innings, with a 7.4 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 rate. This rating is a 69-31 split between performance and regression.

Keuchel’s Depth Charts projections see a 4.24 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 183 innings, a 6.88 K/9 rate, a 2.9 BB/9 clip and a 4.49 FIP. Depth Charts has Keuchel as the club’s third-most effective starter.

That would be just behind newcomer Lance Lynn, acquired from the Texas Rangers last month for right-hander Dane Dunning, who made seven starts for the White Sox last season, and left-hander Avery Weems, who is a 2019 sixth-round pick that has not advanced beyond the now-extinct Rookie level.

Depth Charts has Lynn, who will be 34 in May, pitching to a 4.11 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 185 innings, tops on the staff. He is projected to strike out 9.69 batters per nine innings while walking an even three. His projected FIP is 4.33.

With a 74 percent performance/26 percent regression calculation, Lynn’s Marcels numbers are a 4.06 ERA and 1.280 WHIP in 193 innings, with rates of 9.7 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings.

Dylan Cease, the 25-year-old right-hander who made 12 starts last season, slots in at No. 4. Marcels has Cease with a 4.62 ERA and 1.390 WHIP in 146 innings, with rates per nine innings of 8.9 strikeouts and 4.3 walks off a 54/46 performance/regression split.

Depth Charts gives Cease a 4.59 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 141 innings, with 9.05 strikeouts and 4.38 walks per nine innings and a FIP of 4.76.

It’s anticipated that Michael Kopech, back from Tommy John surgery, will take the fifth starter role, although Reynaldo Lopez and Jonathan Stiever are expected to get 15 and 10 starts, respectively, compared to 19 for Kopech, according to Depth Charts.

Kopech’s full Depth Charts projections are a 4.71 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 111 innings, 9.24 strikeouts and 4.51 walks per nine and a FIP of 4.85.

Marcels has Kopech having a much lighter workload but better results — a 4.35 ERA and 1.317 WHIP in 60 innings with rates of 9.3 and 3.5. This was based on 95 percent performance and 5 percent regression.

Marcels has Lopez working 114 innings with a 4.89 ERA and 1.386 WHIP in 114 innings, 8.4 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings and a 70/30 performance/regression split. The model projects Stiever to work 68 innings to a 4.76 ERA and 1.324 WHIP on a 93/7 split, with rates of 9.1 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine.

Depth Charts, meanwhile, puts Lopez at a 4.90 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 107 innings, a FIP of 5.06 and rates of 8.03 strikeouts and 3.33 walks per nine. Stiever is projected for a 5.66 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 60 innings, a 5.67 FIP, 7.55 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings.

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However optimistic or pessimistic these projections may seem, the bottom line is that it will turn out as the season unfolds on the field. But a few weeks — maybe — before spring training opens and we look forward to what we hope is a full season, it’s something to kick around while we wait.