White Sox should expect plenty of offense from infield, catcher spots
By Phil Watson
After taking a peek at the pitching projections for the 2021 Chicago White Sox — both in the starting rotation and the relief corps — it’s time to turn our attention to the other side of the equation and see how the lineup should be expected to fare this season.
If the statistical models used — FanGraphs’ Depth Charts and the Marcels model at Baseball-Reference — were dubious about most of the pitching staff, they are positively bullish on the first piece of the lineup we look at today, the infield and catcher positions.
White Sox infield will flex serious muscle, according to models
The place to begin is at first base, where reigning American League Most Valuable Player Jose Abreu will once again hold down the fort.
Last season, Abreu led the American league with 76 hits and a .617 slugging percentage, while leading all of Major League Baseball with his 60 RBI and 148 total bases. He hit .317 — matching his career-high from his rookie year in 2014 — with a career-best OPS of .987.
Abreu banged out 15 doubles and 19 home runs, scored 43 runs and struck out 59 times in 262 plate appearances while drawing 18 walks.
The Depth Charts model predicts another very durable year for Abreu — 154 games and 665 plate appearances — while projecting 35 doubles, 33 home runs and 115 RBI, though they are expecting a dip to a .272 batting average and .824 OPS. The model also projects Abreu to have 1.8 Wins Above Replacement, down from the 2.6 from last season’s abbreviated schedule.
The Marcels numbers, which only deal with the standard batting stats, have also have Abreu with a .272 average and .824 OPS, with raw totals of 33 doubles, 30 home runs and 104 RBI in 623 plate appearances. That is based on 83 percent performance and the expectation of a 17 percent regression to the mean — not illogical for a player who turns 34 on Friday.
Yasmani Grandal hit a little worse than expected in his first season with the White Sox — a .230 average and a .773 OPS as opposed to the .241 and .794 career marks, respectively, he brought with him after three seasons with the San Diego Padres, four with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the 2019 season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The two-time All-Star played in 46 games last season with 194 plate appearances, finishing with seven doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBI while working 30 walks and fanning 58 times. The Marcels model, based on 81 percent performance and 19 percent regression, puts Grandal at .235 this season with a .790 OPS, closer to his career marks.
He’s projected to produce 21 doubles, 22 homers, 66 runs scored and 66 RBI in 525 plate appearances, with 78 walks and 129 strikeouts.
But Depth Charts? Their numbers are both less and more promising, if that can be a simultaneous occurrence. Grandal is projected to hit .230 with a .787 OPS in 553 plate appearances, with 20 doubles, 25 long balls, 75 RBI and 70 runs scored, while walking 82 times and striking out 145.
Grandal is also expected to save 3.5 runs in the field and is the team’s projected leader in WAR at 4.1.
Depth Charts projects a decent bounce-back season for third baseman Yoan Moncada, who fell from career-bests of a .315 average and a .915 OPS with 25 homers, 34 doubles and 79 RBI to last season’s dismal .225 mark with an OPS of just .705. In 231 plate appearances over 52 games, Moncada had eight doubles, three triples, six homers, drove in 24 runs and scored 28.
His projections at Depth Charts show a .255 batting average and a .781 OPS in 637 plate appearances, 27 doubles, five triples, 24 home runs, 81 RBI and 84 runs scored, with a WAR count of 3.2.
Marcels also likes his chances of a rebound, projecting a .263 average and a .797 OPS with 28 doubles, five triples, 20 homers, 68 RBI and 75 runs scored in 568 plate appearances. That is based off 82 percent performance and 18 percent regression.
And what of Silver Slugger-winning shortstop Tim Anderson? Marcels is taking a conservative approach for the young star, projecting a .287 average with a .789 OPS.
Over 550 plate appearances, Anderson is expected to produce 27 doubles, 20 home runs, 60 RBI and 84 runs scored. That is based on a performance/regression split of 81 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
Last season, he was at .322 with an .886 OPS in 221 plate appearances, notching 11 doubles, 10 homers, 21 RBI and leading the American League with 45 runs scored.
Depth Charts, has Anderson with a .283 average and .774 OPS with 33 doubles, 24 homers, 78 RBI and 93 runs scored in 665 plate appearances. The model is not crazy about his fielding (a team-worst projection of minus-8.3 fielding runs) and projects 2.5 WAR.
That leaves us with young second baseman Nick Madrigal, the 2018 fourth overall pick who debuted with the White Sox last season. In 29 games and 109 plate appearances, Madrigal hit .340 with a .745 OPS, with three doubles, 11 RBI and eight runs scored.
Turning 24 in March, Madrigal played like an old-school contact hitter as a rookie, with a strikeout rate of just 6.4 percent.
Depth Charts sees Madrigal flexing a bit more muscle in his first full season, a .297 average and .733 OPS in 616 plate appearances, with 28 doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 55 RBI and 67 runs scored. The model also has him with 3.3 fielding runs — third-best on the club — and 2.3 WAR.
Marcels doesn’t see Madrigal playing as much — just 347 plate appearances off a split of 31 percent performance and 69 percent regression — and have him with a .281 average and .762 OPS with 13 doubles, nine homers, 41 RBI and 39 runs scored.
Off the bench, backup catcher Zack Collins projects via Marcels to a .224 average and .711 OPS in 235 plate appearances (nine doubles, eight homers, 27 RBI, 28 runs). His Depth Charts projection is .198 with a .681 OPS in 141 plate appearances, five doubles, five home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs.
Utility infielder Leury Garcia, meanwhile, is afforded 196 plate appearances by the Depth Charts model, hitting .260 with a .673 OPS, eight doubles, four homers, 18 RBI and 23 runs. Marcels places Garcia with 347 plate appearances (projecting him to share time with Madrigal) with a .263 average, .691 OPS, 13 doubles, seven homers, 32 RBI and 45 runs.
Even with the regressions in the forecasts, the guys around the infield and behind the plate are projected to produce a lot of offense. In 2020, the five positions combined for 54 home runs, 187 RBI and 167 runs scored in 60 games, hitting .286 even with the struggles at third base. Those numbers would project to 146 homers — just from five positions — over a 162-game schedule.
What it means, if the projections hold or are exceeded, is that White Sox pitchers should have runs to work with.