2017 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles–Chicago White Sox
Anyone writing commentary sometimes has to try hard to avoid the overuse of snark. This usually happens when covering a team like the White Sox. The industry has discovered a link between fielding and pitching and the fantasy player would do well to pick up on that link. So, while fielding may not seem like a popular topic in fantasy baseball, it does make a great deal of sense when looking at pitchers.
The White Sox are somewhere on the backside of that curve. They effectively blew up half of their roster this offseason in an effort to catch up on the curve. It was long overdue. It also makes evaluating the lineup difficult in terms of fielding. Many of these newer players have no track record to go on, but the important thing we be focusing on who they are replacing. That will tell us what we need to know as to whether the White Sox are catching on to the importance of fielding.
For our purposes we are using the Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved. Billjamesonline.com keeps track of those numbers for individual performers and for the team. Zero runs is considered average. Additionally, they have added in a statistic that calculates how many runs advanced shifting gets them as well. We also will compare these numbers with the defense efficiency rating from baseball reference. That shows a simple percentage of balls in play that get converted into outs. Each numbers’ ranking is done in comparison with the rest of the American League.
One of the trends we have noticed is that teams in general are learning more about shifting and the White Sox are certainly an example of that. They were one of the best shifting teams in the American League last season and that helped them overcome a below average performance overall. Their defensive runs saved mark and DER came pretty darn close to average, so while we would love to poke fun at the Sox, their results indicate they really shouldn’t be ridiculed.
The problem with the White Sox is the same in every phase of the game. They continually add players they hope will send them over the top and they continually come up average. Their fielding hasn’t been any different. They are a true testament to the synergy that comes with being slightly below average in every facet of the game. Look up and you live in the 70 to 75 win department.
Jacob May has no track record in center field, so evaluating him is a waste of time. With 118 minor league stolen bases we can assume he has speed, but there are lots of guys with speed that aren’t good fielders. He ostensibly replaces Adam Eaton who was traded to the Nationals for a bevy of prospects. Officially, J.B. Shuck is listed as the center fielder for the 2016 season with Austin Jackson backing him up. May will likely at least equal their fielding production in center.
Avisail Garcia will replace Eaton in right field to likely disastrous results. He is minus 18 runs defensively over the past three seasons while Eaton achieved that level on the positive end over one season. So, the likely result is that the outfield defense will be significantly worse than it was over the last two seasons and it wasn’t particularly good then as you can see from the numbers above.
In the infield, Tyler Saladino replaces Brett Lawrie at second base. Lawrie was cut before Spring Training as the White Sox want to go young in the middle infield. Anderson and Saladino should be plus defenders and when you add in Todd Frazier at third you have three plus defenders on the infield. The big change is Geovany Soto behind the dish. He has been neutral over the past three seasons which could be an overall improvement.
As a group, the White Sox pitchers trend towards the fly ball variety. Their three-year averages surpass the league average for ground balls, but each pitcher seems to be moving in the wrong direction in that category. This of course moves us back to our original problem of avoiding snark. The White Sox defensive outfield might be the worst in the American League and you have a group of pitchers that all trend towards surrendering too many fly balls.
Jose Quintana is obviously the only pitcher on the list who was drafted in every league. He also is the most obvious pitcher to be dealt at some point during the season. He went from a 47-48 ground ball percentage to 41 last season. If that goes back up he could overcome the poor defensive outfield and approximate his fielding independent numbers. If he gets traded to a strong fielding team he could end up being a big time fantasy trade candidate.
Carlos Rodon is the only other White Sox starter worth considering at this point. Since this is year three of his young career he might end up taking a step forward. Cutting down on his walks and inducing more ground balls will be the key to his season. That bears watching if he is still on your waiver wire in the early going.