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2016 Preview: Chicago White Sox


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.

White Sox fans have gotten used to busy offseasons. They have yet to become acquainted with those busy offseasons bearing any real competitive fruit. So you can forgive them if they’re a tad skeptical of the changes made on the south side this past winter.

This year the Sox identified catcher, second base, shortstop and third base as prime reasons for their disappointing 2015 finish and plugged those holes with Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, Brett Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins and Todd Frazier, respectively. Austin Jackson was added late in the offseason for center field. Frazier is a HUGE upgrade and will pair nicely with Jose Abreu in the middle of the order. Lawrie will likewise be an offensive improvement at second base. There were some questions about his defense — he’s played much more third than second over the course of his career — but he’s looked solid there this spring. He has been a decent offensive performer in the past, but he has still not met the high expectations many have had for him. It’s hard to believe that Jimmy Rollins has anything left in the tank.

There are still a lot of question marks. Avila and Navarro are no spring chickens and neither is exactly a plus option at the plate, even if they prove to be a solid receiving corps (which, to be honest, is not something they should really be expected to be based on recent performance). Melky Cabrera, one of last season’s imports, underperformed in 2015. Can he return to the form he showed in Toronto? Adam LaRoche famously retired a few weeks ago, but that should probably be considered addition by subtraction. Unless of course there is a leadership void created by the loss of a 14-year-old boy. We’re on year five of waiting for Avisail Garcia to fulfill expectations.

Did the White Sox improve their offense and defense in the offseason? I think it’s fair to say they did. Did they improve it enough given how bad they were in 2015? Eh, doesn’t feel like it.

Pitching-wise things obviously start with Chris Sale and he’s outstanding. Jose Quintana is quietly one of the better number two starters in baseball, even if no one ever really acknowledges it. Carlos Rodon‘s rookie campaign was promising and he has nice potential, though he’s likely going to struggle with control and the adjustment to two new catchers who have bad pitch framing numbers. John Danks and Mat Latos aren’t the sort of horses you’d bet on to do that much at this point. At best you get some innings eaten, but that’s certainly not a guarantee with Latos.

Like a lot of teams the back end of the pen looks OK. Here it’s Dave Robertson and Nate Jones. The rest is an uninspiring mix of guys who disappointed last year. Eh, bullpens are like that. There’s not reason, though, to think this will be a great group.

Sorry, I’m just pessimistic about the White Sox overall. Beyond the Frazier addition I’m not enamored with the White Sox’ offseason moves and feel like they were exercises in bringing in name brand players as opposed to useful, improved ones. I think a lineup needs more than 2-3 reliable bats and a rotation needs more than two sure thing pitchers. Finally, while I am not the sort to read TOO much into team chemistry stuff, the fact that the White Sox clubhouse nearly tore itself apart over the presence and then absence of a 14-year-old boy is . . . troubling. All of this, I think, adds up to another disappointing year on the south side.

Prediction: fifth place, A.L. Central.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.