The Catbird Seat rails against ESPN's preseason predictions

The wise and just ESPN Sweetspot Guru David Schoenfield is going through his pre-Spring rankings of every MLB team and the White Sox have come up...a bit earlier than I would have hoped. David ranks them 23rd in baseball, predicts a 77-85 mark and cites concerns about the back-half of the starting rotation, problems spots in the infield, and does not appear to be a Tyler Flowers’ Glasses Truther. The Sox are behind the Tigers--whom he acknowledges could be division favorites again--the Royals, the Rays, and his surprise team: the Houston Astros.

Before we begin our response, let us remember the lyrics of Dave Mason, who in 1968 released the song “We Just Disagree,” which centered around the following refrain: 

“So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye.

There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys.

There's only you and me and we just disagree.“

Let’s also remember that this song was straight trash.

James: Let us get the obvious out of the way: Everything David has said about the Sox is a slanderous lie and a callous attempt to disparage our most beautiful revolution.

But really, criticisms like this are always informative. We are many, but we are tainted by bias, and generally dismissive of projections that cannot react fast enough to some of the developments we’re banking on for 2015 success: Next Level Sale, post-breakout Samardzija, passable Hector Noesi, healthy Adam Eaton, potential Avisail Garcia, etc.

Someone else coming in, not blind, but less familiar and judging some of these 50-50, or 40-60 scenarios differently than we woukd is helpful. Tyler Flowers could be garbage again, I was always someone to point to Samardzija’s lack of real production before last season, Sale is a magical twig we pray to every night, etc.

Nick: The thing about this exercise is that I don’t necessarily disagree if you want to say “median expectation is 77 wins” for the White Sox, or, as Dave says, that there are OBP concerns, concerns at 2B, C, and 3B, or that the back of the rotation is a concern. Those are all absolutely true.

The problem is when you engage in a relative exercise you have to compare teams to one another, and, well...Other than 2B I can’t think of a single position where the Astros are better than the White Sox, and any of his criticisms of the White Sox would apply much more sharply to an Astros team he has winning six more games and ranked 8 spots ahead of them.

In defense of Dave you could say that picking a team to win 77 and another to win 83 isn’t really saying there’s much difference between them. And he does say he could see how the White Sox could win 90 games. And I am a White Sox fan and I have to keep in mind I’m probably biased.

Still, I am objectively confused as to what the Astros have as an advantage over our squad for 2015.

Collin: I guess if there’s a big group of unknown maybe-contenders out there and Dave is forcing himself to pick which he thinks he will be better, he’s bound to come to conclusions some fan base isn’t going to like. Agreed with everything you said about Houston, Nick. And you could make the same argument about a handful of teams being ahead of the White Sox — Tampa, Milwaukee — as well as his decision to put the Cubs at No. 13.

Nick: I mean, it’s fair to say you’re worried about the White Sox’ on base skills - it’s been a problem for a long time, and Flowers / 2B are a concern, but Eaton - Melky - Abreu - LaRoche is the top of the lineup. The Astros have positive OBP guys at uh...2B and...CF? That’s kind of it. Jake Marisnick has a .326 OBP in the PCL for crying out loud.

I get why he has the Cubs up so high. I understand how that happens, even if that’s not what I would predict. If you think Soler and Bryant are really good, and will be really good in 2015 - a very sane opinion - then there’s reason to believe the Cubs can compete. They have guys on the way.

Just...the Astros…?

James: No one is really feeling the Astros, it seems.

Nick: I said the Astros have positive OBP guys at 2B and CF then I remembered they got rid of Fowler, so just 2B then.

James: Are the White Sox uniquely screwed if they suffer a major injury? We hear “depth is an issue” for a lot of teams, but do most teams have better options for slightly above-replacement play if someone goes down? There’s Rodon waiting in the wings, but pretty much any of the top-3 starters getting hurt offers the chance of swapping All-Star production with replacement-level. There are no decent bats if Abreu or LaRoche go down.

I have to echo that OBP problems is not something that jumps out at me. The first four should all be above-average, reaching at a decent clip is the only thing a Gillaspie-Bonifacio platoon can really promise. There’s potential for below-average after that, but at least half of that is projecting pessimistically for Alexei Ramirez and Avisail Garcia in general. I guess it’s a very Sox fan thing for me to see two potential black holes in the lineup at C and 2B, shrug and say “Eh, not bad. Only two.”

Ethan: I don’t see how the White Sox are more screwed if injury happens than, say, the Tigers or Indians. The only way the Sox are hurt in particular is that they are heavily reliant on two legit superstars and four other All Star types (Melky and Shark have been All Stars in the past and Eaton and Quintana were right there in 2014). Losing players like that hurts a lot, especially Sale, whose health may have the most effect of any player on any team in 2015 (this is actually a cool argument for a different post). But the Sox have Rodon to fill in the rotation, who is significantly better than anyone the Tigers could have and I’d argue as good as anyone the Indians have, JB Shuck in the outfield who is solid depth, and a glut of middle infielders who could possibly be passable in short bursts.

Notice that I didn’t mention the Royals. I know Dave ranked the Royals ahead of the Sox, and while 80-82 isn’t a ringing endorsement, I honestly do not see how that roster is better than the White Sox. I don’t see the Royals, even with that behemoth defense and bullpen, being better at run prevention than Sale/Shark/Quintana/Noesi/Danks (and probably Rodon over the lesser), and it’s not like their offense was ever a strong suit in 2014, and their additions won’t make it much better. I could see the Royals struggling to win 75 games in 2015.

I’m late to the party on jumping on the Astros bashing bandwagon, but I’m willing to put it on the record that I think they will be garbage in 2015, after tanking for a draft pick in three consecutive years and failing to draft the top prospect in each of those three drafts. It’s for a different post, but I find the Astros’ tanking and deliberate cost-slashing to lose games to be ethically wrong, and hope they continue to be terrible until Jim Crane is no longer their owner.

Nick: The Astros are an exercise in taking a concept to its logical extreme - anything that will not help you the moment you are ready to compete should be cashed out immediately. It makes sense, it’s just that I’m not sure you can just flip the switch and graduate a contending team all at once - the Rays did it in 2008, and I’m struggling to think of other examples of it.

Springer could be really cool right away, but Correa lost a lot of 2014 to a devastating leg injury, and while Santana and Singleton could be cool, the evidence is stacked against it. I’m not seeing which prospects are taking the leap forward to help them next year. 2016 there are definitely some names, but not so much 2015.

Like Ethan said, the White Sox are depending heavily on some superstars, so if they get hurt they’re vulnerable - but I guess, isn’t that analysis sort of punishing them for HAVING superstars in the first place? Like if you say Kershaw and Puig will get hurt, then yeah, I’m worried about the Dodgers.

“Teams with superstars won’t be nearly as good if their superstars get hurt! That’s why all my chips are on the Phillies and Braves next year!”

Ethan: Well the difference with Dodgers is they a) have all the money in the world and b) have three of the best prospects in baseball all nearly ready to make the big league team (though Urias making the 2015 team as a 15 year old or however young he is would be probably too aggressive). And they might sign Moncada. It’d be cool to have that much money, but I guess it’s also cool that Jerry likes to play games with season ticket holders and paint a below league average payroll as “going for it” buuuuuuuutttt (*kermit sips tea*)

Nick: Okay, not the best example with the Dodgers, but if Miguel Cabrera and David Price get hurt the Tigers may lose 90 games, but I don’t see anyone trashing them for it.

Ethan: Oh yeah, as you said in your last post, basically every team in the AL Central could be incredibly volatile with injuries.

Tangentially, Julio Urias is younger than me by over a year. It’s gonna be weird when he makes the majors (Moncada is 17 days younger than me, too).

Nick: I was born somewhere between Clayton Kershaw and Justin Upton.

Collin: Mike Trout is two years younger than George Springer. (I’m still here!)

Nick: I guess the thing I walk away from here is that Dave is right - a lot of these teams are really bunched up, and you’re talking about condensing a range of possibilities depending on what could happen into a single projection. But at the end of the day when you do a ranking like this you’re making an assertion about what you think of the quality of a given roster.

Dave’s worries about the White Sox are all well-founded and realistic. I’m just not convinced the Astros are better than the White Sox, by any margin.


Ethan: The Astros remind a bit of a multitude of pre-2014 (maybe pre-2013) iterations of the Royals: a team that sucked the year prior, had some exciting looking players who flashed quality in the bigs, and a reputation of having a strong, young core. Every year, those Royals were supposed to be good, and every year until last, they sucked. If I had to bet, the Astros will suck this year too.

Another team ranked ahead of the White Sox that surprised me was the Rays. Frankly, I think the Rays have a higher chance of having the worst record in the AL than making the playoffs. They were a bad team last year with a good four months from Price, a full year of near-elite play from Zobrist, a solid-ish SS in Escobar. Now they’ve added what, Adstrubal Cabrera, Steven Souza (who is a projection darling that I’d take way under on) and Jon Jaso to make up for those subtractions? There’s no guarantee Moore returns to form and even if he does there’s *still* an argument that they’re worse than they were last year, and they were bad last year. They overall have a solid staff, but that offense looks putrid outside of Longoria.

As far as the glut of average-ish team, I can buy that. I think you could make the argument that the White Sox are as good as every team listed so far, and others that haven’t been. Each of the Indians, Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and even the Angels and Mariners (who are becoming a lot of people’s sleeper team for 2015) have some enormous holes in their rosters, with more projectable certainty than the White Sox. And that’s literally every team in the AL- there’s not one that I can say with certainty will be better than the White Sox. Do I expect the White Sox to be the best team in the AL? Certainly not, I don’t even think they’re necessarily AL Central favorites (though I could be persuaded). But the thing is, every single AL team has massive flaws. I don’t see a single team that has separated themselves from “middling” talents like the White Sox.

James: That I would wear a “SOX > ASTROS: TRUE IN ‘05, TRUE NOW, DAGNABBIT” shirt is probably a marker of age and oncoming crotchetiness