They scraped, and they clawed, and they battled, but at the end of the day, the Chicago White Sox fell short in their bid to win the AL Central, even after an 11-0 thrashing of the Indians on Monday night. A 2-10 stretch prior to that win did them in, and I bet a lot of White Sox fans, players, and other personnel are wondering what could have happened if some of that offense from Monday showed up a little more over the prior 12 games. At any rate, rookie manager Robin Ventura did a fantastic job with the club he used to play for, and I don't think Sox fans will ever forget the 2012 season.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: The White Sox got shockingly good seasons from players that were awful in 2011, including Alex Rios, AJ Pierzynski, and most importantly, Adam Dunn. Dunn and Rios combined for a swing of nearly ten fWAR, and were huge parts of the team's success in 2012. The team's pitching was also fantastic, with Chris Sale transitioning from a dominant midlde reliever to one of the best starting ptichers in the American League, and Jake Peavy finally getting his ERA to line up with his FIP. The White Sox also got great relief seasons from Matt Thornton, Nate Jones, Jesse Crain, and (mostly) Addison Reed.
What Went Wrong: There were a lot of holes with this White Sox club, and sometimes, you wonder how they got this far. Phil Humber served as the team's fifth starter for half the year, but collapsed after an April perfect game against the Mariners. The Sox then traded for long-time Twin Francisco Liriano, who continued on with his erratic career and didn't help shore up the rotation for Chicago. Dayan Viciedo's sub-.300 OBP in left field was a huge mark against a solid enough lineup, as was the lack of production at third base until Kevin Youkilis came into town...and even then, Youkilis only provided a little over a win of value in half a season. Gordon Beckham remained offensively inept for the third straight season, though his power did tick up a little bit. Shorstop Alexei Ramirez also took a step in the wrong direction offensively after looking like he could leap into the top tier of shortstops in baseball.
Most Surprising Player: Dunn, Rios, Pierzynski, and Peavy have all been stars in their careers, and Sale was a first round draft pick two years ago...but who in the hell could have ever predicted that Jose Quintana would be a stablizing force in Chicago's rotation? The 23-year old Colombian bounced around as a minor league free agent from the Mets, to the Yankees, and finally landing for good with the White Sox this offseason with no experience above high-A under his belt. Quintana had nine good starts with AA Birmingham, and was called up to the majors in May. All he did was post a 3.76 ERA in 136 1/3 innings in a good offensive division and give the White Sox an above average back-end starter out of nowhere. His 5.35 strikeout rate is way too low to hold up year after year though, so I wouldn't necessarily bet on a repeat performance in 2013, but Chicago will take his 2012 season every day of the week.
Most Disappointing Player: Last year, this category was easy for the White Sox. This year, not so much. You could say Phil Humber after the perfect game, but who expected anything out of him anyway? You could say Dayan Viciedo, but he's just 23. You could say Gordon Beckham, but after three crappy years in a row, are you really still disappointed? So I'm going to go ahead and go with Alexei Ramirez, who somehow managed to walk in just 2.6% of his plate appearances this year. He's walked 16 times in 611 plate appearances this year, down from 51 in 684 last year. Ramirez also failed to crack double digits in homers for the first time in his career (but with two games left, he's just one shy of getting there). He's not a spring chicken anymore at 31-years old, and he's still got three more years (plus an option!) on his current contract. This was not a step in the right direction.
Prospects Up: Chicago's farm system is generally thought of as a load of hot garbage, so this should be fun. Addison Reed was the team's best prospect coming into the year, and served as the closer for most of the season. Despite a 4.75 ERA, Reed struck out nearly a batter per inning and kept his walks down. He might not be Craig Kimbrel next year, but he could be very good. Nestor Molina, who the club got from Toronto for Sergio Santos in the offseason, had a solid enough year in AA, posting a K:BB of better than 3.00. Keenyn Walker showed some fantastic speed, Adam Dunn-esque plate discipline (though the strikeouts weren't nearly as bad), and had minimal power. 2009 second round pick Trayce Thompson mashed his way from high-A to AAA, combining for 25 homers, 21 steals, and 166 strikeouts. 2012 first round pick Courtney Hawkins moved quick for an 18-year old, and had himself a solid all-around campaign that ended in high-A.
Prospects Down: 27-year old Dylan Axelrod was fine in AAA, but got smashed in 51 major league innings. Jacob Petricka had control issues all year that became increasingly evident after he walked more hitters than he struck out after a midseason promotion to AA.
The Future: I think this year was just a blip on the radar for the Sox, and they're going to take a nice fall back in the standings in 2013. Pierzynski and Liriano are free agents, while Peavy and Youkilis have ugly looking options that will probably be declined. Chicago does have some younger talent taht could step in for the two position players in Tyler Flowers and Eduardo Escobar, but I'm not sure if either is an every day player. As for the rotation...well, Sale will be back, Gavin Floyd has an affordable option that I expect will be exercised, and the surprising duo of Hector Santiago (who turned in a gem last night to stave off elimination for a few more minutes) and Jose Quintana will also be around. John Danks also could be on his way back from shoulder surgery, and that's a piece this team really needs. But knowing Kenny Williams, he's absolutely not going to be content with so many young players on this team. Williams loves a veteran team, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him swing a deal for a veteran starter this winter to shore up the rotation and make the White Sox more competitive next season.