In Tuesday’s game against the Rangers, the White Sox hit two more home runs to bring their Spring Training total to an MLB-leading 48, four more than the second-place Cubs. While not the national story that L’affaire LaRoche was, the White Sox power output this spring has caused a bit of a buzz around the team, in large part due to the contrast to last year’s team that hit the fewest home runs in the AL (136) and had the lowest TAv in baseball (.247).
Last year’s offensive woes were likely much of the impetus for GM Rich Hahn’s offseason additions that focused on bolstering the lineup. By adding Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie and Jimmy Rollins, he certainly did that. While that trio’s 64 combined home runs in 2015 was strong on its own, it’s downright incredible compared to the hodgepodge of replacement level players that combined for a measly 31 home runs at second base, shortstop, and third base for the 2015 White Sox. In fact, no trio of White Sox swatted more dingers in 2015 than Frazier, Lawrie, and Rollins, with the three leading home run hitters (Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, and Avisail Garcia) only combining for 57. Almost by default, the White Sox should be a much more powerful team this season.
PECOTA certainly agrees with this assessment, projecting 157 home runs and an above average team TAv of .263. This alone is quite encouraging, and in fact would represent the best White Sox offense since the team last claimed the AL Central crown in 2008. But these projections were made without accounting for this Spring’s offensive explosion, and by doing so might even still be too conservative.
Of course, it is very difficult to make any reasonable predictions based solely on Spring Training statistics. Between small sample sizes, dampened competition (both due to facing MiLB players as well as MLB players still getting into shape) and a very different offensive environment, drawing conclusions like “The White Sox will lead the majors in home runs” from this Spring would be misguided. But as 538’s Rob Arthur showed last Spring, there is statistically significant information that can be gleaned from Spring Training performance on a team-wide level. By supplementing BP’s PECOTA model with team Spring Training OPS, Arthur was able to develop a slightly more accurate model than PECOTA on its own, with teams that hit better than expected in Spring generally outperforming their PECOTA projections, albeit not by a large amount.
Is this to say that the White Sox projection should go from slightly above average to near the top of baseball? Certainly not. While the relationship is statistically significant, it’s not particularly strong. Furthermore, the magnitude of the change in projected OPS was not enormous — last year’s largest riser according to Arthur was the Mets, who saw their OPS projection go up .011. So expecting the Sox to be an offensive juggernaut in 2016 is aggressive. But with the strength of the current pitching staff, even PECOTA’s projected .263 TAv may be enough to vault them into contention, and anything else might be enough to ensure that Barack Obama’s favorite baseball team will not go without a playoff appearance during his time as president.
Top photo credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports