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Can the White Sox Lose 120 Games?

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Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday, April 2 was a good day for the Chicago White Sox. A solid seven-inning start from Garrett Crochet gave the team a lead into the late innings and the bullpen managed to preserve the win. This win, the first of the season, moved to Sox to a 1-4 record, a .200 winning percentage. That’s not an impressive start to the season by any means, but that 1-4 record represents the high-water mark of the month-old 2024 season for the Pale Hose. At no point in the last three weeks have the White Sox had a seasonal winning percentage better than .200, and the four-game losing streak to begin the year is their shortest losing streak so far. Whenever a team that’s projected to be terrible starts the season even worse than expected, we instinctually invoke the 1962 Mets, who set the record for the most losses in a season, at 120. We’re at that point with these White Sox.

What’s striking about Chicago’s start is that in some ways, it’s not even particularly unlucky. Yes, Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert Jr. are out for significant stretches of time, but the projected WAR for their missed playing time so far is a bit under one win. The team’s had only two other IL stints since the start of the season and both injured players, reliever John Brebbia and slugger Eloy Jiménez, returned quickly. Other than Moncada and Robert, the Sox are fielding largely the lineup, rotation, and bullpen that they intended to when the season began. They’re only about a single win worse than their Pythagorean record, and in their three wins, they outscored their opponents by a total of four runs, meaning they were just a few bad breaks from being in the 1988 Orioles territory of dreadful starts.

Chicago’s pitching, at least, hasn’t been completely hopeless. Don’t get me wrong, the White Sox staff ranks at or near the bottom of the league in ERA, FIP, and the various spins on these numbers, but the bullpen has been sort of average, and there have been at least flashes of competence from some of the starters. Crochet’s ERA is ugly, but his peripheral stats are much better and the reasons he’s struggled (homer rate, BABIP) are two of the most volatile stats in existence. Erick Fedde has looked a lot better than he did before his stint in Korea and was terrific on Tuesday, striking out 11 Twins in a 6-5 walk-off loss for the Sox. No, it’s not the pitching that’s the primary offender right now; it’s the offense.

The White Sox have been cosplaying as a Deadball era team, hitting .189/.263/.292 and scoring barely over two runs per game. To put that into context, they have a 62 wRC+ as a team, a mark that has never been maintained for a full season by any big league club; the worst hitting team over a full season was the 1920 Philadelphia A’s, with a 68 wRC+. Even if we look at just the first 24 games of a season, the White Sox lineup is among the most inept since 1901.

Fewest Runs Scored in First 24 Games

YearTeamRunsWLBAOBPSLGOPS+
1907Brooklyn Superbas36320.180.258.22657
1909Washington Nationals43617.190.252.23255
2004Montreal Expos45519.210.260.29251
1972Milwaukee Brewers49816.185.245.27461
1910Cleveland Naps521210.200.268.25763
2024Chicago White Sox53321.189.263.29262
1943Chicago White Sox531014.225.296.27772
2003Detroit Tigers55321.182.255.25741
1966Kansas City Athletics55816.196.258.26156
1910Chicago White Sox55816.202.270.23563
1908Brooklyn Superbas55816.215.261.27775
1907St. Louis Cardinals55519.228.276.27275
1905Boston Nationals55815.221.273.25860
1968Los Angeles Dodgers561212.210.264.27977
1954Baltimore Orioles561014.210.265.28259
1909Chicago White Sox561112.193.264.22757
1988Baltimore Orioles57123.208.279.29664
1947Washington Nationals571014.243.314.30376
1942Chicago White Sox57519.211.275.27863
1910St. Louis Browns57419.203.277.26374
1909New York Giants571014.207.284.26268
1968Chicago White Sox59915.217.270.31381
1972California Angels60915.243.299.32699
1971Milwaukee Brewers601113.211.283.29871
1919St. Louis Cardinals60618.225.282.28859

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Teams were shut out an average of 10.3 times last year; these White Sox have been shut out eight times, meaning they’ve already been shut out half as many times as the offense that led the majors in shutouts last season, the Oakland A’s. Chicago is more than a third of the way toward matching the 2019 Marlins and 2022 Tigers for the highest single-season total of shutouts in the wild-card era, with 22. Let’s catch up quickly on the current AL Central projections in ZiPS.

ZiPS Median Projected AL Central (Through 4/24)

TeamWLGBPctDiv%WC%Playoff%WS Win%80th20th
Cleveland Guardians8973.54955.2%18.0%73.3%4.9%96.982.0
Minnesota Twins84785.51920.9%20.7%41.6%2.9%90.374.9
Kansas City Royals81818.50014.2%18.6%32.8%1.2%88.173.4
Detroit Tigers80829.4949.7%14.6%24.3%0.8%85.971.2
Chicago White Sox5410835.3330.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%61.847.2

The White Sox are hopelessly out of the race in a division where “showing up for the season” is basically all it takes to contend. Their current 80th percentile projection to finish the season is about 10 wins worse than the 20th percentile projection for any other team. That 20th percentile projection of 47.2 wins would amount to 115 losses, tantalizingly close to 120. Let’s get the exact distribution of the South Siders’ results.

ZiPS Projected Wins Through 4/24, White Sox

PercentileWins
1%36.1
5%40.8
10%43.5
20%47.2
30%49.8
40%52.2
50%54.4
60%56.6
70%59.1
80%61.8
90%65.5
95%68.4
99%73.6

ZiPS currently gives the White Sox an 8.1% chance of winning 42 or fewer games. When I projected the A’s last year, they came out with only a 5.2% shot at finishing that poorly. Congratulations?

The 2024 White Sox are fairly likely to set franchise records for futility. The current projections give them a 43% chance to have the worst winning percentage in franchise history, a mark currently held by the 1932 club, at .325.

It’s also hard to see where the White Sox would get surges of improvement outside of a regression toward the mean. At the earliest, Moncada is still a few months away from returning. ZiPS is already assuming that Robert’s IL stint will be much shorter and he’ll come back and play as he was expected to coming into the season. There are no hotshot prospects expected to make an impact this year, and the big league roster looks an awful lot like a Triple-A team at the moment, full of fringy veterans.

And don’t forget: The White Sox could get even worse than this come trade season. Moncada’s likely going to return too late to be tradeable at the deadline, but everyone else should be available. I’m including Robert; next season is his last under his base contract before the team option years, and I can’t envision this franchise turning things around before he hits free agency. If 2023 wasn’t sufficient notice that the team’s competitive window has been slammed shut and locked, it’s clear now that the whole thing has been bricked over.

It’s tragic – in a baseball sense – that the fans endured a seven-year rebuild only to have the win-now phase amount to only two seasons, one of them severely shortened by the pandemic. And unlike teams that can claim to have suffered an extraordinary series of unfortunate events, this tale is largely one the White Sox wrote for themselves. Coming off a 93-win season in 2021 in which they lapped the division, finishing in first by 13 games, the White Sox suddenly stopped acting like contenders. Rather than addressing their weaknesses, they simply added a couple of relievers (Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly) and called it an offseason. Despite getting no offensive contributions from second base, the outfielder corners, and designated hitter in 2021, the team’s big position player move was bringing back Leury García on a three-year contract.

Demosthenes, an Athenian politician of the fourth century BC, once wrote that “the easiest thing of all is to deceive one’s self; for what a man wishes he generally believes to be true.” This comes from one his speeches (the Olynthiacs) in which he urged military support of Olynthus, attacked by Philip II of Macedon in 349 BC. And it’s a fitting quote for the White Sox, a team that has largely been run with decisions based on things they want to be true, rather than things that are actually so.

The White Sox wanted to address the second base hole, a problem for years, by just going with whatever utility guys they had on hand. They wanted Andrew Vaughn to hit in the majors in 2021, despite his struggles at High-A ball in 2019 and the cancellation of the minor leagues in 2020. They wanted Tony La Russa to manage the team to glory, and Jiménez to turn into prime José Bautista, and Moncada to stay healthy. The wish list goes on and on.

The end result is that the Sox squandered a position in which they had many advantages. They were a team at the top of the division with a payroll that was tens of millions of dollars from the luxury tax threshold. They had much of their young core a long way from free agency and the financial potential of playing in one of the country’s largest media markets. They played in the weakest division in baseball. Now they’re the worst team in that division.

The White Sox are too far gone, with problems that run too deep to be papered over by a few personnel changes and a handful of hires to their notoriously tiny analytics department. At this point, it feels like the only way for the franchise to turn things around is to clean house. That includes Jerry Reinsdorf, the team’s owner, who by all indications is a large part of the current dysfunction, but who by all indications has no intention of selling the team. So, can the White Sox lose 120 games? Sure. But maybe the better question is this: What would it matter if they did?

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