For a team that has underperformed lofty expectations the last couple of years, the White Sox sure do have boatloads of talent. A lineup that includes the likes of Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, and Luis Robert is sure to be must-watch TV, while a pitching staff consisting of a star-studded rotation and a shut-down bullpen will have opposing batters feeling uneasy about stepping to the plate.
A new manager will be leading the way, so a change in the culture of the clubhouse could bring the most out of the team. Expect to see a reinvigorated and exciting group of players take the field next spring. Plenty of fantasy managers will be targeting the White Sox as a team with appealing options to choose from when it comes to draft day.
The outlook on the South Side for 2023 is sure to once again be positive, meaning some players will be looked upon to have great seasons while some will be overlooked completely. Let’s dive into a few players that have a high likelihood of performing outside of their recognized talent levels.
2022 Stats (555 PA): .271 AVG, 60 R, 17 HR, 76 RBI, 0 SB
The third pick in the 2019 Draft, Vaughn has long been touted as a player with a bright future and loads of potential. A promising debut campaign flowed into a productive sophomore season at the age of 24. 2022 saw the right-handed hitter post a 113 wRC+ (20% better than his rookie season) with mixed underlying metrics.
As he enters his third full season, there’s a growing sense that a new offensive level is in reach. Going off the board just inside the top 150 in Draft Champion drafts on NFBC, Vaughn has more than enough space to produce immense fantasy value over his draft stock. He is the 12th first baseman and 35th outfielder taken in those same NFBC drafts. The notion that he has the ability to outperform many of the players drafted ahead of him innately makes him a fantasy baseball sleeper.
SALAMI FOR ANDREW VAUGHN! pic.twitter.com/z7m6ms2IOP
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) September 18, 2022
Breaking down Vaughn’s prospective 2023 breakout goes beyond expected Statcast metrics. In fact, stats such as xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA suggest Vaughn overperformed in 2022. Conversely, he hits the ball hard as consistently as anyone. Among qualified batters in 2022, only 16 players produced a higher Statcast-measured hard-hit rate than Vaughn’s 90th percentile 48.4% HardHit%. Some of the names he outperformed in this department include Freddie Freeman, Juan Soto, and 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt.
What sets Vaughn apart from his hard-hitting constituents is his ability to pair lasers with a contact-centered approach. Not only does he make contact at an above-average rate (80.7% according to Fangraphs), but he also has a propensity for avoiding strikeouts (17.3% K%, 75th percentile).
Combining hitting the ball with authority and steering clear of strikeouts leaves batters with increased opportunities to generate base hits and, in turn, increases the number of positive at-bats. Few players can stay aggressive enough to make loud contact while holding enough back to ensure the ball is put in play. Vaughn’s elite standing in both of those categories puts him in a league of his own. Below is the complete list of qualified hitters in 2022 that produced a HardHit% north of 46% while striking out less than 18% of the time.
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||50.4%||16.4%|
Not only is Vaughn in elite company, but he is also part of a select few rare individuals capable of qualifying for this list. Each of these players posted a wRC+ of 130 or better in 2022, suggesting that Vaughn should be in a higher tier of offensive threats. It also lends credence to the idea of him being drafted too late as a breakout candidate even without improving in other departments. Improvements could and should be made to his ground-ball-hitting tendencies and his aggressiveness outside of the zone.
A plethora of ground balls will hold a hitter back from reaching his full offensive potential because balls hit in the air or on a line have a higher probability of landing for hits and extra bases. For someone that mashes the ball as hard as Vaughn, hitting the ball in the air would lead to more success than hitting ground balls at infielders. His 48% ground ball rate is above the league average but is still in line with many of the batters on the previous table. Therefore, it is not the sole factor keeping him from taking off and suggests that he could still be an elite hitter without changing his launch angle. Where it does become a problem is in the exit velocity numbers.
His average exit velocity is in the 82nd percentile (90.8 mph), but his average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is just 88.9 mph – a full two miles per hour worse than his average rate on all forms of batted balls. Common sense would say that this means he is hitting the ball harder on the ground than in the air, carrying his average EV into good standing. So, even though he doesn’t hit too many ground balls to prevent success, he pounds a disproportionate amount of his hard hits into the infield grass. If he can learn to get some loft behind those balls, an immediate and obvious impact will be observable in his on-field production.
His other avenue of improvement resides in becoming more passive on pitches out of the zone. Vaughn cut his strikeout rate in 2022 by being more aggressive. Not only did it lead to more success, but it also lead to a three percent reduction in his walk rate to 5.6%. His eagerness to swing becomes more apparent when viewing his plate discipline tendencies.
The California native chased pitches out of the zone above the league average rate and swung at pitches in the zone below the league average rate. This is counterintuitive and is a recipe for disaster. He was able to overcome this deficiency with his elite bat-to-ball skills, as seen in his above-average contact and swinging strike rates. A change in the approach of the pitches he chooses to unleash his bat on could lead to another big leap forward.
Andrew Vaughn would have batted .298-.300 w/ 25-30 home runs this past season if the White Sox ballpark had Yankee Stadium dimensions pic.twitter.com/8AU71QyKIE
— Jay Cuda (@JayCuda) November 3, 2022
There is also the sense that he would hit for more power if he pulled more of his fly balls, taking on a similar approach to Paul Goldschmidt (pulled fly balls, opposite-field ground balls/line drives), but his lack of success with an all fields approach can partly be blamed on his home ballpark. Either way, he should continue to hit for a high batting average.
Even if these improvements to his game aren’t realized, the foundation that he has set with his ability to put the ball in play with authority should continue to create beneficial results. He has plenty of avenues to improve upon that would lead to a direct influx of batted-ball success. As he becomes more accustomed to the Major Leagues, improvements to his game will come naturally. Vaughn has a high probability of becoming a slightly better hitter in 2023 and has a shot at becoming one of the most dangerous offensive threats in baseball if everything comes together.
2022 Stats (161.2 IP): 4.90 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 177 K, 11 W, 0 SV
Widely believed to be a consensus top 15-20 starter heading into 2022, the outlook on Giolito has completely flipped following a disastrous campaign. In his age-30 season, the right-hander prevented runs at the lowest rate since he posted the league’s highest ERA in 2018. All of the gains he had made since then to become one of the league’s preeminent starters dissipated, resulting in a drop in fastball velocity, a reduced strikeout rate, and more baserunners. However, there are plenty of underlying stats and caveats that inspire a return to form in 2023.
Currently being drafted just inside the top 150 in Draft Champions drafts on the NFBC platform as the 42nd pitcher off the board, Giolito has plenty of room to provide fantasy value above his draft slot. Additionally, he has a much more storied history of success than the pitchers being taken around him. Pitchers such as Nick Lodolo, Joe Ryan, and Jesús Luzardo are being drafted in the same area, and despite having tons of potential, have never displayed it across a full season in the way Giolito did from 2019-21. Giolito greatly contrasts the young pitchers taken after pick 100 because he doesn’t have to make unforeseen improvements. Instead, he just has to return to form.
Lucas Giolito, 1st 7 outs….7Ks. ? pic.twitter.com/FCylX61GTo
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 3, 2022
The most obvious, fundamental, and impactful skill that he needs to recapture is the velocity of his fastball. Ever since his 2019 breakout, Giolito has sat at around 94 mph with his four-seamer—above-average velocity for a starter. Last year, he dropped all the way back to his pre-2019 breakout levels of 92.5 mph—below league-average velocity for a starter. The consequences of this change manifested in a decreased swinging strike rate (9.7%) and an increased amount of base hits (.284 AVG) on his primary pitch. It’s difficult to tell if this was due to an accidental change in mechanics, an outlier campaign, or straight-up regression, but Giolito has a clear path to regaining his success and it lies in throwing the ball harder.
As important as fastball velocity is to Giolito’s game, the success of his changeup might be paramount. It is one of the most lethal offspeed pitches in baseball and has become his go-to secondary pitch. The optics of his changeup didn’t change much in 2022, but the results of when batters made contact weren’t in the pitcher’s favor. This can be explained by an insanely high and unsustainable .375 BABIP that is more than likely to regress to league-average levels in 2023. The pitch still produced the 10th-best CSW (33.3%) among changeups despite the lack of luck on balls in play, so Giolito just has to cross his fingers that lady luck is on his side next season.
Lucas Giolito, K'ing the Side in the 1st. pic.twitter.com/xsnIB9Csxw
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 9, 2022
Moving from a per-pitch level to a general overview, the foundation of what made Giolito an ace in previous years is still apparent and much of his lack of success can be blamed on things not going his way. The Twitch streamer produced one of the best overall CSW rates (30.4%, 33rd-best), limited hard contact at an above-average rate (25.4%), and ate his fair share of innings when he wasn’t being pulled early during blowup starts.
Speaking of blowups, he allowed more than four earned runs in seven of his 30 starts, four of which featured a BABIP of at least .450. That lack of fortunate luck permeated throughout his underlying metrics. An overall BABIP of .340, a 3.64 xFIP, and poor HR/FB and LOB rates suggest that his 2022 should have been better. It also suggests that even if Giolito is unable to recapture his fastball velocity or prevent the blowup starts that plagued him, he should still surpass last year’s nadir.
With all of that in mind, Giolito is a Chicago sleeper because he possesses ace potential (and history) that is nearly impossible to find in the middle of drafts. If he dials up the heat on his fastball and premiers it in Spring Training, his path to success will be very clear and many people will be betting on a bounce back. Even if he does have to find a way to pitch with diminished velocity, he has enough weapons to survive and will certainly encounter better luck in 2023. It may not result in a fully ace-caliber campaign, but it will be a massive improvement on last year’s catastrophe.
2022 Stats (184 IP): 2.20 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 227 K, 14 W, 0 SV
One of 2022’s biggest breakout pitchers, Cease took his game to another level. He maintained his standing as one of the league’s best strikeout artists and improved his run prevention by more than a run and a half. That success marks a third consecutive year of improvement and it’s time to start wondering if this is the peak.
The breakout campaign has Cease being drafted often inside the top 30 as the fifth starting pitcher off the board. Not only is that incredibly earlier for a pitcher coming off a breakout season—the first ace-level fantasy season of his career—but it’s also early for a pitcher that has such clear red flags and signs of oncoming regression. Drafting him at this stage in fantasy drafts leaves little wiggle room for him to struggle.
Dylan Cease shut it down today. pic.twitter.com/LvN6bF7urp
— MLB (@MLB) June 26, 2022
On the surface, it is easy to point to Cease’s xFIP of 3.50 as a clear indicator of what to expect in 2023. However, the most egregious bugaboo holding him back from having continued success is his inflated walk rate. Of the 45 pitchers that qualified for the ERA title in 2022, Cease held the highest walk rate (10.4%) of all of them by a full percent. This is incredibly worrisome for two reasons when it comes to drafting him as the ace of a fantasy squad. First, it pushes up his WHIP outside of the acceptable rate for a fantasy ace, forcing him to be a purveyor of only three fantasy categories. Second, it is almost guaranteed to lead to a regression in his run prevention numbers.
20 qualified pitchers since 2015 (excluding 2020) have posted a walk rate of at least 10%. Here is how they did in that season compared to the following campaign.
|Name||Year 1 IP||Year 1 BB%||Year 1 ERA||Year 1 WHIP||Year 2 IP||Year 2 BB%||Year 2 ERA||Year 2 WHIP|
|’18 Sean Newcomb||164||11.6%||3.90||1.33||68.2||9.9%||3.16||1.32|
|’16 Francisco Liriano||163||11.6%||4.69||1.48||97||12.1%||5.66||1.63|
|’18 Lucas Giolito||173.1||11.6%||6.13||1.48||176.2||8.1%||3.41||1.06|
|’18 Julio Teheran||175.2||11.6%||3.94||1.17||174.2||11%||3.81||1.32|
|’16 Brandon Finnegan||172||11.4%||3.98||1.36||13||22%||4.15||1.69|
|’19 Dakota Hudson||174.2||11.4%||3.35||1.41||39||9.9%||2.77||1.00|
|’19 Robbie Ray||174.1||11.2%||4.34||1.34||51.2||17.9%||6.62||1.90|
|’21 Lance McCullers Jr.||162.1||11.1%||3.16||1.22||47.2||11.3%||2.27||1.24|
|’19 Julio Teheran||174.2||11%||3.81||1.32||31.1||10.7%||10.05||1.76|
|’18 Gio González||171||10.7%||4.21||1.44||87.1||10.1%||3.50||1.29|
|’16 Tom Koehler||176.2||10.7%||4.33||1.47||72.2||10.5%||6.69||1.62|
|’17 Robbie Ray||162||10.7%||2.89||1.15||123.2||13.3%||3.93||1.35|
|’16 Jimmy Nelson||179.1||10.7%||4.62||1.52||175.1||6.6%||3.49||1.25|
|’15 Trevor Bauer||176||10.6%||4.55||1.31||190||8.6%||4.26||1.31|
|’18 Zack Godley||178.1||10.2%||4.74||1.45||92||10.3%||5.97||1.50|
|’15 Tyson Ross||196||10.2%||3.26||1.31||5.1||3.7%||11.81||1.88|
|’19 Luis Castillo||190.2||10.1%||3.40||1.14||70||8.2%||3.21||1.23|
|’16 Héctor Santiago||182||10.1%||4.70||1.36||70.1||10%||5.63||1.44|
|’17 Lance Lynn||186.1||10.1%||3.43||1.23||156.2||10.9%||4.77||1.53|
|’16 James Shields||181.2||10%||5.85||1.60||177||10.3%||5.23||1.44|
The average is very rudimentary, but it is clear that not only do pitchers generally maintain similar walk rates throughout their careers but walking more than 10% of batters is wholly unsustainable. It also reveals that even before that second season of regression, many pitchers are unable to produce anywhere near the amount of success Cease had in 2022.
The majority of these pitchers were out of the league shortly after these seasons or were moved to bullpen roles. A handful dealt with injuries in the following seasons. There are, however, a few clear outliers on this list that have dramatically altered their careers thanks in part to drastic changes in approach. Cease’s teammate, Lucas Giolito, changed his arm circle and improved greatly. Another teammate, Lance Lynn, changed his pitch mix. The most obvious comparison would be with Robbie Ray.
In a similar fashion to Cease, Ray is a pitcher that strikes out a lot of batters but has always struggled with the free pass. He was able to work around that deficiency for a few years before hitting a wall and needing to come up with something new. He began to throw pitches in the zone at all costs and broke out with a Cy Young Award-winning campaign.
There are a couple of problems with this storyline when it comes to Cease. The White Sox starter is similar to the old Robbie Ray and not the new and improved version. Additionally, Cease would need to make a noticeable alteration to his game in order to avoid whatever level of regression is headed his way. That second part seems highly unlikely because Cease just had an incredibly successful season, leaving little reason for the coaching staff to target him as someone that needs to make drastic changes.
Dylan Cease has now allowed 1 ER or less in 13 straight starts! ? pic.twitter.com/hIVXvkl5Yp
— MLB (@MLB) August 6, 2022
Outside of a high walk rate, Cease is a great slinger that limits hard contact exceptionally and registers loads of whiffs thanks to one of the best sliders in the league. He should be able to rack up at least 200 strikeouts if health permits, but the rest of his production is highly suspect. He is headed for a boatload of regression in both the ERA and WHIP departments because he relies on fly balls and walks more batters than anyone. He will be a fantasy bust if managers are drafting him amongst the top 10 pitchers, let alone as the fifth starter off the board.
2022 Stats (521 PA): .304 AVG, 54 R, 5 HR, 51 RBI, 8 SB
The career of Andrew Benintendi has featured many twists and turns. 2022 was a perfect encapsulation of that notion as the outfielder was an All-Star during an exceptional first half with the Royals and was then traded to the contending Yankees where he landed on the injured list after a month and a half and never returned. Benintendi hit free agency this offseason and has since signed the largest free agent contract in White Sox franchise history (5 years, $75 million) and will join a team that has underperformed expectations in recent seasons.
As of now, fantasy managers have not been too eager to draft Benintendi, taking him off the board around pick 250 as the 55th outfielder off the board. His draft position is all but guaranteed to move now that he has found a home. Even if he moves closer to pick 200, it would still leave plenty of room for him to provide fantasy value above his draft slot. However, his productive 2022 campaign is a trap, and drafting him at any point inside the top 250 is setting yourself up for failure.
The most obvious flaw in Benintendi’s 2022 to point at is his first and second half splits. The left-handed hitter batted .320 with a 126 wRC+ prior to his trade to the Bronx, where he hit .254 with a 111 wRC+. The regression of his full-season average would have been even more apparent had he not missed the final month of the season with an injury. His .366 first-half BABIP was also wholly unsustainable and regressed to a league-average rate of .303 in the second half. Even Statcast agrees that he was lucky on balls in play by suggesting that his batting average should have been .273 based on his quality of contact. If he were to fall off in that category, there wouldn’t be much more for him to provide.
The five home runs he hit were more than just four other qualified batters, each of whom posted a wRC+ below 90. Also, his Statcast-measured barrel rate of 5.1% was in the 25th percentile. There aren’t many signs that he is going to make improvements in the power department to offset any regression in the average department.
At least he has some wheels… that might be a stretch as well. Not only does the former wearer of different colored sox have an average sprint speed in just the 53rd percentile, but he also stole just eight bases in each of the past two seasons after being a 20-stolen-base threat earlier in his career. So, if he is set to produce fewer hits, struggle in the power department, and not make up for his noodly bat with aggressiveness on the bases, then what kind of value is he bringing to your fantasy squad?
Interesting little profile on Andrew Benintendi by @GiraffeNeckMarc , who ranked his top left fielders for next year. AB came in at #7. Very excited to see this guy on the Southside next year. pic.twitter.com/F8gPm4PQ9K
— Mark Buehrle’s Hat (@SouthsideSacred) December 20, 2022
He has excellent bat-to-ball skills, and in points leagues, he provides extra value with his tremendous plate discipline. Those two positives will help keep him afloat and will prevent his batting average from actively hurting you. His abilities in the field make him a pretty solid real-life player as well. As a one-dimensional fantasy player that will likely face additional struggles due to the pressures of signing a lucrative contract and moving to a new city, it will be difficult for him to stay in the good graces of fantasy managers. Without any changes to his game, Benintendi will be a fantasy baseball bust in 2023.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)