The PECOTA people (new band name I call it) have released their projections for the 2019 season. If you're a White Sox fan, you're not going to like them.
The latest edition of the annual preseason projections have the White Sox losing just eight fewer games than last season, when they went 62-100. The projected 70-92 record places them fourth in the weak American League Central and is the fifth-worst projected record in baseball, better only than the projected records for the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles.
That's right: The PECOTA projections have the Kansas City Royals finishing with a better record than the White Sox. Hmm.
That win total seems a little low, if for no other reason than the AL Central just doesn't provide a lot of intimidating foes, and therefore it could provide many an opportunity for wins. The Royals and the Detroit Tigers are further behind in their rebuilding process than perhaps the White Sox ever were. The Minnesota Twins have been busy this winter but shouldn't scare anyone. The Cleveland Indians are expected to run away with the division - and they should with two MVP candidates and a terrific starting rotation - but they've got their own holes, chiefly in the outfield, where their Opening Day trio would look like this: Greg Allen, Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin.
Obviously the White Sox are part of that group of non-intimidating clubs that make up this weak division, and they did lose 100 games last season to post the third worst record in baseball. So it's not like this is some outrageous slap in the face.
But they've made some quality upgrades this winter while a lot of other teams have spun their wheels. Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Ivan Nova, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera should do a lot to make this team better. But PECOTA sees statistical slides coming just about everywhere, projecting Alonso - who has put together back-to-back 20-homer seasons - to hit just 13 home runs this season, both Colome's and Nova's ERAs to jump up half a point and Herrera, who finished with a 2.44 ERA in 2018, to leap all the way to a 4.48 ERA.
PECOTA also projects that Jose Abreu will not return to his old levels of production, with a projected 22 homers and 79 RBIs. Last season, an uncharacteristic slump and a pair of freak injuries prevented Abreu from making it five straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs.
PECOTA projects a big dip in power across the board for the White Sox, who were one Avisail Garcia home run away from having five members of the 20-homer club. But PECOTA only projects two guys to reach that number in 2019.
One of last season's 20-homer guys, Daniel Palka, is projected to take a big step back after hitting 27 home runs in his rookie season. He's expected to see fewer opportunities at designated hitter with Alonso in the mix, and how he'll end up fitting in the outfield puzzle remains to be seen. PECOTA projects he'll go from .240/.294/.484 with 27 homers in 2018 to .219/.280/.408 with 19 homers in 2019.
Of course, it seems Eloy Jimenez would make a huge difference in the lineup. PECOTA projects Jimenez's rookie season to look like this: a .281/.321/.475 slash line with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs.
But the thing that PECOTA hates the most is the starting rotation, with high ERAs projected for all White Sox pitchers. The most drastic regression is projected for Reynaldo Lopez, who finished his first full season in the majors with a 3.91 ERA but is projected to have a 4.99 ERA in 2019. Lucas Giolito is projected to have a 4.89 ERA, Nova a 4.62 ERA and Carlos Rodon a 4.41 ERA.
Where's Dylan Cease, you ask? One of the top pitching prospects in the game figures to make his big league debut at some point during the upcoming campaign. PECOTA projects him to make eight starts for the White Sox in 2019 and turn in a 4.16 ERA.
So there's almost no good news to be found. Perhaps Jimenez does count for the bulk of that eight-game improvement.
PECOTA has a recent string - six years long, in fact - of projecting better fortunes for the White Sox than they ended up having. The fan base probably won't be too happy if the White Sox finish a third straight season with at least 90 losses. But sometimes that's life in a rebuild.
And so it wasn't surprising to hear general manager Rick Hahn once again place a focus on development of young players rather than the win-loss record.
"Regardless of what the win total ends up being at the end of the year, how we get there is going to be more important than that actual total," he said at SoxFest. "If it's short-term veteran stopgaps that are carrying the bulk of the water and getting us to a higher win total, that's great and makes for a more enjoyable summer, but it doesn't necessarily reinforce the long-term progress.
"If the win total happens to be a little bit lower but some of these young players are taking that necessary step forward, then a year from now we can sit here and be even more optimistic about what the future holds. How we get there's going to be almost if not more important than the actual win total."
Of course there's one thing that could throw all of this up for grabs: if Manny Machado decides to sign with the White Sox. That would likely make for some revised projections.