CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 25: Todd Frazier #21 of the Chicago White Sox celebrates after scoring during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on September 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

It’s become sort of an annual tradition with the Chicago White Sox. Acquire a few pieces via trade or free agency, generate something of a buzz, get fans excited, and ultimately end the season in disappointing fashion. While the season’s first month or so presented a deviation from this norm, their stock ultimately plummeted from May on. A team that was 24-14 on May 13 was fighting to stay above .500 by the end of the month, ultimately finishing more than 15 games out of the division lead.

This monotonous process transpires in the place of establishing a solid foundation to stand on, particularly in the minor league ranks. At the same time, the middle-of-the-road White Sox still demonstrated an improvement from the 2015 version of themselves. A team that ranked near the bottom of the league during the previous season in their ability to score runs and their ability to defend has been decidedly average in each regard. While it’s a step in the right direction, it’s still a pretty muddled picture for this organization moving forward, even if they did demonstrate overall improvement in 2016.

Preseason Prediction: The White Sox are going to be better. They made additions to address some of their shortcomings, particularly on defense. But with such low-risk additions, it’s hard to see them improving significantly where they really need it: on offense. This is at least true on paper. They could be a streaky team, but even if the pitching comes along as it should, it’s difficult to see them above .500, though they should linger there quite a bit. If they can add an offensive piece or two as the year wears on, they could definitely be in better standing than that mark. (Randy Holt, March 30)

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana throws in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana throws in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)

What Went Right: Again, marked improvement is the theme here for the 2016 White Sox. Defensively, they were a dumpster fire in 2015. This season, they became an average, at worst, defensive ballclub. They ranked 16th in the league in fielding percentage (.984) and 15th in Defensive Efficiency Rating (.689). They’ve already outscored their 2015 run total (622) by 30 with a few games still to go. They reached base at a slightly higher rate. Unfortunately, neither of those improvements was quite as impactful as it needed to be, which was supplemented with a decrease in their overall performance on the mound. As such, the idea of things going right for the Sox really relates to individual performances.

Jose Quintana and his 3.21 ERA have been one of the more underrated starting pitchers in baseball for the last couple of seasons. He finally saw some validation with an All-Star appearance in 2016. Carlos Rodon continues to make strides and should give the Sox a dynamite 1-2-3 in their rotation moving forward. Adam Eaton could very well finish in the top 10 in WAR among position players. He’s hit the 6.0 mark thanks to some quality offensive play (.283/.361/.430/.791), combined with a 19.1 Def rating from FanGraphs, the second highest mark among Major League outfielders. The individual talent hasn’t come together to the extent that the White Sox had hoped, but there are some performances here to be satisfied with.

What Went Wrong: The pitching experienced something of a decline, and the Sox had tough time finding stability after Chris Sale/Quintana/Rodon. Eleven players overall made starts for the White Sox, while two pitchers that many had hoped would rebound, in Mat Latos and John Danks, weren’t even on the roster for the majority of the season. While they were improved offensively, they still rank among the bottom seven or eight teams in terms of overall run production.

There simply aren’t enough bats in this lineup to get things moving. Eaton, Jose Abreu, and Melky Cabrera represented the only players providing consistent offensive production, especially as it relates to reaching base. Todd Frazier will probably hit at least 40 home runs before the season is out, but hit under .230 and is reaching base at a clip barely above .300. And when players like Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino are getting consistent plate appearances, you’re not going to reach your full offensive potential.

Oh yeah, and the jersey thing, courtesy of Chris Sale. And the Adam LaRoche thing. Also, mostly courtesy of Chris Sale.

Most Surprising Player: This one is tough to identify. Adam Eaton’s offensive production has been similar to last year, with his defense pushing that WAR way up. Jose Abreu has been his consistent self. And outside of those two, identifying consistent offensive performers is a tall task.

So we’ll look to the mound, where I would firmly consider myself to be a member of the Carlos Rodon fan club. Now both his ERA and his FIP did rise, but Rodon has made some strides that should have Sox fans very excited about his future. He did run into some bad luck, with a .337 BABIP against despite very similar swing/contact rates and types of contact against. Where Rodon has really impressed, and perhaps what leads to the optimistic outlook for him moving forward, is in his massive decrease in walks.

One of the knocks against him was that penchant for the free pass and demonstrating control problems. But he cut that walk rate down to just 2.86/9. Coming off of a season in which he walked 4.59, that’s certainly a victory of sorts. We know he can induce the swing-and-misses. If he can continue to develop in this fashion and maintain his newfound command, he’s going to be a fun one to watch moving forward.

Most Disappointing Player: Do we have to refer to James Shields by name here or can we just list his numbers after the Sox acquired him early on in the year? At 5.98, Shields had the highest ERA of any starting pitcher in baseball this season, and that’s before narrowing down to the 7+ mark that he posted just while with the White Sox. His FIP didn’t do him any favors either, at 6.11 on the season.

With his very noted velocity drop, Shields’ strikeouts were down to their lowest rate that he has posted as a professional baseball player, at 6.51 per nine, with the walks experiencing the same trend in their own right, as he produced a mark over four walks/nine for the first time in his career. In a player that the Sox were hoping would solidify the latter part of their rotation, they ended up with a pitcher who has been worth -1.0 WAR for the year.

The Future: It’s a rather murky picture, to be sure. The farm isn’t impressive. There aren’t a lot of players to build around, with the exception of Abreu and their three top starters in the rotation. Robin Ventura’s future is constantly in question it seems, as well. And, perhaps somewhat unfortunately for them, is that they aren’t necessarily bad enough to prompt sweeping change. They aren’t good, but they aren’t terrible. They’re just there. In what is quickly becoming typical Jerry Reinsdorf fashion.

They didn’t use the trade deadline to sell off some assets, and there’s a clear power struggle between the braintrust of Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams. Until the White Sox can actually figure out the direction in which they’d like to go, this is the same type of thing we’re going to see from them. They can blow it up, trade off a couple of assets, and rebuild. Or they can continue to make middling acquisitions and hover around .500. Given present ownership, the latter seems far more likely.

About Randy Holt

Spending his days as an English teacher, Randy spends his afternoons, nights, and weekends as a writer on the Bloguin Network, as well as SB Nation. He is a staff writer for both Puck Drunk Love and The Outside corner, as well as Second City Hockey and Beyond the Box Score on SB Nation, showcasing his love for both hockey and baseball, as well as run-on sentences. A Chicago native (and Phoenix resident), he is an avid Game of Thrones viewer/reader and lover of red meat.