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Which White Sox hitters are primed for regression?

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Hello, White Sox Twitter

Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game Three Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

A couple weeks back, I hinted in one of my posts that the White Sox could be primed for some regression, and our resident Gintzer commented that he’d like to see a more in-depth analysis of some Chicago regression candidates. I’ve identified three candidates for your consideration.

The challenge with really predicting which White Sox batters could regress in 2021 is a lack of career sample size with which we can draw comparisons to their 2020 stats. Being such a young team, it is also difficult to tell what is an aberration and what could just be real improvement on the part of some of the young hitters. However, I’ve identified three guys to watch out for some regression from in 2021.

Nick Madrigal

Now, Madrigal was only a rookie and did only play half of the shortened season. He also does profile as a high-batting average hitter, according to most scouting reports. However, I will almost guarantee that he won’t hit .340 with a .365 batting average on balls in play in 2021.

Madrigal, at a puny 5’7”, 165 lbs, has no power to speak of. Therefore, most of the time that he hits a fly ball, it’s an out- in 2019, the league-wide batting average on non-home run fly balls was only .118. So nearly 18.8% (his 2020 FB%) of the time he puts the ball in play, it should be an out. Next, his ground ball percentage was a high 55.2%. Ground balls were converted into hits at only a .236 clip in 2019. His exit velocity, which would’ve been in the bottom 3rd percentile of the league had he qualified for the leaderboard, is not nearly high enough to make up for the discrepancy between his batted ball profile and his high BABIP. BABIP is also generally a pretty stable stat, and his was 17 points higher than his best BABIP in any level of the minor leagues, which leads me to believe that Madrigal may be in for a sophomore slump. This isn’t to say that the 23-year-old second baseman isn’t a good player, but barring marked improvement or remarkable luck, he won’t be the same hitter that we saw last year.

Jose Abreu

Yes, the 2020 AL MVP may have some major regression knocking at his door. In his age 33 season, Abreu saw his batting average jump 33 points, his BABIP jump 30, and his slugging jump 114 (and that’s over juiced-ball 2019 totals!). These numbers were all well over his career totals as well. Furthermore, his percentage of fly balls that left the park went up a remarkable 11.8% over 2019 (and 12.8% over his career total). This, in spite of the fact that his average exit velocity was only marginally higher than his career norms.

Abreu has always been a good hitter. However, suddenly jumping to MVP levels in a short season at age 33- this is not something that any can reasonably expect to be sustained. Even Nelson Cruz, who never reached MVP heights, made the leap at a younger age than Abreu seemingly has.

Tim Anderson

Now, Anderson is a tricky case, because we would’ve expected major regression from him after his 2019 season, and it didn’t really come in the small sample size of 2020. Furthermore, he is just entering his prime at age 27. However, that doesn’t change the statistical aberrations that accompanied his seasons in 2019 and 2020.

Following 2018, Anderson’s BABIP jumped an insane 110 points, to a ludicrous .399. It came down to a still-crazy .383 in 2020. However, the reason for this jump simply is not there. His batted ball profile did not change nearly enough to account for such insanity- his average exit velocity rose 3 MPH, but was still only 88.3 and 87.2 in 2019 and 2020, respectively. His soft/medium/hard contact and ground ball/line drive/fly ball splits have remained fairly constant over the course of his career, so that can’t explain it either. He may continue to defy the stats, but if I were a White Sox fan I’d be worried of a possible colossal collapse coming from the 2019 batting champion.

So there you have it. While predicting regression is, by nature, close to a shot in the dark, and the White Sox roster doesn’t lend itself well to this kind of analysis, I’d say these three guys are pretty good bets to see (possibly large amounts) of regression in 2021.