Chicago White Sox on a historic pace: How they can avoid MLB futility mark

The Chicago White Sox are on pace to win 22 games this season.

Chicago White Sox manager Pedro Grifol
Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox are on pace to win 22 games this season. After starting the 2024 campaign with a 3-19 record, it’s already clear that this season is going to be painful. How much agony the fans have to put up with is still up for debate, but it’s not looking good.

With their .136 winning percentage, the Sox are trending towards being the worst team in the Modern Era, with the Philadelphia A’s holding that honor (for now) with a 36-117 season, good for a .235 winning percentage. That is currently 100 points higher than where the Sox are.

The good news here is also the bad news: There is a lot of season left. While Chicago won’t be postseason bound outside of a few miracles and a couple of tragedies, there is plenty of time to put together a few wins in a row and change the trajectory of the team from all-time bad to generally awful.

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Comparing the Chicago White Sox to the 2023 Oakland A’s

Chicago White Sox
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As someone that watched way too much A’s baseball last season, it’s easy to say that nobody else should have to go through that. The losing was certainly made harder to stomach by the fact that the team is on the way out of town. And while that isn’t necessarily the case for the White Sox, it’s also not not the case.

Relocation threats aside, the A’s started last season with a 4-18 record through 22 games and were on pace for 29 wins at this point in the season. They put together a seven-game win streak in June that ultimately saved their season, which is a weird thing to say for a team that ended up going 50-112.

The White Sox currently have a run differential of -78, by far the worst in baseball. The Rockies are the second-worst here with a -57 and a sterling 5-18 record to go along with it. The A’s, despite having one extra win at this point in the season a year ago, had a much worse run differential at -103.

In terms of runs scored, the A’s hold the edge at 75 to 45. The White Sox are averaging two runs per game, which is just not a winning formula, no matter which pitchers are on the roster. Compared to Oakland, the Sox do have the better staff, holding a lead in runs allowed at 123 to 178.

Neither team would be considered good, but they do offer variety at least. Would you like to see the offense struggle to score runs, or would you like to see a 17-walk performance from your team’s pitching staff? Both options are terrible.

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Reasons for the south side struggles

Andrew Vaughn
Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Following the 2022 season, Jim Bowden said that Sox first baseman Andrew Vaughn had more value than A’s catcher Sean Murphy on the trade market. At the time, the hype surrounding Vaughn was real, but he has yet to realize that potential to this point in his career. This season, he is batting .153 with a .247 OBP and a 35 wRC+ (100 is league average). He was supposed to be a core piece, and he has been league average over the course of his career to date.

It also doesn’t help that the team is decimated by injuries. Well, maybe decimated is too strong. They are without Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert Jr., and when the season is going as poorly as this one, two key players missing time is a huge deal. Their up-in-the-air return dates certainly don’t help either.

This is also a team that is not a solid defensive catcher away from contention, and yet they went out and signed Martín Maldonado for the 2024 season. He is 2-for-38 (.053) to begin the season.

The White Sox are a team in transition that don’t seem to know which lane they should be in. Are they rebuilding? Then they should trade away some veteran players. Do they believe they have the pieces to contend? Then why didn’t they sign better players? Blake Snell, Matt Chapman, Cody Bellinger, and Jordan Montgomery were notably available late into camp and largely received one-year deals.

What’s the plan in Chicago?

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Chicago White Sox brush with history

Pedro Grifol Chicago White Sox
Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

In order to have the wrong kind of historic season, the White Sox would need to finish somewhere between 38 and 48 wins. Anything above a .300 winning percentage is just plain bad, which is a fate that the A’s escaped last season.

Most of the 23 teams listed as the worst of the Modern Era come either before or around World War 2. Three teams have been a bit more recent, starting with the 2019 Detroit Tigers, who went 47-114. They finished with a -333 run differential. The White Sox are currently on pace for a -574 differential. One way to avoid that fate (and maybe collect some wins) would be to score some runs now and again. Chicago has been shut out eight times so far this season in just 22 games.

The other recent team on this list is the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, who went 47-115 with a -270 run differential.

Those two teams are in the fairly recent past of baseball history, but the 2003 Detroit Tigers take the cake for futility this century. They finished 43-119 with a -337 differential and a .265 winning percentage. Right now, that team is roughly twice as good as Chicago with their .136 winning percentage.

It gets worse for the Chicago White Sox

Chicago White Sox
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Even if the Sox avoid those fates, those clubs will still hold an edge on Chicago because each of those teams was able to secure a top pick in the following year’s MLB Draft. The Tigers took Justin Verlander in 2004, the Orioles took Adley Rutschman in 2019, and the Tigers selected Spencer Torkelson in 2020. Three pretty big draft picks for the direction of those franchises.

With the new MLB Draft Lottery in place and the White Sox having landed a lottery selection (#5 overall) in the 2024 Draft, the highest they will be able to pick in 2025 is the 10th overall selection. The A’s, after landing lottery picks in both 2023 and 2024, are in the same boat as the White Sox. Whichever team finishes with a worse record will most likely pick 10th, while the other squad picks 11th.

This is all being done to attempt to curb tanking in MLB, and honestly it’s a good plan. Roughly 20 teams were projected for between 80-84 wins when the season began, which should lead to a competitive finish. However, there are a few clubs that didn’t really try to add much in the way of payroll this winter, and the Sox and A’s are two of them.

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