Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: The Williams-Hahn Chicago White Sox ended with a mighty thud

Chicago White Sox president Ken Williams and GM Rick Hahn were replaced prior to season's end. Their collective 2023 performance provided some illustration of why.
Nov 8, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA;  Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn answers questions to
Nov 8, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn answers questions to / Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Williams, Rick Hahn front office WAA impact for Chicago White Sox: -3.5 games. Rank in MLB: 20. Rank in division: 4.

Statistically, the irony in the mid-September front office housecleaning on Chicago’s South Side that sent president Ken Williams and GM Rick Hahn packing is inescapable.

By the standards the White Sox leadership tandem has set, 2023 was actually not all that bad a showing. Granted, the preseason favorite Sox finished a distant fourth in their division, and granted also that the moves made by Williams-Hahn had a negative impact on team performance.

But that negative impact only amounted to -3.5 games. In the decade they’ve jointly operated the Sox, Williams and Hahn have produced five more desultory front office results than that.

Even in Chicago, it appears, you can only get away with being bad for a decade or so before your bosses start to notice. Newly installed GM Chris Getz will be under the microscope for 2024 and going forward.

In fairness to team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, that -3.5 number attached to the Williams-Hahn names for 2023 is deceptive; as a practical matter the Sox front office was worse than that.

Williams and Hahn made 46 moves affecting a major league roster since the conclusion of the 2022 postseason. Only 14 of those moves aided the White Sox; 26 were harmful and six were neutral. As measured by Wins Above Average, the sum of those moves added up to -3.5 games.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

Chicago’s 2023 score looks better than it was because Williams and Hahn happened to excel at the skill that is least useful: taking out the garbage. They lost or allowed to walk to free agency seven players who saw time with other big league teams in 2023, and the absence of those seven benefitted the Sox to the tune of +4.3 games.

The names of several of those seven are familiar, headlined by Jose Abreu (-2.0 for Houston) and A.J. Pollock (-1.3 for Seattle and San Francisco).

Judging who to bring in turned out  to be a tougher challenge for Williams and Hahn than judging who to get rid of. Here’s the short-term and long-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of Chicago’s since-departed Williams-Hahn leadership team. All figures reflect Wins Above Average

Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase

  • Since October 2022: 8 players, -1.4 net impact
  • Prior to October 2023:  7 players, -2.3 net impact
  1. Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons
  • Since October 2022: 12 players, -1.0 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 7 players, -3.9 net impact

System products

  • Since October 2022: 8 players, -5.3 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 12 players, -5.6 net impact

Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency

  • Since October 2022: 18 players, +4.2 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 12 players, +0.1 net impact.

You can get to the root of the problem by re-scanning the numbers pertaining to system products. During 2023 White Sox management called on eight first-time system products. None produced a positive contribution, the net cost in games working out to -5.3.

Of the 30 major league teams, only the Pittsburgh Pirates got a worse collective production out of their rookie callups than the Williams-Hahn White Sox.

Even worse, the team utilized a dozen players who had been system callups in previous years and who were still working under team control. On good teams, those young players are especially important to team success because they tend to be underpaid relative to the value they produce.

Yet the dozen players on the Sox roster in that situation (Andrew Vaughn, Seby Zavala, the since traded Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Aaron Bummer among them) were as a group pretty awful (-5.6 WAA). It’s doubtful whether any team had a worse collection of veteran system products in 2023 than the White Sox.

Statistically, the highlight of Chicago’s season was almost derailed during the offseason. Shortly after Williams and Hahn signed free agent pitcher Mike Clevinger, serious domestic abuse allegations surfaced that threatened to derail the pitcher’s eligibility.

But the Sox stuck with Clevinger, who maintained his innocence and in March was cleared by MLB. He turned out to be as close to an ace as the Sox had in 2023, making 24 starts with a 3.77 ERA. Williams and Hahn won’t be back for 2024, but Clevinger, at least, will be.