South Side Morning 5: Looking for immediate fan returns from the White Sox hot start

1. Monday afternoon, the White Sox relayed a figure about their recent ticket sales in light of their hot streak that got picked up quickly.

hot start apparently is catching on at the box office. Team has sold over 100,000 tickets in the last week.”

-Dan Hayes

That sure seems like a lot. They fell just under 1.76 million total paid attendance in 2015, so landing over five percent of that in week seems like a good work, and likely would not be reported if it weren’t noticeable. Given that the Sox are off to their best start in over 10 years, there is an easy and happy cause-and-effect relationship to draw. They have happened upon an exciting and good team, and now could start earning the revenue that encourages investment in more good teams, and the fans will soak in all of it. Hunky dory.

It’s hard to say this with certainty, because I do not know what the typical percentage of the season’s ticket sales are secured during late April, let alone how the surprisingly early ends of the Bulls and Blackhawks seasons could be shifting the attention of casual fans, nor what kind of early spikes previous promising seasons like 2012 or 2010 saw during any particular week.

But the general rule of thumb is that these things take time. The year after the breakout season is typically where the largest returns show up, and the search for a broadbase community reaction to a gradual trend that we are following at a closer, day-by-day level, is never going to match our expectations. Most of all, tracking immediate returns is a good way to get arguments that the south side will never support a winner if the Sox are still in first place but no one got around to buying up their series with the Indians later this month.

If this is still a concern, perhaps read the Bloomberg piece on the Braves’ methods for dumping the costs of its stadiums on cities that cannot recoup the expenses, as a reminder for how much teams protect their finances before ever leaving things up to something as volatile as mid-year attendance spikes.

2. Brett Lawrie is annihilating the ball, jumping out to a .290/.377/.505 line over his first month in Chicago, good for a .303 TAv. The early surge is conjuring up memories that Lawrie was seen as an elite young talent just a few years ago, and was still a player viewed to have very real plus power if he could stay healthy just last Spring.

Lawrie is healthy, and two-thirds of the way to the home run output the Sox got from their second baseman in 2015 already–not via cheapies either–and fielding his position with the athleticism, if not necessarily the precision that makes it look like it could be his long-term home. The south side is not where a lot offensive revivals happen, but a major prospect finding it at 26 (and it’s not likely he’s been awful before this) is not outlandish.

Statistically, there is some pretty obvious helium going on. Lawrie is striking out more than ever (27.4%), and has a .383 BABIP despite not being much more than an average runner with an addiction to hustle. Combined with the fact that his power surge is coming from putting more balls in the air, and he’s probably going to revert to a lower average guy who needs his power to be real (18-24 or more home runs) to maintain above-average production…provided he ever does actually cool off.

3. Todd Frazier had a pretty good month considering he started on a massive slump. His seven home runs in April ties last year’s career-high, and despite the on-base troubles, .220 batting average, .295 on-base, his power–which is “plays in any ballpark” real–is pulling him up to a .284 TAv, which is exactly at his career-average.

Along with his plus defense, the early returns on the Frazier and Lawrie trades are nothing short of outstanding, with every doubter (wink) that they could land meaningful upgrades on the trade market while holding back their prospects being made to look foolish. At least early on, there’s no corresponding trend of the players they were traded for massively outperforming them on the major league level, either.*

*Scientists refer to this as the Bassitt-Samardzija Phenomenon.

4. After Mat Latos‘ scintillating first four starts to open 2016, chief among concerns that his success was not sustainable was that he was dead-last in baseball in terms of the swing-and-miss rate on his fastball. In fact, his fastball whiff rate was zero percent, as there was not a single instance where someone took a swing and missed on a Mat Latos fastball in his first four starts.

After he got tuned up for 11 hits and two home runs in Baltimore Saturday night, Latos’ whiff/swing rate on his fastball remains nil, the worst of 106 pitchers who have thrown four-seam fastballs 100 times or more this year. Even John Danks is getting whiffs on his worn-down heater around seven-percent of the time, which is merely third-worst of this qualified group.

Fastball whiffs are not everything. Obviously pitchers are on a sliding scale for how much they rely on getting swings-and-misses on Ole. No. 1. Some use it for weak contact, and some have breaking stuff so overpowering that their heater is much more of a strike-grabber. Oakland ace Sonny Gray is down near Danks in the Bottom-10 of the league and has actually increased his strikeout rate early on this year. But no one other than Latos is getting nothing or is completely unable to miss a bat with his fastball. That’s simply an unprecedented level of contact to deal with and Latos has yet to prove he has the chops and approach for it.

It’s hardly panic time, since it’s been five starts, and in four of them, Latos has dealt with the issue just fine, and he’s still adjusting to throwing at a reduced velocity and processing how it will affect what he can do to generate outs. But a big item to watch going forward is how Latos deals with this particular weakness.

5. In minor league news, Scott Merkin reports that Miguel Gonzalez is fine after taking a line drive off the face on Sunday–he better be!  Tim Anderson has walked three times in the last two days after not drawing any walks in all of April. Future Sox has a good guide for how to track Anderson’s progress without freaking out.


Lead Image Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski // USA Today Sports Images

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