White Sox fans have long suffered the plight of watching this organization start players that the baseball world at large knows are best suited for other roles. You can only stretch one player so far, and you certainly can’t ask more of him than which he’s capable. Yet many of these “unsuccessful” White Sox players have since found homes elsewhere, and in some cases, with much more success than they had on the South side. Why is that? If there’s a pattern here, what is it?
Let’s check on how four of these former White Sox players are doing, and perhaps what’s lead to their string of success.
After departing from the South side after three very long years, Conor Gillaspie has returned to the franchise that drafted him, the San Francisco Giants. Gillaspie only tallied a line of .260/.314/.397 during his time with the White Sox, and in 2015 was striking out at over an 18 percent clip while only walking 5 percent of the time with poor defense at third. It’s safe to say among other things, Gillaspie quickly became the bane of many a White Sox fan’s existence.
Things aren’t much different for Gillaspie on the West Coast, though. Gillaspie is currently seeing a line of .258/.313/.393 which is less than impressive, but has improved his strikeout rate generously. Gillaspie is only striking out at an 11.5 percent clip in San Francisco, and walking 6.1 percent of the time.
The Difference: Gillaspie has only playing in 49 games so far in 2016. That’s comfortable for a player who’s posting a slash line such as Gillespie’s — that’s the type of role a player such as him should be taking on. When the White Sox organization was trying to run him out for 130 games a season while barely being able to scrape the surface of replacement level, a player like Gillaspie is bound to disappoint.
Part of the infield tandem that led to much of the disdain that is the root cause of jaded fandom, Gordon Beckham hit just .242/.304/.370 during his seven very long years with the White Sox. Finally this past offseason, the White Sox were finally able to cut ties permanently (or so we hope) with Beckham.
But now, fast forward to 2016. Not only did the White Sox lose a series to the Atlanta Braves — a team who had hit 57 home runs entering the break — to end the first half, but Beckham himself took his former team for a ride blasting a home run, and gathering three hits in his return to U.S. Cellular Field.
Beckham is now hitting — wait for it — .290/.387/.458 with the Braves. He’s taking walks at an 11.3 percent rate, something he’s never done in his career and he’s lowered his strikeout rate by over five percent from 2015 to 2016. Who would have thought that could ever be possible for a guy the White Sox tried so hard to groom into a franchise player for almost a decade?
The Difference: The thing with Beckham, is that much like Gillaspie, the sample size is small. Beckham has only participated in 34 games in Atlanta this season. The White Sox tried extensively hard to make Beckham into an everyday infielder, using him in as many as 151 games in 2012. When the sample size expands by that much, but the talent isn’t adequately available over the course of that many games per season, you get White Sox-era Gordon Beckham. When you use a player such a Beckham sparingly the way Atlanta has, you give him the environment he needs to flourish in the role he’s best suited for.
This one hurts. Always a big fan of Marcus Semien, when I heard that he was included in the trade that would bring Jeff Samardzija over to the White Sox for what ended up being one very heartbreaking season, in the back of my mind I was not entirely pleased.
And this is why. While Samardzija saw his ERA rise to 4.98 — a level he’d never reached as a starting pitcher — and allowed a career high number of hits and earned runs in 2015, Semien was on the path to Figuring It Out.
Semien played in 151 games in Oakland in 2015, and while he committed a harrowing number of errors and didn’t quite impress in the power department, that began to change.
Samardzija is now pitching in San Francisco and posting an ERA nearly a full run lower than that of the one he posted in Chicago. Meanwhile, Semien has slashed his error total significantly from an almost impressively poor 35 errors in 2015 to just nine so far in 2016, and seems to have found his power stroke, something he desperately was searching for in Chicago.
Semien is hitting .242/.307/.477 with an ISO of .234. While his strikeout rate is still quite high at 23 percent, and his OBP is leaner than one may like, he’s making up for it by hitting the ball with authority — and doing it at the Oakland Coliseum, a stadium that’s second to last in home run totals.
The Difference: Semien was still a work in progress. It wasn’t time to give up on him for a year of a pitcher who was on the verge of free agency and very unlikely to sign despite the rumors of a “hometown discount”. Semien had his flaws, but he wasn’t unsalvageable. They were simply kinks that needed to be ironed out, and 85 games in a White Sox uniform surely wasn’t enough to see if Semien could reach his full potential. The White Sox spent years waiting for the prophecies of Beckham and Gillaspie to be fulfilled, but 85 games of Semien and this organization had decided that they’d seen enough. The White Sox didn’t lose an All-Star talent in Semien, but considering that the trade they sent him away in as now left them empty handed, the loss of Semien stings just a bit more than it should.
Yet another former White Sox player who ended up back with the organization that drafted him. After seven years with the White Sox, the South siders officially cut ties with catcher Tyler Flowers.
Flowers never truly dazzled in Chicago, he posted a meager .223/.289/.376 slash line during his time in with the Sox, and once had a strikeout rate that reached 36 percent.
But now, in the Braves organization, though Flowers isn’t blowing anyone away with his exceptional power numbers and hasn’t lowered that hearty strikeout rate enough to earn the status of The One That Got Away, he’s doing good things for someone who is still Tyler Flowers. Playing in just 53 games, Flowers has posted a slash line of .253/.343/.425 with the Braves and is walking at the highest clip of his career at over eight percent (minimum 50 games).
The Difference: Saying that perhaps the White Sox were trying to stretch too much out of Flowers would feel like an inaccurate statement, seeing as Flowers only played in over 100 games two of his seven seasons on the South side. Perhaps Flowers’ success in Atlanta is just a flukey, small sample size baseball thing, but the Braves seem to understand that Flowers isn’t the type of player you want behind the plate for everyday use — something the White Sox tried to make work for nearly two seasons. Again, understanding players limits seems to be key here.
The kernel to take away is this: It’s seems as though the White Sox have a penchant for looking at a utility player’s success in small sample sizes and try and stretch that success into everyday stardom. Only when these players end up with other organizations that understand their ability to flourish in a bench or backup role and don’t try to push their limits do we see their full potential at the major league level. Not every player is destined to become a starter, sometimes sufficient depth is all you can ask for.
And as we saw with Semien, perhaps prospects that haven’t reached their full potential yet shouldn’t be traded for one year of a highly-touted pitcher, because these things, much like with Semien, will come back to haunt you when you’re left empty handed. There’s nothing worse in baseball than watching prospect that was once in your organization have success with another because of a trade that your team is no longer benefiting from.
These are all simple lessons learned. Learned by fans, by baseball, and hopefully by the White Sox front office. Hey, at least the organization held onto Tim Anderson though, right?
Lead photo courtesy of Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports