Talking about “improving the little things” is popular for managers and fans. After all, the real solution for a team that isn’t doing as well as it would like would simply be to have much better players, but that’s usually not a feasible solution, particularly mid-season. Instead, the “little things” come across like something that can be controlled or improved with focus or effort, rather than simply with a significant infusion of talent that might come in say, a three-year rebuild, for example.
If a team is really struggling, this often sounds like suggesting to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, as one can be bad at the little things if you’re really good at the big things.
That said, whether it has been a change in personnel, coaching, luck, or some combination of all of the above, the White Sox have managed to shore up some areas of glaring weakness this season, which may serve the team in good stead if the high upside minor leaguers in their system do arrive and become stars.
For example, the White Sox finished in the bottom half of the league by Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metric every year from 2013-2016 (they finished 13th in 2012!), including 29th and 30th in ’13 and ’14 respectively. They’ve returned to 13th in the majors again this season, thus far, despite lackluster results on stolen base attempts.
Similarly, the White Sox have been a strong defensive group this year, as they are in a virtual tie for fourth in park-adjusted defensive efficiency. That would represent another leap forward over last year, as from 2015 to 2016, the defense improved from 27th to 14th. Indeed, if these results hold, this would be the team’s best result in this area since the 2005 squad’s silver medal for glove work.
They have even corrected the Lineup Black Hole issue which has plagued the team for time immemorial. Instead of designated hitter or left field or third base producing at a Worst In The Majors clip, as was often the case even when they regularly won more than half of their games, right now the two worst lineup spots are catcher and shortstop—both positions where, in a normal lineup, one counts any offensive production as a bonus, and in the White Sox’ case, shortstop is occupied by a very talented, albeit flawed, young player who is still developing.
Perhaps the White Sox’ overall record of 34-44 serves to underscore that the little things are, in fact, little and don’t impact the game as much as just having your starters pitch well and deep into games, or having your offense mash a bunch of dingers, no matter what your local sports radio host or caller may say. But these improvements are a logical byproduct of the White Sox excelling in underlying ways that they haven’t before—generating athletic, complementary parts at up-the-middle positions from within, and finally seeing in-house options develop as credible major league bats.
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