MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Chicago White Sox

It’s Still Too Early To Decide Anything

The White Sox haven’t exactly faced a bruising schedule.  They sit 4-10, with nine of those games coming against Kansas City, Detroit, and Tampa Bay, teams with strong cases for Worst In The AL.  The other four games have been against Toronto and Minnesota.  Solid teams, but they aren’t exactly the Astros or Cleveland either.  On the other hand, it’s mid-April and a full four games have been postponed because of inclement weather already.  Yoan Moncada leads the team in plate appearances with 57 and none of their starters have appeared for a fourth time yet.  There are a few issues which are unlikely to persist and have probably had an out-sized influence on the early going simply because there’s so little data*:

  • Batting with Runners in Scoring Position.  Pretty obvious culprit.  Entering play Tuesday, the White Sox are hitting .155/.254/.364 as a team with RISP.  That’s bizarrely low set against their overall line of .231/.317/.410, especially given hitters tend to do better with runners on.  Even if you project the team to stay with a .700 OPS overall — which would represent a 30 point decrease from last year and would rank 28th in the majors in 2017 — that would still represent a mean talent level 80 points higher than what they’ve done to date.
  • Reynaldo Lopez’s run support.  The White Sox are averaging about 3.7 runs per game.  That’s not great! But they managed only one run combined over Lopez last two starts, getting utterly shut down by Daniel Mengden and Mike Fiers.  Losing games 1-0 will happen, but they probably won’t happen that much, and certainly not much against the Detroit Tigers in 2018.**
  • It is cold, my dudes.  I refuse to even cite numbers for this one. Even when they’ve managed to get games in it has been abnormally chilly, and anyone who has tried to go for a run when it’s 30 degrees out should be able to imagine how it might alter performance.  I can’t prove it, but it could be a magnet held up to the compass here.
  • Bad luck for pitchers.  Now, I don’t want to act like BABIP allowed is purely luck-based, as it also reflects pitcher skill and is also influenced by defense, but the White Sox pitching staff currently boasts the eighth highest BABIP in the majors, and ranks 28th in strand rate.  I.e. of the baserunners that reach, they’re allowing more of them to score than all but two other teams.  Again, some of that is the quality of the pitchers involved — better pitchers are more likely to get hitters out than bad pitchers are generally, whether there are runners on or not — but when taken together, this means the White Sox have been unusually poor with runners on on both sides of the ball.
  • Who the relievers are.  Greg Infante and Juana Minaya had horrible starts to the year and got sent down.  The first man up to replace them, Bruce Rondon, retired all seven batters he’d faced prior to Tuesday.  Chris Volstad has not fared nearly as well.  But in the meantime, Xavier Cedeno and Jeanmar Gomez are doing very well in Charlotte.  There’s likely to be more churn here in relief, and it’s frequently going to be ugly — that is true of all non-2005 White Sox bullpens, basically — but things may smooth out a little as they sort through who has their command this year and who does not.
  • Avisail Garcia.  I don’t know that anyone expected a .400 BABIP and a challenge for the batting title again, but he’s been worse than he was before 2017 so far this year, so unless he has somehow regressed to the center of the Earth and been incinerated in the core, there’s better in here as well.
  • Yoan Moncada.  As we saw last year, even if he hits .230 the rest of his skills — walks, power, defense — add up to an average-to-above-average player.  There’s been some bad luck this year.  As I mentioned, he’s only had 57 PAs, and I can think of a number of strikeouts where he got ripped off on a call on a pitch off the corner or on a check swing.  When he puts the ball in play he’s making hard contact 51.9 percent of the time, which is fifth in the majors.  The problem here is obvious as he’s striking out in more than 40 percent of his PAs.  Some of that is his approach, where he’s falling behind in counts through passivity and then having to battle back with two strikes.  Some of that is that when he gets to two strikes he isn’t cutting his swing down at all and is still trying to smash bombs.  I’m going to go ahead and say he can at least get back to .230 and it would be weird if he couldn’t improve more than that.

The bad news is, as you might suspect, a lot of this bad baseball might be real.

  • Adam Engel has hit really badly.  So far in a measly 39 PAs, Engel is at .188/.308/.219 — that’s very bad! But it’s really not far off from what he did in 336 PAs last year (.166/.235/.282).  There’s nothing in the rulebook saying dogs can’t play basketball Engel can’t improve, but there’s also reason to believe this is about what he can do against major league pitching.  There isn’t an obvious candidate in Charlotte waiting to replace him, especially with Ryan Cordell going down for two months, but one has to imagine Leury Garcia will start siphoning off more playing time if something doesn’t change.
  • Lucas Giolito.  It’s only been three starts, but the statistics and the optics look an awful lot like 2016.  I’m inclined to chalk this up to how cold its been in his starts, because it’s unclear to me why else his fastball velocity would fall apart as compared to where it was in Arizona like three weeks ago.  But the longer this goes on the more troubling it will become.
  • James Shields has somehow netted out to a decent performance so far this year and man does that seem unsustainable.

Ultimately, Lopez and Tim Anderson’s performances so far this season paired with Matt Davidson’s massively spiked walk rate are the most encouraging developments.  Moncada, Giolito, Carson Fulmer and others currently up showing improvement against major league competition is also crucial.  And, as the season goes on, we’re going to start adding names like Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez to that list.

*Statistics as of prior to Tuesday night’s game in Oakland.

**It’s going to happen four more times purely because I wrote this.

Lead Image Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

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