At 13-13, the White Sox's winning percentage is an even .500 for the 10th time already this season. At different points during the first four weeks, they've been 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 8-8, 10-10, 11-11, 12-12 and now 13-13.
That strange fact paints us a picture of a consistently average team. Of course, average is still a gigantic step forward from 2013 and while the team's pitching staff likely prevents the White Sox from being serious playoff contenders in 2014, they've at least been entertaining. Just this past week alone, they've hit two go-ahead grand slams — Marcus Semien's eighth-inning blast against Detroit and Jose Abreu's walk-off winner against Tampa Bay.
At 26 games played, we're still not yet even 1/5 of the way through the season. So while numbers are beginning to slowly trend toward the mean as sample sizes increase, it's still too early to predict that, say, Dayan Viciedo is going to win the batting title.
That said, let's take a closer look at some of the hitters who have gotten off to hot starts and see just how well we can predict their success going forward. (James is covering the pitchers later today so for the sake of this post, we're going to stick to hitters).
Entering Sunday's game, the White Sox have five players who would rank anywhere from very good to great in wOBA (six if you include the injured Avisail Garcia). The five — Viciedo, Abreu, Alexei Ramirez, Adam Dunn and Tyler Flowers — wouldn't exactly surprise you as they've been the team's most consistently productive hitters to date. Similarly, the same five are at the top of the team's leaderboard in wRC+.
While those numbers indicate how successful each hitter has been at the plate thus far, whether or not they're sustainable over the course of the season is the question.
Flowers and Viciedo — easily the two most surprising names of the five I've mentioned — are the two hitters on the team whose success has been aided most by BABIP. Before Sunday's game, Flowers had the highest BABIP in all of baseball (minimum 50 ABs) at .595, while Viciedo sits third among qualified hitters at .415. (Flowers doesn't qualify because of his low at bat total).
Flowers and Viciedo don't have a history of getting on base at a high clip. The reason for this is that neither of them walk incredibly often. In the cases of Flowers and Viciedo, the high wOBA and wRC+ are attributed mostly to their incredibly high BABIP. Neither BABIP is sustainable (the league leader in BABIP a season ago was Chris Johnson at .394), and thus, as that number comes down, so too will wOBA and wRC+.
You might point out that Viciedo's K/BB numbers look rather good right now (12/8). While that has been a pleasant surprise, James pointed out last week that Viciedo has gone through hot stretches like this before, so until he does it over a longer period of time, I'll hazard toward predicting a decline.
Ramirez and Abreu are trickier cases to figure out. While Ramirez has been a plus-WAR player in each season of his career, his wOBA in each of those seasons has been around or slightly below the league average. At .394, it's bound to come down. But can we still predict a successful season going forward? His BB/K numbers are right around his career average and his BABIP (.353) is high but nearly as unsustainable as Flowers' or Viciedo's. The hot start likely predicates an above-average season, but maybe not much better than we've seen out of him in the past.
Abreu's case simply comes down to a lack of sample size. Unlike Ramirez (or any of the other five), we have no career averages to measure his start against. But there is one, glaring number that predicts future success: His BABIP entering Sunday was a lowly .242, lower than everyone on the team except Alejandro de Aza and Jordan Danks. So while it's difficult to predict whether the balls Abreu is mashing will continue flying out of the park at a record rate, he's been rather unlucky on balls he hits that actually stay in the park.
As far as Dunn goes, I'm surprisingly optimistic regarding the 34 year old. He's still going to strike out a lot, but his K% (28.8%) and his BB% (16.7%) would be his best marks since 2009, when he finished with a .395 wOBA and 142 wRC+ (the latter a career high).
One other stat that's fun to look at is ISO. It's mostly pointless to mention ISO at this point in the season as that's one that requires a much higher sample size to be anywhere near predictive. But what the hell? Let's look anyway: Abreu's ISO is .354 and the highest in baseball among qualified hitters. Notable sluggers Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton sit behind him. Dunn, for what it's worth, is at .265, good for 17th in the league. Translated to a full season, that would be his highest total since 2010, his final season before joining the White Sox.
In summary, here's my best guess at future success of these five hitters:
Continue to perform at a high level:
- Adam Dunn
- Alexei Ramirez
Likely to decline:
- Tyler Flowers
- Dayan Viciedo
MAYBE (HOPEFULLY!) WILL STILL BE AWESOME???
- Jose Abreu
Other noteworth tidbits from the past week:
- Who's that man? Oh, hey, it's Paul Konerko! Konerko actually had 15 at bats last week, nearly doubling his season total. He started three games, including the last two. The Rays starting a pair of lefties helped that cause, but he got six hits in those 15 at bats after coming into the week with just one all season. He's been impatient (he saw only 11 pitches in Wednesday's win over the Tigers despite going 3-for-4), but also draw a key 9th-inning walk against Grant Balfour in Friday's thrilling comeback. And then he almost got in a fight!
- Is Gordon Beckham White Sox fans' favorite player to hate, or is it Dunn? I think if you took a poll, it'd be pretty close, but the former made his return and collected two hits in his first 10 at bats. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his debut against reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, but while he hasn't had much luck since, he hasn't struck out in three games since. So while we wait to see what we get out of him on offense, his plus-defense is welcomed and the timing worked out because of Conor Gillaspie's DL stint.
- Speaking of returns, Adam Eaton returned to his gritty/grindy self on Friday after a five game absense and went 4-for-14 with four runs scored in three games against the Rays. Which is good, because...
- RIP, This Meme:
This week: 1 game vs. Tampa Bay; 2 games vs. Detroit; 3 games @ Cleveland.
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