This is admittedly not a fantastic time to come to the defense of the performance of Marcus Semien. He looks lost on tracking off-speed pitches, he can't lay off good MLB sliders, and his strikeout rate is at 30 percent — a mark that's an anathema for booming power hitters, let alone Semien.
Even by the exceedingly meager standards Gordon Beckham's early-season's slump established, Beckham is comfortably outplaying Semien, in addition to his advantages in the field. But as the Sox offense actually does find its way to a slump and fans wonder what became of the patient and 'grind-it-out' approach, they should go beyond their catalyst, who hasn't been himself since the Texas series started on April 18.
Eaton and Semien have lined up No. 1 and No. 2 at the top of the order 21 times this season. In those games, they combined to average 4.08 pitches per plate appearance. For the season total, Semien was out ahead of Eaton into Tuesday, averaging 4.23 to Eaton's 4.12. Semien's mark is in the Top 10 in the American League, whereas Eaton would be filling out the Top 20 if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
There are some bad reasons why Semien sees a lot of pitches. He strikes out a lot. And dealing with him is as much an exercise in tedium as it is a challenge for pitchers. Good breaking balls solve him, you just have to throw them. He's far from ideal, but that's a lot of pitches being coaxed at the top of the order. If we subscribe any value to the traditional leadoff man responsibility of seeing pitches and forcing starting pitchers to show their full complement so the rest of the lineup can observe, these two were pretty good at.
Pitcher quality decline is a lot more closely tied to times through the order than pitch counts, but higher pitch counts lead to shorter outings, which lead to more reliever work, which lead to more staff fatigue. And every bit helps.
Injuries to Eaton and the presence of Gordon Beckham have broken up the duo, and since Beckham has become a regular feature of the top two spots in the lineup, that pitches per plate appearance figure fell to 3.88 through Monday. (They drew 5.0 per PA Tuesday night but I have the spreadsheet on a different computer and Semien and Beckham batting 1-2 REALLY screws with the sample. Gillaspie and Beckham picked up a solid 4.0 per PA Wednesday).
Again, Beckham is producing more, though not by so much that Semien becomes an afterthought. He's a different bird, and maybe Semien will change like he did, but Beckham's inability to cover top velocity keeps him from being very choosy. And the frequency with which he's challenged over the plate makes it pointless for him to wait for things that are already there.
0.2 pitches per plate appearance doesn't seem like much, but the spread from the best team and the worst team in baseball is barely more than 0.5. Jumping up from 3.88 to 4.08 is the equivalent of going from league-average to Top 3. With all the boom and bluster about how previous White Sox offenses didn't do the little things, here's a little something on why the beginning of the season might have seem so blissful, and why the last couple of weeks are irritatingly familiar.
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