With Gordon Beckham, Conor Gillaspie and Adam Eaton returning to health over the last several weeks, the White Sox's lineup appeared to be as healthy as it had been all season (Avisail Garcia notwithstanding). Then, Jose Abreu got hurt and it brought us back to a point where we're still not entirely sure what Robin Ventura's daily lineup will look like when he has a fully healthy starting lineup to work with.
Through 47 games, the White Sox have yet to have a day in which Eaton, Beckham, Gillaspie and Abreu were all in the lineup together. In the four games after Beckham's return and prior to Eaton's injury, Ventura seemed to want to settle into having Eaton and Beckham top the lineup, but those four games were also during Gillaspie's absence, and it's entirely possible Ventura would opt for an Eaton-Gillaspie-Abreu lineup with Beckham moving down.
There's also Marcus Semien to consider. Semien has hit in the No. 2 spot more than any other hitter this season, doing so 24 times while Beckham began the season on the DL. However, he's mostly sat on the bench since Beckham's return and Ventura seems content letting him spell Gillaspie and Beckham from time to time, although a return to Triple-A could be in his future.
As you can see, there's a lot of confusion to sort through when trying to figure out the White Sox's optimal lineup. As I see it, there are only a handful of potential combinations for the top of the order when the White Sox are at full strength.
A — 1. Eaton, 2. Beckham, 3. Gillaspie, 4. Abreu
B — 1. Eaton, 2. Beckham, 3. Abreu, 4. Dunn
C — 1. Eaton, 2. Gillaspie, 3. Abreu, 4. Dunn
If I had to fathom a guess, Option A is the lineup Ventura is most likely to use. During the first few days of the regular season — when every regular sans Beckham was healthy — this is more or less the lineup Ventura went with on a daily basis except with Semien in Beckham's stead.
The problem with that, of course, is that while Beckham hasn't been a train wreck at the plate, he still doesn't get on base enough to warrant receiving the second most at-bats on the team.
Gillaspie's case is more interesting. He's been on a tear when healthy this season, and is even hitting left-handed pitching, something he's failed to do at any point in his career up to this point. The sample size is small (.310 OBP in 29 plate appearances), but his career sample size is small, too (just 103 ABs vs. lefties in his career), meaning it's not outside the realm of possibilities that we don't know how successful he can be against lefties.
If he can continue getting on base at his current clip, he warrants inclusion at either No. 2 or No. 3 in the order, and can probably stick at one of those spots against righties, regardless.
Hitting Beckham second and Gillaspie third raises other problems, of course. Namely that it means less at-bats for Abreu, Dunn and Alexei Ramirez as they get pushed down the order. If the above options are the only three Ventura would be willing to consider, Option C would be the most ideal situation, with the possibility of flip-flopping between Gillaspie and Beckham in the 2-hole if Gillaspie regresses to the point where Beckham is the better option against lefties (a very realistic possibility).
There are other options, of course, which I failed to list above mostly for dramatic effect. So how about this?
D — 1. Eaton, 2. Ramirez, 3. Gillaspie, 4. Abreu
E — 1. Eaton, 2. Ramirez, 3. Abreu, 4. Dunn
F — 1. Eaton, 2. Gillaspie, 3. Ramirez, 4. Abreu
The biggest problem with Ventura's presumed lineup preferences is that all of them include Alexei Ramirez hitting fifth or lower. Ramirez has been the White Sox's most consistent hitter through 47 games and has only hit higher than sixth in the order six times this season, most often slotting into the No. 6 spot, where he's hit in 21 games.
It's certainly possible (or likely) that Ramirez comes down to Earth, but it seems suboptimal for a guy hitting .320/.352/.486 to be receiving the fifth or sixth most at-bats per game. That's why I like Options D and E best. If Gillaspie's career splits hold true for a full season, Ventura could go with D or F against righties and E against lefties. Option E is the most appealing — it gets your best hitters the most at-bats — unless you believe Gillaspie is going to continue hitting like he has for a full season. (Cue James nodding in agreement).
So why is Ventura refusing to move Ramirez up in the order? It's tough to say. I'm sure the reasoning has something to do with "comfort zones" or "not messing with a good thing," but Ramirez has 1,388 at-bats hitting No. 2 in his career (by far his most in any slot in the lineup) and has a career line there of .281/.324/.401, so he's been just fine in the past.
Maybe these moves will happen eventually, or maybe Ramirez will regress to the point where we'll want him to hit No. 6 every day. Injuries have robbed us of knowing what Ventura actually prefers to do on a regular basis, but once Abreu returns (and barring any other injuries), we'll likely get a pretty good idea.
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