My over the top fanhood for Conor Gillaspie began as a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the terrible 2013 White Sox and it still kind of is. It started after his torrid April debut fizzled out and everyone had stopped paying more than passing attention to his game. Upon examination, I noticed that Gillaspie had intense platoon splits. While he was hysterically useless against left-handed pitching (~30% K-rate, no walks, no power), he was basically a league-average hitter against righties.
With Adam Dunn having his second-worst season as a member of the White Sox and the rest of the team hitting like they were day-drinkers, Conor was near the best hitter they were suiting up if the matchup was right, and celebrating as he sprayed singles and perfectly acceptable amount of home runs seemed like the most fun way to mourn this sad fact. His stats still looked grungy, he had a bizarre three-error (which could have been four) night against the Tigers, and comports himself joylessly, so that most people thought I was championing Conor for no reason at all added to the fun.
What's going on right now is a fair shade different.
After an early-season blitz where everyone on the lineup — except for Alejandro De Aza, who's been Larry Gergich all year — started out smacking homers and piling hits, Conor's start to the season has stretched out beyond the scope of an April hot streak. He's going to finish the month of May hitting over .300. He was hitting .355/.399/.468 after his four-hit Memorial Day special, and he could spend the rest of the year playing to his meh ZiPS and Steamer projection and still finish the season as an above-average hitter.
He's not just good enough to hold off Matt Davidson at this level of play, he's better than what Davidson is supposed to be.
It's spectacular, but is it real?
Assuming that the question of whether Gillaspie will keep hitting .353 or keep up a .407 BABIP is too ridiculous for anyone to bother asking, there is plenty here to lend hope that Gillaspie has significantly improved from last year.
First of all, the platoon split is not the hindrance to full-time play it used to be. Gillaspie is hitting .321 against lefties this season, which is obviously nonsense (he's doing NOTHING but singling off them), but that he's making contact at all (four strikeouts in 30 plate appearances) is a very meaningful improvement. Even if he's just a guy making tons of contact, he's playable against both sides.
While much has been made of Conor doing this without hitting a home run, it might be a positive. Not a positive in the sense that we're grouchy luddites who shun fireworks, but that if we assume his power hasn't evaporated or simply been lessened due to a more balanced, all-fields approach, there should be more power production to offset when his average inevitably starts to dip. Gillaspie is hitting just as many hits for extra bases (30% last year, 29.5% this year), it's just a wait for some of his pulled drives to find the right field bullpen.
What does this mean?
Anytime a swap of fungible assets that results in one guy transforming in an MLB regular looks like genius-level work. Rick Hahn turned high-powered Single-A lawn sprinkler Jeff Soptic into a desperately needed playable third basemen. The Giants were certainly motivated sellers, though. Pablo Sandoval blocked any notion of Gillaspie getting meaningful playing time, and a roster crunch was going to force a DFA.
Before the start of the season, it was a question of how long until Matt Davidson forces the Sox to trade or release Gillaspie. If the Sox aren't believers, there's certainly no shame in flipping him while he's still smoldering, but between Paul Konerko's retirement, Adam Dunn's expiring contract, and Dayan Viciedo's shaky reliability, the Sox are an odd organization in an odd place to act like they have too many corner infielders, especially when Davidson and Gillaspie offer real versatility, not just the kind where they've been tried unsuccessfully at multiple positions.
At the risk of getting even further carried away about two months (check out Brennan Boesch's first half of 2010 if you ever need to cool down), and betraying my previously cranky retorts to people who worry about the type of offense the White Sox get as much as the amount, but Gillaspie — contact oriented with a passable walk rate, with a clear advantage against right-handed pitching — is a type of player the Sox have struggled to find or develop. Gillaspie has shown himself to be pretty far from slump-proof, and as he's likely an average hitter who doesn't need to struggle much to become unremarkable, but as his success amid a power outage and two-straight fast starts support, Gillaspie is apart from the usual talking points for Sox offensive failures.
Just sparing us from that discussion, is reason enough to be a Conor fan.
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