White Sox Month in Review: May Edition

With the month of May in the books, the White Sox still sit at .500, where they have hovered all season. On the one hand, they are the owners of a negative run differential. On the other, they have survived at .500 despite the loss of key players like Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, and Nate Jones for varying lengths of time. Today the staff of The Catbird Seat take stock of the State of the White Sox as of the start of June.

Nick: We’re more than a third of the way through the season at this point, and while they’re 4.5 games back on a vastly superior Tigers team, they are strangely floating around the periphery of the Wild Card Race. I had hoped that come the trade deadline the White Sox would be flipping guys like Scott Downs and Matt Lindstrom for pieces they could use in 2015 and beyond.

James: I just want to say that I’m still bummed about Avisail.

That’s my update.

Nick: I still have low expectations for him, but the only way to find out what they have in him is giving him more time and obviously that’s been set back at least a year.

Maybe in his rehab they will make him run a lot and he won’t be so lumbering and slow when he returns.

I guess the question I would ask the group is: With Sale and Abreu full time, what’s the true talent level of this team and how does that impact their deadline/in-season moves?

James: Who’s to say it’s not inflated now? Tyler Flowers and Adrien Nieto should be offensive zeroes based on their peripherals. Alexei Ramirez and Conor Gillaspie are playing over their heads. Andre Rienzo is teetering on the edge of blowing up, John Danks’ shoulder is bound together with masking tape and Dayan Viciedo and Adam Eaton have been on the way down since the opening month.

Nick: By that same token, Alejandro de Aza is probably better than this and their record also reflects two-three weeks of shuffling through the bullpen until it was resolved from “apocalyptically bad” to “fine.”

I think you’re right that more players have played over their heads than not, but seriously, Sale missing ½ the season has to matter a lot.

James: The bullpen is not apocalyptically bad, but the youngsters need to step forward a bit more before I expect them to actually be good in the second half. Brandon--dammit--Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka are pretty rough with their fastball command still. Javy Guerra...people use the term “loose cannon” a lot but never has a player so closely, physically resembled one.

Nick: Another concern has to be that as far as pitching goes, they have already exhausted so many emergency backup plans at this point and there’s a lot of season left to go. Any more injuries are going to be even harder to replace. The Pirates have just unconditionally released Wandy Rodriguez I guess?

This has the makings of a dangerous season. If they hang around the periphery of contention the White Sox may not have the willpower to sell, and they may actually get something for Adam Dunn and Gordon Beckham.

James: I have no doubt in my mind they want to contend next year, though I’m not sure what they do to immediately upgrade their biggest area of need (rotation) organically at the moment. But since that is there, it makes me wonder if Beckham and Dunn are hitting up a storm mid-July, they don’t think of them in terms of “HE’S ON THE TEAM FOR NEXT YEAR” and try to make their most win-now version of themselves for 2015.

On that note, why not put Micah in the outfield already so he can replace one of the two jokes in the corners?

Nick: Do you mean so Micah Johnson can be used for this year in the corner OF? Because presumably Avisail gets his spot back next season.

James: I meant next year, and I forgot about Avisail for a moment but my point stands. I have been excommunicated from the church of Dayan. Willingly.

Nick: Theoretically next year Dunn and Konerko are gone and Viciedo doesn’t ruin the roster as hard by being a floating 1B/DH emergency OF if they decide to hang on to him.

Micah Johnson as an infielder is an interesting question, because it was my understanding that his fielding issues were error-based not necessarily range or arm based. His bat profiles so much worse in a corner than it does in CF or MIF.

James: And yet. He’s progressing too fast on offense for his glove to come along in the infield, and there’s a centerfielder in place. Think of him as a Carl Crawford-type!

Nick: Eh, I don’t know that his bat is exactly forcing the issue at the moment. He had 37 very good games at AA, and then was meh for a few games in AAA and got hurt. We’ve seen the White Sox do the “wow, he was great in less than a third of a season at a level, clearly he has mastered it!” promotion before and have it blow up in their faces.

James: But he only played 37 games in AA because of the bat and offensive contribution. He was “wow, he’s mashing but his defense sucks” in Low-A this time last year. Now he’s in AAA.

Nick: As far as this year to next year, I understand if the White Sox think hanging on to Gordon Beckham gives them the best chance to compete in 2015. Adam Dunn’s contract is up, however, and while he’s been one of the best hitters on the team this year, they have to decide whether they should cash in what value they have this season to get stronger next year

Collin: I always do this to myself with prospects like Micah. I’ve been following him for a while now and I don’t know if it’s fair to say I have high expectations for him, but I have high hopes for him. Maybe a Carl Crawford-type is unrealistic but maybe Brett Gardner? It’d be interesting to see how good he can be defensively if he moved to corner OF but long term if he can do enough with the bat to let his speed be a difference maker, that would be great. I don’t know how well he profiles defensively at second base but if Gordon isn’t going to be here past this season, why not keep him there and presume that next year or two years from now you turn it over to him?

James: I think we should interrupt to point out that between the intro to this post and from editing his lineups article, I’m pretty sure Nick doesn’t know what day it is.

Collin: Going back to the original discussion, I’m actually terrified that the White Sox will be close enough to contention in July that they decide to hang on to some of these guys who would be better served as trade bait. I’m fairly confident Rick Hahn isn’t stupid enough to say “we’re 5 out of the wild card, let’s deal everyone for David Price or Jeff Samardzija!” so that isn’t as much of a worry, but NOT trading guys because you MIGHT be able to get a wild card would not be an ideal scenario for this season, IMO.

Nick: Knowing what day it is or where you are or what your name is, is highly overrated.

Collin: It’s also crazy to think about the fact that the White Sox’s haven’t played a single game with Adam Eaton, Gordon Beckham, Jose Abreu and Conor Gillaspie all healthy and in the lineup. (And Avisail Garcia, I guess, but that’s obvious).

James: On a smaller scale...anyone worried about Eaton? He’s stunk pretty bad this month.

Nick: Guys with low power who hit the ball on the ground a lot are going to go through some pretty putrid stretches. I haven’t checked, but it feels like he’s not walking though, which is a bit odd.

James: He has not. He has zero walks since returning from the DL. Him hitting .250 wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t have an identical OBP.

It’s a systemic issue, and you saw it with Abreu before he went on the shelf. The Sox approach has fallen apart this month. They have a 24.7% K-rate for May, which is on a different planet from the rest of the league. Overall it’s a 85 wRC+.  Which is bad. Not 2013 bad, but a departure from their dizzying start.

Collin: Eaton is still seeing 4.04 pitches per plate appearance, which would be in the Top 25 of the league if he qualified (he doesn’t right now). Obviously that doesn’t mean a whole lot if he’s seeing a lot of pitches but not getting on base, but I suppose it’s nice to know he’s not just up there hacking away. Hopefully this is just a rough stretch.

The Sox also have six hitters in the Top 100 in that stat, with Dunn ranking third in the league at 4.5 pitches per plate appearance.

James: Fine, so maybe their approach isn’t dead. Viciedo for the most part looks like he’s committed to not diving across on the outer half anymore. It’s not really bearing fruit, though. He needs to hit home runs.

I don’t know what puritanical leanings prevent people from realizing that home runs are the best thing, both in terms of production but also as evidence of a hitter making clean contact and driving the ball, but it’s pretty infuriating. Viciedo hitting empty high average is pretty NOT ideal.

Nick: People like narratives, and sometimes the more seductive narrative is, “Sure, it seems like the guy blasting all kinds of dingers is the best, but it’s REALLY not the guy who’s blasting dingers.” That somehow transformed into people’s minds that home runs in fact kill rallies. At the end of the day, the single best thing you can do in a plate appearance is hit a home run.

James: Moving away from discussions about how much worse than a league-average second baseman he was for years on end, and his infinite number of chances, let’s end on a positive note in discussing the work of Gordon Beckham. The little scamp hit .306/.342/.468 in May, with the keys being maintaining mid-level power production with plate coverage and contact (just a 17.8% K-rate). It’s a bedeviling issue if any of this development is real, because it likely trumps the projected outcomes for Marcus Semien or Carlos Sanchez, and weighs heavily on the Sox decision about their short-term goals.

And well it should. Second basemen who can hit at all are rare, which is probably why we’ve been chasing the ghost of one for four years.


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