State of the Offense: Still A Tire Fire

I last addressed this issue on May 2nd. At the time the White Sox had played 20 games and they were sitting at 8-12.  The offense was vying with the comical tragedy that is the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies for the title of Worst Offense in MLB. At the time they were hitting .242/.292/.345 as a team. It's been another 20 games since then, and we've seen a streak that included the best baseball they played this year, Carlos Sanchez has replaced Micah Johnson, and well...let's check it out.

From May 6th to May 17th the team hit a lovely .291/./.347/.423 so that was definitely a triumph - although, for a hot streak, that's not a ton of power. But they then followed it up with six straight games of three or fewer runs, again losing four of six against divisional opponents. A 2-4 record despite holding their opponents to just over 3 runs per game over that same span. 

The team is tied for last in the majors in home runs, even while having U.S. Cellular as a home park. Adam LaRoche has single-handedly dragged the team from Absolute Dead Last in BB% By A Mile to "In the muddle of teams between 20th-30th in the majors." This year's White Sox are also 29th in isolated power, just barely ahead of the Marlins, who have already fired their manager and have a pitcher hitting in the slot where the White Sox have Adam LaRoche.

By wRC+ the White Sox rank as follows by position:

C - 27th 

1B - t-11th - Abreu is in the middle of a weird power outage, despite running along with an extended hit streak. One wonders if his finger is bothering him more than the public knows.

2B - 28th - Carlos Sanchez has been a huge upgrade defensively from day one, but he has been an automatic out at the plate, whereas Micah Johnson was at least getting on base at a decent clip. Pick your poison, I suppose.

SS - 20th

3B - t-17th - Conor Gillaspie's main justification for a roster spot is, theoretically, an ability to get on base against RHP. He has committed errors more frequently (7) than he has drawn walks (5). This despite the team having only faced six left-handed starters all season. The problem is that the other options seem to be bench players like Gordon Beckham or Bonfiacio, or Matt Davidson who can't even hit well enough in AAA.

RF- 11th - How bad would this offense be if Avisail Garcia hadn't been so hot for most of the season? It is possible that with him out or cooling off the offense is so bad you have to give up on the season entirely.

CF - t-23rd - Eaton's OBP is still below .300. 

LF - 28th - Melky Cabrera has been an unmitigated disaster to date. I don't think it's a coincidence that the White Sox haven't made the playoffs in an 8-year stretch where they haven't been able to find offense at a position like left freaking field.

DH - 10th (out of 17 qualifying teams) -- Adam LaRoche is doing nothing except walk. I mean, he's walking a lot, and the offense needs it badly, but it's also really power-starved. 

There have been games where they've run into a Cueto or a Price and got dominated. That's fine, I don't care about that - that's what those guys do, and sometimes it doesn't matter who's hitting if a pitcher of that quality is having a good day. The problem is that they have been completely uncompetitive against such mediocrities as Tommy Milone (who is now in AAA), Shane Greene, Trevor May (twice!), Kyles Gibson and Lobstein, and Shaun Marcum. Just with those seven games that means they've been dominated by a scrub in almost 20% of their games so far. If you have turned on a White Sox game in 2015, you had about a 1/5 chance of watching the team get shut down by someone who probably shouldn't have a job on a good team.

In sum - the White Sox have the 28th best offense in MLB so far this year. With a team wRC+ of 84, they have essentially hit as though their entire lineup was composed of nine Jordan Pachecos - and worse than a lineup composed of nine Brett Hayeses. (Please contact me and inform me the correct plural for "Hayes"). As recently as a couple days ago, they were tied with Jeff Francoeur for offensive output.

The Royals made the playoffs last year (barely) with a wRC+ of 94, tied for 17th in the majors. In 2013 the Reds made the Wild Card game with the 15th best offense and a wRC+ of 97. The Braves made the Wild Card game in 2012 with the 22nd best offense, a wRC+ of 92. In 2011, the Phillies won 102 games with the 15th best offense and a wRC+ of 96 and a cartoonishly stacked pitching staff.

Those are the worst offenses to make the playoffs in the last few seasons, and either they were pretty much average (particularly for an NL team), had a superlatively great set of run prevention personnel, or both. I'm belaboring the point, but here's where the White Sox have ranked in wRC+ since their last playoff appearance:

2015 - 29th - 84

2014 - t-14th - 96

2013 - 29th - 83

2012 - 10th - 98

2011 - 21st - 90

2010 - t-9th - 100

2009 - 22nd - 91

2008 - 9th - 101

That means 50% of the time since 2008, the White Sox have had a bottom third offense in all of MLB - and that's with a DH. The years where they did build a competitive offense it was almost entirely on the back of home runs. They were first in homers in 2008 (by a LOT), 7th in 2010, 3rd in 2012, and t-8th last year. Those up years were also heavily reliant on aging veterans hitting enough homers to mask the rest of the offense's warts, which as we've seen isn't a very sustainable model.

The organization saw this and seemed to say, "Gee, we're super dependent on the home run, maybe we should diversify." But instead of actually getting better in other areas - they're 30th in SB success this year - they just neutered the offense of the only thing it did well. I understand that they have been trying to mitigate the damage of having an owner cheap out on the draft as a matter of principle for years, as well as about a decade of their Latin American recruiting being a criminal outfit, but yeesh. 

Okay so out of the last twenty games we did get to watch a six-game winning streak, improved defense, and the key members of the rotation have all brought their ERAs down to around 4.00 from well up above 5.00. Carlos Rodon's control has been a disaster, but he's been a clear upgrade on Noesi, and John Danks even threw a few good starts in for good measure. They're 19-21, which is closer to .500 than the last time I did one of these check-ins, so in a sense they're hanging in there. But this is looking like yet another year where no matter what the personnel is, the organization cannot figure out offense at all. There seems to be a deep, structural inability to either acquire hitting talent, get the most out of the talent they have, or both.  

The organizational core competency of keeping pitching churning along has helped them out - if someone got hurt, Erik Johnson, Tyler Danish, or Chris Beck are credible spot / short term options in-house.  Contrast that to the organizational...well, incompetence when it comes to position players and you have waiver-acquired Matt Tuiasosopo, an organizational filler guy like Dan Black, or...what? Trayce Thompson? Bringing back Micah Johnson? There are no reinforcements whatsoever on the farm. Tim Anderson is really cool and all, but he looks to be at least two years away. 

We can complain about the defense or Samardzija and Sale's disappointing starts to the year all we want. Those things are frustrating, sure, but that's not the problem. Once again the team is trying to overcome an atrocious offense and it's working out about as well as you'd expect. You still figure that Eaton, Melky, and Alexei will improve, and that Abreu and LaRoche should hit for more power, but it's really breathtaking how consistently this team claims to be pushing all in for the playoffs while being abysmal at half of the game. The team hasn't exactly earned the benefit of the doubt that they have the resources or institutional knowledge to fix it. 

In the meantime, enjoy watching the team joust with the windmills of trying to win games 0 to -1. 

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