No pennant race, but White Sox have individual pursuits this time

Tim Anderson painting
Tim Anderson (Carl Skanberg)

With 19 games left in the season, much of the usual sources of baseball intrigue have been eliminated right along with the White Sox, who were officially clipped from the proceedings on Saturday. “The string” has now been set, and the White Sox will be playing it out from now until Sept. 29.

Players can start putting the “I” in team, because it’s just about entirely all stat-padding from here. The Sox have three individual pursuits I’m following in particular over the final three weeks, which loom larger than anything the Sox can do as a group.

Tim Anderson’s batting title

Joe McEwing gave Tim Anderson the day off on Sunday before the team’s off day on Monday, so Anderson should be fully charged for the challenge lying ahead. He leads D.J. LeMahieu .334 to .326, giving the proceedings a pennant-chase feel, and he’ll need about 13 full games to reach the qualifying number of plate appearances.

The phrasing brings to mind a pennant race — “he’s up six points with 56 plate appearances to play” — but I know of now way to create a magic number due to the different units of measurement.

Batting average has lost its prominence as other stats more comprehensively reflect a player’s offensive value, but with Anderson, a glance at the batting average will more or less tell you how his season’s going. He’s allergic to walks and his power output has been consistent relative to the league, so the average is the only chapter that features significant changes when the year’s Anderson Annual hits the newsstands.

(OK, strikeout rate is there, too, but we’ll probably need to see one more year of it to better understand how it relates to his BABIP.)

Basically, a batting title would be a crowning achievement for Anderson, because it tells everybody he maxed out a skill set that confuses the hell out of everybody else. Freak flags fly forever.

Jose Abreu’s RBI crown

With 112 RBIs to his name, Jose Abreu holds a five-run edge over Boston’s Rafael Devers for American League RBI supremacy.

Like batting average, RBIs is an outdated measurement for a player’s individual worth, but like batting average in Anderson’s case, RBIs reflect Abreu’s penchant for success with an approach not recommended for anybody else.

Ten of the top 12 AL RBI leaders play in lineups that are at least top-half offensive clubs. Abreu is one of the exceptions, as only Detroit has scored fewer runs than the Sox. The other is Jorge Soler, who has spent much of the year driving in himself for the league’s third-lowest-scoring offense. He set Kansas City’s single-season home run record with 41.

Abreu isn’t challenging the league’s home run crowd; he’s tied for 12th with 31. He’s going about RBIs the old-fashioned way, saving his hits for when runners are on base. There’s an element of luck, but when he’s right, Abreu’s hitting approach makes him hard to defend when he’s only concerned about getting the run home. His eyes often get bigger than his stomach when it comes to plate coverage, but the swing he deploys is that of a guy who will be happy to drive in one run even if three are available.

Abreu isn’t greedy in that regard, but he looks like he’s hoarding all the RBIs when you consider the context. Abreu is atop the team leaderboard with 112 RBIs, and No. 2 on the list is Yoan Moncada … with 66. That’s a significant gap, and the 1972 White Sox are the only team I can find challenging it in franchise history. Dick Allen had 113, and Carlos May was second with 68.

Daniel Palka’s lowest average ever

Daniel Palka is 1-for-54 over 61 plate appearances, and if his season were to end today — and it probably should — he’d hold the record for the lowest non-zero average for a position player in MLB history. The only players with more hitless at-bats than Palka in a season are pitchers, and even then, there are only nine of them.

He long ago dusted Skeeter Shelton, who went 1-for-40 for the New York Giants back in 1915, and old friend Corky Miller, who went 1-for-39 as a third catcher for the Cincinnati Reds back in 2004. From here, the record is Doug Davis’ 1-for-64 with the Brewers in 2004. At least Davis won 12 games and pitched 207 innings. Palka is a DH playing right field.

You’d think it’d take a special kind of luck to go 1-for-54, but Palka would be hitless on the season if it weren’t for a broken-bat flare to left field. When you see him foul off four middle-middle pitches before grounding out to second on a pitch out of the zone, it basically eliminates all hope. Palka put the Sox in this position since late April, where playing him and sitting him are both kinda cruel. That said, the Sox put themselves in this position by bringing Palka back to the roster in September when nobody clamored for his return. Underneath Rick Renteria’s cheerful exterior lies a sadist streak.

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Josh Nelson

I hope for Palka’s sake he collects at least one more hit.

John SF

It’s super terrible of me, but I hope he doesn’t.   I enjoy the spectacle.  

Also, he has achieved his dream.  He has made bank. He came in 5th in RotY last year.  He has hit multiple walk off pinch hit home runs in major league games.  He will be ok.  He gets to keep all those good times forever, and he gets to keep playing next year too.  

I hope he comes back next year in the minors as a pitcher actually.  He could have been drafted as a pitcher, and I think he should work on that for a while. It might help him get out of his head and unlock his bat again, plus give him more talent for an NL team.    

But for the rest of this year I want him to keep setting this terrible record.      

As Cirensica

He has made bank.

Nope

John SF

Re: Ars

I meant Bank compared to what he was reasonably expecting when he was drafted he has.    He has spent over a full year in MLB.    That health care for life and over $600,000.   That’s what I meant.  

Life changing money.   He was potentially never going to make the bigs if the Sox hadn’t grabbed him off waivers from the twins.  

TheBigHrabosky

Excuse me, I was clamoring for Palka’s return.

karkovice squad

a batting title would be a crowning achievement for Anderson, because it tells everybody he maxed out a skill set that confuses the hell out of everybody else.

Radically min-maxing defense and batted ball results was probably the least predictable way for him to manage a prorated 4+ WAR season pace. He somehow pushed harder to the extremes of both after the start of the season rather than regressing to the mean.

To Szymborski’s point yesterday that he’s a B+ guy, at different points Anderson’s demonstrated the skills to be better than that. It wouldn’t be the most shocking thing for him, at 27 next year, to put it all together.

but the swing [Abreu] deploys is that of a guy who will be happy to drive in one run even if three are available.

He’s a guy who could have a late career resurgence if he retooled that conventional swing along contemporary lines.

Amar

What would you think is Abreu, just curious?

karkovice squad

@Amar, I think the question is missing something.

Amar

LOL yes , sorry , what do you think a fair contract offer to Abreu would be.

karkovice squad

@Amar, I’d quibble with the idea of fairness. Like, compared to what and for whom? The market might say he’s maybe 3/$50m guaranteed with an option. A step up from Kendrys Morales’ contract.

But for the Sox who squandered the prime of his career? 5/$100m.

zerobs

Palka is a DH playing right field.

A DH that hits worse than a pitcher. And never bunts.

John SF

I was going to pile on and make fun of him for also being a super slow runner, but actually Palka’s Sprint speed is in the 42nd percentile apparently, and he probably gets an extra step from the LH box.   

I can’t find any stats on the average sprint speed of NL pitchers anywhere no matter how hard I google, but I doubt it’s better than that.   

John SF

How fast do you think max effort running pitchers run though?  Guys in good shape who take batting seriousl, your Bumgarners and whatnot?

misoxfan

Leading the league in batting average and RBI, in 2019, seems a very White Sox thing to do. Does Giolito have a shot at the lead in pitcher wins as well?

digger0910

No, probs not. He trails some guy called Justin Verlander (by 4) on the wins leaderboard.  And then Rodriguez, German, Cole, Strasburg, Fried, Greinke, Hudson, Beiber and Morton. I wonder if any of those guys are any good? Meaningless list since it’s wins I guess; they might all stink. 

iowasox1971

Don’t agree with the phrasing of there being an “element of luck” on Abreu’s ability to hit this year with runners in scoring position. Driving in runs is an art; some guys are able to do that more consistently than others. When runners are on base, pitchers will bear down more, so it stands to reason that the better hitters will produce at a higher rate in such situations. Also, there is an art to hitting a run-scoring grounder (instead of striking out or popping up) with the infield back to tie the score in the sixth inning. Abreu, much like Harold Baines back in the day, will do that, even though it might hurt his batting average or OPS. Other guys often will not.

The RBI difference between Abreu and Moncada (the second-place guy on this team) is staggering. Yes, Moncada has been hurt for part of this season, but that’s also why the RBI stat is important. You aren’t able to add to this stat at all when you are hurt or you are being rested because a tough pitcher you have had trouble against is starting for the other team. When you’ve had a season driving in as many runs as Abreu has, it means you’ve been in the lineup practically every day and you’ve produced at an impressive clip with the chances you have had. To be leading the league in the RBI category in this lineup is amazing, and people need to realize that.

As I’ve posted here before, put Abreu in Houston’s lineup, and his advanced stats would be much better, with more walks, a higher OPS and even more RBIs. If you put one of Houston’s top hitters in his spot in our lineup, that player’s stats would take a tumble from where they are now.

As far as Anderson and his bid for the batting title go, I would like to see him win it, but I am not as impressed with his season as I am Abreu’s because he has missed so many games. If you miss 30 or 40 games in a season, and I realize it was an unfortunate injury that Tim suffered, there’s less chance for you to go into a big slump that can hurt your average a lot. Tim still deserves credit for the season he has had at the plate, though.

burning-phoneix

I really don’t think Palka is a .051 hitter or whatever his batting average is. He was hitting better than Danny Mendick in Charlotte and Mendick already has a better offensive season than him in the majors after like 15 ABs.
At this point, I’m really chalking up his dismal streak down to a mental block.