If I’ve learned anything unique from the first two days of the coronavirus-shortened season, it’s that the manager risks catching hell for treating the last week of July as the first week of the season, even though it’s the first week of the season.
Normally, a manager would use all his position players, starters and relievers over the course of the first series or two, and while some fans tear their hair out over every lineup, most everybody else would understand the reason for choices that aren’t optimized.
From the backup catcher taking the day game after a night game to a rookie batting in the bottom third during his first swings in the majors, Rick Renteria trotted out a pretty normal Game 2 lineup on Saturday.
It’s harder to contextualize the natural instinct to get everybody’s feet wet when the first week of the season accounts for 10 percent of the schedule, rather than 3-4 percent, especially after a sample of 1.
Leury García showed what a difference a day can make when “a day” also counts as “half the season to date.” On Opening Day, García flubbed multiple plays and went 0-for-3 with a walk on Opening Day. Nick Madrigal could’ve done all that.
A day later, García handled all chances without incident and belted two homers in Game 2. It’s safe to say Madrigal couldn’t have done the same.
García is undoubtedly a major-league player, and a fascinating one. Through age 25, he owned a career line of .188/.225/.237 over 153 games, and he was almost as much of a pitcher as he was an outfielder. That he’s become a second-division center field starter who can get by on the contact he makes registers as a triumph, even if it results in really goofy full-season numbers. A guy with a sub-.100 ISO shouldn’t strike out 130 times in a season. A guy with a .310 OBP probably shouldn’t have been on pace for 100-plus runs over 162 games. Nobody who looks as frequently in over his head as García redeems himself as often as García.
García is a fine example of why the finer points of Renteria’s lineup choices for the first week or so should be ignored. The first two games are the first two games, regardless of whether the season has 100 fewer games this time around.
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But … I don’t think Nicky Delmonico’s two starts count as a finer point, because he’s the guy Madrigal would actually be replacing. To me, that point looks as thick as his eye black, perhaps because it shares traits with several different real-time disasters during my blogging career, such as it is.
Dewayne Wise, leadoff man: In 2008, Wise came out of nowhere to give the White Sox some outfield versatility as the Sox navigated the worst of Nick Swisher and Carlos Quentin’s wrist injury. He hit six homers and stolen nine bases in limited regular-season action, then did what he could in the Sox’s four-game ALDS loss to Tampa Bay (2-for-7, a homer and 5 RBIs in three games).
His .293 OBP suggested that the Sox shouldn’t ask much more of him, but the Sox guaranteed him a roster spot. More than that, he led off for the White Sox in their first two games. He went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, received a surprising amount of boos for a player who hadn’t done anything else wrong two games into the season, and Ozzie Guillen relegated him to the bottom third of the lineup for the rest of his starts. He finished the year with a .262 OBP.
The Mark Teahen extension: Back in 2010, before Teahen played his first game for the White Sox, I wrote about Teahen registering as a bad idea because he fit the description Earl Weaver cautioned against. Bill James summed it up in his Guide to Baseball Managers by saying, “What Weaver NEVER used were the guys who didn’t do anything specific, but looked good in the uniform, the .260 hitters with 10 to 15 homers, a little speed and so-so defense.” Joe Posnanski had pointed to that excerpt in a recent post at the time, adding:
I put Bill James’ thought about Earl Weaver up there because Weaver always had a point to everything he did. That was his strength. That’s what made his teams great. Every move had a specific purpose. This guy played because he was sensational defensively, and this guy played because he got on base at a very high rate, and this guy played because he destroyed right handed pitching, and this guy played because he never walked anybody, and this guy played because he was magical on the double play, and this guy played because he stole bases at a very high percentage, and this guy played because he destroyed left-handed pitching. And so on. There was always purpose to the moves. Earl didn’t want guys who could “play baseball.” He wanted guys who could “do something.”
Delmonico did something in 2017, when he was an above-average hitter from the left side. The last two years have wiped out the head start to the point that he’s a .226/313/.390 hitter lifetime. He does look good in the uniform, but what else?
September 2012: After his steady hand helped the White Sox hold first place for the majority of the first five months, Robin Ventura became overwhelmed by the expanded rosters and spent September calling upon guys who spent the year in Charlotte for the highest-leverage situations.
Those pulls might seem like they’re from the distant past, but the White Sox haven’t been in a pennant race since, which is why examples of individual roster and lineup decisions looming so large dry up. Here’s where they’ve sat in the standings with 60 games to go the last seven years:
- 2019: 16 GB
- 2018: 19.5 GB
- 2017: 16.5 GB
- 2016: 8.5 GB (5.5 WC)
- 2015: 11.5 GB
- 2014: 10 GB
- 2013: 18 GB
Also, the same guys are still in charge, and had Dioner Navarro and JB Shuck getting starts the last time they were even close to fighting for October.
In this context, it’s great that Delmonico’s first two starts have frustrated White Sox fans this much. The Sox haven’t had a chance this late in the season for most of a decade, even if it required a pandemic to make it so, and fans don’t want to see them blow it. And when they see Madrigal’s service-time manipulation lead the White Sox into one of their old bad habits — getting wrapped up in the idea of a guy, and not what he actually is — it looks a lot like a relapse from here. (And that’s double if the White Sox played themselves by falling too hard for what Nomar Mazara has never been.)
The night-and-day difference between García’s first two games show the folly in gnashing teeth right now, even if “early” came late this year. The last decade-plus shows that the White Sox still have to prove they’re past playing guys who impact no areas of the game in measurable ways. Not everything is overreacting, and for what overreacting there is, a lot of Sox fans have been waiting for small decisions to loom so large.
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
Apart from the fact that Delmonico started both games (and batted 6th in game 2), the thing that really confused me was the end of game 1. What is the point of Zack Collins on this roster if not to pinch hit against righties late in games? I know we were down big and it probably makes no difference, but why not let him hit for Leury or Delmonico in the 8th or 9th inning against right handed pitching?
If he’s not worth sending out there over those 2 guys, then he’s just on the team to be an emergency catcher. And in that case, you’re better off just having Seby up here instead of Collins.
The sox will carry 3 catchers for the first month of the season at least. It allows them to potentially use Grandall/Mccann In Pinch hit /DH/1B roles and still have a catcher on the bench.
With that in mind, I understand the argument “why not just have that guy be Seby”…. But 2020 is an interesting year, and Collins is still the vasty superior long term prospect than Seby is. And with no minor league games to speak of, Having Collins on the roster instead of Seby makes a ton more sense to me.
Plus, I would assume Zach Collins WILL get opportunities to pinch hit. I dont think its exactly fair to criticize Renteria for NOT pinch hitting a lefty…. For two leftys in Delmonico/Leury. Sure, Collins is likely better from the left side than both of them against RHP, but its not like we’re talking about Subbing in Collins for Engel against a RHP or something. It was one game and he did not sub out one lefty for another, thats a non story.
And for bonus points, he DID pinch hit Collins in the second game, and he got a walk.
I wasn’t that disappointed that Delmonico started in right on opening night, though Madrigal should have been at 2nd. Leury is not a very good option against righties. In a full season, 2019, his slash against righties was .294/.348/.642, well below average. His slash against lefties was .344/.443/.786, which is very solid. Now after 2 games, it looks pretty obvious that Delmonico is even worse than Leury against righties. He just offers nothing to this team. I know Madrigal won’t be up for at least 7 games, so I guess they can run Mendick at 2nd and Leury in right. That should at least improve the defense in those 2 spots.
The bright spot is that when Mazara returns and Madrigal comes up, they should have a solid lineup 1-9. Mazara should never start against lefties. His difference in slash, .337/.462/.799 against righties, vs. .272/.361/.633 against lefties is huge. And there are two legitimate right field options against lefties, Leury and Engel. A 60-game season is no time to see if Mazara can handle lefties. He is a solid bat, especially at #8 in the lineup against righties. This has the potential to be one of the best lineups in baseball if Ricky manages it properly. But will he? That is the question.
If we’re honest, you know Renteria is gonna plug Mazara in every day if he gets the chance, regardless of who is on the mound. Thats what they said they were going to do in the offseason, anyways. And so far it doesn’t seem like the 60 game season has changed their approach much.
I’m afraid you’re right, but again, that is a really foolish approach. Why force him against lefties when there are solid alternatives?
Hey roke, your points still stand overall, but you just made Leury and Mazara into absolute studs (even against their weaker sides) with those slash lines. Slash lines are: AVG/OBP/SLG (and then we can add OBP and SLG easily to figure out OPS). I think you have OBP/SLG/OPS.
You’re right, foulkelore. Sorry for the confusion. I did use OBP/SLG/OPS. Their actual slash lines are:
Leury, 2019: vs lefties ..311/.344/.443 vs. righties .264/.294/.348
Mazara, career: vs. lefties .231/.272/.361 vs. righties .271/.337/.462.
Thanks for pointing that out.
Sure, great content though – I completely agree with the points you made.
Folks, you might want to shield your eyes looking at today’s lineup card. Delmonico is batting 2nd (!!) and Moncada is sitting.
Odd, the lineup changed. The first one I saw still had Moncada sitting, but had Eloy second, Leury 6th, and Engel 9th. So, either the first lineup I saw was wrong, Engel got scratched, or they changed their minds about Maeda’s severe splits (career xFIP 4.63 vs. L and 3.03 vs. R). They talked about Moncada not playing every day, due to concerns with him just getting back from having COVID, so not too worried about that. In hindsight, it may have been better to sit Moncada yesterday and have him in there for Maeda, but I’m not going to get too worked up when it’s health related.
This is insane. No business in the top six of the lineup… Hope he kills it today though.
Ricky has to be trolling us all at this point, right?
How many games before it’s OK to “tear your hair out” over debilitating lineups and roster construction?
Anderson still leading off vs. a RHP and Delmonico batting second.
No, really. Delmonico is the #2 hitter on a team the Sox “built for a playoff push”.
Really doesn’t matter if the pitchers give up four runs in the first.
I like Nicky and hope he succeeds. However, for a guy whose case for making the team was largely a strong spring, his spring was pretty statistically unimpressive. He had a very strong *start* to the spring.
Multiple Marlins out, multiple Reds out. Might be a good time to start putting the things around your neck over your face.
Ugh. The season could be a wrap soon at this pace.
Eduardo Rodriguez has a heart condition brought on by COVID.
Matt Davidson is one of the Reds.
Just checked in to see how Lopez was doing. Whoops.
He got the first two outs too. Then: walk, double, walk, grand slam, roped single.
Pull Lopez ASAP. He’s got nothing and get the platoon advantage with Gio.
Yikes I didn’t mean like in the middle of an at bat
He just left with an injury.
Sounds like his velocity was down. That’s usually not a good sign.
Yeah. Hoping for the best.
Gio González has pitched for the White Sox in a regular-season game. I will spend the rest of the day looking up at the skies in fear of lightning strikes.
Big enough deficit to bring in Leury to pitch!
Damn, and now Eloy does appear to be showing ill effects after running into the wall earlier, and he’s out of the game.
Sox trying hard to wrest Worst Sunday title from the Marlins.
Got a proper gamethread going here.