Had Adam Engel missed only two weeks instead of two months, his first three games with the Charlotte Knights might have already been enough to seal his return to Chicago. He’s 5-for-12 with a homer, double and a stolen base, and he’s only struck out once over 14 plate appearances.
In terms of readying himself for the grind, there’s probably a little work left. Circumstances have conspired against him playing full consecutive days in center field. There was the day game after night game in the middle of the week, followed by a blowout, followed by a rainout.
The obstacles have bought time for Billy Hamilton, who has achieved an improbable status of “fan favorite” despite an OPS that’s languished below .600 for just about the entirety of the season. Perhaps fans are taking their cues from the clubhouse, where there’s been a concentrated effort to elevate him. We heard about Tim Anderson trying to get Hamilton to believe in his bat back in April, and James Fegan followed up a week ago by noting that Anderson was still at it.
“Build his confidence; that’s how you’re going to get the best out of him,” Anderson said. “He’s not going to just steal bases. He’s got to realize how dangerous he can be in this game. If he learns to hit, his defense is there. He can steal bases, really all angles. That’s kind of the way I go about it. It’s only right to share as much game as I can.” […]
“You don’t want to hit a groundball and try to beat it out anymore, hit the ball in the gap,” Hamilton said Anderson has stressed to him. “You’re able to drive the ball. Don’t go up there think you’re just going to be a slap hitter and just hit the ball on the ground and beat stuff out. Let those be your mistakes. Hit a groundball on a jam shot or something and then beat it out. Don’t go up there trying to do it. You’ve got to let that happen. Go up there and try to hit a base hit, then try to run.”
You can point to Hamilton’s homer off John Means on Saturday as evidence that it’s working, as long as you disregard all the times it isn’t. His game log shows a guy who has spent the year kicking out of pins, but struggling to land any blows in between. The story of his last 24 games:
- Goes 0-for-14
- Goes 4-for-4 with a triple, double, stolen base and three runs scored.
- Goes 0-for-8
- Goes 2-for-4 with another triple
- Goes 1-for-10
- Goes 1-for-3 with a homer off a Cy Young contender
But parsing performances doesn’t seem like the point, at least at this juncture. Back when the White Sox outfield had a Luis Robert refining his craft, you could gripe at La Russa praying for a Hamilton single when a home run by somebody else was needed. But Robert’s hurt, and Adam Eaton’s hitting .123/.275/.211 in the 21 games since the one against Detroit where his knee buckled three times, so the situation is dire. Just like the aftermath of a natural disaster, if a player wants to help and possesses the minimum physical capabilities, the White Sox will find some way to put him to use, even if they really wish one of them had a truck and a chainsaw.
La Russa is juggling a bag of mismatched players around the flawed fixtures of Andrew Vaughn and Leury García. Danny Mendick possesses the athleticism to be a decent defender, but his bat is doing the diminishing-returns thing again. Jake Lamb will happily yield to the center fielder, middle infielder and security guard for anything hit on the edges of his range, but at least he’s up to .231/.362/.467 on the season after his homer in the front end of Saturday’s doubleheader. And then there’s Hamilton, whose speed and defense always makes him rosterable, but man, it’d sure be great if he could offer a little more during this low-level crisis.
In this context, it makes it a lot more sense to see Hamilton’s successes celebrated so wildly.
Hamilton’s eyes widened once he knew the ball was out. And back in the dugout, the whole team buzzed with excitement. La Russa joked that he’d “love to get a copy” of the footage of his team celebrating the homer.
“I’ve actually never seen the dugout more excited, to be honest with you,” [Lance] Lynn said. “Everybody was pretty jacked.”
There’s a little bit of a risk in trumpeting Hamilton’s highs when this train doesn’t adhere to a normal schedule, as evidenced from the prolonged letdowns on previous fan-favorite third outfielders like Nicky Delmonico and Daniel Palka. That said, those guys had little to offer when their bats broke, whereas we know Hamilton will run down every fly ball and extra base within his reach. It’s much clearer what Hamilton does and doesn’t, even if Anderson wants Hamilton to ignore labels.
The hope is that Engel offers something closer to a complete solution when he’s ready. In the interim, the ragtag band of stopgaps is mostly tasked with crossing days off the calendar, which makes it all the sweeter when somebody like Hamilton is the main reason a date has a “W” next to it.
(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski / USA TODAY Sports)
Sweet to see a guy so high on the Most Widely Disparaged list enjoy his moment….
Going to games in person and seeing Billy interact with his teammates and the crowd has won me over to being a Hamilton fan.
I so badly want to see what a Hamilton-Robert-Engle outfield would look like and if it would be possible for any ball to find grass out there.
I saw someone say it feels like Hamilton has hit better than his numbers and I realized that part of it maybe that Hamilton has a big chunk of his plate appearances coming in as a defensive replacement and facing bullpens. Looking at his game logs looks like all of his extra base hits and all but one of his hits has been in games where he started. Looks like he’s been a little more respectable when he has started and played the complete game.
I noticed this, as well.
As a starter: .256/.268/.462 in 42 PA, 102 OPS+
As a sub: .071/.133/.071 in 16 PA, -34 OPS+
Unfortunately some of those sub at-bats have been extremely high leverage.
That’s on TLR, not Hamilton.
Ozzie said it after one of the games yesterday that some credit needs to go to LaRussa for how he’s managed the OF situation and I begrudgingly agree. Getting Lamb and Hamilton at bats earlier in the season is paying dividends. Lamb seems to always produce when called upon and has carved out a role for himself. Hamilton could use more consistency, but overall he’s been a positive.
Say what you want about Tony’s other struggles, the team has overcome 3 injuries (3.5 if we want to include whatever is wrong with Eaton) in the OF and he continues to push the right buttons in getting production from what he has on hand, which on paper isn’t much.
I really believe that come to the playoff series, Hamilton can be a powerful asset (as a pinch runner or defensive replacement) to have from the bench. More than Leury whose value can be greater during the grind of a long season. I really hope the White Sox figure out a way to keep Hamilton until roster expands.
When Engel is ready, Medick could be the man sent down. Then when Robert and Eloy comes back (if ever), perhaps the rosters are about to be expanded and who knows how the White Sox situation will be at that time. If Eaton does not pick up from current funk, coming August, he might be unplayable and could be DFAed to open a roster spot for Robert or Eloy if needed.
I’m thinking Eaton takes a stint on the 10 day DL when Engel is ready. In fact, I would predict that happens after this series. The Sox are getting adequacy from Hamilton, Lamb, and Mendick right now. They all may be flawed players overall but have positive WAR on the season. They’re contributing to winning baseball, which is all you can ask for. Even with Hamilton’s obvious weak hitting, he’s pretty much always been an above replacement level player because of his speed and defense.
I would like to see Lamb get some more run. His outfield defense is shaky, but he could make up for it by providing above average offense against righties. I think the challenge is avoiding having any outfield position into a negative WAR blackhole like we’ve seen the last two years. Lamb could provide enough offense to offset his middling outfield defense and actually contribute to winning baseball.
Keep Mendick and Hamilton, send down Leury. Leury is obsolete on a roster with Engel, Mendick, and Hamilton. Engel as 4th OF, Mendick as backup INF, and Hamilton as base running, defensive, and home run specialist.
they would have to DFA Garcia; he can’t be “sent down” (he is out of options).
I have a truck and a chainsaw…
For everyone anxiously awaiting the return of Adam Engle, a reality check:
Engel’s career OPS is .618.
Billy Hamilton’s is .620.
Leury Garcia’s is .646.
A bit more of context: Engel career OPS vs LHP is .689 (.849 last year)
Since the start of the 2019 season:
Engel: .722 OPS
García: .672 OPS
Hamilton: .554 OPS
I don’t think it will take long at all once Engel is back to show himself to be easily their best all around outfielder while Robert and Eloy are out. He should have been playing last year instead of Mazara.
OT, but this idea actually seems like a good one: https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2021/05/mlb-planning-to-reinstitute-pitcher-limit-on-active-rosters-in-2022.html
If pitcher overuse or injury becomes a concern, I wouldn’t object to roster expansion with an active and inactive designation on a series by series or week by week basis. So you can keep running out fresh arms, but you only have six bullpen arms to choose from every three games or seven each week notwithstanding injury (which would admittedly make for some gamesmanship, but if you go back to a 15-day IL then teams would have to think long and hard about replacing pitchers due to phantom injuries).
Power-hitting outfielder Billy Hamilton now has the 4th highest ISO on the team (.193) behind only Lamb, Abreu, and Grandal. Well, I suppose technically Billy is 5th because Dylan Cease leads the team.
Baseball is amazing.