Adam Engel returns, but White Sox outfield remains precarious

Does Adam Engel have timing or what?

I could be talking about his home-run robbery of Niko Goodrum on Sunday, or I could be talking about the fact that he was available to come off the injured list just as Billy Hamilton went on it with a strained oblique.

Either way, it was great to see Engel return looking like himself, even if part of that is going 0-for-2 against right-handed pitching. Then again, he got plunked his third time up and immediately stole a base, so he found a way to make himself useful even without a platoon advantage.

That’s going to be the task for him going forward, but I can forgive Tony La Russa if he doesn’t shift all the playing time to Engel immediately. The outfield remains in a relatively fragile state:

Left field: Andrew Vaughn, who is the stablest option in terms of health, but also has a .214/.288/.406 line since becoming a regular. Jake Lamb also has no health issues and a resurgent bat, but is the shakiest of the first-time outfielders.

Center field: Engel coming off a serious hamstring strain, and Leury García who has missed the last couple games with a hand issue.

Right field: Adam Eaton, who I likened to a four-year-old phone on last week’s Sox Machine Live due to his inability to hold a charge, and Danny Mendick, who’s hitting so poorly that La Russa wouldn’t give him the green light against Derek Holland Of All People.

Were Hamilton healthy, you’d feel OK running out an outfield with him flanked by Vaughn and Engel when the opponent is starting a lefty. But among the guys currently available, there is no good outfield permutation with this bunch. In a situation where everybody’s feeling good, the optimal outfield is Vaughn-Engel-Eaton, followed by Vaughn-Engel-Lamb, and Lamb-Engel-Eaton against a tough righty.

But first, the key is avoiding a situation where Mendick has to play center again, because Luis González and Blake Rutherford are no better bets. Between Engel, García and Eaton, there are enough active and latent injury concerns that I wouldn’t sweat any one combination La Russa rolls with for a given game. Engel only played consecutive days in center field once during his rehab stint thanks to quirks of the minor league schedule and a poorly timed rainout, so I’d understand if La Russa doesn’t want to come out of the gate penciling in Engel for a week straight.

* * * * * * * * *

The other playing time situation that currently fascinates me resides in the bullpen, where La Russa can’t find an opportunity to use Matt Foster. One might look at Foster’s 6.14 ERA and dismiss it with a hearty “WHO CARES,” but 2021 Matt Foster has looked an awful lot like the 2020 version since the debacle in Seattle.

Over his last 13 games, Foster has allowed three runs over 12⅓ innings, good for a 2.19 ERA. He’s struck out 16 against two walks and two HBPs. He’s also allowed a couple homers and three of seven inherited runners to score, so he’s not an on-paper solution to the shortage of high-leverage righties, but he’s been fine.

Yet he’s pitched just twice since May 16, and in disparate situations. He inherited the bases loaded from Dylan Cease with one out in the fifth inning of a 3-0 game at Yankee Stadium on May 22, and then he pitched the final inning of the Sox’s 5-1 victory over Baltimore on May 27 without incident.

He’s not the worst or least-proven pitcher of the bunch, but nobody has been used less over the last 20 games.

PitcherGamesIP
Liam Hendriks108
Aaron Bummer87.1
José Ruiz78.1
Evan Marshall77
Garrett Crochet66.2
Codi Heuer65
Michael Kopech45
Ryan Burr22.1
Matt Foster22

I hadn’t really noticed it until Ryan Burr pitched in the middle innings of a couple games the Sox trailed by a reasonable amount, followed by Codi Heuer pitching in two vastly different scenarios on consecutive days. He was backed by Evan Marshall when he faltered with a big lead, and José Ruiz when he succeeded preserving a small deficit.

I’m not clamoring for Foster to pitch these appearances, but I’m also not clamoring for most of his peers. It’s more of a note that if Foster can go so seldom used for such a long period of time, the White Sox might think about converting that roster spot to a position player, at least whenever there’s one worth recalling. They need to stop getting hurt first.

(Photo by David Banks / TODAY Sports)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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lifelongjd

Wow. That’s some craziness surrounding Foster’s lack of usage. I didn’t realize
a) he’s been used so little over the past several weeks and
b) that he wasn’t really all that bad.

To your point Jim, it’s not like Ruiz or Heuer have been great and Kopech and Crochet have been injured/limited, so him just sitting in the bullpen is a weird development.

Maybe he have violated multiple unwritten rules that Tony keeps tucked away in his addled mind.

Root Cause

That sure is handy if only you have a copy of that unwritten rule book and get to keep it locked up in your office.

Malkatraz

gonna be harder now that umpires will be checking for unwritten rules between innings.

jhomeslice

Given the cited recent success of Foster, he seems like an obvious choice over Marshall and Heuer in the near term, Marshall especially. Foster at least seems headed in the right direction. Jace Fry should help pretty soon also, I think has had 5 scoreless outings at AAA. He can’t be more than a couple weeks away, hopefully.

Root Cause

I can’t help but wonder if this is our team for 2021.

I would guess Luis and Eloy will have to spend some time in AAA to shake off the rust and prove that they are 100% before returning and their time back may be short.

Even if they don’t return until 2022, I can’t see the FO renting more outfielders. With Hamilton, Lamb, and Vaughn filling in, we are still hovering around .600.

karkovice squad

I think there’s a big question how they’ll matchup in the postseason as currently constructed. Yeah, the win % and run differential look good in absolute terms. But they’ve played the softest schedule in MLB, which pads the differential. And for whatever reason (variance, platoon disadvantages, tactics and strategy) they’re underperforming that differential.

jhomeslice

Agreed. Their schedule has been soft, they’ve murdered bad teams, and are a little under .500 against teams they might face in the playoffs. That’s pretty good considering their 3 best OFs have been out all season. But if this was the team they have in the postseason, I think their chances would be mediocre. They need Eloy and Robert. I don’t think any team could sustain the loss of 2 impactful players like that and not take a big hit. That’s just reality. But there is no reason that both won’t be back with plenty of time to be in good form for the playoffs, in which case they should be the team to beat in the AL at full strength.

Root Cause

I agree that our weaknesses get exposed against better teams.
Others say Luis and Eloy will be back before the playoffs, but I don’t know if anyone knows that yet, but I appreciate the optimism.

I guess my point was that with a .600 winning percentage, it doesn’t give our FO much incentive to do anything. If they don’t return and our outfield fails, they too will point to Eloy and Luis and say that they expected them to return.

Meanwhile, Vaughn continues to get experience, Hamilton gets better and Lamb’s batting stance proves to be a permanent improvement.

Last edited 1 year ago by Root Cause
calcetinesblancos

I mean realistically, who can they add to the OF that would make a difference?

I think several realistic trade targets have been posited over the last month. Nick Castellanos, Mitch Haniger, Charlie Blackmon, Joey Gallo, Tyler Naquin, and maybe Jesse Winker should be available. I would think KC is willing to trade Benintendi but they’re so weird in how they run things I’m not sure if they would be unwilling to trade him in the division or if they believe they’re going to compete next season and want to hold onto him until then.

Foulkelore

I would do a lot of unspeakable things to get Jesse Winker’s lefty bat into this lineup. He would cost a fortune, under control through 2023, but man would he be awesome to get.

jhomeslice

Winker is good enough they could consider building a package around Vaughn. Would be a lot to give up, but Winker might be a better hitter than Vaughn will turn out to be in the end, plus a lefty as you said. I would never do for a rent a player no matter how good, but for a guy like Winker under contract for 2 more years, would give them a great 3 year window including this year. This year is the only year they will for sure have Lynn or Rodon, which might be their best chance at a title in the end. He would improve their chances this year massively, as well as 2022/23. I doubt Sheets/Burger would get a conversation started for Winker, realistically… probably would need to include Vaughn. No to Kopech, Cease, Crochet because of probability of losing Lynn and Rodon. But I’d go Vaughn and just about anybody else in their minors that they asked for, they have nobody in the top 100 right now anyway. Getting carried away, but would be an awesome get as you said.

Last edited 1 year ago by jhomeslice
jhomeslice

Some good suggestions, no idea if they will be looking to get anyone. Haniger would be pretty good, but Castellanos the most impactful of anyone likely to be available. He is just crushing this year, OPS over 1 even vs righties. Hope they target him this offseason if they plan on doing anything that resembles what any of us would want to see. Probably very unlikely. Winker has 2 arb years coming up, would cost a ton for sure. Gallo is in the Adam Dunn mold as a hitter, just don’t like him. They have enough guys hitting .200-ish or below that they don’t need anyone like him. Any Reds outfielder would be a huge score though. Naquin not as fantastic as the other 2 but is left handed which is a big plus. Would be great to get somebody good and leave Eaton off the postseason roster.

Trooper Galactus

It’s just a question of what the White Sox are willing to give up and how motivated the controlling teams are to make a deal. I think all of them are realistic targets, but some will obviously have a higher price tag than others. Thankfully, the White Sox are currently benefiting from some of their prospects raising their stock, so they do have some value and depth to trade from for once.

oldtimer

Fun to play the what ifs, but I don’t see anything happening until mgmt gets a better read on Eloy & Robert. Patience is required. You never know who will work out. I was convinced that Steele Walker for Mazara was going to bite us in the ass. Who knew we were trading crap for crap. Patience is our best move right now.

jhomeslice

Steele Walker still one of best names of all time, destined to wind up in Texas before the earth was created!

Trooper Galactus

I wasn’t aware that Walker was struggling in AA like that, but then again, it’s odd he’s only hitting .200 when his K rate is close to 10%. He’s making plenty of contact.

vince

Looking at how Jarred Kelenic’s MLB callup went, I’m not sure I have too many complaints about Andrew Vaughn having an OPS+ 98 while playing a competent LF, a position he first played in professional baseball this year.

Trooper Galactus

Never mind as a professional, I don’t even think he played outfield in high school or college (though he did pitch).

Root Cause

They have had Hamilton on first, Kendrick pinch-running, Mercedes pitching, and now you give them this?

Trooper Galactus

I’m not crediting the White Sox for basically backing themselves into a corner roster-wise that necessitated putting a lifetime first baseman/pitcher in the outfield. I’m crediting said player with playing the position credibly, if unexceptionally, and not killing himself doing it.

lifelongjd

They had 3 major injuries occur to their OF within a month before and after the season started. Not sure how that’s backing themselves into a corner or if it’s just really terrible luck.

Trooper Galactus

This last offseason wasn’t their only opportunity to address issues with outfield depth. This has been going on for years, and their outfield prospects outside of Robert and Jimenez hasn’t really produced a competent emergency replacement between them (unless you think Luis Gonzalez is competent).

karkovice squad

Foster’s usage is weird. I have some thoughts to collect in a fanpost about their bullpen.

Spoiler: it’s both better and worse than you’d think compared to the rest of the league.

metasox

the White Sox might think about converting that roster spot to a position player,

Are any teams going with shorter pens? With seven inning DHs, the extra inning runner, and three hitter minimum making specialists less useful, it feels like they should be able to. OTOH, given the general trends in how pitchers are used (and injured), teams might carry 20 pitchers if they could.
And is Foster keeping this spot warm for Fry or is someone else odd man out?

Last edited 1 year ago by metasox
calcetinesblancos

Can we still do Foster for Tauchman?

Why would we want to?

TylerDurden

If it looks like one of Robert or Eloy will not be back, it would be nice to add Haninger, who has put up .850 ops 4 years now and is under control for 22. Meaning he could play RF in 22 and decline option on Eaton.

Haninger would not come cheap however, they would want to start: some young pitching (one of younger guys in low A). Those guys are off to terrible starts tho. And throw in Sheets to help clear up 1B/DH logjam

But the Sox do not have a ton to trade.they are not trading Rodriquez or Ramon in low A

Last edited 1 year ago by TylerDurden
MrStealYoBase

The way Seattle talks about Haniger is reminiscent of the way the Sox talked about Abreu in 2017-18. That is to say, they see him as an important veteran presence as they acclimate their talented young outfielders to playing at the major league level.

I don’t see Seattle trading Haniger.

Trooper Galactus

The Mariners are so concerned about having a veteran presence with the team their former President and CEO whined about how their longest tenured member is “probably overpaid”. Their books are almost completely clean next season, but given two of their top prospects are corner outfielders who have already broken into MLB, Haniger is probably a bit redundant to keep around. I think they’d be about as likely to pick up Seager’s option just to get the veteran presence from a position they do not have any significant prospects at and to help them move past Mathers’s much-publicized gaffe.

MarketMaker

i’ve been thinking about a deep dive into my current thesis, “TLR doesn’t understand leverage”, but as i’ve poked around a bit it seems to fall into the larger dynamic of mlb managers don’t understand leverage. the use of evan marshall is a pretty interesting example of how challenging it has been for TLR to make good decisions.

it’s strange that someone who loves to play for one run when losing with multiple innings left in a game doesn’t have the same high regard for a lead. i’d judge it more severely, but i’m pretty sure he’s just managing outside criticism more than the games.

karkovice squad

His approach to strategy has a lot in common with punting to win.

MarketMaker

yep. he mismanaged the hell out of friday, but got away with it and no one really even asked him about it. that was a textbook example of how to mismanage into increased leverage when he could have tried to end it early.

karkovice squad

Last night was a good night of button pushing, it must be said.

Avoided giving away outs. Walked the knife edge with Rodon. Got what he needed out of the front of the bullpen. Didn’t shy away from Hendriks to finish the non-save.

Last edited 1 year ago by karkovice squad
salukidog

I just hope Adam Eaton’s legs hold out until teams that are out of it start unloading players. Rick Hahn should be looking hard at getting an outfielder.

Trooper Galactus

I wish he had looked harder in the offseason.

TylerDurden

Amen

Trooper Galactus

The last three offseasons, really.