Eloy Jiménez returns to a White Sox team that doesn’t need him … yet

(Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

When Eloy Jiménez left what had been a perfectly functional pectoral tendon on the left-field fence of Camelback Ranch back in spring training, where did you think the White Sox would be when he returned?

Based on the original timetable of a five to six months, I’d hoped the White Sox would be able to hold their ground in a three-team race with Minnesota and Cleveland. It was possible to imagine the Sox holding their own even without Jiménez, but I’d guessed that his absence was the one body blow the Sox could absorb, and any others would start to accumulate interest at a predatory rate.

It’s not necessarily a surprise that Jiménez returns to a White Sox team that’s in first place, taking the place of Jake Burger on the 26-man roster. It’s also not a shock that he’s a month ahead of the original schedule, because such time tables tend to be generous.

It is surprising that the White Sox are in first place by nine games, all while Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Yasmani Grandal all underwent surgeries for injuries that cost them weeks, months, or, in Madrigal’s case, the rest of the season. The White Sox’s 97-win pace has to be a 90th-percentile scenario considering the bodies they’ve lost.

Left field during Jiménez’s absence serves as a microcosm of their fortune. The White Sox’s production in left field took a major hit year over year, especially when you extrapolate last year’s 60 games to cover 99 to match 2021.

YearPAH2B3BHRRBIBBKBA/OBP/SLG
202040911725025732397.305/.343/.562
20213928426011282999.242/.319/.412

Yet left field wasn’t a position that desperately needed Jiménez to return ahead of schedule. Andrew Vaughn‘s surprisingly competent defense has to raise the standards for the position, because if he can progress to “adequate” over the course of a few months learning on the fly, what’s Jiménez’s excuse? The tale of the tape on the defensive metrics shows the clear defensive disparity:

PlayerInningsUZRDRSOOA
2020 Jímenez453.2-7.3-4-4
2021 Vaughn589.13.0-2-1

So you have Vaughn bridging the gap with a half-win to a win of defensive value alone. There’s also the matter that Vaughn’s struggles against right-handed pitching over the first half of the season were not in vain. Tony La Russa spent the first three months increasing Vaughn’s exposure to right-handed pitching, and it’s finally paying huge dividends in Month Four.

MonthOverallvs. RHP
April.255/.364/.362.229/.308/.286
May.221/.303/.430.190/.258/.276
June,239/.282/.423.182/.191/.295
July.324/.347/.592.339/.365/.644

By both measures, Vaughn is on track for an average 2 WAR season. FanGraphs allows you to divide by month, and that’s where you can see Vaughn truly making a dent.

  • April: 0.2 WAR
  • May: 0.2 WAR
  • June: 0.1 WAR
  • July: 0.6 WAR

That doesn’t seem like a huge jump until you multiply every month by six. The first three months are befitting of a bench player. That July performance is easily an above-average starter. That’s fine without further improvement, and you can’t rule out better numbers, or the same numbers over a longer period of time.

Where the White Sox need Jiménez is DH, because that’s the position that’s been sustained by a series of hot starts. When Yermín Mercedes cooled off, Burger and Gavin Sheets took his place. Now the latter two rookies are a combined 2-for-26 in each of their last 13 at-bats. On one hand, it’d be terrific if any one of these rookies had immediate staying power. In the context of 2021, however, you couldn’t ask for better stopgaps. It was more important that they provide immediate relief, not a permanent fix, and they combined to buy enough time for Jiménez to return.

At least I hope that’s where Tony La Russa directs Jiménez’s return. He wants to play left field, and he played left field for Winston-Salem and Charlotte during his rehab stint, but in the standard scenario where Vaughn and José Abreu are able to man their usual positions, the only party that benefits from upsetting that order is Jiménez’s pride. The question appeared to be the only thing that wiped the smile off his face during his Zoom conference just now….

… but he said he’ll do it if it’s best for the team. That’s how it looks from here, and that’s how it looks from tonight’s lineup.

(Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki / USA TODAY Sports)

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jhomeslice

I don’t get why it seems such a heavy issue for him to DH. It’s like he thinks it’s demeaning. He’s had 3 DL stints in his short career, one serious this year, and two others in 2019 – for running into walls or players. This year was no freak accident.

I love Eloy but he’s just not suited to play outfield. It’s real straightforward to understand, it’s for his protection and what is best for the team, and he needs to be mature enough to get over and accept that.

itaita

My brain is being useless so i cant remember the names but you often hear of guys not wanting to DH cause they feel disconnected from the game and things like that. So its not all that rare.

As an aside with Vaughn’s defense how has his arm been rating in the OF? Hes made a few nice throws but i dont know if thats just selective fandom memory or if hes actually showing he has something runners might have to think about.

shaggy65

The eye test tells me Vaughn throws quickly and accurately, with adequate strength. That’s perfectly fine for LF, and much more than you could say for Eloy. I think Vaughn’s strength would be seriously exposed if, say, you tried moving him to RF to make room for Jimenez.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Because DH’ing is for old and/or fat guys. All of Eloy’s friends get to go out and play, and he’s stuck there listening to Carney Lansford stories from Tony. He’s 24, he wants to get out there and run into things.

Last edited 2 years ago by Right Size Wrong Shape
dansomeone

I want to hear these Carney Lansford stories.

metasox

Some guys don’t adjust well to DH’ing. And if he isn’t a happy camper, you never know what effect it might have on his hitting.

jhomeslice

Perhaps true, but does not change the fact that his propensity to hurt himself the way that he does may be something never seen before on a baseball field. No hyperbole.

I think he really needs to prove that he can’t hit if he DH’s before I would buy into his playing left being a need. Or something he absolutely cannot adjust to and still be happy. What about Big Papi as an example of a happy, monstrously productive DH, loved by everbody!

Last edited 2 years ago by jhomeslice
LamarHoyt_oncrack

If they do play him in left, their pitchers had better make sure that any homers they give up are to center or right!

soxygen

Re Vaughn’s recent performance versus RHP (from Fangraphs):

“Batters don’t have their platoon splits stabilize until at least 1,000 plate appearances against each hand (around 2,000 for right-handed batters)”

To the eye test he really looks like he has figured it out. But I don’t want to fall into the “millions now living will never die” trap. Vaughn’s bad months versus RHP have still outnumbered his good ones and progress/development is often a bumpy ride.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

This is a bit Debbie Downer-ish. So any good young hitter needs 2000 at bats, or the jury’s still out, trust not what your eyes see? Robert, Vaughn, Madrigal, Eloy have 1600 MLB at bats combined. I wonder if any of them will be any good.

soxygen

He’s gonna be a heck of a hitter. I just meant he’s not going to keep up this pace and we don’t know where his numbers are going to land versus RHP when they stabilize, which will be a while.

asindc

Vaughn’s bad RHP months outnumbering his good RHP would be more relevant if they were randomly spaced. But they are not. He is improving against RHP as the season progresses.

soxygen

The fact that his hottest month is this month would be more relevant if the earlier months showed a clear steady upward trajectory.

Again, he’s a good hitter. It’s just a matter of not making too much of 3 weeks wrapped around an all-star break.

David

 “any others would start to accumulate interest at a predatory rate”

That would be a . . . . Guaranteed Rate?