Homers or not, Seby Zavala getting starts for White Sox

A few days ago, a a Scientific American article about Sudden Savant Syndrome floated across my list of suggested articles on the Pocket app. I’m not sure why, because it’s a post from 2018, but I still ended up reading it to see if there’s any hope that I can learn any song in less than a month — and without forgetting a previous song I’d just learned.

Alas, it’s not a how-to, but it gives a few cases where an adult was suddenly able to unlock the rules and intricacies of an artform or area of study without any kind of associated neurological event or disorder.

One such example of this form of SSS:

A 28-year-old gentleman from Israel, K. A., sent his description of his epiphany moment. He was in a mall where there was a piano. Whereas he could play simple popular songs from rote memory before, “suddenly at age 28 after what I can best describe as a ‘just getting it moment,’ it all seemed so simple. I suddenly was playing like a well-educated pianist.” His friends were astonished as he played and suddenly understood music in an entirely intricate way. “I suddenly realized what the major scale and minor scale were, what their chords were and where to put my fingers in order to play certain parts of the scale. I was instantly able to recognize harmonies of the scales in songs I knew as well as the ability to play melody by interval recognition.” He began to search the internet for information on music theory and to his amazement “most of what they had to teach I already knew, which baffled me as to how could I know something I had never studied.”

K. A. has a high IQ, is now an attorney and has no history of any developmental disorder. He makes part of his living now doing musical performances.

The last time we saw Seby Zavala before he launched his first three career homers, he looked like this.

And it was such a relief, because in his first three at-bats, he looked like this.

His third strikeout qualified as a triumph because he managed to hold onto the bat. That’s the extent to which he lowered the bar, so when he squared around to bunt, at least it gave him a chance of making contact. Even better, the first two pitches were out of the strike zone, and Leury García could advance on each one, so Zavala ended up handing the baton to Zack Collins with a 2-0 count and a runner on third.

The silver sombrero gave him 22 over 45 plate appearances in his career, lowering his line to .125/.186/.175. The struggles were extreme, but well within his history. He’d struck out in 42.6 percent of his plate appearances at Triple-A this season before the Yasmani Grandal injury pressed him into action.

A day later, Zavala went 4-for-4 with three homers and six RBIs in one of the greatest how-the-hell games I can recall.

And on Sunday, Zavala was back to the form we’d grown accustomed to, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout, walk and a 78.1 mph groundout.

Can Sudden Savant Syndrome come in waves? Did one foul tip give him second sight, before another foul tip erased it? I suppose in a season that Yermín Mercedes started 8-for-8, we shouldn’t look for any greater meaning in such a staggering outburst.

If we’re trying to figure out anything, it’s what the White Sox are doing with their playing time at catcher, where a different form of SSS — Suddenly Seby’s Starting — has just taken hold. Zavala has started six of eight games, including a day game after a night game to complete the entire set against Cleveland.

The absence of pitchers who prefer Collins has a little something to do with it. The White Sox opted for a Jimmy Lambert/Reynaldo López duo on Monday in order to give extra rest for Dylan Cease, and to rearrange the rotation to give Carlos Rodón an entire turn off. While Rodón threw a no-hitter with Collins behind the plate, it’s worth noting that Rodón’s most recent triumph — seven innings, one hit, 10 strikeouts against Houston on July 18 — came with Zavala calling the shots.

And it might’ve been more than random. While Zavala only surpassed 100 innings caught on Sunday, the little data we have suggests that he’s leaving Collins in the dust, even without doing remarkable things himself.

Yasmani Grandal71482.93.0049.8
Seby Zavala1646-0.3-0.002048.3
Zack Collins6627-5.7-0.015-741.2
(Key: FRAA = Fielding Runs Above Average; CSAA = Called Strikes Above Average; RES= Runs Extra Strikes; Strike% = Strike Rate)

And the size of the gaps between the catcher is most evident with the strike rates on low pitches, which I’ve circled:

Between pre-epiphany Omar Narvaez and now Collins, it’s odd that Rodón has a tendency to gravitate toward catchers who don’t help him out, especially since lopsided strike zones might be taking weeks off his wife’s life. That Zavala caught his last good start probably says something. That Rodón is being pushed back in the rotation probably suggests in-season fatigue may be a greater factor in his last two disappointing outings, because it’s not like Collins dialed up two first-inning homers for him.

With the White Sox rotation resetting after an off day — and Zavala’s three-homer game probably lacking any sort of encore — we should have a better idea of the pecking order behind the plate. It wouldn’t surprise me if Zavala became the No. 1 catcher, or at least No. 1A, regardless of which form he takes as a hitter. As I wrote in the wake of Grandal’s injury, Collins’ attributes and detriments can be accommodated in a backup role, but it’s a package that’s fallen out of favor as a starting option. Sure enough, he and Salvador Perez are at the bottom of both major catching leaderboards, and Perez’s playing time is justified by socking nearly as nearly as many homers (26) as Collins has hits (31).

Perhaps Collins could have taken ownership of the position with a stronger showing at the plate than his .167/.352/.333 in July. The White Sox have seen worse, but it’s probably not enough utility to offset the receiving issues. Here’s another example of the nine-game lead affording Tony La Russa some luxuries. Were the Sox’s postseason odds riding on every medium-leverage at-bat, perhaps the difference in reaching base a couple extra times might have increased import.

The Sox can instead emphasize making things as easy as possible for their starting pitchers. We saw it on Sunday with Jimmy Lambert and Reynaldo López tag-teaming a start in order to build in extra rest for the rotation’s regulars, and it seems like we saw it in Zavala catching all three games of a weekend series. With Kansas City throwing two lefties in three games and Rodón not starting until the weekend in Wrigley, it could be ready, steady Seby, the latest White Sox to start in a pinch until the struggles truly become untenable.

(Photo by Matt Marton-USA 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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Add on top of what feels like a lot of wild pitches and passed balls for Collins, watching Seby block pitches in the dirt is so much less stressful.


Alright, Eloy is back, Part Deux: Electric Boogaloo


That piano story is reminiscent of what my friends tell me it feels like when calculus “clicks”. I wouldn’t know…personally.


I can’t believe that our two current catchers had yet to see any real MLB playing time before 2021. To me, that is a failure by the Sox, although to be clear I still prefer it to having someone like Lucroy on the team.