Luis Robert didn’t lose his gains while injured

(Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

The White Sox haven’t been able to field their Plan A Opening Day roster once this season, but it’s hard enough to make plans for a party of six, so good luck getting 20 extra guys to show up to the same place at the same time.

Hell, the White Sox’s TV booth is having a hard time being in the same place at the same time, and it only comprises two people. Jason Benetti had missed the previous couple weeks due to a breakthrough case of COVID-19. He’s back starting today, but now Steve Stone will be taking a vacation, with Gordon Beckham sitting in his chair.

The first time Beckham dropped in, the White Sox got their clocks cleaned in Houston, suffering a four-game sweep at Minute Maid Field. They’d lose five in a row and seven of eight, which shaved their lead in the AL Central to 1½ games. The Sox haven’t lost more than three consecutive games since, while tacking 10 games onto their lead. If the Sox head down a similar trail of misfortune via St. Petersburg and Toronto over the next seven days, you’ll know who to blame.

* * * * * * * * *

At least Beckham will get the pleasure of seeing Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez, both of whom were in the middle of their months-long stint on the injured list. And because this year is a conveyor belt of blessings, the biggest problem is that I can’t tell which one is more impressive.

Jiménez is batting .315/.338/.644 with 22 RBIs over 19 games. After striking nine times over his first seven games, he’s whiffed just seven times over his last 12 while swatting five homers. He comes into this series against Tampa Bay on an eight-game hitting streak, and only a collar on Aug. 10 is preventing him from it being a 14-gamer.

Robert has hit safely in seven of eight games since he returned, including six in a row. He’s also already doubled his home run total from the first month of the season. It’s hard to say he’s in Gold Glove form because he’s literally trying to find his footing …

… but everything else appears to be a continuation of the foundation he built in April, where the gaps in his game no longer register as flaws as much as they’re simply things he doesn’t do.

TimePABAOBPSLGSwing%O-Swing%Z-Contact%SwStr%
Before103.316.359.46361.847.582.419.3
After34.394.412.63665.651.793.514.0

Only the Mets’ Tomas Nido and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez swing at more pitches outside the zone, and only Nido and Kansas City’s Hanser Alberto swing at more pitches, period. Guys with such poor plate discipline are more likely to scuffle like Nido and Alberto than stand out like Perez, but there is a path to reliable production.

That’s why I included the column for zone contact, because that’s a key component in figuring out the efficacy of such an approach. The way Robert went about his business was untenable for half of his rookie season because he swung through way too many strikes, especially fastballs. The math just didn’t work in his favor in 2020:

Fourth-worst chase rate + Sixth-worst zone contact rate = Highest swinging strike rate in baseball

He built his hot start on spackling over the holes in the zone, and I was afraid that the interruption would cause setbacks requiring a minor in-season recovery. His charts of swinging strikes over the last two years instead indicates the compound is holding.

Robert’s aggression remains unchecked, but he fixed the other element. His zone contact rate is now at 83.2 percent, which is just a point below the league average (84.6). His swinging strike rate is still high (18 percent), but he’s no longer in the top 10. Further gains are possible if his first eight games back are any indication.

For the time being, he’s on a tier with Avisaíl García this season, which is the player who comes to mind when thinking about the current shape of his production. It requires a high BABIP to work, but Robert has the speed and strength to wring the most amount of hits out of his contact. And while García’s career has stabilized as an average MLB outfielder after lows, highs and injuries in between, he didn’t figure it out until his age-26 season, which was four seasons into regular work. Robert just turned 24, and he won’t eclipse 100 career games until next month at the earliest.

I figured Robert would wander in the low-average desert for a full season or two before he figured out just enough plate discipline to make the leap, with his Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field buoying his value and buying the time. If he’s both ahead of schedule and stable enough in his gains that a serious injury doesn’t disrupt it, that’s at least one major question about Robert’s game has an answer. There’s still the matter of keeping him available for full seasons from here on out, but in this era of start-and-stop seasons, that problem isn’t unique to him, teams in general, or even broadcast booths.

(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

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vanillablue

the gaps in his game no longer register as flaws as much as they’re simply things he doesn’t do

Alternatively, any gaps in his game are things that he just chooses not to do, because he’s that talented.

roke1960

I’ve been thinking about the 2022 White Sox lineup, and after watching Marte the last few days, he would fit in very nicely in RF. As far as RF goes, I see the 3 big free agents are Marte, Castellanos and Conforto. I know Conforto has had a down year, but he’s been a very reliable bat for the last 5 years, and I would expect him to bounce back. If Jerry goes out and spends for one of these guys to play right, that lineup would be so stacked. The infield is set with Yoan, Timmy, Hernandez and Jose, Yaz catching, and Vaughn, Robert, Eloy and one of those three above would be OF/DH. I’m having trouble coming up with a lineup, but maybe something like:
Timmy ss
Robert cf
Vaughn LF/DH
Eloy LF/DH
Yaz c
Abreu 1b
Moncada 3b
RF
Hernandez 2b
That is a deep, deep lineup!

calcetinesblancos

I’m not seeing any gains buddy.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

Considering the swoon Robert had toward the end of last year, I was not sure Robert would be that good even if he was healthy. Man has he looked fantastic. If he and Eloy could just stay healthy, and get Engel back, this team has an amazing outfield.