Over the abbreviated 60-game schedule of 2020, the White Sox led all of baseball with 96 home runs, good for a 259-homer pace when extrapolated for the standard schedule. It represented a massive surge when compared to the mere 182 they hit the year before, and a big reason why they finished 35-25.
Unfortunately, the White Sox reverted to their previous form in their next chance at the standard six-month season. They hit just 190 homers, good for 11th in the American League. Fortunately, they only surrendered 182 of them, good for the AL’s second-lowest total. That’s something they didn’t have working for them back in 2019. It turns out having five functional-to-excellent starting pitchers makes winning a lot of ballgames so much easier.
There are two culprits for the drop in homers:
- Ground-ball tendencies across the roster.
And there are players who battled each. Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez all played fewer than 100 games, and Adam Engel didn’t even reach 40. Nick Madrigal got hurt, and while that’s mostly a joke, he had two of the seven homers from White Sox second basemen, so maybe not? Only the Angels hit fewer from that spot, because they relied heavily on fellow traveler David Fletcher.
The pieces weren’t always there, and even when the White Sox could run out a complete lineup, the parts didn’t quite fit the way Rick Hahn envisioned.
That said, it’s not for a lack of raw power on the roster. It manifested itself into a couple of Statcast-era records. “Statcast-era” is still a relatively narrow band, but with six full seasons of data, it’s at least starting to cover an actual time frame.
A lot of this power came from unexpected sources. Did you know White Sox DHs finished with the sixth-highest OPS in the American League? That doesn’t sound all that remarkable until realizing they finished second-to-last with 2020’s Edwin Encarnación-led effort, and dead last with Yonder Alonso in 2019. The White Sox’s initial plans for the position were blown up, and yet they were able to cobble a respectable effort thanks to homers from nine different players, including a team-best eight from Gavin Sheets.
So while the White Sox had a home-run problem two years ago, they don’t have one now. It’s more helpful to characterize it as a ground-ball problem. When they get some lift, it can go a long way, as this year’s survey of the White Sox’s most momentous mashes shows.
Before we get into the ones that asked the most of the tape measure, let’s acknowledge the other most extreme homers hit by the White Sox in 2021.
Shortest home run: José Abreu, 346 feet on June 30
Opponents like to blame José Abreu for his plunkings, whether it’s because they mistakenly believe he crowds the plate, or because he’s punished outer-half misses too many times over the course of his career, so pitchers would rather miss in the other direction 10 times out of 10. Here, Bailey Ober was supposed to locate one up and in to Abreu, but because he missed by a foot in the other direction, Abreu plopped it into the Kraft Kave. This is why they hurt you, José. You’re apparently doing it to yourself.
Highest home run: Seby Zavala, 46 degrees on July 31
On the most extreme of days, Zavala hit the most extreme of round-trippers. At 46 degrees, it’s the loftiest homer hit by a White Sox player in the Statcast era, topping José Abreu’s previous mark of 44 degrees back in 2017.
Because Zavala did nothing in moderation on July 31, the homer was a grand slam, and the second of his first three career homers. That had to be the weirdest thing that happened for the White Sox in 2021, right?
Lowest home run: José Abreu, 17 degrees on Sept. 10
Speaking of Abreu capitalizing on outer-half mistakes, here’s an 0-2 cement mixer by Tanner Houck that Abreu blistered out to left field.
Fourteen homers were hit with a lower launch angle, and the leader was hit against the White Sox. Eric Haase‘s homer back on July 3 only left the bat at 13 degrees and traveled 295 feet, and now you’re realizing that we’re talking about the inside-the-park homer that Billy Hamilton gave up, aren’t we.
Fastest home run: Luis Robert, 117.7 mph on Oct. 3
The 2021 White Sox actually own the franchise’s two fastest White Sox homers in the Statcast era. Through the first 161 games, the guy who held the mark also wore the belt for the longest White Sox homer of 2021. Robert toppled the speed record, but the other survived the final innings of the season.
This homer might’ve also been the longest one if Robert had a couple more degrees of loft. With a launch angle of 19 degrees, the residents of the left field bleachers were lucky to leave with all their fingers.
Slowest home run: César Hernández, 91.1 mph on Aug. 26
The unprecedented power that Hernández showed in Cleveland didn’t carry over to Chicago, and while some of that is simple regression — Hernández doesn’t seem like a 30-homer guy — he also just didn’t hit the ball very hard. So it’s fitting that one of his three homers registered as the slowest White Sox homer in the Statcast era.
In fairness to Hernández, he had to hit the pitch as thrown to him. Hyun-Jin Ryu’s curveball was 74 mph coming in, so Hernández had to generate all the distance himself.
No. 5: Jake Burger
Date: July 17 | Distance: 456 feet | Exit velocity: 115.2 mph | Launch angle: 22 degrees
Jake Burger made his first homer count, scorching a missile off Houston’s Austin Pruitt well over the White Sox bullpen. Burger’s first homer is also his only MLB homer to date, but it’s also one more MLB homer than many figured he’d have, especially through the 2021 season.
That he was able to turn around MLB pitching, even for a three-week cup of coffee, is one of the bigger little triumphs for a White Sox season. There could very well be more where this came from.
No. 4: Yasmani Grandal
Date: June 3 | Distance: 456 feet | Exit velocity: 110 mph | Launch angle: 29 degrees
Between his appearances in three-quarters of the 2020 season and four months of good health in 2020, Grandal’s White Sox career numbers resemble those of a standard full Grandal season in terms of games (139), albeit with more plate appearances because DH is now an option for him. He’s hitting .236/.396/.484 with 31 homers, 69 RBIs, 117 walks and 140 strikeouts, good for a 141 OPS+. The White Sox are getting what they paid for and then some. Rick Hahn might want to find a decent catcher to supplement Grandal for the sake of his pitchers, but he won’t have to overthink it.
No. 3: José Abreu
Date: April 20 | Distance: 458 feet | Exit velocity: 115.6 mph | Launch angle: 25 degrees
In 2020, Zach Plesac posted a 1.74 ERA in three starts against the White Sox, racking up 25 strikeouts against three walks over 20⅔ innings. In a season where the Cleveland and the White Sox finished with the same record and the former owned the tiebreaker, Plesac’s contributions helped define that season series as much as anything.
A year later, the White Sox torched Plesac in two of three starts, giving him a 7.56 ERA, racking up 23 hits over 16⅔ innings, and turning the strikeout and walk rates into liabilities for Plesac (five and 14). They also hit three homers, including this no-doubter by Abreu that suggested they had little to fear.
No. 2: Eloy Jiménez
Date: July 27 | Distance: 459 feet | Exit velocity: 109.3 mph | Launch angle: 33 degrees
In Jiménez’s second game back, the Royals held a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, but Jake Brentz‘s wildness allowed the White Sox to narrow the gap to 3-2 with the tying run on third base with two outs. Kyle Zimmer came into the game and opened with an intentional walk of José Abreu in order to face Jiménez.
The move was understandable, because Jiménez looked rusty, and had grounded into a double play his previous trip. But it was also not without risk, which Jiménez illustrated by detonating a backup slider into Kauffman Stadium’s fountains.
Jiménez carried a 1.000 OPS halfway into August, but he hit just .216/.288/.338 over his final 38 games, and he didn’t factor into the postseason. Swings like these show why the allure remains immense, and he probably has as much to say about the ultimate form of the White Sox offense as anybody heading into the prime years of this current White Sox window.
No. 1: Yermín Mercedes
Date: April 8 | Distance: 485 feet | Exit velocity: 113.3 mph | Launch angle: 24 degrees
That’s life (that’s life)
That’s what all the people say
Tribute burgers in April
Figured out in May
And I couldn’t change that tune
Got sent to Triple-A after June
I said that’s life (that’s life)
And I can’t deny it
I posted once about cutting out
But my heart wouldn’t buy it
But if there’s nothing shaking come 2022
I’m gonna pack myself up
And then sign with Seibu
(Photo by Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)
I’ve never seen a player be as fun as Yermin was for those six weeks. He’s gonna be huge in Japan.
Where the Eastern sea’s so blue.
We need a “Top Margulus Moments” post each year that highlights Jim’s best work. This Yermín song has got to be on the list.