Between Lucas Giolito’s mysterious abdominal muscle issue and AJ Pollock’s troublesome hamstrings, the White Sox’s season-opening series against Detroit could have easily been defined by the things that failed them.
Instead, the Sox took two out of three, including an effervescent 10-1 pummeling of the Tigers on Sunday. It was the kind of performance that shifted the focus from what went wrong to what’s going right.
With 24 hours before Vince Velasquez starts the home opener for the White Sox, there’s a considerable chance that we’ll be dragged back into crisis mitigation discussions. For the time being, let’s turn our attention to positive tales of strength and conditioning, because there were a few.
Luis Robert’s legs
In 2021, you wouldn’t have ever known that Luis Robert suffered a season-threatening hip flexor strain in the first half by his second-half numbers, but the injury’s toll revealed itself in smaller ways. His sprint speed dropped a foot a second, his defensive metrics diminished from “great” to “good,” and he attempted just two stolen bases in 43 games after he returned.
He needed just the first three games of the 2022 to match that stolen-base total, going 2-for-2 against the Tigers. The first one was the kind of uncontested steal of second with runners on the corners that the White Sox so often yielded themselves, while the other swipe featured feed besting arm.
Robert also scored from first on a José Abreu’s double despite the fact that he didn’t really round off third base. It was an impressive display of speed, but it gave him only one angle to the plate, and it could’ve ended disastrously given his history of slide-related hand issues.
So it’s great to see Robert back in flight. Now he just needs to remember how to control it.
Andrew Vaughn’s base
During the last month and a half of the 2021 season, Andrew Vaughn lost his ability to hit balls in a threatening fashion. Two-third of his batted balls in September registered as medium contact while his line-drive rate sagged below 10 percent, so anything he hit the air was usually lofty enough to be caught without a remarkable effort.
Those struggles made more sense when Vaughn detailed the back and leg problems that ground him down over the course of his first-ever six-month season. A fresh start to the season brings a refreshed Vaughn to the plate, and the results are, well, refreshing.
Six of his 10 batted balls cleared 98 mph when “hard contact” starts at 95 mph. They went to all fields, and two of them ended up over the fence.
Whether he’s in a better condition to deal with the wear and tear remains to be seen, but for the time being, he’s making the Oakland A’s request of Vaughn for Frankie Montas look like price gouging.
Reese McGuire’s arm
Over the course of the 2021 season, the Tigers realized that they could run on the White Sox with impunity. They stole 25 bases in 27 attempts over the 19 games, including a 13-for-13 performance over six games in September. They stole more bases against the Sox over the final month than they did against any other opponent all season long.
So it’s worth noting that after the first three games of the 2022 season, the Tigers did not steal a single base. They only tried once, and Reese McGuire cut down Austin Meadows with an incredible throw on a pitch in the dirt.
It’s especially impressive considering Michael Kopech was on the mound, as Kopech yielded 10 stolen bases in 10 attempts over just 69⅓ innings in 2021.
When looking at Sunday’s lineup, Tony La Russa’s decision to start the left-handed McGuire against a left-handed pitcher against Tarik Skubal seemed like an afterthought, or at least an awkward outcome of wanting to give every position player a start during the opening series. But between McGuire helping Kopech contain the running game and winning the edges of the strike zone with his receiving …
… he gave La Russa a reason to play him when when the opposing pitcher isn’t a great matchup.
Ideally most of McGuire’s starts will come with a righty on the mound, but it’s not worth getting upset about random starts that don’t allow him to provide a platoon advantage, because he has strengths that can be leveraged in other ways.
Josh Harrison’s hands
The White Sox traded Nick Madrigal in part because he was hurt and couldn’t help the Sox in a great win-now situation, but also because the Sox might think that his value can be replaced on the open market for a modest cost, especially if Madrigal keeps getting hurt.
César Hernández’s brief White Sox career suggests that it’s easier said than done, but Josh Harrison and his action-oriented style of baseball represents another crack at it. Through three games, he and Madrigal have both reached base three times for a .231 OBP, but Harrison has packed more action into his line:
Beyond sheer offensive production, Harrison offers a few things Madrigal doesn’t. While Madrigal has never played a position besides second base, Harrison started at third base on Sunday, and he made a fine ranging play cutting across the shortstop position on a shift.
He also brings a more visible on-field personality to the field, which is starting with an imaginary motorcycle whenever his speed is required.
He also revved the bike upon touching first base on his RBI infield single Sunday, but it was his second celebration over the course of 90 feet. When he saw that Jeimer Candelario wasn’t going to be able to recover Harrison’s hot shot in time to make a throw across the diamond, Harrison started asking a passing truck to sound its horn.
Between the contact, the versatility and the mannerisms, Harrison is exactly as advertised in the early going. The question is whether the medium contact finds enough holes to avoid slumps over the course of the season, and so we’ll be checking in on this tale of the tape from time to time.
Even if Vaughn had gone 0 for 10 this weekend, trading him would be a huge mistake. The fact that he showed just what he can be should make it clear to everyone who freaked out over his injury-induced slump last year. The lad is going to be a star.
McGuire looked positively catcherly back there. I was getting McCann vibes in terms of grabbing a solid catcher for nothing and having him be a difference maker.
Harrison looked good at third.
Luis Robert is the best player in the league.
Vaughn for Montas is just a silly ask. He’s been projected to be as close to a lock for a .300/.400/.500 hitter as it is possible to find in an amateur hitter, and he’d be seen as such (like his longtime friend Torkelson) if he had been assigned to AAA to start last year and mashed as predicted. Throwing him in the deep end last year seems likely to allow him to blossom in full this year. I think he’s pretty likely to be the best White Sox franchise 1B since Frank Thomas, with apologies to Pito, who we love and cherish but does not walk all that much.
100% agree. Vaughn is going to be a legit middle of the order bat very soon, if he isn’t already. There aren’t many pitchers worth that- and Montas certainly isn’t one of them.
There have been eight RH hitters slash .300/.400/.500 in MLB history.
I think if Rick was willing to deal Vaughn like that, it would have already happened.
I would hope that all the concerns about Vaughn being traded are unfounded and that there is really no chance of him getting traded. Not for Montas at least. I know some people are concerned because they traded Madrigal, but there is simply no comparison between the upsides of Vaughn and Nick.
Perhaps Crochet could be the centerpiece of a trade, since he can’t help the Sox until probably 2024. I still believe in his future, but to get Montas is going to take somebody pretty good. I doubt Crochet alone is enough, but it might not take a ton more. I have to believe if they are talking, that Crochet would be a logical trade chip.
I love Harrison’s energy, I just worry it’s a bit too much Eatonesque for the team.
I still wish they would have gotten someone besides Harrison for 2B, but I like his passion too. With that being said, I’d much rather see Burger get every start at third until Yoan feels better.
I think most are making the Billy Hamilton comparison, but in a much better player. Josh Harrison seems like he will give us what Cesar Hernandez was supposed to, with more flexibility, and hopefully fitting in personality wise.
Give him a couple months, 3 games is hardly enough time to know what Harrison will actually wind up giving them. I’m glad he looks good so far, but his A’s stint was terrible. I’m a long way from convinced, given the Sox track record with players his age.
The positive though is if Vaughn has a breakthrough season and the rest of their offense is healthy and good, if Josh is bad it should not be as important.
Is it possible this had anything to do with his offseason weight gain process? I am curious to see how that plays out over the season – e.g., does it keep him stronger late in the season. But am also wondering if it could have any negative effect.
Considering the hauls Oakland got for their other pitchers, I would think a Burger/Thompson/Adolfo package could get a deal for Montas done.
Seems like plenty to me. Burger should be a solid every day third baseman for a long time.
I don’t know that I’m ever not going to think “Trayce” when I see Thompson come up in trade discussions which all the more coincidental when talking about a Montas trade.
I don’t see it. That deal is basically Montas for Burger, because Thompson hasn’t shown anything and they just passed on the opportunity for Adolfo for free.
I agree that this trade isn’t likely to entice the A’s, but I’m not sure it’s fair to imply Matthew Thompson has no trade value.
And maybe this is my ignorance of the system, but the team claiming Adolfo would have to roster him on the 40 man, correct? Since he’s cleared waivers, that no longer applies, right? If so, he wasn’t exactly “free” the first go and could still elicit (some) interest—albeit not as a serious piece for Montas.
Thompson doesn’t, at least in the sense that moves a needle. FanGraphs had him at a 40 FV last year, which would put him 18th in Oakland’s system this year.
Likewise, you’re correct that Adolfo is freer than he was now that he doesn’t need a 40-man spot, but if Oakland had measurable interest in him, they could have claimed him, then tried to outright him themselves. In the end, neither prospect adds tips the scales with Burger, who is 26 years old and has never played 100 games in a season.
Sure, I agree that neither tips the scales, and that offer is much too light, I think. I’m guessing the A’s would need something like Montgomery and Jose Rodriguez plus.
My only point was that each still have *some* trade value that could theoretically be part of a Montas package.
Any team could have claimed Adolfo if they were willing to put him on their roster. I think he has next to zero trade value at the present moment. I say next to zero and not zero because there is some value in being able to have him at AAA (which a team claiming him wouldn’t be able to do unless they exposed him to waivers again), but then you only get one shot to call him up really.
Didn’t realize until I browsed the BYB comments just how much Timmy has crushed the Tigers. Since 2018, in 252 PA (!) he’s hit a ridiculous .400/.448/.626 (192 wRC+) against them. Skubal is a favorite target— in 14 PA, Tim’s got 5 doubles and a homer.
Wonder who will get the call-up from AAA to (hopefully briefly) replace Pollock. Haseley is the direct replacement, Romy could be an indirect one by allowing Leury to be the fifth OF.
The oft-expressed impatience with Vaughn is just… weird.
As are Sox fan’s expectations for him.
Thinking of this during the McGuire question: who’s pitching aside, wouldn’t it actually make more sense to try to start McGuire vs LHP? The reason being: Grandal is much better vs RHP and the lineup needs the boost vs RHP. Whereas the lineup has shown it can crush LHP, so Grandal’s bat is less important vs LHP.
In theory, yes. In practice, McGuire’s a lifetime .148/.185/.250 hitter against lefties. I imagine you’d have to factor in his self-esteem at some point.
Yes, I thought about this, too.
But, hey, on the other hand, who cares? I was a catcher in high school and on one college recruiting trip the coach told me: “you’re a catcher. We want you to catch the ball and block the ball. We don’t give a shit if you hit.”
Given that he’s arb-eligible next year, he probably cares plenty.
Yes, to be clear, that “who cares” was mostly in jest.
vs LHP 122 wRC+
vs RHP 121 wRC+
vs LHP 184 wRC+
vs RHP 150 wRC+
vs LHP 145 wRC+
vs RHP 108 wRC+
Maybe I misunderstood your question. Maybe you meant Grandal is better against RHP compared to the rest of the lineup or compared to McGuire?
Btw, I would assume the career numbers are most relevant here, but I was looking to see if there was some recent trend where he was better against RHP recently.
Rereading, pretty sure I misunderstood. You were saying Grandal is better than McGuire vs. RHP.
TLR did the same thing with Collins last year– starting Collins against lefties even when he could have easily avoided it. I’m guessing that it’s about keeping the pitcher from settling in against all RH hitters, but it sure is tough for whoever has to wear it that day.
Not a body part but Abreu’s plate discipline was impeccable over the weekend. He looked more patient with runners on than any other time I can remember.
Maybe having an intact and credible middle of the order behind him has finally allowed him to relax a bit and not press so much at the plate.
It’s early (and all the other caveats) but if becoming more selective is his way of fighting off the aging process it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
The Sox have too many DH’s, someone has to go. Grandal needs to Dh when he’s not catching, so all the more reason to move someone. They probably extend Abreu one more year, so the room isn’t smaller next year.
Sheets probably isn’t big enough to get Montas, same with Burger. If it’s not Vaughn, then Eloy has to go. Eloy is negative value defensively, so really a 2.5-3 war player.
Montas needs to be on this team, he’s another #2/3, but fills out a really stout staff. If you won’t pay fair market for SP, then trading someone of value is the only route.