Defense not White Sox’s only problem, but it’s setting them apart

(Photo by Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports)

One thing we’ve learned about Tony La Russa since he returned to the White Sox is that he doesn’t criticize players by name, or even other identifiers. At least unless they swing on a 3-0 count off a pitching position player, then it’s open season.

It’s a policy he might want to revisit after blowing an 8-2 lead to the Cleveland Guardians in the ninth inning on Monday night, first and foremost because the White Sox have lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to any ninth-inning lead. The Sox led by 11 when Yermín Mercedes homered off Willians Astudillo a year ago. A 12th run suddenly looks less like overkill.

Also, it leads him to say things that fail to address how things actually look:

“We didn’t lose that game because of our defense,” La Russa said. “I disagree with that. They didn’t have the cleanest game either, right? Just a tough, brutal loss for the home team.”

If La Russa singled out the defense, then he would be identifying plays not made by Gavin Sheets, Tim Anderson, Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada as problems. And even that seems to be too specific for his tastes.

But the White Sox have committed the most errors in the league (26), and only the Cincinnati Reds have a worse team total of Defensive Runs Saved (-20 to the Sox’s -13). Anderson has committed nine errors this season, and seven of those have come in three games and 20 chances against the Guardians. The entire New York Yankees defense has committed seven errors in 1,030 chances.

The bullpen tried to absorb the blame afterward, as Tanner Banks, Liam Hendriks and Ryan Burr all had a hand in the loss to varying degrees, but shoddy defense is why Hendriks was deemed necessary for the sixth time in eight days, and why he had to warm up twice before entering this game. Shoddy defense is the primary reason why Dallas Keuchel inspires panic and loathing amongst the fan base, rather than standard back-of-rotation discontent. Shoddy defense was the through line during the White Sox’s eight-game losing streak, whereas normal, acceptable defense was a big reason they won six in a row against teams that need help to win.

There were legitimate reasons for La Russa to avoid laying into Moncada, who was playing in his first game of the season, or Sheets, who is being asked to handle right field when nothing about his skill set says he should (remember when he criticized White Sox fans who dare suggest the on-hand options for right field were lacking?). Anderson has no such excuses, but maybe La Russa’s experience leads him to see no point in criticizing by name.

But what about as a unit? The White Sox defense yielded four unearned runs in a game where they squandered the six-run lead. Just about every team is struggling to hit this season, and a lot of teams are contending with pitching injuries. The gruesome defensive woes set the White Sox apart from the standard team with ambition. Similar to Rick Hahn getting snippy at the idea that people call Eloy Jiménez “injury-prone,” the unwillingness to confront it publicly makes it hard to trust what else they’re seeing.

It’s alarmist to say these games are going to sink the White Sox or otherwise project doom regardless of your overall optimism. If you believe in the Sox, you’ll look at the talent on (or fresh off) the injured list and see plenty of upside in store. If you’re a skeptic, the AL Central still looks like it’s going to be a slappers-only circus, especially with the injuries the Twins have suffered.

It’s not Chicken Little behavior to point out that if the White Sox were to be a spectacular disappointment, the most direct line to disaster involve things like a3-10 record against the AL Central, an 0-7 start against their most direct rivals, due in large part to embarrassing defensive displays projection systems wouldn’t even think to capture.

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As Cirensica

*stand and applaud*

This is similar to what I was tweeting with pNoles yesterday when he was trying to process what was going on. Defense. You have to catch the ball competently to win games.

Yesterday’s game was lost because we didn’t execute the defense, and created additional opportunities to the opponent to beat us, and they did.

I’m not sure what this team is doing in terms of preparation, but getting hurt a lot, dubious infield positioning and a plentiful of errors makes me put a picture in my head where players are in the Clubhouse, listening music, and playing Jenga while they wait for the next game.

Maybe Kenny Williams needs to start turning off some boomboxes again.

Last edited 2 years ago by As Cirensica
tommytwonines

Haven’t looked at the Twins remaining schedule but the Guardians have a relatively easy ride.

Qubort

So many extra pitches to overcome these errors. I’m curious what the worst regular season defense there was to still win a World Series.

snoopy369

I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I nominate the 2000 Yankees… team dWAR -2.0 https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYY/2000.shtml

metasox

Aside from not playing them in the OF, there may not be much to be done about Vaughn, Sheets and Jimenez’s defense. This team wasn’t designed to be a defensive juggernaut, and that isn’t about to change.

But an obvious move like rotating in Engel late is being done. And we are seeing plenty of McGuire behind the plate. Aside from Anderson, which regular really stands out contributing less defense than expected?

As Cirensica

Pollock has been painting a Pollock with his routes and reads in the outfield.

dwjm3

Abreu wouldn’t be able to hack it in the new ballpark rainbow cone stands.

Can’t scoop

Last edited 2 years ago by dwjm3
tommytwonines

You and As Cirensica need an open-mic night.

metasox

Is some of that from new infielders? Is it weather? Is it his age catching up with him? I expect Abreu will do whatever he can to clean things up.

Torpedo Jones

The infield is the problem. You can get by with poor corner outfield D, assuming those guys hit well enough to justify the defensive hole. But it’s hard to be successful when you’re sporting negative Defensive Runs Saved at 1B, 2B, SS, and 3B. My brief scan of the list at Fielding Bible suggests the Sox are the only MLB team to have negative values in all four of those spots currently.

Anderson has been an obvious issue, but Burger and Abreu haven’t done much to help. And Fangraphs suggests that Leury is doing a poor job of carrying the “super utility” title at 2B, with his 2B UZR/150 sitting at a delightful -12.1.

You’re going to have a really hard time winning when your infield leaks like a sieve.

metasox

We know what these guys can do (am not including Burger). On the whole, it is ok but not great. Most likely, that is where it finishes the season.

Last edited 2 years ago by metasox
mrridgman

In addition to the official erreors, I’m concerned about the plays not made. Obviously Vaughn and Sheets, due to lack of mobility and training. Pollock, as above. Tim has had a few non-errors that could have been made, e.g., the attempted force at second late in last night’s game that he backhanded wide. Yeah, a tough play, but some of the uupper-tier SS make that play.
If this team, and some of its stars, want to be considered elite, they need to buckle up (where’s Hawk on the few occasions that you need him?).

FishSox

What gets lost on that play, is that you have a catcher running to first. That’s where the ball should have gone, plenty of time to plant and throw.

Kelly Wunsch N' Munch

^This^
Austin Hedges isn’t winning any speed accolades ever. There was 2 outs. Why is he even going to 2nd!?

rugbysox

Outfielder range is what it is. If Sheets or Vaughn offer you the best bats over alternatives, I’m fine with that. After all, a top 3 bullpen should offset hard contact. And if Ron Washington could win two pennants with Nelson Cruz in RF we can do the same with Sheets/Vaughn. When it comes to the infield defense, this is the unacceptable part. Moncada has the track record but Tim needs to focus on fundamentals again and sort out the chemistry issues with whoever is at second. Same thing for Abreu , put in the reps to fix the scoops.

FishSox

I have to question coaching. I remember a few years ago, when TA upped his defensive game, Stoney was all about telling us how much work Tim was putting in with coaches to learn footwork to be able to throw accurately.

You play like you practice. From my empirical viewpoint, it appears that practice SUCKS. That goes to coaching. You can’t assume someone will do it well today just because they did it well last year.

So, eviscerate The Russa all you want for his on field bungling. I want to know…

WHERE’S THE COACHING?

670WMAQtheElder

Why is LaRussa in denial about his team’s defense? Of course the errors cost him the game. The boxscore proves it. Without the errors, pitchers pitch count is less; Banks finishes the game; Naylor is not setting records; Hendricks and Burr are not in the game at all.

The denial by the manager and the GM of what the fans see on the field is very frustrating, and very White Soxish.

And one more thing: can we get rid of the wave once and for all? It is so Eighties.

As Cirensica

“Ignore the problem, maybe it will go away”

Papa Giorgio

“slappers only” reference, 10/10