White Sox’s patience limited to waiting for Eloy Jiménez

Had I been able to write the summary of the season’s first quarter like I intended to on Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening’s game against the Red Sox would have undermined it in short order.

“The pitching staff is fine,” I would’ve said. “Not quite the league’s best, especially since they don’t have the reputation of generating exceptional off-the-radar success stories like other teams, but they should have the talent to avoid long skids. That’s especially the case if Lance Lynn looks like his old self, although I’m hoping for a mid-rotation impact until we see what his stuff looks like.”

Unfortunately, I’ve blown my cover and my keyboard’s delete key stopped working, so I have to leave that paragraph there.

One game wouldn’t change that outlook unless a key pitcher departed with an injury. The hope is that Dylan Cease’s last three starts are merely a mild funk and this wasn’t the start of the pumpkinning for José Ruiz and Matt Foster. (If we’re allowed to pick and choose what to take away from games, it’d be cool if Vince Velasquez provided useful in situations in a role that asked less of him.)

The concern still lies with the the lineup, which wasn’t helped by the news that Luis Robert has COVID-19 with symptoms, and will be out through at least the Cubs series. I don’t think Robert would’ve made up a 13-run difference by himself, so the Sox have been spared consequences of his absence thus far.

Still, 40 games in, the offense’s struggles have been so pronounced that single-game stumbles and individual setbacks are harder to minimize. The White Sox are bottom-half in every notable category, bottom third in most, and toward/at the bottom in the on-base metrics, including a 6.1 percent walk rate that stands as the worst in baseball by nearly a full percentage point.

Scot Gregor relayed a quote from Rick Hahn about this situation in Hahn’s pre-homestand session with reporters:

“That’s not us,” GM Rick Hahn said. “I think that’s going to normalize over the course of the season. We’ve had a precipitous drop in our walk rate. The players haven’t changed that dramatically. If anything, the level of maturity, you would expect that to improve and I think over the course of the summer that’ll get better.”

He’s probably not wrong, but the question is whether he’s meaningfully correct.

There are 178 players with double-digit walk totals thus far in 2022, and the White Sox have two of them. Moreover, one of them is Yasmani Grandal, who hasn’t walked in seven games, which is his longest such drought since 2018. The struggles in this department are indeed absurd, even after adjusting for the White Sox’s general tendencies.

But the White Sox bypassed an opportunity to remake the offense this winter, with Josh Harrison and AJ Pollock the only meaningful upgrades. Harrison’s only drawn 30 walks in one of his 12 seasons because of his aggressiveness, while Pollock has only topped 35 walks in one season because he’s always hurt. Hahn decided to trust the talent on hand despite two considerable flaws that have hampered the White Sox in consecutive seasons (patience, effectiveness against right-handed pitching), so it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s once again in a position where he needs Eloy Jiménez to return from a signficant injury hitting like his 75th-percentile self.

The good news is that Jiménez and Lynn could start rehab assignments as soon as next week. While they’re progressing on the same timetable, I think it’s important to compartmentalize their impacts, because Lynn’s contributions are naturally isolated to a game at a time due to starting pitching’s turn-based deployment. We just saw Velasquez and Dallas Keuchel buy the White Sox a couple weeks while waiting for the arrival of Johnny Cueto because they had charmed individual days. It’s harder for Jiménez to accomplish a similar type of impact, especially when his key shortcomings feed into those weighing down the rest of the roster.

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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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Patrick Nolan

Unfortunately, I’ve blown my cover and my keyboard’s delete key stopped working, so I have to leave that paragraph there.

Oh no! Jim, I can edit the post! I’ll save you!

Patrick Nolan

The White Sox were surprisingly 6th in baseball in wRC+ against right-handers last season.

As Cirensica

Yaz and Moncada are probably the reason for that disparity. They were outstanding last year vs RHP whereas they have been atrocious this year.

jhomeslice

I believe they are 27th in OPS against RHP this year. Yeah, not very good to say the least. That’s what happens when they do nothing meaningful to address their primary weakness in two offseasons.

Josh Nelson

“He’s probably not wrong, but the question is whether he’s meaningfully correct.”

Great way to sum up Rick Hahn’s tenure as White Sox GM.

soxygen

As was the case last year, this team will go as far as it’s starting pitching takes it.

Given the talent we have with Cease and Kopech, it’s easy to see why people think that we have a really good “top 3.” But given their youth, and their tendencies towards inefficiency/occasional meltdown innings, we really need another starter to count on as a top 2 starter, and a better #5. Whether those starters are Lynn and Cueto…or Cueto and Lynn…makes no difference. But given the state of the farm system and the lack of off-season moves, we’re really depending on those two to be effective enough in the rotation that it stabilizes the bullpen.

jorgefabregas

With the sudden run or hard contact, is there any chance Cease is tipping pitches, or is it just a stuff problem?

hankthetank35

I was thinking this too but also the red sox were hitting everyone like they knew what was coming. Maybe the issue was that they generally had a predictable plan in the way they were pitching to the red sox?

jhomeslice

What a difference a couple years makes for the value of Eloy. At the end of 2020, I had hopes he would be a beast of a player who might come close to 50 homers in a good year. Now it appears he is too injury prone to play enough to approach even half that, and has lost something as well.

Whether his struggles at the plate since his return from the DL last year are health related or not I have no idea and I’m not giving up on the guy, but obviously his outlook is nowhere near as rosy as it was a couple years ago. A shame, I hope he can bounce back and stay off the DL for a change. They sure as hell need his bat.

soxygen

Some of that, though, is narrative-based expectations. When people were feeling good about the Pollock acquisition, few were worried that he was too injury prone to contribute.

jhomeslice

It’s not really narrative but performance based. In 2020 he has an OPS of almost .900 while being over .800 the year before. Since then it’s a little over .700. And he’s had two very significant injuries during this time as well, making one wonder how durable as well as how good he will be going forward.

He was one of the key pieces of this rebuild, considering that they have added little to nothing via free agency, he’s pretty important. They really need him to rebound considerably. Their offense might prove to be less than mediocre if he doesn’t.

soxygen

Sure. I acknowledge the struggles you mention, and that he has been a mess mechanically. But he’s also young and is more likely to improve over time than, say, Pollock. So I just mean that people giving up on him might be in part an overrreaction to recent poor performance or struggles at the plate, and applying a different standard than they are with other players who have not yet been a disappointment to Sox fans but who, because of their age and injury history, might be facing similar questions about their performance but with less long-term upside.

jhomeslice

I’m not giving up on him (as I said). Only noting that since he is part subject of this column, that there is a chasm of uncertainty with his future outlook compared to how bright his future looked a couple years ago. Their only option is to play him when he is healthy and hope for better, he will surely get plenty of at bats if he is healthy enough to play. Maybe not as many at bats as Leury, but some!

dwjm3

Narrative

BenwithVen

Mechanically, he’s been a mess since he came back last year. He can’t seem to lift anything and is always hitting on top of the ball.

mikeyb

Since Hahn became GM, this team has finished in the top 20 in walk rate just once. Perhaps 2022 isn’t the outlier here, and 2021 was the true outlier.