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.