P.O. Sox Part II: Big questions about the White Sox on the margins

Picking up where we left off from the first installment

I have two questions: Are our players being put in a position to succeed? I am often puzzled by the line-up, by the unwavering commitment to handed-ness over the hot bat, and the persistent placement of Abreu high in the line-up. And some odd choices at lead-off. I feel that players have a hard time getting any type of rhythm in LaRussa’s approach. Second — do you think he leaves starters in too long? If you’ve watched Giolito and Cease over the last few years, you can clearly see when they are tiring, yet they often remain in the game. Starting pitching is so precious — isn’t there a way in which it is better to not risk-overextending them? Especially in June?

— MoSox

I think La Russa was trying to put players in a position to succeed by adhering to the handedness advantage and showing faith in struggling players, but the first one resulted in Leury García batting leadoff, and the second one resulted in Leury García batting third. But I think he lost the forest for the trees there, because he was probably weeks late to seeing how stunted the lineups became in his pursuit of balance. He seems to have eased up on giving somebody like García more at-bats than somebody like Andrew Vaughn, partially because Sheets was optioned to Charlotte and Grandal’s injured, but if the roster has to be TLR-proofed, so be it. Yoán Moncada’s nice series in Detroit will either make things less complicated, or more complicated if it turns out to be a glimmer of false hope.

Regarding the second, I think the long leash is little difficult to separate from the compromised state of the bullpen, and whether the quest for one more inning is rooted more in “starters should go six,” or “Lucas Giolito the third time through is better than José Ruiz.” The former will result in repeat disasters, while the other is a calculated risk. And as long as the White Sox play an abnormal amount of low-scoring games, calculated risks are going to feel more like wild stabs.

Have managers been traded before? If so, how much would we have to give up for a TLR -Chris Woodward swap? Probably recency bias, but, man did he out maneuver Tony this series.

— Tim Brown

Only once, and of course it was Frank Lane. He was Cleveland’s GM at the time, and he traded Jimmy Dykes to Detroit for Joe Gordon. Both teams were under .500, and both teams finished under .500, Lane was basically Jerry DiPoto on amphetamines, so it’s hard to separate the impact of one move from all of the other activity. He resigned after the season, so maybe that’s one reason to root for such a deal, although I think the Rangers would ask for Vaughn in any deal.

I don’t understand why they have so few position players on the bench. Especially since at least two people on the active roster are actually not even close to 100%. Do any other teams do this?

— Doug

I don’t think the White Sox are alone in this regard. Most teams seem to prefer an extra arm over a complementary bench player, which is why the league has tried to cap the number of pitchers on a roster to 13, but various interruptions (the pandemic uncertainties, lockout) have delayed the ability to be implemented successfully. But that leads into another question…

How differently are we all talking if the Sox were being upfront about who’s hurt and how bad?

— AJ

I think La Russa would look better in some regards, and worse in others. A lot of his most confusing bullpen moves are due to which players are unavailable, like when Tanner Banks pitched the eighth inning instead of Liam Hendriks, only for it to become abundantly clear over the next few pitching change opportunities that Hendriks just isn’t there. That said, if we knew that Hendriks had a partially torn UCL since 2008, we’d probably look at those six saves in eight days as even more of a dangerous pattern than it already was.

More transparency would’ve been useful when figuring out how to talk about Grandal and Moncada, because it was/is apparent from watching them that they’re far from 100 percent, and I don’t think any opponent with a functioning scouting department would gain anything from hearing about what body part is holding them back. I think the detriments of lost secrecy would be more than offset by the benefits of adjusting expectations accordingly, especially if it gets harder to La Russa to defend batting Moncada third if everybody knows his oblique or whatever is still bothering him.

Where do the Sox rank in terms of advanced scouting?

— Scott

This used to seem like a bigger concern when any lefty with a changeup could leave them utterly baffled.

Here’s yet another thing that’s difficult to separate from the greater struggles, especially when so many overwhelmed hitters (be it injured guys or ones who should be in Triple-A) were taking up spots in the top half of the batting order.

For instance, when you look at the White Sox’s scoring patterns, it seems like it takes them one time through to get an idea of how to stand in there against the starters, and then the issue resets when the back end of the bullpen comes into play. Sure enough, the OPS of Sox hitters jumps from .594 the first time through to .804 in their second.

Most teams deal with TTOP, but the White Sox’s fortunes are severe — second-worst in the AL the first time through, then second-best the second time. That could be advanced scouting, or that could be hitters who aren’t MLB-caliber for one reason or another getting early looks before repetition and fatigue starts helping them out. The better lineups and better results in June supports the notion that too many underwater hitters were getting too many of the plate appearances.

That said, one point in favor of an advance-scouting disadvantage is that White Sox pitchers are not being penalized in TTOP. In fact, they’re yielding their highest OPS the first time through, albeit by one point.

  • First PA: .264/.341/.447
  • Second PA: .220/.295/.330
  • Third PA: .258/.356/.450

That explains all the early deficits, if nothing else.

Do you think there’s a chance the Sox are sellers at the deadline? Who might be on the trading block if so and what kinds of returns could be expected?

— orajestad9

Right now, if the Sox are sellers, I imagine it’d be expiring deals first — AJ Pollock, Johnny Cueto, José Abreu — because I don’t think Rick Hahn is transactional enough to tear the team apart while still intending to compete in 2023. Lucas Giolito would be the litmus test, for whether the Sox would be willing to use a real asset to reshape the roster in a meaningful way, and I think Hahn would stop short of that.

As for returns, that’s probably worth discussing later in the month when we see what the markets look like. The caution flags that resulted in Cueto settling for a minor-league deal haven’t gone away, and the same for Pollock.

I’m usually pretty dour so I’ll try to balance that out a bit… what are your 3 favorite things/stories about this season thus far?

— Rob

I think Michael Kopech and Tim Anderson would’ve been two out of three if they didn’t have major question marks hanging over them, so let me say:

No. 1: Rotation depth emerging. Johnny Cueto has been everything the White Sox wanted from Dallas Keuchel, and Davis Martin is everything the White Sox wanted from Jonathan Stiever, so the Sox aren’t short on the back end. The problem is on the other end, with Giolito and Dylan Cease struggling to get through five.

No. 2: Position-player depth emerging. Jake Burger has received the most plate appearances at third base, and Danny Mendick has been playing shortstop for two weeks. That feels rebuildy as hell, but they’re making it work.

No. 3: Andrew Vaughn. Considering everything the White Sox threw at him last year, it wouldn’t have surprised me if his development were completely stunted. Instead, his entire approach remains intact, and with Abreu in his contract year and Eloy Jiménez and Yoán Moncada struggling, he looks like the middle-of-the-order bat to build around.

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The Pito skepticism— both in lineup placement and questioning if he’ll be here next year— is unwarranted to me. He’s posting by far his career best K/BB ratio and owns a 142 wRC+ and .365 wOBA, which is 50 points short of his xwOBA. It’s certainly possible that there is some disagreement between his camp and the FO in terms of years of commitment, but if this production continues, I’d bet quite a bit that he’ll be back to anchor the lineup for another couple seasons. He’s a much more patient hitter and it’s paying dividends, and the mutual loyalty will overcome contractual disagreements.