Will Jake Burger be different?

As a White Sox fan, I can’t help but anticipate the worst. You’re probably much the same. With very few exceptions, it’s been a reliable strategy over the franchise’s less-than-illustrious history. This season as a whole is a perfect macro example; meanwhile, Michael Kopech‘s stupid knee reminds us that we can’t have nice things in the micro. So even though Jake Burger has been one of 2022’s very few pleasant surprises, I dream less about the great things he might eventually accomplish and more about how it all might come crumbling down.

Will the league find a fatal hole in his swing? Will his Achilles pop again? Will Tony La Russa kick him off the team because he won’t shave his sideburns?

Heck, since I started writing this post he left Monday’s game with an injured hand! (Thankfully, he appears to be day-to-day… although that phrase appears not to mean much to this franchise.)

It stinks my brain works this way, particularly when it comes to a fun surprise like Burger. But there are too many examples of similar White Sox stories: decent-to-good prospects who pop up with a high-SLG, low-OBP rookie season, then flame out because they lack plate discipline.

And look, I really hope this doesn’t happen to Burger. His story of resilience is inspiring. He hits monster dingers. But let’s be real, the guy had a .681 OPS against righties entering Monday’s game, and he got sent down to AAA a few weeks back because he couldn’t hit a beach ball at the time. It would not be shocking to see his career turn out something like Josh Fields.

That worry spurred me to look into whether there was anything in Burger’s basic statistical profile to obviously differentiate him from the type of guy I’m thinking of. So I took to Baseball Reference and found six White Sox seasons from the Kenny Williams era that roughly match Burger’s current production. My (admittedly somewhat arbitrary) parameters: guys in their first or second year with an OPS+ above 100, a SLG above .480, and an OBP below .335 in at least 30 games played.

PlayerYearAgeGOBPSLGBB%K%OPS+
Jake Burger20222637.326.5156.3%29.6%137
Eloy Jiménez20202355.332.5595.3%24.8%137
Dayan Viciedo20102138.321.5191.9%23.6%128
Gavin Sheets20212554.324.5068.9%22.3%125
Eloy Jimenez201922122.316.5136.0%26.6%116
Daniel Palka201826124.294.4846.7%34.1%111
Josh Fields200724100.308.4808.4%29.9%105

(Burger’s numbers here are through Sunday, 6/12.)

The good news is that entering Monday, Jake Burger was tied with Eloy Jimenez’s Silver Slugger-winning 2020 campaign for the best production on this list relative to league average. The overall depressed run-scoring environment this year makes his surface numbers a bit less shiny than Eloy’s, but he’s been a straight-up elite bat. (He’s also besting similarly-shaped, similarly-aged seasons from Carlos Lee and Joe Crede, who were later in their major league careers.)

Otherwise though, this list doesn’t seem to bode great things for Burger’s future. His plate-discipline numbers look awfully similar to everyone else in the rundle. It’s also a group that collectively hit the ball very hard, so scouting-wise we can’t say he stands out there. Jiménez was easily the most highly regarded prospect of the bunch, but even he’s struggled through injury and consistency issues the last two years. Fields and Palka had deeper swing-and-miss issues than Jake has displayed so far in his career, but that hasn’t born out to a massive difference in K or BB numbers. Gavin Sheets has a better eye than Burger, and we’ve seen how the league has learned to exploit him regardless. Viciedo demonstrates that players of Burger’s ilk can become a superstar … in Japan.

So far, there aren’t many obvious differences between Burger and the similar players we’ve seen in the past. That, of course, does not mean Burger is sunk. There is one major statistical difference between Burger and everyone else on this list:

PlayerMinor League PA Before Rookie Season
Daniel Palka2416
Eloy Jimenez1703
Josh Fields1614
Gavin Sheets1513
Dayan Viciedo903
Jake Burger547

Burger is matching the best early season among some pretty highly regarded prospects despite virtually no minor0league track record. That’s probably the best argument that he might exceed the expectations set by the non-Jiménez guys on this list. And of course, if we expand the sample from the White Sox to all of MLB we can find some more positive results among other largely uninspiring names: Ryan Braun, Todd Frazier, and Dan Uggla all put up early seasons similar to Burger’s at around the same age.

However, the bottom line is still that Jake Burger is going to have to continue producing like this for a lot longer to break the mold of some notable recent Sox flameouts. The odds are frankly against him, but at least he hasn’t let the odds stop him yet.

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Greg Nix
Greg Nix

Greg Nix writes stuff all over the internet, and sometimes even on TV. He loves the White Sox and the Phoenix Suns even though they bring him nothing but pain.

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jorgefabregas

Didn’t find the 2007 average K%, but the average K/9 in 2022 is 8.4 compared with 6.62 in 2007. That’s a 27% increase. So Fields was more of an outlier in terms of K rate in 2007.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

The real questions are what underdeveloped skill does some other see in Burger’s game that the Sox are missing and what reliever the Sox can acquire from that team in a trade.

soxfan

Was shocked not to find Mercedes on the list and then realized he stopped qualifying after 30 games or so. So he’s another example of a hot start but in his case he couldn’t even make it last a season.

metasox

In that spirt, you could also throw Delmonico in as a recent flash in the pan type. Though I suppose Mercedes may still be able to do something.

joewho112

Surprised that it was his low slugging percentage that disqualified Mercedes and Delmonico’s high OBP that disqualified him.

ForsterFTOG

My take is that most were an acceptable starting off point but none got better.

upnorthsox

I don’t know, he seems to be the same hitter now as he was in AAA last year and as in A ball. I’m not thrilled with the 30% K rate but he shows good bat to ball skills, he’s just has a little overly aggressive approach. Could he adjust with more discipline as the league adjusts to him? Maybe, we’ll have to see I guess. I did notice in that long AB the other night vs Moore that Moore finally realized that Burger would chase something in the dirt and that’s exactly what he did. That may be the hole in his swing as it is.

upnorthsox

I’d also point out that Abreu has a similar +50-60 OBP for much of his career but only half the K rate. So yea cut that K rate(or at least be a better 2 strike hitter) and there’s something to work with. Whether that will be for the Sox or someone else is the real question.

ChiSoxND12

“The odds are frankly against him, but at least he hasn’t let the odds stop him yet.”

It’s a good thing he’s a Burger and not a frank!

lifelongjd

Baseball is a game of adjustments. MLB will find a way to get Burger out and he will cool off. The question is whether he can adjust to the adjustment. Most of the guys being compared could not. Seeing guys like Eloy and Yoan struggle with it as well.

I agree that the most encouraging thing is Burger is doing this at the highest level with minimal experience in the minors. The Sox have been able to ease him in a little bit, but eventually he will need to be able to hit righties with more consistency or else Burger will be another flash in the pan (grill maybe?).

Alfornia Jones

If he is your everyday 3B, does his defensive limitations negate the offensive production? They need to pick their 1B and DH for next year and start dealing these excess bat only types. I would deal Burger if he keeps this up, selling low on Eloy doesn’t make sense.

chipporter

Got to watch a lot of Sox hitters develop and even more, not. Abreu had the penchant for swinging at low and away sliders way out of the zone and fixed it, mostly.

I’m encouraged that he’s had so few AB’s at the pro level, but that doesn’t mean anything if there’s no improvement in recognition, which we’ve seen plenty of other hitters not be able to develop.

If he can learn his plate coverage out and down and then what he can do with those balls, he’ll be damn dangerous. I love seeing him able to pull his hands in, open his hips and get to those inside pitches and pull them. Now he has to learn how to reach outside and spoil a pitch by shooting it to the right side with just enough power to punch it through the infield. Or how to take that low pitch and square it up to bloop it in front of the CF, instead of trying to yank it over the fence.

The concerning part is, who’s there to teach it?

Last edited 5 months ago by chipporter
Augusto Barojas

Burger and Kopech are literally like the only two positive surprises this year. It’s good to poke holes in one of them, I was starting to feel too much joy and optimism.

a-t

let’s not forget Cueto, who looks like he’s going to be well worth the ~$4M

Last edited 5 months ago by a-t
metasox

burger with holes is a slider which Burger struggles to hit

Last edited 5 months ago by metasox
Nellie Fox

Burger should be starting at 3b when he is healthy in every game. With each game his defense has gotten better and he hits with runners on unlike the guy who currently plays there.

Right Size Wrong Shape

His defense has not gotten any better. Keep playing him while he’s hot, but I think ultimately he’s a DH / pinch-hitter against lefties, and back up 1B/3B.

mikeyb

Dour

soxygen

Burger’s OPS+ might be skewed by the fact that he is doing his hitting during a period in which the league is hitting, i.e. if he had been up and getting at bats all year the numbers might not look as good.