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Sometimes it’s fun when a team’s home run leader is not the one you’d expect, but I think it’s one of those columns where you’d prefer a little bit of certainty.
For instance, the first time I posed the question in the above headline was during the homestretch of the 100-loss 2018 season. By the second week of September, the leaderboard had José Abreu and Daniel Palka tied at the top with 22, and Matt Davidson in third with 20.
Palka went on to hit five homers over the final three weeks, while Abreu and Davidson combined for … zero. In Abreu’s defense, he spent the last two months warding off multiple threats to his groin.
I asked the question again around the All-Star break a year later, but it wasn’t out of concern. Abreu had 20 homers by then, and it was more about whether Eloy Jiménez could reach another level. Abreu held a four-homer edge, and he ended up holding off Jiménez charge and leading by two.
The 2022 White Sox are in better shape than either of their counterparts as a team, but the same can’t be said of the home run race. Andrew Vaughn just gained sole possession of first place with an impressive go-ahead homer off Daniel Mengden on Thursday …
… but it only takes 15 homers to lead the White Sox right now. That’s good for a tie for 40th place in the American League, and 77th in baseball, which isn’t what you want for a team that designed its offense around power.
Vaughn’s leading, but he doesn’t feel yet feel like a favorite, at least if you had to bet on him versus the field. I don’t have a strong inkling as to who I would put money on if I were a betting man (and I’m not a betting man), so I figure I’d throw some initial thinking out there and let you fight for a conclusion in the comments.
Andrew Vaughn (15 homers)
The case for: He’s currently leading. He looks healthy, and August featured some of his best power work of the season before opening September with the big blast off Mengden. He hangs in well against righties, and has hit 14 of his 15 homers against them, so he can’t be game-planned out of it. His playing time shouldn’t be in question as long as he’s healthy.
The case against His all-fields approach still doesn’t naturally lend itself to home-run binges, which is why he hasn’t hit more than four in any month as a pro. He’s susceptible to back/leg fatigue that puts in him in ground-ball ruts when he tries to pull the ball.
José Abreu (14 homers)
The case for: Nobody plays more than Abreu, and he leads the White Sox in homers most seasons.
The case against: He looked like August Abreu in the first two triple-slash lines (.330 average, .390 OBP), but he slugged just .405. He, too, hasn’t hit more than four homers in a month this year, and the shift in approach might be a product of the way he’s combating the aging process.
Gavin Sheets (12 homers)
The case for: Unlike the two hitters before him, Sheets’ swing is tailored for the long ball, and he plays in a park that rewards that kind of left-handed uppercut swing. He hit .359/.377/.641 in August. He has the team’s lowest ground-ball rate among regulars. He’s probably the most durable member of the White Sox.
The case against: He has to do all his damage against righties (.188/.257/.250, zero homers against lefties), and he’s only left the park at home (.225/.260/.272, zero homers in 154 plate appearances on the road). He’s a minus defender, so there’s never a reason to play him through a bad matchup.
Luis Robert (12 homers)
The case for: When healthy, he has the liveliest bat of the bunch.
The case against: He hasn’t hit a homer in the second half, and he hasn’t started a game since Aug. 25, because swinging causes his wrist so much pain.
AJ Pollock (10 homers): He’s sneaked into the conversation with six homers in the second half, including two opposite-field shots (and nearly a third) against the Royals. But he’s hit nine of his 10 homers against lefties, and the Sox don’t see that many of them, especially when teams care enough to plan around it.
Eloy Jiménez (8 homers): He seems like the most likely candidate to hit 10 in a month, but given his problems staying in the lineup, I’d settle for him hitting 10 in a year, or at least breaking the tie with Jake Burger, who hasn’t played for the Sox since Independence Day. He left another game early with leg soreness, but at least the Sox didn’t need his bat for the rest of Thursday’s winner.