Spare Parts: MLB’s new rules turn basepaths into laboratories

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson tags Oneil Cruz
(Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

The White Sox open a series with the Baltimore Orioles tonight, and three games into the season, it seemed like White Sox catchers would have their hands full. And they still might, because the Orioles are 19-for-20 in stolen bases over their first 13 games.

That does represent a slowdown compared to the first two games of the season, when they went 10-for-10 on poor Reese McGuire and the Boston Red Sox. They haven’t tried more than two steals in any game since, but maybe that’s because Cedric Mullins is off to a slow start.

That’s allowed the rest of the league to draw nearer. The Orioles now own a share of the league lead with the Guardians, who are 19-for-21. The White Sox are sixth in total steals with 13, but they’ve stolen the most bases for a team with a 100 percent success rate (the Phillies are next at 10-for-10).

The stolen base environment is still undergoing evaluations and experimentations, and I want to draw your attention to three articles about it.

Over at MLB.com, Mike Petriello looked at the situations where stolen bases are surging. Steals of third are way up. Beyond that, he says that the success rate shoots up once a baserunner draws at least one disengagement.

If [it’s true that the steal success rate is down with zero disengagements], then it must also be true that success rate after one or two disengagements must be higher than they are on zero, and it really, really is. It is essentially the entirety of the uptick in stolen-base successes.

Stolen-base success rate, 2023

*On 0 disengagements: 73%
*On 1 disengagement: 81%
*On 2 disengagements: 100% (that’s a mere 4-for-4)

All of which seems to mean that disengagements are valuable currency, and if so, drawing them might be a skill. It might be too early to say that some teams are prioritizing this where others are not — surely this has more than a little to do with the identity of the runners on base and how often a team even gets on base — but when you see the Guardians, Astros and Dodgers at the top of this list, maybe it’s not too early.

That makes the humble pickoff throw the subject of unprecedented consideration, and Lindsey Adler of the Wall Street Journal talked to economists who study game theory. They say randomization is key, but there’s a catch: Humans generally suck at randomizing, and the pitch clock compresses the number of possible permutations. The only way pitchers can combat this is by returning the mound quicker.

“If the clock is under five seconds, it’s probably a good bet that they’re not going to use a pickoff attempt,” said Giants pitcher Alex Wood. “The guys who get back on the mound quickly, they’re going to have different hold times. Whether they hold the ball for three seconds or five seconds, they can use that to their advantage.”

The increased predictability of pitcher timing has emboldened the Yankees to take a short initial lead, then jump into their actual lead.

The technique is not without risk, and the Yankees are tied for the league lead in unsuccessful attempts with four. But they’ve also been safe 12 times, which used to be the old break-even point. If teams are able to reach the 75-percent threshold even after getting their average runners more involved, there’s no telling what the numbers might look like at the end of the season.

Spare Parts

Steven Goldman made his name in the baseball blogosphere covering the Yankees, but you’d think he was a White Sox lifer when reading his disgust with the team after Gavin Sheets’ non-error error on Wednesday.

After Wednesday afternoon’s loss, the Sox are 5-8. This puts them on a pace for 100 losses. It is far too early to take their record seriously; in this century alone three eventual World Series-winning teams began the season with the same 5-8 record (the 2001 Diamondbacks, 2002 Angels, and 2021 Braves). And yet, this is a team that lacks identity, as it has lacked it for many years despite making the playoffs in 2020 and 2021. It has the look of a construction project that is perpetually unfinished. As an organization the White Sox invoke the Winston Churchill line about being adamant for drift. 

The living embodiment of this tendency used to be Leury Garcia, who through no fault of his own became The Out the White Sox Loved to Play (soon to be a Broadway musical), but he was released at the end of spring training. He seemed permanent, and his being cut was such a seeming impossibility that it was like hearing the Chicago River had been drained. Today that symbol might be Gavin Sheets, a first baseman by training and talents who last year was forced to the outfield because with José Abreu, Andrew Vaughn, and (sometimes) Eloy Jiménez around there was too much competition for the first base and designated hitter spots. By the standards of an average defensive outfielder, Sheets looked very much like an early 17th-century Fassadenschrank cabinet, reputedly “a tour de force of cabinetmaking,” but not very much known for catching baseballs hit to its left or right. Still, lest this column seem too negative, let it be said that Gavin Sheets is a tour de force of cabinetmaking. 

Speaking of woodworking, I’m happy to learn that I beat David Roth to describing Gavin Sheets as an armoire. He used the blooper as a way to cover all the ways the White Sox threw their bodies around over the last week.

On Sunday, the White Sox were a party both to Oneil Cruz’s ankle injury—which was mostly the fluke-y result of a terrible slide—and the brawl that followed after catcher Seby Zavala said something to the writhing star that his Pirates teammates didn’t appreciate. (This is the rude part.) A day later, one of Chicago’s ostensibly glove-first utility players, Hanser Alberto, glitched out during an extravagantly botched rundown, which led to a sprained knee that could keep star shortstop Tim Anderson on the shelf for a month. Taken on its own, it is the sort of annoying but not necessarily season-altering injury that could (and does) happen to any big-leaguer, and which has happened to Anderson with dispiriting frequency over his career. Watch the play in question, though, and it’s clear that we are dealing in Some Real White Sox Shit.

Major League Baseball’s fight with Diamond Sports Network escalated when the Bally’s owner stopped paying the Guardians, Twins and Diamondbacks for broadcast rights while still airing their games.

Diamond does not dispute it has the money to pay the tens of millions of dollars it owes the three teams, but argues bankruptcy law allows it to restructure the contracts to better reflect market value. When Diamond signed many of the team deals, it was before the accelerated pace of cord-cutting, a trend that helped land the company in bankruptcy court.

Diamond is arguing it should be allowed to rip up the contracts and rewrite them to reflect the lower number of cable subscribers now versus when the deals were originally inked.

MLB reacted with scorn to the argument that Diamond could just slice off the amounts owed the three teams.

Author

  • 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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GrinnellSteve

Some Real White Sox Shit should be the name of a podcast.

King Joffrey

More plotlines and episodes than Law and Order*.*.

FishSox

They’d just rehash the same old crap.

FishSox

Leury Garcia remains a free agent.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

I’m surprised nobody has picked him up, considering the Sox are paying his salary after all. DFA-ing him while they owe him 11M, he is the ultimate symbol of Hahn/Sox ineptitude.

670WMAQtheElder

What this suggests is that a walk to a weak hitter with speed can easily be equivalent to a double, and then a triple. So maybe the 4th OF should be Hamilton. And send Gavin back to Charlotte.

NDSox12

Billy Hamilton has a total of 8 big league walks since 2020.

joewho112

So you’re saying he is due

As Cirensica

We won’t get anybody that can do BOTH hitting and fielding. We might as well settle for one skill. Sheets offers neither. Hamilton offers one.

bobsquad

The only outfield-only player I can think of who fits this mold and has spent significant time on an MLB roster between this season and last has been Bubba Thompson, and I don’t think the Rangers have seriously tried to put ML-caliber hitters out there. I’m not convinced Hamilton is rosterable for a 26 man squad.

As Cirensica

The Royals won a World Series with Jarrod Dyson who is a clone of Billy Hamilton.

mikeyb

Dyson had a .691 OPS that year. Billy has a .618 career OPS. Last year he was 1 for 13 with 12 strikeouts. The Royals did not win a World Series with a clone of 32 year-old Billy Hamilton.

As Cirensica

I get it. I don’t want Billy Hamilton either. He is a bad player. Unfortunately, we don’t have Trayce Thompson or any other decent bench player. The FO needs to make decisions with what we have. And what we have is Hamilton, Sheets, Haseley, Alberto, etc. They are very flawed players. however, some of them do ONE thing well. Like Hamilton or Haseley. The others don’t do anything that is particularly useful well. Unless Sheets starts hitting homers or at least doubles, he is in the latter group, and I think the White Sox are better off with the former.

FishSox

Not even with his + OF defense and ability to play all the OF positions as your 4th OF’r? We currently have a roster with 2 utility players that bat from the same side and no 4th OF’r. The Astros won with Jake Marisnick.

Last edited 1 year ago by FishSox
bobsquad

To be clear, I’m on Team Haseley, who I think should have gotten an Opening Day bench spot over Sheets. My point about Hamilton is that I don’t see any teams still employing outfield-only speed+glove-only guys… and that’s really all he is. Haseley hasn’t exactly destroyed AAA with his bat, but combining Hamilton’s ST and AAA stats this season you’re looking at a guy hitting .079/.105/.136. He would have to have super utility positionality to make any sort of case for a spot when he’s a 90% out at the plate.

FishSox

I agree on every point, especially considering that Haseley was mashing in ST. The exception is in my belief that the PR value is much higher in this new era than ever before and can generate more runs than a mediocre bench bat.

upnorthsox

I would take Bubba Thompson asap. He had an .829 OPS with 49 SB in AAA last year and has an .867 OPS this year in Texas.

FishSox

You don’t need Hamilton to ever step into the batters box to realize great offensive value. There are plenty of bats that can hit their way on and have Hamilton PR for them to create runs when needed.

NDSox12

How great is that offensive value though in an environment where anybody with decent speed is stealing bases at a highly efficient rate? Seems to me these rule changes make the one standout skill of a guy like Hamilton less valuable because a ton of guys are doing it.

FishSox

I believe you’re oversimplification, anybody with decent speed is stealing bases at a highly efficient rate”, undervalues elite base stealing talent. Rather than leveling the playing field between the “decent” and “elite”, I think it actually offers more separation.

What are you going to be able to do to hold Hamilton on? If you throw over once, his odds go up. With a guy like Hamilton, probably way up.

I believe it actually gets to the point where other teams are just going to have the pitcher pretty much concede the base in favor of concentrating on the hitter. He’s going to be pretty much unstoppable.

There isn’t anyone on the roster, with the exception of Tim, who comes close to his base stealing ability. If you PR Hamilton on a lead off single, there’s a decent chance he could be on third before your first out. I’d say that has pretty high offensive value and without equal in the Sox organization.

As Cirensica

A walk or a hit by Hamilton as rarer as they might be have a high probability to end up as doubles or even triples! How many doubles or triples have Sheet hit thus far?

Last edited 1 year ago by As Cirensica
As Cirensica

That Steve Goldman article is pure gold. Thanks for including it.

jorgefabregas

Eloy expected to return soon; Moncada may end up on the IL per DVS

As Cirensica

A retroactive IL stint is a word salad to find value where it does not exist. Apparently, this team still does not know how to separate a nagging injury from a IL worth injury. We are fucked. It wasn’t a Tony thingy.

itaita

I guess one positive thing about the Sox never spending real money is they dont have Javy Baez on the team for 4 more years and 100 million.

asinwreck

These quotes, as with this rest of this site as well as content in The Athletic, maintain a level of writing about the Chicago White Sox that is a good deal more accomplished than the baseball played by the Chicago White Sox.

Foulkelore

Eloy back (yay)
Moncada on IL (d’oh)

Nick Solak claimed (yay, if this comes with a time machine to 2019)
Matt Foster to 60 day IL (meh)

Banks up, Scholtens down (meh)

asinwreck

Nick Solak’s Wikipedia page includes this tidbit: “He was named after Nick’s Sports Page, a sports bar in Dolton, Illinois, where his parents had first met during an event featuring Carlton Fisk.”

Foulkelore

Perfect

Ray

For selfish reasons, I would love to see the regional sports network system shut down entirely so the MLB can broadcast all games with no blackout restrictions. I live in rural Indiana, 4 hrs from Chicago, but somehow am still in the Chicago “market” and in the blackout zone for Sox games. I’ve been listening to Sox games on MLB audio for the past 8 yrs since I can’t watch the games. No options for cable TV or high speed internet/video streaming where I live. But I do have a satellite dish and would get an MLB subscription if they stop blacking out Sox games. Wondering if anyone else out there is in a similar situation?

fustercluck

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GrinnellSteve

In Iowa I’m claimed by the Sox, Cubs, Brewers, Twins, Royals, and Cardinals. I have YouTube TV which includes NBC Sports Chicago.