White Sox short on reasons to bench Jake Burger

White Sox third baseman Jake Burger
(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

The 2023 Chicago White Sox have had no shortage of disappointments. Young players like Lenyn Sosa and Óscar Colás have failed to establish themselves when given the opportunity. The bottom seems to have fallen out completely on Lance Lynn. The bullpen all but buried the team in April while Pedro Grifol grasped at straws to find a reliever who wouldn’t blow leads. Andrew Benintendi and Tim Anderson still have not hit a home run. Andrew Vaughn hasn’t hit well enough to overcome his other shortcomings as a player. The list goes on and on, and has led to a team-wide performance to this point that has shocked all but the most extreme of pessimists.

The only position player on the team that seems to be significantly exceeding expectations is Jake Burger. Burger’s been the best per-plate-appearance hitter on the White Sox in just about every metric, as he leads the team in wRC+ (148), OPS (.923), and xwOBA (.395). The 25-year-old hits the ball virtually as hard as any other player in baseball and has thrown in plus baserunning for good measure. His defense at third base, which was horrendous in past years, has actually rated as passable thus far this season.

Yet, if you were looking only at how his manager used him, you probably wouldn’t guess there was much magic happening in Burger’s season. Grifol has batted Burger sixth or lower in the vast majority of his starts, but perhaps more glaringly, has reduced Burger’s role to a platoon bat since Eloy Jimenez‘ return. Burger has drawn the start in only three of the last eight games, all against left-handed starters.

When asked about why Burger was held out of the lineup in the opener in Yankee Stadium, Grifol offered a rather unsatisfying explanation:

Let’s talk about that.

The White Sox were short on experience against opposing starter Clarke Schmidt. Burger hadn’t faced him, but neither had Gavin Sheets or Jimenez. Yoan Moncada was 1-for-1 with a single, while Vaughn was 0-for-1 with a strikeout. Granted, allocating playing time based on such a trivial sample would be insane, but it’s safe to say there’s nothing in the Sox’ history against Schmidt that would crowd Burger out of the lineup.

More likely, Grifol is alluding to pitcher handedness here, and Jake Burger has had his struggles with righties prior to 2023. However, this season he’s hitting .258/.297/.570 against right handers. He’s actually been the best hitter on the roster against them:

I can understand a little hesitance to abandon preconcieved notions of a player based on just 101 plate appearances, but when a guy who had struggled badly against righties homers in three straight games off of them, as Burger did this April, the situation calls for some open-mindedness.

The last possible matchup-based explanation for sitting Burger is simply that he’s struggled on the road, but after he sat in four of six games in the most recent homestand, that doesn’t seem to be factoring into Grifol’s calculus anyway.

Grifol’s follow-up commentary was even more puzzling:

Setting aside the absurdity of the team with the 25th-best cast of position players being unable to find one of nine lineup spots for its best hitter, Pedro’s right. There aren’t nine spots. After the three he’s ruled out, there’s six remaining. That still means there’s a lot of guys who could take a seat to get Burger into the lineup against a right-handed pitcher. I’m going to rank these possibilities based on how much sense they make, but it’s my contention that all six of these are preferable to putting Burger on the bench. Starting with the least preferable:

6. DH Jake Burger, play Gavin Sheets in left field and Eloy Jimenez in right

Why it could make sense: Benintendi’s lack of power cripples his offensive value at a position low on the defensive spectrum, especially when he’s not playing it particularly well.

Why it might not make sense: This would involve Gavin Sheets playing left field and Eloy Jimenez playing right. I’m a fan of Luis Robert’s defense in center, but this might be asking too much of him. Sheets has hit better than Benintendi this season, but there’s an argument to be made that this tradeoff isn’t worth it. Plus, Benintendi somehow leads the team in on-base percentage, so his walks and contact hitting are at least adding a different dimension to the offense.

5. Cut into Eloy Jimenez’s at-bats

Why it could make sense: Jimenez has struggled to a middling batting line this season and doesn’t offer much else. He’s yet to put it all together for more than a half-season in his career, which gives the Sox less incentive to stick with him when things aren’t going well.

Why it might not make sense: Jimenez has a bat that can carry a team when he gets hot, and taking him out of regular play foregoes that upside. This option would also involve Gavin Sheets playing right field. He hasn’t hit any better than Jimenez, and he was responsible for, well, this play.

4. Play Burger at second base

Why it could make sense: Romy González and Elvis Andrus have not provided a lot of justification for playing time. Even González’s recent hot stretch is overshadowed by 29 strikeouts against one walk on the season, a ratio that will be simply untenable in the long run.

Why it might not make sense: While Burger has demonstrated improved defense and athleticism this season, asking him to learn a new position when he’s just (seemingly) getting more comfortable at his natural one could be a mistake. Plus, this organization didn’t hesitate at all to shift Andrew Vaughn to the outfield, and it kept him there long after it was clear he was more than giving back all his offensive value with poor defense. What does it say about Burger’s glove at second base that this hasn’t happened already?

3. Play Burger ahead of Andrew Vaughn at first base

Why it could make sense: Vaughn is a subpar first baseman and a horrid baserunner, which is how you wind up with just 0.2 fWAR despite a respectable 110 wRC+ in early June. Vaughn has been clutch and has driven in lots of runs, but no player can be expected to sustainably mash with runners in scoring position (.383/.456/.872) while hitting like 2011 Adam Dunn with the bases empty (.197/.274/.303). Burger is giving the team significantly more than Vaughn right now.

Why it might not make sense: It’s just Vaughn’s third full season, and while there’s a lot of reason to be concerned about his long-term outlook, it could be too early to pull the plug on everyday playing time.

2. Sit Gavin Sheets

Why it could make sense: If Sheets’ lone contribution to the team is hitting right-handed pitching, it doesn’t make sense to bench the guy who’s hit right-handed pitching better than anyone for his sake.

Why it might not make sense: The Sox need more power, and Sheets is one of the few guys giving it to them. The Sox also have the league’s worst walk rate, and Sheets has the team’s best walk rate. Despite the entire package being underwhelming, Sheets is helping the team in areas where they need it. Besides, there’s a better idea…

1. Put Yoan Moncada on the IL

Why it could make sense: Earlier this season, Moncada went to the IL with disc issues in his lower back. Since returning on May 12, he has lacked explosiveness and has limped to a .213/.289/.280 batting line with zero home runs. His sprint speed is at the 19th percentile for MLB players, which is a stunning result given his natural athleticism. His defense at third base has not suffered much, but that’s about all the positives we can take from his play. Moncada simply doesn’t look healthy, and given a more-than-viable alternative in Burger, there’s not much reason for him to play through it.

Why it might not make sense: The White Sox’ infield depth is horrid, and removing someone from the roster who can prop up their value with their glove might contribute to the bottom falling out if another player were to go down. Putting Moncada on the bench feels like an alternative, but probably one that won’t be seriously considered.

For all we know, Jake Burger could be exposed in extended playing time; there’s enough concerning about his strike zone command that this is a perfectly valid viewpoint. However, he’s not being blocked by anyone producing all that much, so if Grifol was even halfway serious about emphasizing accountability, now’s the time to put his money where his mouth is. The Sox stuck with Burger through devastating minor league injuries. Now that the persistence is starting to bear fruit, they owe it to both Burger and themselves to find out what he can do.

Author

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
35 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I agree that Moncada needs to go back on the IL. It’s clear that he’s not healthy. But that aside, there should be enough at bats for Eloy, Vaughn, Sheets, Burger, Moncada and Benintendi sharing duties at DH, LF, RF, 1B and DH to keep everyone happy and productive. The problem is that Benintendi, Vaughn and Moncada are playing every day, when they really shouldn’t for various reasons.

shaggy65

Benintendi has ceded a little playing time to the Jackson Frazier guy mentioned in the chart above, which I think makes sense against lefties. AB23 wasn’t signed to be a platoon bat, but Frazier has earned a little longer look.

Willardmarshall

You cite Burger’s “improved defense and athleticism this season” so casually, as if it had some sort of precedent among White Sox players…

Yolmer

More Burger, but let’s not kill the golden goose by overextending him. He should definitely start in the field 1 game of this double header. Burger had a 4Ks game recently. I think Pedro doesn’t put him high in the lineup because of his huge swing and miss tendencies.

shaggy65

Great article!

Sitting Moncada definitely makes the most sense, but I’d be against any major cuts in playing time for Gavin. He’s too well-rounded a hitter to remove from the lineup against righties. Since we know Vaughn tends to wear down in September I’m all for giving him a couple more days off in certain matchups. That said, I still think Vaughn is a better overall hitter than Burger, just not quite as dangerous in any single at-bat.

One more factor to think about: any competent GM would be looking into trade options for one of our 4 young-ish 1B/DH’s. Jake seems the most likely one to go (although personally I’d trade Eloy). We may want to limit Jake’s exposure to tough pitching to maximize his trade value.

As Cirensica

That said, I still think Vaughn is a better overall hitter than Burger, just not quite as dangerous in any single at-bat.

I am not sold in that particular line of thought. I think we haven’t seen the best of Burger yet.

ChiTownMax25

Yes, they should trade 1 or more of their DHs, but the fact is they just won’t have much value. When good teams want a 1B/DH they can sign an aging vet like JD Martinez for fairly cheap and get pretty consistent production, you know what you’re getting. When bad teams want a 1B/DH, they take shots on guys like Brent Rooker (waiver claim) or Ryan Noda (Rule 5 pick) who they can acquire for nothing. Noda by himself has more fWAR than Vaughn/Eloy/Burger/Sheets combined and Rooker by himself is close.

I’d bet the White Sox valuation of these guys is just nowhere close to how the rest of the league values these guys and no trade gets done.

HallofFrank

The veteran DH you describe runs you anywhere from $6-12m on the open market. And while veterans may come with the pro of consistency, they usually come with the con of aging bodies. Either way, a Gavin Sheets probably nets something like $5-10m of surplus value. Not a ton of value, but not nothing. If you’re worried about Lance Lynn being toast, adding a more reliable ~#4-5 starter seems like a good idea and I think Sheets could get that done. I’ve pitched Sheets for Cal Quantrill, for example.

ChiTownMax25

The Guardians have one 1B/DH who’s been better in the past and playing better than Sheets right now in Naylor, and another who’s been much better in the past and playing about the same right now in Bell who’s being paid a lot. They’re not the type of team that likes to carry 3 DHs on their roster.

It’s not like Sheets is useless, but he’s basically the type of player who every org has who spends a few weeks on the roster here, a few weeks in the minors there, until he’s out of options or hits arbitration and then who knows if he keeps a roster spot. There’s no need for any org to trade for that type of player because he already exists in every org.

HallofFrank

I didn’t mean to litigate whether the Guardians would trade Quantrill for Sheets. My point is that’s roughly a fair trade in terms of raw value. In general, I think you’re underrating Sheets. Not that I think all that valuable. But left-handed power with a career wRC+ of 105 is not a guy that simply bounces around in the minors. Like I said, teams regularly pay $6-12m for his kind of offensive production. Why do teams do that if he already exists in every org?

JazznFunk

What do you think Sheets would sign for if he was a free agent?

JazznFunk

It is strking that the A’s are picking up guys for nothing that are superior to the guys Sox fans are agonizing about

King Joffrey

Excellent pros and cons. I felt like I was watching Crossfire, but with only one guy.

As Cirensica

This is a fantastic article. I was tweeting this morning

White Sox slugging %  

Romy Gonzalez .413
Yoan Moncada .377
Tim Anderson .313 👀

Burger almost doubles Anderson’s and does not play enough, and when you are outslugged by Romy Gonzalez, you should be in some sort of hot seat. I would start benching Yoan Moncada more often. It might buy him time to heal whatever is damping his power.

bobsquad

Burger’s road splits seem impossibly bad, even stats that should be park-independent. I don’t know if Grifol is taking this variance into account when he says “that’s a better matchup that particular day”, but if so that’s a pretty lame excuse for not diagnosing and addressing Burger’s struggles on the road.

bobsquad

One of Burger’s teammates can fill Abreu’s shoes by buying him an iPad for the road and showing him how to find Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on Spotify.

knoxfire30

1 is the obvious choice, 2 is still an obvious choice and then the only other crazy option would be 4… at least see how it looks for say a week or two.

Alfornia Jones

The manager is a stooge just like the FO. Burger should be in the lineup everyday until he proves otherwise. 3B against LH since our $17m regular can’t play everyday. At least 1-2 starts at 1B every week. The rest as DH.

One of Burger/Eloy/Vaughn needs to be traded ASAP, we need SP. The team has also proved they don’t need TA to be competitive in this division, so move him also. They can shore up weaknesses by trading their most marketable assets and still win this division. They don’t have the SP to do anything in the playoffs so the division is the ceiling.

I know he’s been bad, but…

Sox record w/ TA this season: 4-15
Sox record w/o TA this season: 23-20

According to Basball Reference, the Sox are 23-20 with TA this season and 4-15 without TA.

This may seem like nitpicking but I think this difference is significant.

Last edited 1 year ago by Joliet Orange Sox

That’s what I meant.

ChiTownMax25

The Braves win a WS without a top-5 player in baseball, but the White Sox need the maybe 16th best SS in baseball to really make this engine go.

lifelongjd

I think Burger belongs at 3b and then you move that dog Moncada to 2b (or the IL or back to Cuba). If you don’t want to sacrifice too much on defense, this gets your best hitters in the everyday lineup. You can’t tell me moving Yoan back to 2b is worse than anything the Sox have tried/done with the RF position.

As Cirensica

Probably unintentionally, but poor choice of words.

Last edited 1 year ago by As Cirensica

It’s hilarious how much, let’s call it a certain sector of Sox fans, hate Yoan Moncada. I hope he comes out with a new music video over the All-Star break.

As Cirensica

The Twins about to go under….under .500. Welcome, the more the merrier.

a-t

Tampa finished off its sweep of the Twins just now, so we’re now 3.5 out of first… if we somehow sweep the DH we’ll be 2.5 back lol

GoGoSOX

I’d like to see Jake get some extended time at 3rd. Put Moncada at 2nd as he doesn’t hit like a third baseman. 2019 was the last season in which Moncada hit with any power.

Holland23

Boom, home run number 13!

ElCaballo45

I wonder if the Giants fall out of contention they will consider shopping Conforto at the deadline. Signed for 2/36 during the off-season and just hit his 12th HR of the season today (9th vs. RHP). I wonder if a combo of Cespedes/Cannon gets it done?

I wouldn’t think that Cespedes has any real trade value at this point.

Perhaps Sheets/Cannon/Thompson for Conforto/Cobb? Our bullpen is deep and filthy primed for October. If we could add a LHB who can play RF and upgrade our rotation, pending SF falls out of contention (32-30 currently), this might be an interesting return for them to bite on. Both Conforto and Cobb are under contract until 2024 if Cobb’s third year team option is picked up for next season which would be worth $8M ($2M buyout option).

I think the Giants would just hang up on Hahn. In a depressed trade market, I would imagine that there would be a lot of interest in those two. I don’t think our third string third baseman and two middling pitching prospects are going to get it done. To get both of them I think the conversation probably starts with Colas, Sosa and Mena assuming Montgomery is not being traded. Even then, there are a lot of teams who could top that offer.

Last edited 1 year ago by Right Size Wrong Shape
ElCaballo45

Package Alex Cobb w/ Conforto in that deal, Lynn is cooked.

Chip

Grifol was hired because he is an analytics guy. This is why hate all this analytic BS, Because managers do not use their guts anymore and a re slaves to numbers. It’s taken a lot of the fin out of baseball…