First impressions from 2018’s first White Sox game

Matt Davidson, Tim Anderson and Adam Engel all had themselves a day

OK, maybe this isn’t the toughest year of a rebuild.

The White Sox are in sole position of first place after their 14-7 thumping of the Kansas City Royals on Thursday. Corey Kluber went the distance, but his first-inning homer was all the Mariners needed to beat the Indians. In Minnesota, Zach Duke blew a two-run lead in an extra-inning loss to the Orioles. The Tigers were rained out.

Just 161 games and 180something days to go.

If this were hockey, here’s who I’d put down for the three stars of the game:

Matt Davidson

Since he’s only the fourth player in MLB history to pull off the good kind of hat trick on Opening Day, let’s start with him. He hit three homers and crushed all of them, exciting the Statcast folks. Enjoy.

Just as importantly, Davidson drew a walk without striking out. He only had 16 zero-K games out of 107 starts last year, and he only strung together K-less starts twice.

During the broadcast, Jason Benetti resurfaced the stories from spring regarding Davidson’s relationship with Paul Konerko. Emulating Konerko did Gordon Beckham no favors, but now that Konerko is free from his own burdens during his playing days, maybe he’s better able to help clear others’ heads.

Tim Anderson

Anderson’s day started on the wrong foot. Whit Merrifield hit a one-hop smash to Anderson’s left, and it deflected off the bottom of his glove and into center field for the second of four hits and four runs to open James Shields’ day. The official scorer originally charged him with an error, but changed it to a single.

It’s a tough play, especially as the second batter in the first inning of regular-season environment. He had the right first step and right angle, but his glove didn’t anticipate the correct hop, so the initial ruling of “error” seemed harsh, and it was quickly reversed.

Error or not, it’s the kind of play he’d need to make when he’s hitting (or not hitting) like he did last season. It’s forgivable when he comes back with a pair of homers, a walk and some terrific baserunning. I’ll call the walk a rarity, but he should be able to get extra bases one way or another.

James Fegan said Rick Renteria was more excited about Anderson scoring from first on Yolmer Sanchez’s three-run single. The manager has a point, because look at this jump:

Anderson read Burch Smith’s book to such an extent that Sanchez’s single up the middle went safely behind him. He scored standing up.

For the time being, I’m a bigger fan of the homers. Anderson has talked about prioritizing fun, bringing swag to the South Side, and being the Michael Jordan to Yoan Moncada’s Scottie Pippen. All that could seem premature for somebody who was just about replacement-level last year and walks thrice a month, but I think he has the cart and horse in the right order. White Sox baseball is a lot more fun when Anderson is feeling it.

Adam Engel

As Engel staked his claim to center field with a dynamite spring, we started talking about how much he’d need to hit in order to serve as a credible major-league center fielder. It seems like .220 is the idea, and the projections suggest he could gain that 50-60 points of average by lowering his strikeout rate nearly 10 percent.

The projections only have him getting halfway there in both categories. The good news, oddly, is that a strikeout rate in the upper-20s is still problematic for a player without a ton of home-run clout, so it’s not like Engel is asked to get good at something, just less bad.

One game in, Engel has a 20-percent strikeout rate. He was productive in his other plate appearances. He doubled off Danny Duffy for the Sox’ first hit, singled for a second hit, then added a pair of walks.

The single is the kind of hit that depicts Engel’s personal battle to replace strikeouts with contact. On a 1-1 count, Duffy threw a changeup that fooled Engel badly, resulting in an ugly swing.

After buzzing Engel up and in with a fastball, Duffy tried the same changeup away. This time, it was still off the corner, but a little bit closer to the plate. Also, Engel waited back a little more. The result? A first-and-thirding single:

The mechanics behind that particular hit are in the eye of the beholder.

One person can look at that and see why he only hit .166 last year, while another thinks Engel has found a way to increase his plate coverage. Whatever the case, that’s one at-bat where Engel converted a strikeout into a single. He’ll just need to do that two or three dozen more times.

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Jim Margalus
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

Good article. Thanks, Jim.

Joliet Orange Sox

It amazes me how great this post is. Being able to turn out something this insightful and entertaining for a routine game recap post is a gift we are blessed that Jim Margalus shares with us. The sentence “All that could seem premature for somebody who was just about replacement-level last year and walks thrice a month, but I think he has the cart and horse in the right order.” is worth the cost of my Patreon contribution by itself.

Lurker Laura

Holy mother of good hair! I was stuck following most of the game on GameDay yesterday, so this is my first view of the Davidson HRs. Wow.

Patrick Nolan

Why can’t it be tomorrow already? We have our most exciting pitcher going and our offense just went off for six dingers against a team that plans to start Ian Kennedy tomorrow. This has “fun game” written all over it.

Anohito

And/or trap game
Since yesterday’s game had “disaster” written all over it and we saw how that turned upsidedown

Course I sure hope not cause GoGo Giolito!

Patrick Nolan

Haha…it could definitely be a “trap game” for the fans.

That said, I don’t think the players have amassed the requisite arrogance to be trapped yet.

lil jimmy

“GoGo Giolito!”
Cartoon mouse who’s tag line is “where’s-a’ the cheese-a'”

Ted Mulvey

I’m in this boat. I understand why the schedule is the way it is, but it feels strange to not have a game on a Friday. Anxious to watch Giolito.

Eagle Bones

As I said last year, this is the baseball equivalent of blue balls. I get that they’re trying to build in room in case games get postponed because of weather (which is reasonable), but it’s just so annoying to get all amped for Opening Day and then have twiddle your thumbs for 48 hours until game 2.

Patrick Nolan

If he keeps this up, there’s gonna be a lot of people walking back a lot of Davidson things, similar to people walking back a lot of Avisail Garcia things.

As one of the potential walker-backers, I just hope that people are lenient enough in their criticisms to allow us (me) to fully enjoy Davidson’s hypothetical breakout. U-God was already giving me shit for it before the third dinger.

35Shields

If this keeps up, Matt Davidson will have 486 homers by the end of the season.

Steinscribe

This is one of those cases where it will feel so good to be so wrong if it keeps up. Just can’t be like Homer when the Isotopes won the championship.

tommytwonines

Why does so much baseball writing these days read like a legal brief. Not saying you Jim, talking more Cistulli. 

Gutteridge70

Best Openning day in years. Though I do not like to look at the Sox through a Cubs prism, I was very amused by Shields having a better day than Lester including getting a win. If this keeps up I will have to upgrade my partial season ticket package to full season to be guaranteed World Series tickets. Hopefully the Sox can keep it up so you and the SM staff will be able to have the joy of covering the “2018 Miracle on 35 street”

Steinscribe

If Avi repeats last year’s performance and Davidson does break out, does that change any thinking on how patient an organization should be with a prospect before writing them off?

tommytwonines

The ironic thing is that if the Sox were in win-now and not rebuild-mode last year, Avi wouldn’t have made the roster. And as much as we despise the Shields/Tatis trade, maybe that debacle finally made them say, “Okay, let’s tear it down.”  

Eagle Bones

I think you actually kind of answered the question in a roundabout way. How long you should tolerate a slow developing prospect is probably dependent on your current spot on the win curve.

lil jimmy

Kinda the way we got Eaton.

Trooper Galactus

Not really, because it’s still the exception and not the norm. Look no further than Beckham’s mediocrity or Viciedo’s uninspiring numbers in Japan; those are more typical results. Also, I’m kinda curious how much of this has to do with the change in the baseball. It’s been shown that the current model flies a lot farther, which probably helps guys with mid-range power. But for a guy like Davidson who has massive power limited by severe swing-and-miss issues, more pertinent could be a lower amount of movement pitchers are reportedly getting on the ball.

zerobs

“The mechanics behind that particular hit are in the eye of the beholder.”

The mechanics looked good because he just went with the pitch instead of trying to crush it. I’ll just say that with last year’s mechanics he would have missed that pitch completely. The ugly part of that hit was the zone judgment – if he starts getting hits on pitches outside like that teams will quickly learn to pitch him inside or keep going further outside. To keep a positive outlook, that was the same issue Avisail had his first three years. I’m already more satisfied with Engel’s willingness to adjust compared with Gordon Beckham’s seeming unwillingness to do so.

Patrick Nolan

Yeah. The problem with Beckham was that he just wasn’t very good.

asinwreck

Yep. I’m just glad Professor Parks is no longer in the employ of the Ricketts family.

ParisSox

Yeah.  His podcast was great too.  

This from the article 
“ Being allowed to fail in order to learn how to handle failure is just as important as learning how to hit a curveball or how to throw a changeup. ”

Btw, which one of the little symbols is used to embed a quote?

sausalito pale hose

This is noteworthy observations

Red_Hair_White_Sox

The Davidson post game was a little awkward when Paulie got brought up. Seemed like he really played down any impact Konerko may have had on his offseason

Eagle Bones

I kind of read it like he spent a ton of time with Gellinger and a little with Konerko and didn’t want the main guy to not get any credit. But I also don’t really know the exact story, that was just my read.

ParisSox

Yeah he gave a lot more credit to the hitting coaches. 

tommytwonines

Maybe Davidson has this taped in his locker for motivation:

Might be a nice shirt.comment image

get him on get him over get him in

For the first time in my life being a Sox fan I was confused on my feelings yesterday. I was ok with being down 4-0 in the first thinking this is what it’s going to be this year, so top 5 pick it is. The outcome confused me even more because I didn’t know if what I just watched is real? If this is a competent team this season does Avi, Jose, Matty D, and the Shields after the first get traded this year, or do we ride this out til September? Is Engel’s approach for real? Timmy A 20-25 homers? I’m so confused. Please help!

Anohito

I think Hahn already said we stay the course. Even if they are still somehow killing it by the ASB, shortcircuiting the rebuild just seems like the wrong way to go. Just stay the course and develop/bring up the talent and time the big buys correctly, which is to say, not this year.

I think they’d have to show they’re better-than-competent to avoid a sell-off (read: put themselves at least at 15%-20% odds to make the postseason).

If things go better than any of us dream and we’re above .500 around the All-Star Break, I could see the Sox doing a “controlled buy” where they try to add short-term players that mostly cost money or only cost lower-tier prospects (thinking about the returns the Sox got for Melky, MiGo, and Jennings last year).

Lurker Laura

I agree, this seems the likely approach (should the occasion arise).

Patrick Nolan

He has a high-upside strategy, because if the Sox are actually good, he gets the double euphoria of getting to enjoy that and also being the only one who “saw it coming”.

Lurker Laura

And why not? There is no fun in being pessimistic and correct. I know; this is how I’ve spent most of my life.

get him on get him over get him in

I thought that’s the ingredients of a true Sox fan

Lurker Laura

Yeah, any time I try to enjoy myself re: Sox, reality gets in the way. But it was opening day, so I’m letting my inner optimist out to play.

35Shields

What’s the fun of opening day if you can’t have irrational optimism?

The White Sox are on pace to win 162 games this year. You know who can’t win 162 games this year? The Twins.

Ted Mulvey

Exactly. Had you told me before yesterday that the color of the Sox that would be 162-0 at season’s end were White and not Red, I would have called you a liar.

Lurker Laura

Heh.

lil jimmy

God bless “GrinnellSteve” for his pure heart.

GrinnellSteve

I’m a meme. My life is complete.

MadManx

There really isn’t much to sell outside bullpen surprises, Jones and maybe Avi or Jose. We have talked to death that Avi and Jose probably don’t have a ton of trade value. So letting it ride seems like an easy decision. Buying might be easy too given the pitching prospect glut and outfield glut they have.

sausalito pale hose

Avi doesn’t have trade value. Can’t buy that

Lurker Laura

Another “who the hell knows?” Sox season, but a potentially much more enjoyable “who the hell knows” than usual. The young guys will look ridiculous and bad, but they’ll also look ridiculous and good. Yesterday was the latter. Don’t be confused – enjoy!

bonomo

Great stuff, Jim, as always.

L2R

I have no way to prove it. But Shields going down 4 in the first but still got a win on opening day feels more improbable than Davidson hitting 3 homers. I mean, we know Davidson CAN hit but did anyone think Shields would come back to pitch his way back into the game or that the offense would tack on not 1 TD but 2?

Trooper Galactus

I’ll be pleased as punch if Matt Davidson can make me look like a doofus for having zero faith in him for 2018. Even if he pulls an Eric Thames 2017 kind of season (scorching March/April numbers with severe cold spells afterwards) that would be a monumental step forward.

tommytwonines

This is sad when I have to watch a Cubs game to get my baseball fix. Looks like they have a pretty good team, btw.

Also, is GrinnellSteve real or some sort of crazy maybe wonderful harbinger of what’s going to happen in 2018?

Patrick Nolan

The GrinnellSteve IS real, m’boy. As real as you and me.

tommytwonines

Beautiful. Yes. This. Why not?

GrinnellSteve

“Also, is GrinnellSteve real or some sort of crazy maybe wonderful harbinger of what’s going to happen in 2018?”

To quote my daughter, “Both!”

lil jimmy

I just want to note,
The Cubs offensive juggernaut scored one run in 17 innings, and 58 at bats yesterday.

Trooper Galactus

Against the fucking Marlins, no less.

GrinnellSteve

In which GrinnellSteve attempts to explain his optimism…

-You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” – George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah

Let me start by saying I recognize and acknowledge the counter-arguments that can be made for every assertion I will offer. Until proven wrong, I choose not to accept those counter-arguments. Let’s go around the diamond.

Castillo/Narvaez figure to be an improvement over last year. The offense, defense, and throwing should all be better. Framing and game calling are wait and see, but we have reason to hope.

Abreu will embrace his leadership role. His defense will be better than last year’s early struggles. He will be a consistent monster in the middle of the order. Top 3 in the MVP race.

Moncada will be an All-Star. I expect his defense to be more focused and he will hit 20 bombs and steal 20 bags while getting on a lot.

Anderson’s August/September is a better indicator of what he will do this year. He, too, will play more focused defense with great range.

Sanchez will be a league-average hitter with great defense.

I hope Delmonico continues to hit credibly. He could turn into Lillibridge. In any event, Jimenez will force the issue and make his way up in June, at which time he will rake in the majors and be a finalist for ROY.

Engel will hit well enough to not negate his incredible defense. Avi won’t bat .330, but he’ll begin to tap into his power. The slash line will be different, but the value will be the same.

My expectation at DH was that Davidson would hit for power but do nothing else and would yield to Delmonico in June. Opening Day makes me wonder if I’m selling him short. Small sample size, but the nature of the contact was impressive.

I expect credible inning-eating out of Shields and Gonzalez. I think last year’s arm-slot-shift effect was real and sustainable for Shields. Giolito has learned how to pitch and can win with 10 strikeouts or 3. Lopez will frustrate at times but generally get the job done. I hope Fulmer will pitch better coming north and last long enough for Rodon or Kopech to take his place. Those 2 guys give us cover to jettison 2 starters. Kopech will dominate and be a finalist for ROY.

The bullpen is deeper than last year. It lacks the high upside of Robertson/Kahnle but I think there’s enough depth to keep us from seeing too much from Beck/Covey types. When the team is in first in July, and that is supported by the peripherals, there won’t be a catastrophic sell-off of bullpen pieces.

I believe the defense is going to be better all around the diamond, converting more batted balls to outs, allowing pitchers to go deeper and to attack the strike zone with confidence.

Hawk says hitting is contagious. I say hitting begets hitting. In addition to Moncada, Anderson, and Engel (plus our new catcher) all hitting better in a vacuum, the effect of having more men on base, more aggressive and effective baserunners, and more power threats will make everyone in the lineup better still in a synergistic way. Having opposing pitchers working out of the stretch in stressful innings works to the hitters’ advantage.

I think the offense will be far more dangerous and the pitching will benefit from defense and more depth options. I further believe Cleveland’s bullpen ain’t what it was and they will miss Santana. Minnesota will be good, but we’ll be better.

We’re trained to expect improvements will occur in steps: 67 wins, then 74, then 82, then 90. Sometimes it happens all at once. The 2015 Cubs improved 24 games. Yeah, they added Lester and Fowler, but Arrieta and Hendricks emerged. Bryant, Russell, and Baez came up and contributed. You can see the same sort of thing for the 2015 Astros.

Yes, I am bullish on this team. Yes, it could go south in so many ways, but I don’t believe it will. Come join me for what should be a hell of a ride.

Trooper Galactus

Pass the pipe, Steve. We all wanna share.

tommytwonines

Light it up!

GrinnellSteve

Love feels good when it sits right down
Puts its feet up on the table it and sends a bowl around.
-Old 97’s, “Rollerskate Skinny”

Joliet Orange Sox

Perhaps you could explain your view in detail in a longer comment in the future. I’m intrigued by this brief overview. 😉

GrinnellSteve

Given how slowly I type any more, the Cliff Notes version is probably the best I can offer.

ParisSox

I’ll rec thus all day brother.  

Patrick Nolan

Have a day, GrinnellSteve