Statcast tool illustrates Adam Engel’s strength, Daniel Palka’s weakness

At least Palka is hitting, because he'll need every bit of his bat

Thanks to injuries and an unwillingness to promote their top prospect, the White Sox have had to give their plate appearances to outfielders whose skill sets would ordinarily be too narrow to play everyday.

As you might figure, whenever you give a player to extrapolate strengths and weaknesses over a surprisingly large sample, the result is some incredibly lopsided production.

Take Adam Engel. While he’s improved enough offensively to float on the positive side of Wins Above Replacement, he’s still a terrible hitter. He struck out all three times against Corey Kluber, capping off his evening with a three-pitch strikeout. All three pitches were sliders out of the zone, and all three swings induced pained, guttural responses from Tom Paciorek. “Anguish” isn’t usually an emotion in Wimpy’s bag, but Engel found it.

Engel now has 52 strikeouts against three walks over 163 plate appearances in the second half. He’s somehow hitting .266 during this stretch, but there’s not much supporting it.

Nevertheless, Engel gets the bulk of the playing time because 1) Leury Garcia keeps getting hurt, and 2) Engel is just about elite in center. Statcast loves him the most out of the defensive metrics, as he ranks third in baseball among outfielders according to their Outs Above Average metric.

In a cool development, Daren Willman and the Baseball Savant crew can now show how well outfielders cover ground in certain directions. In Engel’s case, he’s great at going back to the wall.

This comes as no surprise. Anecdotally, you can point to the three home run robberies in a week. Statistically, Engel starts shallower than any other regular center fielder, so he’s literally playing to his strengths.

Then there’s Daniel Palka. Like Engel, he’s limited. Unlike Engel … he’s unlike Engel in every other respect. When it comes to his defense, all this playing time has caused some major suffering.

While Engel is the third-best outfielder in baseball according to OOA, Palka is the third-worst. While Engel covers ground adequately to superbly in every direction, Palka isn’t a victor of any vector:

Engel needed 363 flies to accrue those 17 outs above average. Palka has needed just 112 attempts to hemorrhage those 15 outs below average.

He’s especially weak on balls hit in front of him, and these charts have fortuitous timing, as Palka departed Sunday’s game after his attempt to make a sliding catch on an ordinary line drive.


Fortunately, the injury looked worse than it was, tearing up the carpet instead of his knee. He returned to the lineup on Tuesday as a DH, where he continues to look more and more like an “H.”

Palka was 1-for-3 on Tuesday, and he maintained a pair of encouraging trends. He drew a free pass from Kluber, which gives him a walk in six of his last 10 games. He also homered off Kluber, a majestic blast to right that gives him six over his last 12.

With Jose Abreu out for the Cleveland series due to another unusual and intimate malady — an infection on his thigh stemming from an ingrown hair — Palka pretty much has the White Sox’ home run lead locked up. With all due respect, that’s something that should’ve never happened. To his credit, he’s doing his damndest to make his one strength stronger. The combination of walks and homers gives him a .293/.383/.782 in September.

As we’ve discussed lately, one of the most frustrating facets of this season is the White Sox’ collective inability to convert any of these opportunities, especially on the position-player side. Nobody has quite done more with more. Omar Narvaez comes closest, but his work behind the plate still makes him a backup at best, so the Sox are still waiting for somebody to transcend their original label. Until that happens, we’ll have to settle for Engel and Palka stretching their one skill as far as humanly possible.

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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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Josh Nelson

If only we could merge two players into one…Adam Palka would be a pretty good.

NDSox12

Welington Narvaez would probably be a pretty good catcher too.

Ted Mulvey

What the Sox need, then, is a highly advanced, super secret lab where — disregarding the moral and ethical considerations — they combine useful, but disparate skill sets from separate players into one great player.

I see no problems with this.

Lurker Laura

Last year, I was rooting for science to develop Nicky Engel or Adam Delmonico.

Sophist

they’d probably just wind up with a bunch of toolsy outfielders.

tommytwonines

The Sox will have the worst all-around outfield in the majors next year. Eloy? God, we need it.  

Holland23

Don’t worry about Eloy. He’s working on his defense in the Minors. Hahn said so himself.

yinkadoubledare

Palka adding walks would make him a strong DH candidate for the long half of a DH platoon on a legit team. I don’t love DH platoons but if Davidson can also pitch credibly (and I really hope they have him working on it offseason and spring training to strengthen and get some endurance to do so), he’s not taking a spot solely as “short half of DH platoon/occasional Abreu rest day” but adding some other value, and I mind a lot less.

metasox

I could see a competitive team carrying platoon DHs. I don’t see the rebuilding Sox using a roster spot in that way. If the short side of a DH platoon is all Davidson is to the Sox (and not adding much other value, as mentioned), then let him move on. And let Palka see if he can improve against left handers. Better to give a roster spot to a guy off the scrap heap or a Rule 5 pick who might have a future with the team.

And I question if Davidson being a meaningful part of the bullpen while he DHs is just fun blog fantasy. I certainly don’t expect to see it

Otter

I think we’re selling Palka short here. Guys who hit 25 home runs aren’t that easy to find and guys who hit 35-40 homers even more so (not that Palka would hit 35+ with 600 PA, but that’s roughly his pace). He is a very good against righties. He carries an elite ISO and a very good SLG. That’s the good news.

Yes, Chris Carter is still playing baseball currently in AAA in the Angels system and it appears won’t have a MLB plate appearance in 2018. He’s the easy Palka comp (though Palka is five years younger). I realize that Palka is DH/1B only. He should only face righties. And the OBP is poor and he strikes out way too much.

But a slight reduction in strike outs and an up tick in walks and we’re cooking with a masher of righties. If not, we’ve got a younger Chris Carter. Palka might be closer to a real thing than we’re giving him credit.

Eagle Bones

Yeah there are a couple of things that would make him useful. He could improve his defense, which seems pretty unlikely (at least in a meaningful way), he could improve his plate discipline (which seems possible given the pop he’s showed and the walk rates he’s run in the minors) and/or he could form a real platoon split (which he has one now, but he hasn’t in the minors IIRC). The last two seem possible and would make him a useful player.

knoxfire30

Chris carter has been in my mind for a long time while watching Palka this year. Palka benefits from the sox horrific ability to find home run hitters in a hitter friendly environment but he is just a 1 trick pony. The defense and baserunning ability will never get better. The K and walk rates getting better are possible but you have to factor in that if he actually played vs lefties they may get worse, they may also get worse as more of an MLB scouting report is formed against him. Palka is going to be a fun piece to watch mash some homers in what will likely be another dumpster fire year in 2019 but long term Im not expecting anything. His best hope is the sox continuing to punt on finding home run hitters and davidson continuing to pitch out of the pen. The saving of a roster spot by Davidson being a 12th or 13th arm on a team may let the sox carry Palka as a platoon DH into 2020 or beyond.

Otter

I guess what I should really be asking (and the White Sox): what’s more likely, Palka cuts the Ks a bit and increases the walks OR that a healthy Avi can do something similar to what he did in 2017 only with some BABIP regression but more power?

When I frame the question that way, maybe bringing Avi back makes sense.

Eagle Bones

Doesn’t that question only really make sense if they decide to buy this offseason? I’m still undecided on how aggressive they should be, but if they decide to sit tight again and give the internal options more run, it’s pretty easy to see both of them in the lineup on a regular basis.

Otter

I can tell you right now I am firmly in the “buy pitching” camp.

I think they’re better off waiting on non-Harper/Machado position players, and we know those two aren’t coming to the South Side.

Greg Nix

But that question is only relevant for 2019, unless you think the Sox should sign Avi to an extension. If Palka can turn into a 2-win player making the league minimum for another couple years, that’s more valuable than Avi recapturing his 3-4 win form then walking.

Otter

True, and I’m at the point where they should just let Avi walk. So I’m almost coming at from a “is Avi good use of a roster spot” which probably means they should let him walk. Time is a flat circle.

Greg Nix

Palka should be the full-time DH to start next season. And the Sox should acquire a higher-upside CF than Engel.

And that’s My Two Cents.
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