No products in the cart.
With Luis Robert returning from the injured list a few days after being activated, the White Sox almost had their ideal Opening Day lineup all on the field at the same time for the opener against Texas.
- Tim Anderson, SS
- Luis Robert, DH
- Eloy Jiménez, LF
- José Abreu, 1B
- Andrew Vaughn, RF
- Yoán Moncada, 3B
- AJ Pollock, CF
- Yasmani Grandal, C
- Josh Harrison, 2B
In terms of names and order, this is about as close as optimized when balancing track records with their 2022 performances.
But it wouldn’t be the 2022 White Sox if questions didn’t remain, and the White Sox’s 3-2 loss introduced several. When it comes to problems with immediate solutions or salves, I think they can be rounded down to two.
No. 1: Isn’t Seby Zavala the primary catcher now?
The answer seems obvious. It’s just that my conviction feels slightly disingenuous given that I would’ve shrugged at the prospect of the Sox outrighting Zavala in favor of Carlos Pérez over the first three months of the season.
Zavala has twice as many extra-base hits as Grandal with less than half of Grandal’s plate appearances. While Grandal still remains above-average as a receiver, Zavala’s right there with him. If you put any stock into catcher ERA, Zavala maintains quite the edge (3.55 to 4.91). Neither is defined by his throwing.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be a little apprehensive about overexposing Zavala. He’s striking out nearly 30 percent of the time even while succeeding. Zavala says that he understands how to make quicker corrections to his balance, but there’s a chance that the league could figure out the new vulnerabilities in his approach and beat him into the ground.
It’s just hard to heed that potential pitfall when Grandal has turned the batter’s box into a bottomless pit. The utility of whatever walks he draws is sharply reduced by his first-percentile sprint speed, and he’s walked just twice over his last 10 games because pitchers realized they don’t have to be careful. Anything on the outer half will do.
Grandal is hitless in his last 21 at-bats, so while dropping him down to eighth and treating him like the Reese McGuire is the prudent thing to do when he plays, it’s probably smart to take it one step further and regard him as the backup — and that means no time at DH.
I’m not willing to say Grandal is toast just because it’d be such a staggering decline in impact from one year to another, but over the final two months and change of this season, it’s probably worth knowing what kind of burden Zavala can shoulder, in the event that a normal, surgery-free offseason can’t get Grandal back on track to salvage the last year of his deal.
No. 2: Does Andrew Vaughn actually have to play the outfield?
Vaughn had a miserable night in right field Thursday, failing to catch one ball behind him and one ball in front of him during the later innings, then colliding with AJ Pollock on a ball he did catch. I didn’t see Pollock call for it, but any collision reduces confidence in both parties.
As White Sox fans, we’re used to seeing the team punt defense in the outfield corners, which makes Vaughn’s glaring inability to cover ground all the more noteworthy. I just called Gavin Sheets a sentient armoire two days ago, and yet he inspires more confidence.
There was some mild disagreement between the metrics over Vaughn’s 838 innings in the outfield last season. Combine it with the eye test, and as long as he played left field instead of right, I was content to chalk him up as a mild liability.
This version of Vaughn has been a disaster in either corner. He’s only played 352 outfield innings this season, so extrapolating such a small sample to cover a full season can reduce his work to a caricature. But when everything points to Vaughn’s work being ghastly, showing the full-season paces for each metric makes it easier to conceptualize the damage of running him out there.
|DRS (1,200 innings)||-7||-40|
|UZR (150 games)||-0.2||-24.9|
|OAA (1,200 innings)||-7||-33|
Poking around the Statcast leaderboards, Vaughn trails only Nick Castellanos and Juan Soto in Outs Above Average, but that’s because both All-Stars have played far more outfield this season. When it comes to Statcast’s success rate metric, Vaughn is bringing up the rear by a sizable amount out of 123 qualifying outfielders.
- 121. Gavin Sheets, 81%
- 122. Joc Pederson, 81%
- 123. Andrew Vaughn, 77%
It’s even worse when sorting it by success rate added, which accounts for the difficulty of the batted balls an outfielder faces.
- 121: Nick Castellanos, -5%
- 122: Christopher Morel, -5%
- 123: Andrew Vaughn, -11%
Sheets ranks 115th out of 123 in that metric at -4%, so he’s the ordinary kind of ugly this year. Vaughn’s outfield play is off-the-charts abysmal.
“I think they were just bloops in there,” said Sox manager Tony La Russa, who was disinclined to heap blame on a spacious Globe Life Field outfield, and certainly not his player. “He wasn’t playing all that deep. Those balls were just perfectly placed. He did a heckuva job keeping the ball in front of him. We also had a bloop that fell for a triple for us too, and they don’t play deep (either). Their fielder is shallow. It’s a good-sized outfield, but we weren’t all that deep, and neither were there. Just bloops.”
… but I also wouldn’t expect La Russa to light up Vaughn, because any tirade would have to end with an acknowledgement, spoken or tacit, that La Russa’s the guy who keeps sending him out there. Vaughn’s outfield positioning card probably reads, “Just try your best. We’re very proud of you” in Jerry Narron’s calligraphy.
If you relegate Grandal to strict backup-catcher duties until he starts actually stinging the ball during his appearances, then that eliminates one candidate in Vaughn’s way for primary DH work (Vaughn hits just as well as a DH as he does anywhere else, alleviating that concern). Robert could simplify matters further by playing center field with conviction, which would free up Adam Engel for spot duty in right field while rotating Pollock and Sheets based on offensive needs. If Eloy Jiménez keeps hitting, leave him be.
Given what we’ve seen so far this season, I’d expect the condition of the players to continue to prevent the most convoluted of consequences, but these are a couple ways where La Russa can reduce liabilities without cooperation elsewhere.