The White Sox aren’t alone with lack of RISP rewards

While it seems like the White Sox seldom deliver with runners in scoring position, they’re actually faring decently. They entered the Boston series with baseball’s seventh-best OPS in such situations, and after going 2-for-12 in the opener, they’ve dropped down to … eighth in baseball, and fourth in the American League.

If you’d rather break it down to its components, it looks like this:

  • BA: .234 (17th)
  • OBP: .344 (11th)
  • SLG: .438 (8th)

And they’re no worse than the league median compared to only AL teams.

Why does it feel unsatisfying? Maybe because they’re a little light in hits while being fourth in walks behind the Dodgers, so they have the ability to draw out an inning with no payoff. However, the hits aren’t lacking in power, as only the Angels have more homers with runners on second and/or third.

If the White Sox’s problems feel acute, it’s probably due to a combination of biases, most notably an availability heuristic. You’re used to seeing the White Sox fail to capitalize on a repeated basis, while the struggles of other teams are limited to three or four games at a time.

Here’s where I recommend following bloggers or beat writers of other teams, just because it’s the easiest way to passively discover that the White Sox aren’t alone with whatever problem they’re currently battling.

I saw a few pertinent examples this week. Here are the Twins…

…. and despite those struggles, they’re 12th in baseball in OPS with runners in scoring position. They have bigger problems at the moment, dealing with a COVID count that includes vaccine decliner Andrelton Simmons.

That means there are 17 worse teams, and the Yankees are one. Here’s an article from eight days ago citing issues with runners in scoring position…

… and it’s only gotten worse from there. In an 8-2 loss to the Rays on Friday, their opener got shellacked in the first inning, they committed three errors, and they solved their RISP issues by not having a single runner advance past first base, except on a Giancarlo Stanton two-run homer. The Yankees dropped to an AL-worst 5-8, and the fans responded by throwing baseballs on the field.

They followed that up by going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position in another loss to Tampa on Saturday. They’re now hitting .222/.340/.289, good for 25th in baseball.

If you can’t imagine a worse thing going, you haven’t been following the Cubs, who found themselves mired in a hellacious teamwide drought through the season’s first fortnight.

That line dropped to .084/.204/.120 after Game No. 13. They finally busted out of that slump on Sunday by going 5-for-11 in their 13-4 victory over Atlanta on Sunday after entering that game 7-for-83. That raises their line to .128/.228/.298, so they’re out of the cellar. Somehow, Cleveland has found a way to be worse with RISP at .140/.267/.233. The White Sox just saw them, and they’ll reconvene again this week.

This isn’t to say the White Sox shouldn’t be content with the way they’re executing. It just may be the case that executing is harder than ever, especially when pitchers are maxing out with their backs against the wall. As I was starting to poke at these numbers, Joe Sheehan, who has been tracking the climb of strikeout rates for years, put it in a way that resonated with this discussion.

And when you look at the piss-poor state of the numbers across the league, we might have to recalibrate what constitutes success with runners in scoring position. For the time being, it might be best to measure the White Sox’s abilities in the clutch against the rest of the league. They stack up like this:

  • White Sox: .234/.344/.438
  • American League: .238/.326/.398

Should league average not feel relevant enough for you, you can also measure what the White Sox are doing against what they’re allowing. Sure enough, despite their own inconsistencies, White Sox pitchers are making the opponents they’ve faced look a lot like the White Sox.

  • White Sox hitters: .234/.344/.438
  • vs. White Sox pitchers: .224/.313/.402

You could maybe point fingers at approach or roster construction issues if a team struck out and popped up far too frequently with runners in scoring position. When the entire game is struggling with it, the game might have a design flaw. There’s a reason why Major League Baseball is moving the mound back a foot in the Atlantic League. You don’t need to check your biases with the White Sox’s pitching development issues to know that a couple ticks of effective velocity make a big difference in what a hitter is able to do.

(Photo by Arturo Pardavila III)

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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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vince

Great article, although waking up to “it’s the game that is fan-murdering, not the team” is next level dour for a Sunday morning.

ParisSox

Sox Machine: Bringing the dour for 15 consecutive years.
(Though it’s not really their fault.)

vince

Sox Machine: Don’t shoot the messenger

rugbysox

Jim (In his finest Don Draper voice): “That’s what the hoodies are for!”

Root Cause

Seems like a lot less hassle for everyone to change the seams on the baseball rather than move the mound back.

I would like to see some real data on how an electronic ball/strike would alter the game. Would the batter’s eye for a strike improve since the zone isn’t moving and would there be more runs early in the game because no one has to learn what a strike is the first time up?

joewho112

I am all for the robo-ump but it would make strikeouts and walks worse (at least initially). Umpires shrink the zone on 2-strike counts thus limiting strikes and grow it on 3-ball counts thus limiting walks.

The reason they are testing moving the mound is because adding a foot of distance give hitters the same amount of reaction time they had 10 years ago given that pitchers are throwing faster.

Trooper Galactus

Guess this answers my Patreon question! Amazing to see how much this has been the case league-wide.

As Cirensica

All this is making defense to increase importance and value. If scoring runs is becoming an issue for everybody, giving away runs for free becomes critical, and I think some of the White Sox losses are due to poor defense which we project to the team’s inability to hit with RISP. As the weather gets warmer so will the offense across the board. The White Sox carries a team with Latin power hitters who despite of years living in the USA, they just dislike cold weather. They will do much better soon enough.

Steve

Seems we get the professional debut of Jake Lamb, outfielder, today.

This is the part I love about TLR. Any of the “<unnamed minor leaguer> needs more time working on their defense” arguments go out the window with TLR as a manager. See Mike Squires, catcher and third baseman for further inspiration.

Anohito

Thank you Jim for addressing this with so much detail and in so much depth as you do with every analysis. This seems to be the factor so far driving me up the wall about this team second only to the massive amounts of defensive miscues. So many missed opportunities costing us games. Like even yesterday’s Moncada’s .950 XBA “grand slam” that wasn’t.
But it is interesting seeing those numbers for the other teams and how bad they are as well, guess it’s a league wide thing…
But even with that being a league wide thing, why does it feel like opponents seem to have no problem capitalizing on us with their risp? Maybe it’s bias that when the opponent has capitalized and scored runs, we lose. One of the best (worst) examples was the 10th inning vs cleveland after Beiber and Gio had exited and both teams start with runners on 2nd. They score 2. Our runner doesn’t even get to 3rd. When we see things like this it’s what makes the bias and agony get even higher.
At any rate hopefully SOMEHOW the white sox find a way to fix this for themselves or find a way to win without cashing in the clutch because the lost opportunities costing wins are piling at an alarming rate.

karkovice squad

I appreciate the deep dive.

I’m a lot more concerned about their struggles against RHP regardless of situation. One way to make situational hitting matter less is to just generate more of the situations. They’re having a lot of trouble doing that against righties.

lifelongjd

Baseballs biggest problem is on display in this article/data. The sport is becoming so boring because it’s evolved into a 3 result show, and 2/3 are very boring for fans. Sure home runs are nice and exciting, but enduring 3 hours of strikeouts and walks is taking its toll. Add in the widespread use of shifts, and there is little action going on.

Players can’t seem to be able to play fundamental baseball, especially hitting. Getting a guy over to third or hitting a sac fly is on the decline. It’s all about launch angles and defensive shifts.