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**Lights go down, the orchestra plays. A very handsome and distinguished man in a tuxedo appears onstage.**
Hello, and welcome to the first ever Chicago White Sox Good/Bad Awards. I’m your host, Greg Nix.
**The crowd goes wild at the mention of my name. I faux-modestly signal for silence, and the applause dies down.**
The goal of these awards is two-fold: to highlight some under-discussed aspects of the White Sox’ performance over the last month, and to create the most prestigious prize in American history. These imaginary trophies, which in my mind look something like this, will surely receive prominent placement in the memorabilia collections of those recognized.
I’ll be handing out four awards for March/April 2018:
- Good Individual Performance
- Good Team Performance
- Bad Individual Performance
- Bad Team Performance
Rather than continue beating the same talking points to death (i.e. RISP struggles, Moncada’s K rate, hideous bullpen performance), I’d like to point out some slightly less obvious performances and try to determine what they might mean moving forward.
With that said, let’s announce the first honoree. The award for Good Individual Performance goes to…
Tim Anderson‘s Plate Discipline
Anderson’s increased walk rate has been discussed a fair amount – and with good reason, as walking an extra 5% of the time substantially raises both his floor and ceiling. But as he reaches 100 plate appearances, it’s worth noting that he’s ALSO striking out 5.6% less than his career rate (through Friday’s game).
Anderson is swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone than he did in 2017, while making more contact when he does swing. That combination has helped put him in better counts; he’s found himself in an 0-2 hole only 18.8% of the time this year, compared to 26.6% of the time last year – a potentially important development, considering his .113/.124/.170 line in 0-2 counts last season.
K-rate and BB-rate are two of the first statistics to stabilize, which means that Anderson may be establishing a new true-talent level. Even accounting for some possible regression, he already looks like a more reliable bet to be part of the next Sox contender than he was coming into the season.
The award for Good Team Performance goes to…
The 2018 Chicago White Sox have not excelled at many things — an understatement akin with saying Sox fans grew a bit weary of Robin Ventura’s placid demeanor.
However, one advantage of being a young team stocked with upside? They’ve got some burners. Take a look at the Statcast Sprint Speed leaderboard, and you’ll find it stocked with Sox:
In fact, Matt Davidson and the catching tandem of Welington Castillo and Omar Narvaez are the only below-average runners on the roster, as measured by Sprint Speed. (For those curious, Jose Abreu clocks in around league average.)
As a team, they rank second in the majors in weighted Stolen Base Runs, powered by top-25 performances from Anderson, Moncada, and Yolmer Sanchez. They’re a comparatively modest 12th in Ultimate Base Running, a more comprehensive statistic — evidence that they still run into too many dumb outs. But the fact that this particular White Sox club ranks in the top half of any facet of the game is encouraging. Baserunning should become an even greater strength as Anderson and Moncada gain experience, and are eventually joined by other fast young players like Luis Robert.
Before I announce the next award, let’s take a moment to remember those we lost this April:
Rest in Milwaukee, Tyler. Without further ado, April’s Bad Individual Performance award goes to….
Lucas Giolito’s Off-Speed Stuff
Giolito’s struggles are perhaps the most disappointing individual result over the first month of 2018, thanks in part to his extremely hittable changeup and curveball. According to Fangraphs’ individual pitch metrics, Giolito’s fastball has garnered roughly league average results thus far, but his primary off-speed pitches have been two of the worst in baseball: he’s thrown the 13th-worst changeup and the 10th-worst curveball among qualified starters.
Struggles with command mean Giolito has left his changeup in the middle of the zone far too often. As a result, the pitch has garnered just six whiffs (four of which came in his most recent outing), and opponents are batting .385 against it with a .615 slugging percentage.
His curveball, meanwhile, is breaking an extra five inches horizontally this year, while losing an inch of vertical movement. The resulting slurvy offering hasn’t fooled batters, who have whiffed just twice and are hitting .400 against it.
Leaning on his slider might help Giolito, at least until he finds a better feel for the changeup and curve. While it was supposed to be his least impressive off-speed offering as a prospect, the slider became his second most productive pitch in 2017, and he’s maintained that effectiveness throwing it about 15% of the time this season.
Finally, the award for Bad Team Performance goes to…
The White Sox outfield ranks last in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (-14). This is not what they were hoping for when Adam Engel won the centerfield job. Engel is the biggest offender (or smallest defender, depending on your phraseology) at -7 DRS, third-worst in the majors. But all five outfielders are struggling — not one has been average or better.
The entire outfield fares better according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average, but the comprehensive suckitude as measured by DRS (as well as Ultimate Zone Rating) begs the question of whether this is a systemic issue. Rick Renteria has said in the past that he prefers to position his outfielders on the shallow side, in order to prevent bloop singles that might frustrate his pitchers. Of course, the trade-off is an increased likelihood of extra-base hits, which hmm, probably also frustrates pitchers and might contribute to the outfield’s poor metrics. This brings to mind the 2016 Pirates outfield positioning experiment that caused Andrew McCutchen to put up one of the worst defensive seasons on record.
Jason Benetti and Steve Stone mentioned during the Seattle series that the Sox are planning to borrow the Mariners’ practice of giving the outfield batter-specific index cards to help them remember exact positioning while in the field, so perhaps their defensive numbers will improve as the season moves forward. Or maybe they’ll get worse, I dunno, I’m just the awards host.
**Music plays. All the honorees join me on stage, like the end of Saturday Night Live. They’re very confused as to where they are and how they got here.**
Well folks, we’ve had a lot of laughs… and a few tears (we’ll never forget you, Tyler). For everyone here at the Good/Bad Awards — goodnight and good Sox!