White Sox offense still reliant on lefty success, but with a couple new wrinkles

While it’s producing a lot more walks while trailing the league in homers, there isn’t a whole lot separating the 2021 White Sox from its previous version when it comes to its general shape.

The White Sox had a 4-1 week on the road against Cincinnati and Kansas City, outscoring the Reds and Royals 30-5. Lucas Giolito was the only starter to allow a run. Tony La Russa was in the enviable position of finding things for relievers to do.

But if you look inside the week, you’ll notice that they beat up on lefties for two of their easy wins, while right-handed pitchers held the Sox scoreless for 14 consecutive innings. They’re a baseball-best 7-1 against lefties, and .500 against righties. The records align with the offensive performances. The Sox slaughter southpaws up and down the card, but only two of their starters — Yermín Mercedes and Tim Anderson — have an OPS above or even approaching .800 against righties. Also, La Russa stumbled the one time in-game decision-making could swing a game, which is why the confidence in the manager doesn’t match the run differential.

What the White Sox do have year-over-year, at least 30 games into the season, is starting pitching that can keep them in every game. That’s something that can mask offensive deficiencies, and it has to the extent that the bullpen has been the unit taking the heat for late-game losses. There’s no question multiple White Sox relievers have underachieved for the majority of the young season, but the White Sox having the AL’s third-worst offense against bullpens — which can deploy righties at will — makes the issue feel more acute. Last year’s 8-3 losses are 4-3 losses this time around.

The White Sox have ways to improve against lefties without counting on the righties getting better, specifically Yoán Moncada (.253/.365/.402 vs. RHP this year) and the catchers (Yasmani Grandal is 4-for-55 with 19 walks). But this is one of the areas where the White Sox miss Eloy Jiménez, and it’s OK for grief to resurface when you least expect.

This feels unnecessarily dour after a 4-1 week, but it’s more to point out that the White Sox have some element of predictability to them that’s worked in their favor thus far. When it looked like the last homestand had six wins in it, the White Sox went 6-3. When it looked like they could prolong the miseries of a Kansas City team that lost five straight, they endured the first four innings of Brad Keller to pave their way for a leisurely weekend sweep at Kauffman Stadium.

This upcoming series against Minnesota is a little foggier, what with Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda starting two of the games. Both have posed problems for the White Sox during their Minnesota careers, and if the White Sox are by and large the same kind of team they were at the plate, it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost two out of three and had fans and radio hosts frothing over something La Russa did or didn’t do. That said, if the Twins took care of business in the manner they expected, they wouldn’t be 12-20. As long as the Sox have starting pitching like this, there aren’t many games to automatically file away as losses.

* * * * * * * * *

As we wait for an off day to pass, I like what La Russa did by putting Danny Mendick in right field for consecutive games against lefties, even though Mendick had never played the position professionally. That’s something previous White Sox teams were loath to do, even when rotating Moncada or Yolmer Sánchez for an occasional tour in left field would’ve unlocked a whole lot of possibilities the previous two seasons. Alas, when Jiménez suffered his untimely injury late last year, Rick Renteria looked at his roster and thought a one-handed Leury García was the best option for the Wild Card series. He wasn’t.

Mendick rewarded the coaching staff for its boldness. He went 2-for-8 at the plate, but both hits drove in runs — a two-run homer on Saturday, and an RBI single on Sunday. He saw nine balls hit in his direction, and each one had the expected outcome. If there was evidence of his inexperience, I might’ve seen some increasing apprehension with every stride toward the fence, but it didn’t factor into any play.

Right field is still going to rely on Eaton to step up against righties, so it’s not like playing Mendick a couple games in right field will swing a season. Still, it’s a nice way to dodge a couple of traps the absences of Jiménez, Luis Robert and Adam Engel can present, like playing a banged-up Eaton against lefties, or using Billy Hamilton more than absolutely necessary. Taking a guy like Mendick who possesses reasonable athleticism and defensive ability elsewhere and throwing him in right field raises that bar for “absolutely necessary,” and establishes a precedent for more creative problem-solving when the Sox encounter other crises down the line.

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

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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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tommytwonines

I never cared for the “year-over-year” and the “year-on-year” movement, being a former communications manager myself, Jim. There’s nothing wrong with making a comparison like this with “to”.

Last edited 1 year ago by tommytwonines
tommytwonines

Okay. I want you to use “year-to-year” sometime this season. Make it happen before it’s gone forever.

Don’t you really mean “year after year” in this post?

Last edited 1 year ago by tommytwonines
Richard

Not to prolong this “usage” debate, but the dictionary definition of “year after year” is “If something happens year after year, it happens regularly every year.
Regulars return year after year.”

I hope in the not to distant future we can say that Sox pitching can keep them consistently in every game but that seems premature now based on what has happened in the past few years.

tommytwonines

Wasn’t that what Jim was saying?

It’s confusing if that’s not the case. You need to set the parameters and time frame.

ThisReallySox

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

tommytwonines

Are you actually shouting is your keyboard on CAPS LOCK!

Last edited 1 year ago by tommytwonines
texag10

KISS! KISS! KISS!

As Cirensica

Sir, this is an Arby’s

rugbysox

I will take the beef over beef please.

calcetinesblancos

Don’t you hate pants?

Willardmarshall

Eloy’s defense looks even more problematic given how easily a couple of repurposed infielders adapt to the corners….

Right Size Wrong Shape

I think a decent middle infielder should always be able to play passable outfield defense if you give him a week to work on it.

Heck. Pitchers have good arms and shag fly balls during BP right? Throw Matt Foster out there as a defensive replacement till he gets his pitching sorted out. Make Cease a Two-Way player while we’re at it.

soxfan

Ipso ergo facto, Jimenez would not be a decent middle infielder.

Trooper Galactus

One of whom is basically a 30-grade runner.

To Err is Herrmann

I always thought right field was where they stuck the worst player on the team. I was mired in right field for two seasons of Little League, and the coach made it clear that this was because I stunk. What happens between Little League and Major League Baseball wherein all of a sudden right field must be handled by a specialist?

dwjm3

Ahhhh the classic meathead little league coach who thinks it is wise to just tuck the kids he believes have lesser skills in the outfield. I had a few of those coaches.

I also had a coach one year in little league who played minor league ball and didn’t have any allegiance to any player (ie: kid on the team). He coached us up and actually played guys in positions that they had the skillset for. Lo and behold we went out and won the title.

Last edited 1 year ago by dwjm3
dwjm3

Classic memories…Your Grandpa sounds like a character.

joewho112

There aren’t many lefthanded batter in Little League. There are a lot in the MLB. A LL rightfielder might get 9x fewer chances than a leftfielder.

Foulkelore

What joewho112 said, plus a mistake in LF is less likely to turn a single into a triple than a mistake in RF.

soxfan

Not to brag, but I was so bad they actually moved me around the outfield in late innings depending on closeness of the game and the handedness of the batter.

dwjm3

I think that is just plain cruel in little league

calcetinesblancos

“What happens between Little League and Major League Baseball…”

In short, a lot.

lifelongjd

I like them coming up with ways to get better talent on the field, especially when it’s limited due to injuries. Mendick represents a much better option than Hamilton and Garcia (vs lefties).
Their hitting approach has been great, besides extra innings. They’re taking walks and making contact and thus haven’t been reliant on the home run for run generation. I really like the effect Menechino has had on our hitters up and down the order.

jhomeslice

Adam Eaton was their lone offseason move to address their problems against right handed pitching. Is it a mystery why those problems continue? I had hoped for more from Moncada. If he starts to rake a lot better it would give them a boost, along with Grandal hopefully hitting a lot better than barely above .100.

Obviously losing Eloy hurt a lot, as he was more than adequate vs righties in 2020, hitting 10 of his homers against them. However, their plan going into the season was Vaughn at DH, not Mercedes. If Eloy were healthy, they might have stubbornly stuck with Vaughn at DH like they did last year with EE and never had any idea how good Mercedes was. Why Yermin was not their DH starting in September of last year is beyond stupid, but that’s another story. Now what to do if Eloy comes back in September… stick him in left field again and hold our breath hoping he doesn’t hurt himself or someone else? I can’t see Eloy coming back from injury and replacing Mercedes at DH at the very end of this season unless Yermin tails off in a huge way. I’d be in favor of seeing how awful Yermin would be in left field… would he be worse than Schwarber? Unless he can play out there, it pretty much means they would be forced to use Eloy in left again if he can play at all this year, I guess. His complete lack of body awareness in the field really makes their LF/DH picture murky going forward. They stuck Vaugn in left which isn’t a great fit… how about giving Yermin a few innings late in games that are not close, just to see what happens? I’m far from convinced that Vaughn is going to be a better hitter than Mercedes starting in 2022, unless Vaughn makes great strides in the coming months. Their best lineup for 2022 would probably be Yermin and Eloy in LF/DH the way it looks now.

Joliet Orange Sox

I’m way more optimistic about Vaughn that you are. He has a good eye and hits the ball hard (90th percentile in average exit velocity). I actually think Vaughn is ahead of where one might expect for a player with so few professional plate appearances. I agree Vaughn needs to improve but I don’t he needs miracles to be a really good major league player. I also don’t share your view that Mercedes is likely as good an outfielder as Vaughn.

With the injuries, the Sox have plenty of AB’s right now to figure out who Mercedes and Vaughn are. I hope Vaughn stays up with the big club and continues to get AB’s playing left field.

shaggy65

Vaughn is basically a league-average left fielder at this point–both offensively and defensively. Considering his very limited experience in the majors and in the outfield, I’m pretty optimistic about his upside. In my mind left field is his to lose, even when Eloy comes back.

jhomeslice

I’m not down on Vaughn, only noting that right now Mercedes is clearly the better hitter. Vaughn has never played above A ball prior to this year, so he is doing pretty well actually. I never expected him to do that well this year because of that. Yermin killed it in 2019 at AAA and had several more seasons in the minors to develop than Vaughn, who had almost none, only a couple months at A ball no less. Their relative levels of success make perfect sense. I think it may take most of this year and maybe next for Vaughn to start to become a dangerous MLB level hitter with power, which Mercedes clearly already is.

I also don’t think Mercedes is likely a better outfielder. I’m only suggesting that since many players like Schwarber get stuck in left because they don’t have a position, that maybe Mercedes might be able to be a similar defensive outfielder to Schwarber (barely good enough to get by). Mercedes does have a great arm which would be a plus for him defensively. Only suggesting to give them some flexibility in terms of ways to get both Yermin and Eloy in the lineup, if Eloy actually comes back in September.

Anyway I’m optimistic on both Vaughn and Mercedes, but if Eloy comes back in September and their offense is struggling a bit, Vaughn is the one Eloy should replace, unless there is a lot less of a gap between Vaughn and Yermin as hitters by then.

Last edited 1 year ago by jhomeslice
Greg Nix

It wouldn’t shock me if next year’s Opening Day outfield is Jimenez-Robert-Vaughn. I don’t think there’s any way Mercedes can play out there, though.

texag10

Your unrealistic expectations aren’t really the fault of the players though. Like Joliet said, Vaughn has been a lot better than you seem to give him credit for. The underlying statcast numbers aren’t really all dissimilar between the two of them. Vaughn actually consistently makes harder contact but his launch angle is much lower than Mercedes leading to less damage being done.

More importantly, Moncada is running a 124 wRC+ against righties this year. He’s not to his 2019 numbers but part of that is due to running a much lower BABIP and even then, his OBP is still nearly identical thanks to walking almost twice as often as in 2019. Moncada is not an issue against righties on this team.

I’d actually like to see Moncada, Vaughn, and Grandal (especially so) get a little more aggressive at the plate. I don’t mind guys taking walks if they are going to throw 4 straight balls but, Vaughn especially, seem to watch some good strikes go by to end up striking out.

jhomeslice

Apologies, I did not state my take on Vaughn clearly. I am not down on him at all, nor did I expect him to do well in 2021 in MLB since he has never played above A ball. Even Eloy and Robert had substantial time at AAA, I don’t see how anybody could expect Vaughn to kill it on the Sox this year without any time in the minors. I can’t recall any hitter jumping from A ball to the majors and doing well right away, not in Sox history at least. I’m only stating that Mercedes has been so good thus far that if Eloy makes it back in September and really does not have a lot of time to play to get ready, that it might not make much sense for him to replace Mercedes at DH if Yermin continues to be one of the best hitters on the team. And for that reason, if indeed Eloy does make it back and looks like he can hit even at 80 percent, my guess is he will be out there in left field again. We’ll see. I hope Engel comes back before June, geez… he could really give them a boost, and is probably the best CF option they will have this year unfortunately.

calcetinesblancos

I would expect Moncada to hit for more power once it warms up, but for now I’m really glad he seems to be feeling better in general than he did last year. He’s getting on base and driving in runs, so I’m happy.

Trooper Galactus

I liked trying Mendick out in right. Made a lot more sense to me than trying Vaughn out in left (which is turning out better than I expected, but still causes me some apprehension in the long haul).