Spare Parts: No need to over-plan Jake Burger’s immediate future

On the latest edition of the Sox Machine Podcast, Josh, FromThe108’s BeefLoaf and I talked about what we think Jake Burger can ultimately give this White Sox team, and I’m surprised I beat a 108er in drawing a comparison between Burger and Daniel Palka.

There’s are the numbers, which are close enough when accounting for the difference in baseballs:

  • Palka 2018: .240/.294/.484, 110 OPS+, 109 wRC+
  • Burger 2021: .245/.289/.434, 107 OPS+, 109 wRC+

There are also similarities in body type and platoon limitations, although Burger is more athletic, and his susceptibility against right-handed pitching isn’t as final as Palka’s struggles against lefties.

But beyond the tangible and trackable parallels, Burger brings Palka to mind because the quality of previous plate appearances don’t seem to have any bearing on his ability to deliver if the game finds him. He’ll go from being overmatched and out of the box in four pitches to making the team’s only hard contact of the game, preferably in a big spot.

There are too many bad at-bats for me to trust what Burger could do if the White Sox cemented a larger role. In James Fegan’s write-up of Burger’s in-season revival, he puts a finer point on my general suspicions about Burger facing any and all right-handed pitchers:

On the flip side, Burger is hitting .241/.281/.407 against right-handers for his career, .210/.247/.333 this season, and .154/.241/.269 since being recalled — although that last figure comes with pretty good strikeout-to-walk numbers (20.7 percent to 10.3 percent) and just awful BABIP luck in a tiny sample. Whether it’s due to concerns about hand load, a big forward lunge in his swing that gets him out on his front foot too much to react to off-speed pitches in time, or just track record, league scouts are skeptical that a big improvement against right-hand pitching is coming through regular play. Whereas part-time, matchup-based deployment (he’s been notably good against groundball pitchers) would allow him to use his smarts to ambush heaters — or as was the case this weekend in Tampa, changeups. He gets identified by rival team scouts as a good bench player, and the best bench players perennially look like they are deserving of more. Burger seems to make the most of his opportunities, and after all, he’s waited too long for them.

Had Fegan not wrote this, my leading thought would’ve been “It’s not surprising when Burger hits a grounder to the left side,” and then I would’ve had to figure out how to elaborate on that hunch. Burger’s come up with a few of the biggest hits of the season over the last 10 days. In between that, he also has the second-least clutch game in baseball this season, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout, a double play and six stranded in the 6-5 loss to Toronto on May 31. He’s tied for the team lead in double plays despite the fewest plate appearances, and I’d be concerned that other teams could mitigate his efforts if they made it a priority.

Still, as long as Yoán Moncada is battling vague leg, Yasmani Grandal is working through his more known lower-body issues, and Gavin Sheets needs that kind of Charlotte slow-down Burger said he benefited from, there’s no harm in playing Burger as much as possible. His flaws seem evident and exploitable, but after Andrew Vaughn, Luis Robert and José Abreu, who would you rather see in the box? Adam Engel and Danny Mendick, maybe, but only because they’ve received their opportunities to fail, and have improved enough to see regular action.

That’s about the limit of my thinking right now, because it seems like the kind of situation that will resolve itself one way or another. Maybe Burger’s a mirage. Maybe Moncada can’t stay in the lineup and Burger is the default choice. Maybe Moncada’s better at third, but the Sox don’t have a DH, and Burger is the most suitable there. Outside of placing Grandal on the injured list for Carlos Pérez, there’s no apparent immediate action to be taken, nor a confident timetable for knowing when one will emerge.

SPARE PARTS

Like the Burger conversation above, there isn’t much of a point in figuring out Mendick’s larger future until 1) Tim Anderson returns, and 2) Mendick shows the ability to sustain average play as a regular. That said, this Tony La Russa quote is worth filing away in case one of these unproven players emerges as the real best option:

La Russa has started Mendick in every game but one since Anderson’s injury. When Anderson returns, La Russa might consider playing Mendick at second. Harrison (.181/.265/.276) and Garcia (.189/.199/.265) have played 22 and 27 games, respectively, at second with minimal production.

‘‘Danny’s playing real well, and that’s supposed to be the criteria, right?’’ La Russa said.

It’s not yet known whether Dallas Keuchel had MLB opportunities, or whether his best path back to MLB success involved a reunion with former Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, who is currently in that role for the Diamondbacks. However it happened, he chose the latter, and he’ll report to Triple-A Reno to start.

Steve Stone made his broadcasting debut on ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball” back on June 7, 1982, so when he returns to the booth tonight after a week off, the White Sox will be celebrating his 40th anniversary.

When looking up the production the White Sox received from Grandal and Reese McGuire for the aforementioned post about calling up Carlos Pérez, I was surprised that five teams were getting less from their catchers. It’s yet another byproduct of receiving being paramount for the position.

The four-seamer at or above the top of the zone is no longer an automatic out pitch. It’s still a bear for hitters to square up, as evidenced by the above-average pop-up rates that are effectively as good as a swing and miss, but adjustments have finally taken root.

The Yankees’ league-best 39-15 record shows that Josh Donaldson’s combustible presence doesn’t lose games for a good team, but there’s an argument that he can’t elevate fringe teams if his body won’t allow him to play defense.

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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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a-t

That scouting evaluation of Burger matches the untrained eye’s evaluation. I think of him in terms of a FG blurb describing not him but Mercedes: “I tend to think his epicurean sensibilities at the plate would undermine his ability to play every day. Instead, I think if he’s deployed in situations where the opposing pitcher can’t pitch around him and has to throw strikes, he’ll be a very, very dangerous late-game hitter.”

HallofFrank

In general, I have more confidence in Burger developing into a legit good hitter (and not only a mistake masher) than Mercedes (or Palka). I remember Callis in particular being really high on Burger’s bat. And he’s got a case for the strangest development path to the majors ever: two achilles injuries and a pandemic.

All this to say: Burger strikes me as more of a real prospect than the guys he’s getting comps to (not to say the comps are wrong). I’ll be interested to see where he is in a year with regular time.

a-t

The approach is the issue. He’s got the contact, he’s got the power, he can defend a position credibly albeit not plus, but he goes after (and, crucially, misses) pitches not the zone too often. Tim and Luis are even more aggressive, but it’s fine, because they get absurdly good results on contact even on pitches out of the zone. Burger does not, so he needs to produce a *lot* of power when he does hit the ball to be average or a little above. He does look noticeably better by process as well as results since coming back from AAA, so we’ll see if that holds. It’s still a 40-grade miracle that the guy is in the bigs after those devastating Achilles injuries, and 50-grade miracle that he’s doing so while playing a generally acceptable 3B.

Last edited 19 days ago by a-t
calcetinesblancos

My favorite part about Burger is how unexpectedly speedy he is.

chipporter

It’s certainly a benefit that he can man a position credibly, unlike either of the comparison players.

dongutteridge

https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-trade-candidates-for-each-team-in-2022

Good to know the Sox have minor league pitching to trade to fill their holes.

soxygen

I would probably tire of seeing Burger in the field as our every day 3rd baseman for an extended time, but he makes the easy plays and doesn’t embarrass himself. Timely hitting, on the other hand, never gets old and can make up for any number of other shortcomings in a guy who plays periodically and/or at the bottom of the order.

Last edited 19 days ago by soxygen
Alfornia Jones

When/if Moncada comes back, they should do a straight up platoon with Burger at 3B to keep Yoan fresh. Cut Harrison, keep Mendick for 2B platoon with Leury. Send Sheets down when Eloy comes back; Vaughn regular LF and Eloy is DH with a lot of rest. C should be straight up platoon, and Grandal doesn’t deserve any reps at DH. Engel is regular RF with Pollack getting a couple starts per week and late inning work, at least until Engel breaks down.

They can’t fix the right handednees problem, but they need to better define roles and protect the china dolls. They have to find a way to re-establish value in Jimenez so they can flip him for something at the end of the year. If nothing else they need to get rid of two of their 5 DH’s before the start of next year. They still have chance to win the division and get swept in the WC round.

Malkatraz

Cut Harrison, keep Mendick for 2B platoon with Leury.

Who’s playing shortstop?

itaita

Well there’s your problem. The Sox shouldn’t of stopped at 8 games.

dwjm3

I’d take him over LaRussa.

chipporter

No way, that’s out of the fire and into the frying pan.

GrinnellSteve

2 high-profile veteran managers have been fired. The cover is growing for Rick to make a similar move.

a-t

The problem is that it is clearly not Rick’s call

chipporter

A discussion requires more than an individual, so in that regard, Nightengale may be wrong.

Unless of course, Jerry talks to himself.

Last edited 19 days ago by chipporter
shaggy65

Assuming Moncada ever gets mostly healthy, Burger should be an intriguing trade chip in July or December.

He was the #11 pick in the draft, so the pedigree is there for him to develop into an everyday player.