July 10, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie (12) receives congratulations from manager Robin Ventura (23) after he hits a home run in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Can Conor hang? Gillaspie at the mid-year break


July 10, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie (12) receives congratulations from left fielder Dayan Viciedo (24) after he hits a home run in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Conor Gillaspie’s statistical line never looks as good as I think it should. After a 2-4 Wednesday night in Detroit where he scored twice and whipped his seventh home run of the season into the middle of the right field stands, Gillaspie only just eclipsed the .700 OPS barrier (.255/.310/.394) for the season.

He has only three hits in his last 17, thanks in no small part to being the only Sox hitter with shoddy luck on his line drives Tuesday night. Conor’s hanging in there, but he’s not doing well, per say. It requires context to argue that he’s even an asset.

The White Sox offense is in the rare situation where something can be said for looking like a ballplayer. In a lineup full of fatally flawed hackers, Gillaspie has no burning issue to be exploited in embarrassing fashion. He has a professional approach, doesn’t take himself out of at-bats early and draws a walk at an average rate despite not having much to intimidate pitchers with. His power is below-average, but it’s a product of his risk-adverse, level swing, not an Alexei-like evaporation of an ability to drive the ball. Giving him something elevated on the inner portion at unimpressive velocity–like the 87 mph sinker Rick Porcello left up–is a crime with potentially serious repercussions.

The only point of objection is his contact rate. Gillaspie’s 20% K-rate is certainly acceptable on this team or in general, but it’s too high for his ability to put the ball in play to serve as an asset. With his skill set and history, that’s the only area worth wasting time hoping on, and third basemen who can’t crack 20 HR or 60 walks need something.

Conor’s a platoon player, for sure. He’s league average vs. righties (.270/.333/.418), with his total line dragged down by him being 6-38 with one extra-base hit against same-handed pitching. I’ve raised hell the handful of times he’s started against southpaws in the past couple of months, but it’s hard to expect much more judiciousness–they had to figure out who he is. Now that they know, the times he’s left out to dry are minimal.

If we take the total numbers for the year, then Gillaspie is what the Sox were hoping to get out of Brent Morel in 2011, even if the recent sight of Morel’s throwing arm reminds where the scouting reports between him and Gillaspie differ. Conor is cheap (still without a year of service time) and decent, allowing the Sox to focus themselves on trying to squeeze offensive value at positions they might more easily find supplies at. Gillaspie needs a platoon partner, but the easy half to find. Theoretically but not demonstrably, Morel or Jeff Keppinger would be capable.

About a month ago, during another stretch where Conor was appearing competent, this time by diving and stopping balls with his glove and not looking like the rest of the defense, I felt compelled to cold water the whole situation and point out that Gillaspie had been a sub-.600 OPS hitter from the start of May through the start of what wound up being an even worse June. His season log still looks like a case of one big April followed by the work of a Quad-A guy. Gillaspie turning 26 in a week also dampens optimism that he’ll just continue to improve his contact rate as well.

But he’s producing now, which is too sacred of a quality to be dismissed. Gillaspie simply wouldn’t be a White Sox hitter without a troublesome footnote, but for all the patience Rick Hahn & Co. will have to show to their struggling young hitters, Gillaspie demands the least.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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