The White Sox offensive output from their infield is a curious brand of terrible. They’re a Jeff Keppinger collapse and a Paul Konerko end-stage decline from having no true black holes. Now, that’s still two black holes too many, and 2011 has horribly warped our conception of what a true lineup problem is. But they’re really close!
Keppinger and Konerko are hitting really poorly, but neither is in the debate for worst season of all-time as of yet, soooooo…we’re good, right?!
But say Konerko retires or isn’t re-signed because lefty-mashing statues have low utility and Keppinger slides into the utility role that seemed inevitable for the last year of his deal right away. That leaves a fairly entrenched duo of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez, Conor Gillaspie capable of hitting roughly league-average as the left-handed part of a platoon, and Adam Dunn, who’s recent slumps suggests his mid-season adjustment is more likely to keep him simply usable than launch him back to All-Star levels.
All these guys are playable enough, but not a one of them is an above-average offensive contributor given his role. The Sox need someone to pull them out of the muck just as much as they need to stop diving deeper into it.
Beckham looked to be that guy (not that there should only be one), but his new approach of crouching down to counteract his previous lust for high fastballs has granted him near-elite contact ability but has not restored his power. As a result, he’s been bit hard by his reliance on balls in play over his last 40 starts to the tune of a .217/.301/.316 batting line. Power and patience aren’t just coveted by statheads because we hate batting average and want people to feel bad, but because if a hitter’s ability to reach base on by walk remains consistent, or if he stings the ball whenever he squares it up, there’s a limit to how bad the cold snaps get.
Gordon’s mini-revival is positive and desperately needed, but his role as possibly the best position player on the team, or even an offensive asset is a miscast.
Marcus Semien making a debut at third base raised an eyebrow, since while he was still getting a hold on the level jump to Triple-A and only playing 23 games at the hot corner this season, he’s a player who’s been gaining esteem due to his bat, and wouldn’t have to do much even in a brief audition at third to carve out a space for himself. If Keppinger returned to anywhere close to normal, he could serve as a platoon partner to Gillaspie, but that arrangement is still more of a stopgap than an offensive building block.
Pushing Semien in an MLB debut more motivated by expanded rosters than graduation smacks of White Sox rush jobs of yesteryear, but that’s hardly been enough to stop them before.
Whether or not September plays out in an interesting way for Semien, the reality that the Sox need to find outside help to shore up the offensive output of this group remains. Konerko can only help a platoon, which is convenient since Adam Dunn (.202/.301/.395 vs. lefties this season) could use one. Unfortunately so could Triple-A first basemen Andy Wilkins. And then that’s pretty much it for anyone worth looking for the mighty offensive burden of 1B/DH for the next few years.
As much as constantly developing good pitching allows for the White Sox to consider playoff contention to always be just around the corner, going for it every year obliges them to aggressively address the issue of how to add viable bats to the organization that clearly isn’t solving itself in the immediate future. And since they keep rejecting rebuilding as a non-starter idea, let’s get out ahead and reframe the debate before the Sox can talk themselves out of Jose Abreu, or anything similarly ambitious, and praise themselves for having the divine prudence to not make a move “just to make a move.” They can either can do something about their glaring issue, their inability to put together an offense that’s finished in the top third of the AL since 2006, or they can do nothing and say they did. Ending seasons on time every year must have its own appeal.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan