When it comes to hitting, patience is a virtue. Drawing walks has obvious benefits – baserunners, avoiding outs, wearing out opposing pitchers, and so on. Further, patience is the residue of general approach and hitting skill. For example, if someone is generally working deep counts and walking a lot, that probably means that they are waiting for their pitch, and being selective about swinging at pitches they can drive instead of chasing. It makes sense that if a hitter is swinging at the pitches he wants to, getting ahead of counts, and not swinging at what the pitcher wants him to chase, it’s better than the opposite.
The White Sox offense this year is much improved on last season’s edition. There are a number of obvious reasons for that – Dunn and Rios returning to form, a full season of de Aza instead of Pierre, Pierzynski’s renaissance, Kevin Youkilis, etc. They are 6th in the majors in runs scored, as opposed to last year where they finished tied for 17th with the Cubs. But are they more patient than last year?
This year the White Sox have the guy seeing the most pitches in the majors, and that’s Adam Dunn with 4.51 per plate appearance. Then again, even in Dunn’s lost 2011, he was second with 4.40. Alejandro De Aza weighs in this year tied for 37th in the majors with 4.00. Since the leadoff man gets the most PAs out of everyone on the team I think this is worth extra attention. This is a huge improvement on last year’s leadoff man, Juan Pierre, who was 138th in the majors with a 3.45 mark. de Aza is better at working a count and making the pitcher show his arsenal. Over the course of 700PAs, (Pierre had 711 last year), that’s 385 extra pitches that opposing pitchers will have to throw to the leadoff spot for the White Sox this year.
Next comes our favorite addition to the team, Kevin Youkilis. While he doesn’t have the PAs to qualify for a batting title, for the PAs he has had, he comes in 4th in the majors with 4.36. Surprisingly, Gordon Beckham is the next White Sox hitter to appear on these rankings with a 3.82 (82nd), and Paul Konerko follows with 3.77 (t91st). However, Konerko and Beckham ranked highly last year as well, with 3.92 (45th) and 3.85 (t61st) respectively.
As far as the team goes as a whole, they’re still a team with an aggressive approach at the plate in 2012, with the 9th highest percentage of swings at pitches out of the zone. On a simultaneously heartening and depressing note, this is still an improvement on last year, wherein they were the 5th-most aggressive.
So while the team hasn’t had enough personnel changes to move into the upper-echelons of patience league-wide, they seem to be trending in the right direction in several important respects. Moving de Aza into a full-time role and acquiring someone like Kevin Youkilis, who loves walks and fouling off 2-strike pitches, has begun to change the complexion of the lineup. It’s a work in progress, but hopefully the days of the White Sox opting for people like Vizquel and Kotsay over the Jim Thomes of the world are firmly behind us.