“Wait…you have to SCORE runs too?!” (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)
Last week was not good for the White Sox. In the six games since their make-up victory over Detroit the White Sox have managed 1.8 runs per game over a 1-5 stretch against Kansas City and the Angels. What has happened to the offense?
Let’s take a step back and assess it from a macro level. The White Sox are 8th in the majors in runs scored this year. They’ve achieved this largely because they’re second in the majors in home runs, behind only the Yankees. Somehow the idea that offenses that are “dependent” on the home run are unreliable, or less successful in the playoffs has gained some momentum in the baseball media I read and hear. I don’t think that really stands up on actual analysis or to reason. Sure, pitching is better in the playoffs – and good pitchers will probably make fewer mistakes. It’s more likely you’ll score a run by hitting their one mistake over a fence than you will string together two or three base hits. If your team scores 1,000 runs and 50% of it comes from the home run it doesn’t mean your guys are “waiting around for the home run” (which is also a weird statement because it somehow implies that the team isn’t really…trying or something? I’m not sure), it means your team absolutely murders the ball. If your team scores 500 runs and 50% are by the home run it means they’re pretty awfully generally but they can run into a pitch and take it out every now and then.
Digression of these broad ideas aside, the fact that the White Sox hit lots of home runs is not a problem, and it is not the reason they have had a cold steak lately. Hitting a home run is the best possible outcome of a plate appearance. The problem comes from literally almost every other component of the offense. The White Sox are tied with Philly for the 6th worst BB% in the majors and they are 15th in the majors in batting average, all while in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. When contrasted with the team’s home run power it makes it even more bizarre that they walk so infrequently, as power hitting usually makes pitchers more cautious and more likely to issue walks.
Another red flag is that the White Sox swing at the 6th most pitches outside of the strike zone – and yet only swing at the 15th most pitches inside the strike zone. What this indicates to me is that this team as a whole is quite poor at identifying where the pitches are going to go, and which pitches they should swing at or take.
The White Sox have had trouble offensively for several years now. Their home park goes a long way to masking it, but they have wasted quality pitching with poor offenses for some time. While I think things are changing, the fact is that the White Sox are an aggressive team with poor strike zone judgment, a bad approach, and despite their home run power they don’t have many men on base when they do hit it out of the park. They don’t hit for contact and they can’t or won’t walk. Oh – and while I think it’s a tertiary skill, they are tied for 17th in stolen base percentage as a team. A dramatic improvement on last year, but once again another area where they are mediocre.
Players like Alejandro De Aza are a step in the right direction, and I’m glad they chose to grab someone like Kevin Youkilis to plug their hole at third base. They could be starting to identify different offensive skill sets than they have in the past. I think the organization has also greatly improved its drafting and that there is some help on the way. But for this year we should not be surprised when the offense vanishes – it’s really not that good.