In speaking to reporters recently, Rick Hahn said he was perfectly okay with his current lineup’s potency against right-handed pitching in the wake of A.J. Pierzynski’s departure.
Then, in typical Rick Hahn fashion, he opened every single door and window in the building, so as to ensure his successful escape should the aggrieved masses charge 35th & Shields with pitchforks and other assorted cutlery.
Hahn’s fine with the lineup as is, but would still like to add a left-handed bat, but doesn’t have to do it now, since the trade deadline is where they feel most at home.
And those pitchforks might be mighty sharp (judging mostly from Sun-Times comment sections on the A.J. Pierzynski story). The only thing Hahn’s first off-season gave fans to cheer about happened so long ago that it’s unlikely anyone even associates it with free agency, and his statement of confidence on the lineup doesn’t hold a lot of water based on previous data. There’s not much to go to war with right-handers with. There’s some things, but not much.
He has his aging core of Konerko-Dunn-Rios, Alejandro De Aza at the front being a legit asset, three bottom-of-the-order hitters, and Keppinger and Viciedo playing prominent roles with platoon splits that make them almost useless.
That’s not Hahn’s fault, it’s Viciedo’s, who doesn’t turn 24 until March, but is still occupying the only premium offensive position that can be easily upgraded. Worse yet, Viciedo was borderline unplayable against right-handed pitching last season, hitting .225/.271/.380, and prompting Ventura to opt for Dewayne Wise down the stretch. Dewayne Wise.
Hitting righties wasn’t a problem for Viciedo his last season in Charlotte, when he hit .305/.357/.501 against them with similar contact rates to his work against opposite-handed pitching. But ever since he got that September call-up, those brief moments where Viciedo has flashed his promise have been centered around those times he gets to face southpaws.
It’s easy to come up with a theory as to why.
Viciedo’s long, loopy swing combined with a rather wild and undisciplined approach piles up the challenges on him to catch up to top velocity when he doesn’t get a long look at the ball. Sure enough, four-seam fastballs (the fastest, straightest pitch in the game) from right-handers are eating him up, to the tune of a 12.7% swinging strike rate against the pitch in 2012.
Adam Dunn did better against four-seams from left-handers. Left-handers did better against Chris Sale’s biggest heat. Justin Verlander got a 6% swinging-strike rate against righties in 2012 with his four-seamer. You’re simply not supposed to be able to blow away major league hitters with straight velocity like this, and Viciedo can’t make a living as a slugger crushing lefties and soft-tossers.
Naturally the thought is that adjustments will be made, or that Viciedo should be expected to mature in his approach and his mechanics. He’s young enough that everyone’s armchair diagnosis is closer to relevant than usual. Shorten up! Work the count! Spray something the other way and stop swinging under outside fastballs! G-g-g-g-get better somehow!
He’s too important to be dismissed. The White Sox don’t have nearly enough in the pipeline to quickly dismiss a player with the potential to do the heavy-lifting in the middle of their aging batting order for a few years.
But for an organization such as this one, 2013 should be the last year this guy gets a shot to carry this much responsibility based on International League dominance
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan