It’s been a frustrating 12 games so far.(David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Clearly, the White Sox haven’t hit well this year. They’re 13th in the AL in runs scored, and are tied for 24th in the majors. Matt and I have flooded Twitter with our running watch of how Joey Votto is single-handedly outwalking the entire White Sox team this year. Matt also pointed out that the White Sox walk rate of 3.9% would be the worst in over a century. What else is going on with this team’s hitting?
The White Sox are actually hitting the fewest grounders in the majors. There are a number of implications to this statistic. Of the three batted-ball types – ground ball, line drive, and fly ball – ground balls correlate the most with power, although inversely. I.e. the fewer ground balls you hit, generally the more likely it is that you’re hitting for power successfully. It also protects you from grounding into double plays. Hitting very few ground balls reduces your ability to get lucky on balls in play, however. Grounders are much more likely than, say, fly balls/pop ups to find holes in the defense. This is just one piece of the puzzle.
The White Sox are first in the majors in line drive percentage as well. This should be a really good thing. If you’re squaring the ball up, and hitting it hard and in the air, usually that means you’re not being fooled on pitches, and hard-hit balls in the air often find outfield grass. And yet, the White Sox are 23rd in the majors on BABIP. Some of this you can see has been bad luck – Rios has hit any number of hard-hit liners to the outfield right at people. But part of this comes back to the issue of just how many fly balls the White Sox are hitting – 41.2%, 5th in the majors – which are less likely to fall in for singles than a lot of grounders will. Granted, we are only 12 games in, and these are pretty extreme figures that will likely drift closer to the middle of the league as the season goes on.
Players, however, have much more control over what they swing at or don’t swing at, as compared to what happens once the ball is put in play. It only takes 50PAs for a player’s swing percentage to normalize, as opposed to 150PAs that it requires for an individual’s LD% to normalize. The White Sox are pretty much exactly league average when it comes to swinging at balls out of the zone, however they are 1st in the majors in frequency of swings at pitches in the zone at a whopping 69%. 7/10 pitches that are in the zone, the White Sox are swinging, which also puts them at #1 in the majors for swinging in general, at 49.3% of all pitches.
Jim Margulus and others have articles up about how Adam Dunn’s new approach has simply removed one of the two useful things he did on offense (walking). But even the hitters who are doing well like Alex Rios and Conor Gillaspie aren’t really drawing walks. It’s an extremely impatient team, and if pitchers know you’re going to swing at everything, you’re almost always going to be in counts that favor the pitcher, you’ll be making contact with the pitches they want you to hit (which often leads to weak contact), and you’re never going to drive up your opponent’s pitch count. There are very, very few benefits to being this aggressive, and a ton of negatives.
The primary culprits are Viciedo (2nd in the majors in swing%), and Alexei (11th). However, Flowers and Dunn – two players whom you’d think the White Sox would count on for their patience – are sitting at 59th and 60th in the majors, with swing percentages roughly 5% higher than league average. This is troubling.