Jumble at the top of the order
Sorry if it feels like “Focus on a different doomed section of the lineup” Week, but it is kind of the story of the season. Alejandro De Aza is now 206 plate appearances into the new season and has clearly established a shiny extra 8% on his strikeout rate from last year, acquired at the low, low cost of 3% lopped off his once respectable walk-rate.
.239/.281/.404 isn’t an awful batting line for a plus-fielding center fielder that you can stick at the bottom of the order, but:
- Good luck talking up Alejandro’s fielding range in the wake of his Monday wall gaffe, or his general tendency for awkward moments in center.
- There are just too many qualified candidates for this role of ‘guy you can hide at the No. 9 spot.’. Get in line, ‘Dro.
But hitting coach Jeff Manto has diagnosed a possible problem. Quibbles about the approaches he’s fostered aside, Manto’s still got Alex Rios to tout among his recent accomplishments and was the roving hitting instructor for the organization when De Aza was in the Sox farm system. JJ at CSN had the full summary of the issue:
"“Hitting coach Jeff Manto has identified De Aza’s problem and is confident that it not only can be fixed, but that when it is the 29-year-old will be back to his usual, productive self. The issue has been with De Aza’s feet, which haven’t been grounded, leading to him swinging over pitches and that 26.8 percent strikeout rate.‘He just doesn’t have his feet underneath him,’ Manto said. ‘His base is not as firm as it was in the past. And that’s not allowing him to see the ball, it’s not allowing him to take good swings, and it’s unfortunately a work in progress.'”"
Even in the best of times, De Aza’s swing began in an uncomfortably rigid, hunched-over crouch and ended with an odd, seemingly one-handed spin and flail. He was originally coveted for his results, not his beauty, and assessing when he’s off is a task for the experts.
He seems to struggle and spin off balance on breaking stuff down and in, but that’s more of an anecdotal observation than something that jumps out from data. His 2012 swing-chart seems to suggest he shaded a bit toward the outer-half in his pitch selection back in the day, but he also relied mostly on pulling the ball for his actual hits. In his early-season home run binge, De Aza’s naturally been looking more inner-half, since belt-high on the inner-third is about the only location he can launch from.
Manto’s sure got himself a lot of fires to put out on this team, and revealing what’s wrong with De Aza may not be so much about discovering it for the first time as defending him and the struggles he’s going through. Robin Ventura has committed to stick with De Aza for the time being, but also mentioned Alexei Ramirez taking over as a “possibility down the road,” which at least stirs the imagination more than the “hold on for better times” approach using across the roster.
Ramirez in the leadoff slot was a possibility often bandied about years back when a larger offensive breakout was anticipated. Now, his candidacy would represent a sad statement about what his game and the White Sox offense have fallen to, but still an interesting adjustment.
In the leadoff slot, Alexei could provide a league-average on-base percentage (he’s at .325 through Wednesday) and have less weight placed on the complete evaporation of his power over the past two seasons. For the White Sox offense, that would be a boon, especially since it would offer the opportunity to slide in a functionally league-average hitting Conor Gillaspie in the No. 2 slot. That would give them a whopping three-straight hitters with an OBP over league average to start the lineup.
It’s come to the point where this would be a boon.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan