White Sox living in the black hole


We like him a lot, but don’t listen to us, our minds are destroyed by pain // Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We here at Southside Showdown all have this running thing where we like Conor Gillaspie a little too much.

He’s hitting .257/.320/.410 against right-handed pitching! That’s almost league-average! Get him a platoon partner–Keppinger if he ever gets right again–and you got a pretty decent third base situation!

Sure, it could be true, but this is the bargaining of desperate men. In the olden days, third base used to be a spot to stash a power bat, but in the dystopic present of the 2013 White Sox, it’s a place to do backflips when a guy emerges from a Spring Training trade without contact issues, with a good idea of the strike zone and a sprinkling of power. Also his swing is pretty.

Last season the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim suffered through a down season from third basemen Alberto Callaspo (.248/.327/.353 as a third basemen), who split time with Maicer Itzuris, who dug deep to hit even worse in his time there (.236/.288/.282) and parlayed that into a three-year contract with the Blue Jays. They finished with a .664 team OPS at the position. It was only second-to-last in the American League, since it was 64 points higher than what the White Sox wound up with, where a half-season of Kevin Youkilis being an above-average hitter couldn’t undo the damage of an injured Brent Morel and “grinder” Orlando Hudson.

Only the Seattle Mariners’ inability to field a designated hitter yielded a larger gap from the rest of the American League than the awfulness of the White Sox third base situation. But at least it was only one black hole, making it an improvement over the previous season, when Alex Rios and Adam Dunn birthed their ignoble White Sox legacies, and was nothing outside the normal for the franchise.

In 2010, bypassing a Hall of Fame masher for a 34 year-old seven years removed from his last above-average offensive season–whose primary value as a player came from being able to pair his middling offensive package with center field defense–as a designated hitter famously didn’t turn out too good. But steady, old Juan Pierre himself was only 3 OPS points (or 46 plate appearances of Andruw Jones going berzerk) of being responsible for the worst left field offensive performance in the AL.

In 2009, a brutal hodgepodge of Brian Anderson, Scott Podsednik, Jerry Owenrs, Dewayne Wise, Alex Rios and others finished last in the AL in center field production by a distance similar to the handiwork of Orlando Hudson. Chris Getz and Jayson Nix really challenged for the second base cellar that year as well.

The last time the White Sox got through a season without conspicuously punting offensive output from at least one position, they made the playoffs. It’s a reductive, oversimplified line of correlation to harp on, but it exists.

This season, the old boys done did it again! While third base is nearly identically bad from last season thanks to Jeff Keppinger, the Yankees have snuck in and taken the bottom mark. The real dynamic position for the Sox is catcher, where Tyler Flowers, Hector Gimenez and Josh Phegley have combined for a league-worst .201/.248/.348 batting line.

Flowers has gone away from everything that once made him an interesting hitter and Phegley has come up swinging like he’s trying to pull the Sox back into the race with one at-bat. Flowers has had at most, one season’s worth of plate appearances over the course of his career to work with while Phegley hasn’t even cracked the century mark, so growing pains are an explanation. Yet even the younger Phegley is already 25, so the optimism that keeps chugging on after a hacky Avisail Garcia strikeout doesn’t abound for these two.

This is not the long-awaited “they should have kept A.J.” post, at least not exactly. A.J. would not have saved the 2013 White Sox, but that kind of thinking–“this one improvement is not a magic bullet, so screw it!”–promotes stagnancy. A.J. would have made the White Sox better, spending frivolously on some free agent bats or a top-notch reliever would have helped too, and then the Sox would be a middle-of-the-pack team undermined by Paul Konerko’s collapse. Moving on…

A.J. Pierzynski was rarely great in a White Sox uniform, if he had been, the average fan’s fondness for him would be of a different nature. There would have been more marveling, more expectations of consistent greatness, when, more than anyone, he was accepted for who he was. He was steady, he was reliable.

He was he sort of guy who becomes very valuable when decades roll by without a starting-quality catching prospect emerging, just as Conor Gillaspie becomes a gem at a position that has dealt with three-year contracts to Mark Teahen and Jeff Keppinger. I don’t know what Gillaspie’s future holds, but it’s pretty obvious that he deserves to be in the major leagues next season. Unfortunately, that he’ll receive 400 plate appearances from the White Sox this year, offers little proof of that.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan