Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago White Sox were 128.1 runs worse than a team full of average offensive players during the 2013 season. The only team less potent was the Miami Marlins. The Boston Red Sox, at 121.1 runs above average, pretty much lapped the White Sox in terms of offensive production. What has changed over the first month of the 2014 season to bring hope to the South Side?
For starters, the team is now graced with the presence of Jose Abreu. The Cuban import’s ridiculous .351 ISO (Isolated Power), .622 SLG (Slugging Percentage) and 153 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus, which basically means he has been 53 percent better than average) through 28 games have made him an extremely welcome addition to the White Sox lineup. Using wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average), Abreu ranks 18th in the majors through the first month.
Adam Dunn (16th), Alexei Ramirez (19th) and Dayan Viciedo (28th) give the White Sox four players in the top 30, the most of any team in the majors. With the obvious caveat that one month does not predict the rest of the season’s results, this is an auspicious start for a team that struggled so massively just one season ago.
One reason for the change seems to be an improved approach at the plate for most of the team’s hitters. The White Sox’ walk percentage is up to 8.2% from 6.8% last season and their OBP has risen from a woeful .302 to a slightly more palatable .335. While still in the employ of hackers such as the aforementioned Ramirez and Tyler Flowers, the White Sox seem to be improving their team concept in regards to working counts and getting into the opposing bullpen as early as possible.
In addition to Abreu, newly-acquired CF Adam Eaton seems to be the answer in the leadoff spot for which the White Sox have searched for years. Eaton’s 3.86 pitches per plate appearance ranks just outside the top 50 in all of baseball, and watching him play suggests his offensive game will improve. Impressive youngster Marcus Semien sees 4.16 pitches per plate appearance, and Dunn sits at 4.28, 12th in the majors.
A combination of patience and power is a tried-and-true method of success in baseball, and the 2014 White Sox seem to be subscribing to that theory. While hitting coaches tend to get the lion’s share of the blame when things go wrong, I think first-year man Todd Steverson should be applauded for helping to right a sinking ship. If any semblance of this impressive early season production continues, the White Sox may be in contention longer than originally expected.