Power pitching, power hitting, and some defense. Those ingredients alone make this offseason’s acquisitions by the White Sox a home run. However, one ingredient the White Sox will be adding to their lineup next spring hasn’t been talked about quite as much. That ingredient is speed.
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The Chicago White Sox have revamped their lineup and pitching staff this offseason. They added dominant pitching to their starting rotation and bullpen. They acquired a power-hitting DH, Adam LaRoche, to replace Adam Dunn, and an offensively minded left fielder, Melky Cabrera, with a serviceable glove to replace Dayan Viciedo. To top it off they added a defensive stud to their infield, or any part of the field for that matter, signing Emilio Bonifacio last week. Rick Hahn, or Santa Hahn, as many White Sox fan now know him, has been making all the right moves.
A Change Of Pace
In 2014 the White Sox ranked dead last in stolen bases among American League Central teams. Possibly even more telling is the fact they ranked last in the American League in BsR (Base Running). According to Fangraphs.com, the Sox were -10.5 runs below league average on the base paths. Even the Sox former second baseman, Gordon Beckham, forgot how to employ his average speed, stealing only three bases in 101 games before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels.
Enter Santa Hahn. By trading Beckham last August, Hahn opened up the position to be taken over by either Carlos Sanchez or Micah Johnson this spring. Guess which one runs better than Beckham? Sorry, that’s a trick question, because they BOTH do. Sanchez stole 16 bases in each of his last two seasons playing for the Charlotte Knights in Triple-A. Johnson, whose speed is well hyped, stole 22 bases splitting time between the Double-A Birmingham Barrons and Triple-A Knights last season. You can see Johnson in action below, beating an accurate throw by the Toledo Mudhens’ catcher to take second base.
Of course, stolen bases are not the only measure of a team’s base running ability. Unfortunately, the Sox didn’t measure up in any other speed-related category either. The team ranked 29th out of 30 in another sabermetric stat, UBR (Ultimate Base Running), and tied for dead last in sacrifice hits. Wait, did someone say sacrifice hits? Yes, that wonderful small-ball tool the White Sox mastered during their 2005 World Series run. Well, it’s been missing from their trusty tool box for the last eight or nine years. In ’05, Ozzie Guillen‘s club totaled 57 sacrifice hits and 137 stolen bases, far surpassing the White Sox 2014 totals of 19 and 85, respectively.
In the outfield, the White Sox are trading “Tank” for the “Melk Man.” Cabrera’s not going to steal double-digit bases at this point in his career, as he totaled only 6 last season. That will be an upgrade at the position, however, where Viciedo contributed zero stolen bases last season. When anyone not wearing a catcher’s mask needs a breather, the White Sox have Bonifacio to keep applying pressure on the base paths. The super-utility signee has a streak four years running (no pun intended) with 26 or more stolen bases. In addition to his thievery, he’s adept at laying down a beautiful bunt to move runners over and/or reach base, totaling 6 sacrifice hits in 2014. Below, you can see him lay down a perfect drag bunt that leaves Washington Nationals’ pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, no other option but to attempt a no-look toss to first base that sails over Adam LaRoche‘s, head.
Alexei Ramirez, barring injury, will still be Alexei, stealing his usual 20 bases. He will also likely sacrifice a bit more in 2015 than he did in 2014, as he totaled a career-low one sacrifice hit last season. He will be another year older, but if last year’s silver slugger award-winning production is any indication, his age doesn’t seem to be slowing him down just yet. Avisail Garcia will replace De Aza in right and is extremely capable on the base paths if healthy, stealing four bases in only 42 games last season while dealing with a shoulder injury.
Adam Eaton stole 15 bases last season as the White Sox leadoff hitter. However, that total, along with his meager 62.5% success rate, have him looking to improve his base stealing abilities. According to CSNChicago’s Dan Hayes, Adam is eager to make the necessary adjustments to become comfortable on the base paths, stating,
"“I don’t want people to look at me as if I’m not a base stealer. I’ll change that this offseason for sure.”"
If Adam does find a way to increase that success rate, he will definitely add a few more thefts to his resume in 2015.
From 2008 until 2014 the White Sox offense was predicated on power. Big bats and slow legs dominated the lineups. With average to above average speed scattered throughout the lineup this coming season, Robin Ventura will be able to utilize more of the tools White Sox fans were used to seeing during Guillen’s tenure, a tenure that saw the White Sox earn a postseason berth twice in his first five seasons as manager. Hit and runs, sacrifice bunts, and stolen bases should not be an anomaly in 2015. The Sox still figure to have a few big bats in the lineup, but this time around they’ll balance that power with speed. With a little luck and a few extra bases, the White Sox could be stealing a spot in the postseason next October.