The White Sox will go as far as Adam LaRoche takes them
The Chicago White Sox start their second half of the 2015 season with two at home today against the American League Central division leading Kansas City Royals.
The White Sox ended the first half on a positive note winning series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs. The key to their success was their ability to pitch.
Chris Sale has been unstoppable over the last two months. Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana have complimented Sale nicely during this stretch. And the White Sox bullpen has been able to pick up the slack of the struggling John Danks and inconsistent rookie Carlos Rodon.
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The pitching as of late has been so good, it has been able to mask the struggles of the offense.
On paper, this was a team that was supposed to have no trouble putting up runs. From top to bottom, there was speed, power and the ability to get on base.
When it came to actually playing the games, none of that showed up.
Even with the likes of Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera starting to get their season’s on track, the White Sox are still last in the AL in average, on-base percentage, home runs and 13th in stolen bases. They problem is they have received no production at the plate from the positions of shortstop, third base, second base and catcher.
After winning his second Silver Slugger award last season, Alexei Ramirez is on his way to the worst season of his career. The combinations of Conor Gillespie, Gordon Beckham, Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto all carried no expectations heading into the season and each of them have been about as unproductive as possible at the plate.
The most disappointing player of all for this offense has been the man who was signed just for his offense alone.
In an offseason that included big name players like Victor Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval, Nick Markakis and Torii Hunter, the White Sox gave first baseman Adam LaRoche a two-year, $25 million deal to be the team’s designated hitter and hit behind Jose Abreu.
The move made some sense.
Last season with the Washington Nationals, LaRoche hit .259 with 26 home runs, 92 RBIs and a career high 82 walks. Over his 11 season in the majors, LaRoche had hit 20 homers or more in 10 of them. And most of all, he hits left-handed.
At age 35, he also wouldn’t command any long-term money from teams.
The negatives to consider in the deal was the fact that he was 35, strikes out a lot and struggles quite a bit against left handed pitching (.204/.284/.336 against lefties last season). He has also never been in a position where he wasn’t playing in the field everyday
It is the thought process that led then general manager Kenny Williams to sign Adam Dunn five years ago. Remember him?
Aug 4, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox designated hitterAdam Dunn
(44) reacts after striking out to Texas Rangers starting pitcherNick Martinez
(22) in the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
Before joining the White Sox in 2011, Dunn had at least 38 home runs and 92 RBIs in eight straight seasons and walked over 100 times in six of those eight years. He had also led the league in strikeouts three times and in 2010 struck out a career-high 199 times.
In four seasons with the White Sox, Dunn hit /.201/.321/.410, led the league in strikeouts once and saw his home run totals plummet because of his inability to make contact. He was never a great contact hitter in his career but in 10 years before Chicago, hit for a combined .250 average.
Now there is no way to predict a guy’s numbers drop off to that much but one of this nature would make me think twice before I look to count on another guy of a similar skill set.
Not Williams and his new wing-man Rick Hahn.
So far in 2015, LaRoche is hitting .222/.327/.374 with nine home runs, 33 RBIs and his 90 strikeouts rank seventh in the AL. He has gone now 15 straight games without a home run.
One thing I will give him credit for however is drawing walks.
LaRoche is 13th in the AL with 40 walks and leads the White Sox in that category by a wide margin. He is the only player on the team who shows any patience at the plate. Unfortunately, sometimes that patience has him taking strike three as well.
If the White Sox offense is going to turn things around, it will have to get production from LaRoche. He is the only player outside of Abreu that is capable striking fear into opposing pitchers.
From 2012-14, he was intentionally walked 26 times. That is more than hitters like Ryan Braun, Edwin Encarnacion, Buster Posey and Mike Trout.
LaRoche is also a guy who has historically hit better in the second half of seasons.
For his career, he has a .281/.349/.511 slashline in the second half as opposed to his 248./332/.436 line in the first half.
Look for the White Sox to go as far as LaRoche’s bat can take them the rest of this season.
If he is getting back to slugging form, a run at the AL Wild Card is not out of the question. If he continues at his current pace, all of this good pitching will go to waste and the White Sox will have been one of the most disappointing teams in 2015.
Next: AL Central first half in review