The Chicago White Sox looked like a solid contender for the World Series when the 2021 season started. As the year progressed, deficiencies started to show which kept them from reaching their goal. Fixing those problems is job number one for manager Tony La Russa and his staff when the team heads to spring training.
During an interview with MLB.com, La Russa talked about how the team from the ownership to the coaches to the players is committed to making moves and doing what’s necessary to advance in the postseason. From the coaching standpoint, the focus will be on maintaining what went right and breaking down the areas needing improvement.
"“One of the things that we are doing as a staff is recognizing what we did well so we want to make sure we do it well again, but to get better, we are really recognizing the areas we can improve because once you recognize them, how do you improve it?” La Russa said. “Figure out the drills that will be better next spring. It’s really reflecting on what we did good, and what we needed to do better, and then figure out how to keep the one and fix the other.”"
Many of the drills they will need to incorporate involve the defense which was tied with Minnesota for 27th in the majors with a .982 fielding percentage. The White Sox led everyone in defensive chances at 5,517 but was only 25th in putouts. They didn’t get to many balls as evidenced by their being last in assists with 1,210. Perhaps one of the ways to remedy that could be incorporating more defensive shifts.
Basic fielding drills would be an excellent point of emphasis since the White Sox were not adept at picking up the ball. The Sox were sixth in MLB with 97 errors which contributed to their being 28th in Defensive Runs Saved at -40. To put that into context, the league average in that category was +16. Overall, the White Sox and Washington Nationals recorded a .694 Defensive Efficiency rating, placing them 17th.
There are a lot of things the Chicago White Sox needs to work on before 2022.
While the Sox look to find everyday help for second base and right field, the catching position really needs to be worked on. The offensive output of Yasmani Grandal was positive but neither exactly was a brick wall behind the plate. They, along with Zach Collins, combined for the second most passed balls with 18. They were tied for second in errors (13) and tied for 24th in fielding percentage at .992.
When they did catch the ball, another issue was in keeping runners from advancing on the base path. The White Sox allowed the most stolen bases at 119 and were near the bottom of the league (tied for 26th) in runners caught stealing at 17 percent.
Not all of that falls on the catchers, though, as pitching coach Ethan Katz will have to work with his guys to not allow runners to get big jumps and easily take a base. Pitchers also have to give their catchers a chance to throw out runners by making good pitches to handle. White Sox pitchers were fourth overall in wild pitches with 84.
The defense isn’t the only area needing an upgrade. The coaching staff may want to take some time to address being aggressive on the base path as well. The White Sox were second in stolen base opportunities (plate appearances with runners on first or second with the next base open) at 2,364. Runners successfully took advantage of those chances only 57 times, placing them in the bottom third of the league. The White Sox were the only playoff team to have 10 runners picked off on the year.
The White Sox know they have a talented squad but they also know they can’t get by on talent alone. To win, players have to execute and they got an up-close look at how to do that when they faced Houston. Only time will tell if they learned anything from that.