Heading into the offseason, the Chicago White Sox had several defensive areas which needed to be addressed. While adding a solid second baseman and right fielder topped that list, not far behind was the necessity to stop opponents from stealing bases and advancing due to poor defense behind the plate as they did in 2021.
The White Sox’s inability to keep runners from moving on a pitch was evident as the club gave up a league-worst 119 stolen bases and were tied with the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, and Los Angeles Angels for 26th overall in Caught Stealing percentage at 17%. To put that into context, the league average was 24%
Much was made in 2021 of the problems Yasmani Grandal, Zack Collins, and Seby Zavala had in throwing runners out trying to steal, and for good reason. The Sox led the big leagues in a statistic called Runner Base Added, which is the total number of bases accumulated by an opponent via stolen base, wild pitch, or pass ball. The Sox gave up 272 bases, which were 39 more than the next-to-last Yankees, and well over the league average of 192 bases.
In an odd twist, the 24 total runners the White Sox caught stealing was right at the league average, as was the 18 total the catchers managed to gun down. However, only 20 of 125 runners stealing second were caught, while 14 of 17 runners managed to advance to third.
The Chicago White Sox need to be better at preventing stolen bases against them.
Catchers didn’t exactly serve as a wall behind home plate for pitchers by tying for 26th in the league along with Detroit, Atlanta, and the Angels in passed balls with 18. Only the Miami Marlins were worse with 28. Zavala’s eight passed balls were one more than Grandal’s seven, yet he accomplished that feat in 47 fewer games.
Certainly, getting better defensively and adding quality depth either by free agency, trade or in-house to the catching position will help bring those numbers down. It also wasn’t only the catchers who were at fault for turning the base paths into a merry-go-round.
White Sox pitchers had control issues of their own as they chucked 84 wild pitches, good for fourth-worst in baseball. Dylan Cease’s 13 were highest in the American League with teammate Lucas Giolito right behind him with 12.
One would be right to think starting pitchers would have higher wild pitch totals than bullpen guys due to the number of pitches tossed and innings thrown. That is true for the Sox, yet the pen added an alarming total of pitches that escaped the catcher. Liam Hendriks had six followed by Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, and Craig Kimbrel with five each.
Hendriks had the fourth-highest number on the entire staff, while the aforementioned trio with five tied Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn for fifth-most. To put the control issues in perspective, the 10 wild pitches by Keuchel and Lynn came in a combined 319 innings. It took Hendriks, Bummer, Burr, and Kimbrel only 187 innings to reach 21.
As a staff, the White Sox did a nice job of avoiding trouble by issuing free passes to get runners on, to begin with. The Sox were seventh overall in walks allowed and fifth in WHIP at 1.20. As for hits allowed, the team led the AL and were third in the majors with only 1,205.
Where the problem lies isn’t with how many guys are getting on base, but what happens once those runners get on. Pitchers have to do a better job of keeping runners from getting big jumps, thus providing the catcher a better chance at throwing out a would-be base stealer. Catchers have to improve their defensive fundamentals as well to stop giving free bases away.
Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Ethan Katz, and the rest of the coaching staff have their work cut out for them to improve in this area. As if trying to get better defensively wasn’t tough enough, time to work on these things might become even more precious should spring training not start on time.