Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adam Eaton returns; Jordan Danks caught in numbers game (again)

White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton is set to return from the disabled list in time for Tuesday's game against the Cleveland Indians. This is good news for everyone associated with the Sox organization.

Well, it's good news for everyone except Jordan Danks, who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte for the umpteenth time in the past three years to make room for Eaton on the 25-man roster.

Danks' demotion is not based upon poor performance. He has done everything he has been asked to do. He has started 11 of the past 13 Sox games in Eaton's place, and has caught every ball you would expect a center fielder to catch. Offensively, his .289/.317/.368 slash line over that same span is plenty good enough for a player who was providing above-average defense at an up-the-middle position.

This isn't the first time Danks has been demoted for reasons other than performance. He batted .333 with five home runs during spring training this year. He did everything possible to snag a major league roster spot as an extra outfielder. But in March, as he is now, Danks was caught in a numbers game.

There are two reasons for his demotions: 1) He's considered the fifth outfielder on a team that only wants to carry four outfielders, and 2) He has an option remaining. Fairly or not, players who have an option(s) remaining are more likely to lose their roster spot than those who do not.

Eaton and Avisail Garcia are healthy at the same time for the first time since the second week of April. Those two outfielders are part of the Sox' present and future. If they are available, they are going to play. The third outfield spot remains a question mark. At least until the Sept. 1 roster expansion, when Danks will be recalled and Moises Sierra will come off the disabled list, the Sox appear to be going back to the left field plan they started the season with: a platoon with Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo.

The thing that's interesting about all this is that the coaching staff plays Danks frequently when he's available to them.

Garcia has been back from his four-month stint on the disabled list for eight games, and the most common outfield combination we've seen during that stretch is De Aza in left field, Danks in center field and Garcia in right field.

Manager Robin Ventura had the option of going with Viciedo in left, De Aza in center and Garcia in right, but he only used that combination just one time in those eight games. Danks started the other seven games in center field. Viciedo started just three of those eight games.

With Garcia, Danks, Viciedo and De Aza all available, the coaching staff seemed most comfortable with Danks on the field and Viciedo on the bench. Yet when Eaton becomes available, the guy who has been sitting on the bench (Viciedo) hangs around, while the guy who is playing center field (Danks) is packing his bags for Triple-A.

It makes you wonder if there's somebody in the front office who doesn't want to give up just yet on Viciedo and his tantalizing offensive potential. As we've mentioned before, Garcia's injury gave Viciedo a second chance to prove himself as an everyday player this season. Viciedo has squandered it. We know he's a horrible defensive player. His outfield gaffe on Sunday in New York cost Sox ace Chris Sale and the team a win against the Yankees. He has to hit to justify his roster spot, and his .233/.279/.397 slash line doesn't make the grade.

Viciedo has had 1,705 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform, including at least 470 in each of the past three seasons. Of those three seasons, this is his worst of the three. Much like Gordon Beckham, he's regressed despite receiving ample opportunity to right the ship. Maybe the coaching staff has recognized this, and that's the reason Viciedo was the guy who lost playing time upon Garcia's return. At some point, a player goes from having tantalizing offensive potential to being a bust. The White Sox might be at that stage with Viciedo.

I don't think Danks is an everyday outfielder by any means. He's not a good enough hitter. However, I think he's more likely than Viciedo to stick in the majors as a reserve on the basis of his ability to effectively play all three outfield positions. That versatility is a quality you want in a backup player. Viciedo can't play effectively anywhere on the field, and despite his potential, his offensive results are too marginal to keep him around.

Next year, Danks will be out of options. They won't be able to put him on the Triple-A shuttle again. The next time the Sox are faced with a "Viciedo or Danks" decision, whether that comes in the offseason or next spring, would it be out of line to suggest they keep the player who can handle center field and catch the ball? 

Friday, August 22, 2014

White Sox trade Gordon Beckham to Angels

Just hours after we said the White Sox should be eager to move on from Gordon Beckham, the club traded the struggling second baseman to the Los Angeles Angels for a player to be named later.

Beckham will not be a starting player with the AL West-leading Angels, who are set in the infield with Howie Kendrick at second base, Erick Aybar at shortstop and David Freese at third base.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said Beckham will come off the bench against left-handed pitchers and play multiple positions, according to a report in the Orange County Register.

Beckham leaves Chicago in the worst slump of his six-year career. He's hitting just .158 since July 1, a span of 163 plate appearances. A recent article on southsidesox.com indicated Beckham's .371 July OPS represented the worst month by a White Sox starting player in 46 years. 

We cited the statistics earlier today, so we won't beat a dead horse. It was time for both Beckham and the White Sox to move on. If anything, the Sox erred on the side of having too much patience with Beckham. The former first-round pick was given nearly 2,900 plate appearances with the South Siders over the past six years. If you're not a good hitter after that many at-bats, you're never going to be a good hitter.

“You want to give everybody a fair opportunity and especially a guy you have drafted and developed and especially those who have had success at the big league level,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla. “You want to give them the chance to fulfill and reach and extend on that potential. With Gordon having close to 2,900 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform, I think we are all very comfortable that we did give him that chance.”

Indeed they did.

Carlos Sanchez has been recalled from Triple-A Charlotte to replace Beckham on the Sox' roster. Sanchez was hitting .293 with seven home runs, 57 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 110 games for the Knights.

I would expect Sanchez to be in the lineup at second base Friday night when the Sox open a three-game set against the New York Yankees.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

White Sox fans won't be seeing Micah Johnson in September

The Sept. 1 roster expansion is still a week and a half away, but we know we won't be seeing White Sox prospect Micah Johnson at U.S. Cellular Field next month.

Johnson, who has hit .294 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, has been shut down for the season due to a left hamstring strain that has plagued him for months.

It's unfortunate because Johnson is one of the best position prospects in the White Sox system. He's considered close to major-league ready, and he plays a position of need -- second base.

However, it's impossible to argue with this decision. It's the right move. Johnson's best asset is his speed, and he's been limited in that area for a significant portion of the season. The proof is in his stolen base numbers.

Johnson attracted a good deal of attention during the 2013 season when he stole 84 bases in 110 attempts over 131 games at three different levels. This year, Johnson has just 22 steals in 36 attempts over 102 games at two levels. He's not running as frequently, and he hasn't been as successful in the limited number of attempts he's made. That shows his legs aren't feeling good.

This is a setback for the White Sox, who have to be eager to replace incumbent second baseman Gordon Beckham at this point.

Even if you're a fan of Beckham's defense, his offense has become so poor that it's impossible to ignore. He's having the worst season of his career by any measure. His slash line is a horrible .221/.263/.336. His season OPS of .598 is well below his career mark of .680. Anytime you have an everyday player with an OPS below .600, that player needs to be replaced. I don't care how good his defense is.

Worse yet, Beckham is regressing with the bat, perhaps fading with the knowledge that his days on the South Side are numbered. His brutal July (.138/.158/.213) has been backed up with almost-as-miserable August (.190/.217/.207). Combined, his OPS has slipped below .400 since July 1.

With that knowledge at hand, the Sox should bench Beckham for the final month and put him out of his misery. Ideally, Johnson would be the guy you play in September, but that just can't happen right now.

Opportunity knocks for the Sox' two other middle infield prospects, Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien. Both appear to be candidates for a September recall. Johnson's injury combined with Beckham's ineptness has created an opening for at least one of these two players.

San Francisco Giants become first team to win protest in 28 years

The San Francisco Giants on Wednesday became the first team in 28 years to win a protest filed with Major League Baseball.

On Tuesday night, the Cubs were leading the Giants 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning when a localized downpour caused the game to be delayed for more than four hours after the Wrigley Field grounds crew could not get the tarp on the field quickly enough.

The rain stopped, but the game could not be completed after umpires deemed the field conditions unplayable. The game was official, so the Cubs were awarded a rain-shortened victory.

The Giants, who are in playoff contention, were understandably unhappy and protested under the provisions of Rule 4.12 (a) (3), which states a game can be suspended due to a "malfunction of a mechanical field device under the control of the home club."

In this case, the "mechanical field device" is the tarp, which MLB determined had not been put away properly after its previous use. That's the home club's fault.

Therefore, the protest was upheld, and the game will resume at 4 p.m. Thursday with the Cubs batting in the bottom of the fifth inning and leading 2-0. The two teams have a regularly scheduled game at 7 p.m.

How rare is it for a protest to be upheld? The last time it happened was June 16, 1986.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were trailing the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-1, in the top of the sixth inning when umpires called the game after a pair of rain delays that spanned 17 and 22 minutes, respectively.

National League regulations required that umpires wait at least 75 minutes during an initial weather delay and 45 minutes during a second one before calling a game.

The umpires didn't do that, so the Pirates protested. The complaint was upheld. The game was resumed, and the Pirates lost anyway, 4-2.

The most famous upheld protest, of course, was the "Pine Tar Game," which was played on July 24, 1983, at Yankee Stadium.

The Kansas City Royals were trailing the New York Yankees, 4-3, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when George Brett connected for a two-run home run to put Kansas City ahead, 5-4.

New York manager Billy Martin argued that Brett had too much pine tar on his bat. Umpires agreed and called Brett out. That was the third out of the top of the ninth, so the game ended with a Yankees win and a Brett tirade for the ages.



The Royals protested. The league office reversed the call, declaring that Brett's home run should count and ordering the game to be restarted from that point. Nearly a month later, on Aug. 18, Kansas City finished off a 5-4 victory.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matt Lindstrom provides no relief in return from DL

Matt Lindstrom has been a league-average reliever during his time with the White Sox.

He posted a respectable 3.12 ERA in 2013, while leading Chicago with 76 appearances and ranking third among Sox relievers with 60.2 innings pitched. Before injuring his ankle on May 19 of this season he had a 3.32 ERA with six saves in 19 games.

While these numbers are not lights out, they are far from terrible. You could accurately describe Lindstrom as a "consistently OK" member of the White Sox bullpen.

And that's what makes his performance since his Aug. 12 return from the disabled list so troubling. Lindstrom has uncharacteristically committed Ronald Belisario-like arsons in two of the past three games. The latest meltdown occurred Monday night in Baltimore's 8-2 win over the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Lindstrom entered in the top of eighth inning with two men on and two men out. The Sox were trailing 3-2 and still had an opportunity to win against the American League East's best team. Alas, Lindstrom walked the first hitter he faced to load the bases, then gave up a three-run double to Jonathan Schoop, a two-run homer to Sox killer Nick Markakis and a double to Steve Pearce. In the blink of an eye, Baltimore had five runs. The game was basically decided at that point.

This bad outing came on the heels of a previous poor performance from Lindstrom on Saturday. In that game, he entered a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning and promptly surrendered three runs to the Toronto Blue Jays before retiring a single batter. He took the loss in the Sox' 6-3 defeat.

That means Lindstrom has allowed six runs on seven hits with one walk over his last inning of work. His ERA has ballooned to a Belisario-like 5.57.

We should have seen this coming. Lindstrom's performance on his rehab assignment at Charlotte was erratic at best. He allowed runs in three of his five appearances, and he absorbed a four-run shellacking against Pawtucket on Aug. 7.

When a player returns quicker than expected from injury, there's always a lot of discussion about whether that player was "rushed" back. More often than not, those worries are needless. However, you see some red flags with Lindstrom in this particular case.

First, the Sox bullpen has been abysmal in recent weeks. A competent relief pitcher has been hard to find, and I'm sure the Sox were eager for the "consistently OK" Lindstrom to rejoin the mix. Perhaps too eager.

Second, Lindstrom's contract is up at the end of the season. There's no question this is a player who would be motivated to get back on the mound, prove himself healthy and put himself in position to get a nice deal in the offseason -- either in Chicago or somewhere else.

The team and the player both had reasons to "rush" back, and you can't help but wonder if that's what we're seeing here. One thing is for certain: Lindstrom is helping neither his own cause nor the Sox' cause with his recent performance.

He might have been better served throwing on the side for a couple more weeks, rehabbing the final two weeks of August in Charlotte and rejoining the team at the Sept. 1 roster expansion.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fire the manager? Not so fast ...

Whenever a team goes through a losing season, you're going to have some fans and media who want the manager to pay with his job. Sometimes, it's a vocal minority that is calling for a skipper to be fired. Other times, it's a clear majority.

It's easy to fall into that line of thinking if your favorite team is an also-ran as we hit the dog days of August. A lost season is always frustrating. However, calling for a manager's head isn't always the smartest thing to do.

Let's take a look at the careers of Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. They were the best managers of a generation, combining to win eight World Series championships. From 1988 through 2006, 14 of the 19 World Series featured at least one of those three managers.

It's no mystery why all three of them went into the Hall of Fame last month. First, all three managed for a long time.

Most games managed in MLB history:
1. Connie Mack 7,755
2. La Russa 5,097
3. John McGraw 4,769
4. Cox 4,508
5. Bucky Harris 4,410
6. Torre 4,329

Secondly, all three won with great frequency.

Most games won by managers in MLB history:
1. Mack 3,731
2. McGraw 2,763
3. La Russa 2,728
4. Cox 2,504
5. Torre 2,326

But here's something you may not have known about these three men: They all lost frequently early in their managerial careers. I recently read a Sports Illustrated article that pointed out that La Russa, Cox and Torre all had losing records and no playoff appearances after four years in the dugout:

Record through four years:
La Russa: 238-244 (.494)
Cox: 266-323 (.452)
Torre: 245-358 (.406)

None of these three men reached the World Series in their first managing jobs. They were all let go for various reasons. La Russa won at his second stop in Oakland. Cox was on his second tour of duty in Atlanta before he won. Torre was fired three times before winning four championships as manager of the New York Yankees.

This is all food for thought if you're one of those impatient fans who thinks a manager should be fired if he doesn't win right away, or if you're one of those fans who thinks a manager should be fired because he doesn't have "enough experience." Your impatience may, in fact, be costing you a guy who is or will become a good manager.

La Russa was managing the White Sox when I was a young kid, and I vividly recall him getting booed at Comiskey Park. There were a lot of people who wanted his head, even after he led the Sox to the 1983 American League West Division title.

The Sox finally fired La Russa in 1986. Time has shown that move was foolish. Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf continues to call La Russa's firing the biggest regret of his life.

Right now, the Sox have another manager without much experience -- Robin Ventura. He isn't winning enough. His record is 207-241 entering Monday's play. He's got a .462 winning percentage as he nears the end of his third year at the helm.

Some say Ventura should be fired, which is an easy argument to make with the Sox on their way to a second consecutive losing streak. And, obviously, it would take quite a leap of faith to believe Ventura's managerial skills will ever be mentioned in the same breath as La Russa, Cox or Torre. That's extraordinarily unlikely.

I bring up those three Hall of Fame guys to make one simple point: Three years isn't long enough to determine whether a guy is going to succeed or fail over the long haul as a manager. The jury is still out on Ventura, and given the rosters he's been handed with the White Sox, I can't pin the team's losing ways on him over the past two seasons.

Managers are no different than players. They can and do get better with more experience. I don't think it's ridiculous to say Ventura still could improve in his role as Sox manager. It's just that most people today don't have that kind of patience, which is unfortunate, because you never know just how close a younger, developing manager might be to becoming a good manager you could win with in the years to come.

Keep that in mind if you're one of the people in the "Fire Ventura" camp, or if you're a fan of another team that is struggling this season.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

As Jose Abreu slumps, the White Sox slump along with him

The dog days of August have not been kind to Jose Abreu.

The White Sox' first baseman's August slash line (.262/.380/.286) is not bad, but it's much more mortal than what we've seen from Abreu the first four months of the season. In particular, his slugging percentage has taken a dip. The extra-base power that has been so noticeable all year has been lacking of late.

Abreu is 8 for 39 with just one double, no home runs and two RBIs in his last 11 games. He has not homered since July 29.

Reason for despair? I don't believe so.

Part of this "slump" is an inevitable market correction. Abreu was scorching hot in July. He posted a .374/.432/.667 slash line and won AL Player of the Month honors. That came on the heels of a June that saw Abreu hit .313 with 10 home runs. He was red-hot for an extended period of time. It wasn't going to continue forever; baseball just doesn't work like that. Every hitter goes through periods where they aren't seeing the ball well. Right now, Abreu is in one of those periods.

I also think fatigue is a factor for Abreu. Let's not forget this is his first time going through the rigors of a 162-game schedule in the United States. In Cuba, the season is 90 games long. The White Sox completed their 121st game of the season on Wednesday.

Nobody should be surprised if indeed Abreu is hitting a bit of a wall at this stage of the season. His bat looks a little slow right now, but the only way for him to learn what it's like to go through the grind of 162 games is to go through the grind of 162 games. This is what gaining experience is all about, and Abreu will be better for it in the years to come.

Even with this recent cold streak, Abreu still leads the American League in both home runs (31) and RBIs (86). Accordingly, fans should refrain from worrying about whether the league "has figured out" Abreu. He's already been through the league a couple times, and his June and July were stronger than his April and May.

I would argue, in fact, that Abreu is figuring the league out, not the other way around. Sure, he might hit the rookie wall down the stretch here, but there's a substantial body of work now that suggests Abreu will be an impact hitter in the middle of the Sox' lineup for years to come. I'll be honest: He's been better than I ever expected.

The Sox are 4-8 so far in August. It's not a coincidence the team has struggled right along with Abreu. Here are some more numbers on the slugging first baseman that prove the point:

In  Sox wins: .380/.442/.823, 22 HRs, 59 RBIs
In Sox losses: .231/.283/.407, 9 HRs, 27 RBIs

This shows there's a pretty good correlation between Abreu's success and White Sox success. When he's hot, the team scores runs. When he's cold, it doesn't.

Abreu needs more help in the lineup, for sure, but make no mistake about it, he's erased all doubt that he's the guy the Sox need to build their offense around for the next five years.