Showing posts with label Ken Harrelson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ken Harrelson. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Todd Frazier's batting average is low, but his clutch stats are impressive

Todd Frazier (right) has 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in 33 games.
For years, White Sox fans have listened to TV announcer Ken Harrelson recite one of his favorite cliches: "Don't tell me what you hit. Tell me when you hit it."

Third baseman Todd Frazier is an interesting case study.

Frazier's .215/.290/.477 slash line through 33 games isn't overly impressive. He's endured two weeklong slumps already this season that have driven his overall numbers down. However, nobody can say they are unhappy with Frazier's team-leading 10 home runs, or his team-leading 27 RBIs.

The hits have come at key times, too, including Monday night when Frazier went 4 for 6 with two home runs and six RBIs. The veteran hit a grand slam in the top of the 12th inning to lift the South Siders to an 8-4 win over the Texas Rangers. The victory is the Sox's fourth straight, and they own a 23-10 record with a six-game lead in the AL Central entering Tuesday's play.

As for Frazier, his numbers spike significantly once the seventh inning arrives. In the late innings of games, he's had 44 plate appearances, during which he's hitting .273 with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

Let's take a look at his leverage stats:

Low-leverage situations: .204/.316/.724, 3 HRs, 5 RBIs, 10 Ks, 8 BBs
Medium-leverage situations: .164/.200/.344, 3 HRs, 6 RBIs, 14 Ks, 2 BBs
High-leverage situations: .400/.478/1.050, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs, 3 Ks, 3 BBs

So, in the biggest spots, Frazier's batting average goes up. Way up, in fact. His power production goes up. His strikeouts go down. Sixty percent of his RBIs have come with the game hanging in the balance.

"Don't tell me what you hit, tell me when you hit it."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thoughts on what I saw and heard at SoxFest 2016

Me with White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton
Some people were expecting pitchforks and torches at SoxFest 2016 after the team failed to add a major free-agent outfielder this offseason. That really wasn't the case, but it's also worth noting that there didn't seem to be a lot of buzz or excitement about the upcoming season in the air, either.

It seems like most Sox fans are of the mindset of, "Ehh ... this is probably a .500 team. Whatever." Here are a few other thoughts and tidbits from the weekend:

1. Robin Ventura and Rick Hahn addressed the slow starts the Sox have had the last seven seasons before I was able to step to the microphone to ask a question Friday night. Ventura said there are "different things you can do" to try to prevent the team from getting off to a slow start, such as having the veterans play six or seven innings in spring training games, as opposed to three or four innings. The braintrust also noted that they've been talking about the trend of slow starts ever since last July or August, so it was on their radar well before it was asked about at SoxFest. Ventura also noted the importance of drilling on fundamentals and cleaning up mental mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. You'd like to think he did that last year, too, but it just didn't produce good results.

2. I asked Ventura and Hahn about accountability Friday night, and not in the sense that we typically speak about that topic. Usually when fans talk about accountability, they're talking about the need for someone to be fired when things don't go well. When I spoke, I talked about the need for players to hold each other accountable for bad play, whether that has been happening in the Sox clubhouse, and whether the Sox have a culture where that sort of thing is encouraged. Ventura acknowledged that it is important for players to police each other, and that it's different in the clubhouse now in the post-Paul Konerko era. Konerko was the leader of the team for so long, and other players were in the habit of deferring to him. Last year, he was gone, so now what? Hahn indicated some of his acquisitions have been made with the idea of adding more leadership to the room. He believes newly acquired third baseman Todd Frazier and newly acquired catcher Alex Avila can add that element. Adam LaRoche's name also was brought up during that discussion, but Hahn correctly noted LaRoche didn't have a leg to stand on in holding his teammates accountable last year, because he was suffering through a horrible season himself.

3. First baseman Jose Abreu and center fielder Adam Eaton are really good and accommodating with the fans in the autograph and picture lines. I'm not an autograph person at all, but I did have my picture taken with Eaton (see above). When you approach Eaton, he'll extend his hand and say, "Hi, I'm Adam, good to meet you." That seems like such a small thing, and let's be honest, we already know who he is and he doesn't need to introduce himself, but he doesn't assume that, and he doesn't big-time people. There are other guys who could learn from his example.

4. Ken Harrelson, as you might expect, hogs the microphone way too much when he's moderating a seminar. He stands up there and tells the same stories that we hear all summer long on the broadcasts. Yo Hawk, we really don't need to hear about Sam McDowell and his great stuff again. Let the fans ask questions and let the panelists talk. Frazier had some insightful comments during the "Big League Bats" seminar that also featured Chet Lemon and Melky Cabrera on Friday night. Lemon also was interesting. I would have liked to have heard more from Frazier and Lemon, and less from Hawk and his observations on his "seven decades in the American League." At one point, Harrelson was going on and on about the importance of protection in the lineup. Cabrera was on stage looking at his phone, apparently bored by Hawk's extended soliloquy. Suddenly, Hawk turned around and said, "Isn't that right, Melky?" Cabrera, like a schoolchild not expecting to be called on, looked up and appeared stunned for a moment before saying, "Oh, si, si, si ..." Give Cabrera credit for one thing -- he knows it's a good idea to just agree with whatever Hawk says and move on.

5. Speaking of Frazier, he was asked about his second-half struggles last year. He hit .284 with 25 home runs before the break in 2015, but slumped to .224 with 10 home runs in the second half. Frazier, of course, won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game last year in Cincinnati, and a fan asked the cliched question about whether that messed up his swing. Frazier said that is a myth, and noted if your swing is screwed up, it should only take a few sessions in the cage to rediscover it. He instead attributed his slow second half to fatigue (he played 157 games last year) and indicated improving endurance has been the focus of his offseason workouts.

6. I asked Hahn and Ventura on Saturday about organizational depth in starting pitching. I pointed out that Erik Johnson doesn't have a lot of big-league innings under his belt, and that Carlos Rodon -- for all his promise -- has yet to have a 30-start, 200-inning season in the majors. The Sox will have to watch their workloads carefully, and of course, the potential for injury and the realities of the MLB schedule make it necessary to have a couple extra guys in the organization who can make spot starts when necessary. Hahn, of course, agreed that you're not going to get through a season using just five starting pitchers, except in the rarest of cases, and he said Jacob Turner and Chris Beck were the guys who would be in line to step in and help. Gulp. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence, so I hope Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks stay healthy all year. And I hope Rodon and Johnson take steps forward in their development.

7. One thing I was disappointed about: There wasn't a lot of opportunity to ask current players questions in the seminar room -- especially the core players. Sale, Eaton and Abreu participated in "kids-only" seminar Saturday morning. Adults were allowed in the room, of course, but only children ages 3 to 14 were allowed to ask questions. I actually thought that was an excellent idea, allowing young Sox fans to interact with the star players on the team. But I would have liked it had there been an opportunity for adult fans to ask baseball-related questions of that core group. Hahn mentioned he had a difficult conversation with Sale last September, where Sale expressed his frustration with the losing the team has experienced over the past three years. I would have loved to have asked Sale about that, but the team didn't have him scheduled for any seminars that weren't "for the kids." Makes you wonder if the organization is nervous about the core players being asked tough questions by the fans.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

White Sox name Jason Benetti new announcer, settle questions about TV booth

Jason Benetti (left) has been added to the White Sox broadcast team.
The White Sox on Wednesday named Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate Jason Benetti their new TV play-by-play announcer, while at the same time extending the contracts of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone.

Benetti, 32, will call 81 games alongside Stone this season. The local product grew up as a White Sox fan and has called college basketball, football, baseball and lacrosse at ESPN since 2011. He also previously served as the radio play-by-play man for the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

"Jason is one of the top up-and-coming voices in sports television," White Sox vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer said in a news release. "He is a homegrown talent who will mix a love for the game with a deep knowledge of the White Sox and an informative and entertaining style. We believe Sox fans will immediately connect with his humor, intellect and personality."

"Joining the White Sox television team of Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone -- with the chance to work with Steve on home games -- is truly a dream come true for a kid who grew up in the south suburbs watching Sox games during the 1990s," Benetti said in the release. "This is beyond exciting for me."

The 74-year-old Harrelson will begin a reduced schedule this year. Like Benetti, "Hawk" will work 81 games, 78 of them on the road, plus Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field and the two home games against the Cubs.

I like the move to bring Benetti on board for a few reasons. First, he's a professional broadcaster. He already knows his way around a broadcast booth, and he has earned this opportunity through his previous work. Those things seem like they should be a prerequisite for the job, but that's not always been the case with the White Sox -- who have inexplicably tried to force former players into the booth in the past. Darrin Jackson has improved through the years, but he really struggled when he first started with the team. And Chris Singleton's time in the Sox radio booth was a disaster. With Benetti, there shouldn't be any sort of learning curve that makes the broadcasts an awkward listen. He'll be ready to do the job from day one.

Secondly, Benetti is a guy who grew up in the area, so he's familiar with White Sox history, the Chicago market and the fan base. That institutional knowledge can only help as he works to build a connection with the fans in his first year. I'm optimistic his broadcasts will both entertain and inform, regardless of whether the White Sox are winning or losing. Too often, the Harrelson-Stone TV booth has had fans reaching for the mute button -- if not the off button -- in recent years. Benetti hopefully can provide a change of pace that makes Sox baseball more fun.

And, lastly, I think the reduced schedule will be beneficial for Hawk Harrelson. He has sounded terrible at times during these past few seasons, perhaps beaten down by the Sox losing a total of 264 games the last three years. His extension is a multiyear deal, but he admitted this could be his last year if the 2016 Sox stink it up.

"It’s a contract, that, as I told [Brooks Boyer] and [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], it might be at the end of the season where I say 'Hey, I’ve had enough,' " Harrelson told the Sun-Times Wednesday. "I hope that’s not the case because that means our team didn’t do well again. If I have to go through another season like we did last year, that would probably be enough -- no, you can count me out."

Hawk has been a polarizing figure throughout his career, even for Sox fans, but I've always said this about him: He's great when the team is doing well, because his passion for Sox baseball shines through on the broadcasts. But when the team is doing poorly, as has been the case for three years, he becomes completely miserable and makes the broadcasts hard to listen to for even the most diehard of fans. I think the combination of bad play and grumpy Hawk has caused a lot of people to change the channel away from Sox baseball.

Hopefully, the Sox play well this year, and it all becomes a moot point. But if they do play poorly, it will be better for Hawk's health and demeanor if he doesn't have to watch the team flounder every day, and it will be more tolerable for fans if they don't have to listen to Hawk grump every day.

Monday, May 4, 2015

It may be early May, but it's getting late for the White Sox

The White Sox embarrassed themselves over the weekend.

The Minnesota Twins, who were picked to finish last in the AL Central by everyone, outscored the Sox 31-8 over four games and swept the series.

The Sox committed four errors in Sunday's 13-3 loss, and there could have easily been five or six errors charged had it not been for some hometown-friendly scorekeeping in Minnesota.

Let's credit Sox radio broadcaster Ed Farmer, who said on air Sunday, "This has been the worse exhibition of people playing baseball that I've seen in my 20 years in the booth."

I'm not a big fan of Farmer's work, but I applaud him for being the only person associated with the White Sox willing to tell it like it is. The team is in disarray, and they deserved to be criticized.

Contrast that with the TV booth, where Ken Harrelson continues to insist the Sox "are a good team playing bad baseball."

Hearing such nonsense only adds to the frustration of fans, who have seen no evidence the Sox are "a good team." The South Siders lost 99 games in 2013; they lost 89 games in 2014; and this season has looked like an extension of that misery to this point. Sorry, Hawk, but there is no track record of success here for the organization or the fans to fall back upon.

The Sox have stunk for more than two years, and they will be considered a bad team until they prove otherwise. There comes a point where you cross the line from being "in a slump" to just being a bad team doing the things that bad teams do. Right now, I'd say the Sox are getting very close to being written off as another bad team.

After Monday's off day, they welcome the first-place Detroit Tigers for a three-game set at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Tigers are seven games ahead of the last-place Sox entering Monday's play, so a Detroit sweep would leave Chicago 10 games out and gasping for air. The Sox have to respond right now, and believe it or not, they are catching a break with the pitching matchups for this series:

Tuesday: Jeff Samardzija vs. Shane Greene
Wednesday: Chris Sale vs. Alfredo Simon
Thursday: Jose Quintana vs. Kyle Lobstein

The Sox are sending their three best starters to the mound, while the Tigers will pitch the back end of their rotation. The Sox will not see Detroit ace David Price, nor will they see No. 2 starter Anibal Sanchez. Justin Verlander remains on the DL.

This is set up for the Sox to right the ship and get a series win. They better, or the fan base might jump off the wagon entirely. There isn't much time left for excuses. Results need to improve immediately.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Sox vs. Orioles -- no fans allowed; I watched it on TV

I had a chance to watch Wednesday's game between the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles on TV, and as expected, it was a little weird to be watching a game where no fans were in attendance.

The ballpark was closed to the public because of the recent rioting in Baltimore, so nobody saw the Orioles thump the Sox, 8-2, in person except for some scouts and assorted members of the media.

I have to say the game felt extremely odd for the first three or four innings, but after that I got used to it.

For at least the past 30 years, I've been listening to White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson say "Souvenir, right side" every single time a right-handed hitter hits a foul ball over the first-base dugout. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu hit just such a ball in the top of the first inning Wednesday, and Harrelson caught himself in mid-sentence, realizing that foul ball would not be a "souvenir" for anybody on the "right side," because there were no fans in the park. Harrelson instead said, ".... And ... that's a foul ball into the upper deck." For one afternoon, he was forced to drop one of his familiar catchphrases.

A fielding error by Abreu opened the door for the Orioles to have a big inning in the bottom of the first, and have a big inning they did. Baltimore scored six runs off Sox starter Jeff Samardzija to put the game out of reach early, and it was quite bizarre to hear no cheers coming from the crowd while the hometown Orioles were playing well.

Chris Davis launched a 3-run homer well over the right-field fence during that six-run rally. It was the kind of shot that always draws a reaction from the crowd, even if it's hit by a member of the visiting team, but in this case all you heard was the crack of the bat and then silence. It was eerie in a way.

Later, Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones made a fine running catch on a drive off the bat of Sox catcher Geovany Soto. Again, the cheers were conspicuous by their absence.

The Orioles enjoyed an 8-2 lead by the time the fifth inning concluded, and with the outcome no longer in doubt, I felt like hitters from both sides started giving away at-bats over the final four innings. I saw a lot of first-pitch swings and a lot of quick outs. The game was played in just one hour, 58 minutes. It seemed like the players were eager for the whole ordeal to be over, and I can hardly blame them for that.

As I watched the late innings, the game started to feel like your usual run-of-the-mill blowout, the kind where the crowd leaves early to beat traffic. There was nothing notable happening in the game, so the lack of cheers, boos or otherwise was less significant.

Any in case, I've never watched a game like this before, because there never has been a game like this before. Hopefully, nothing like this ever happens again. No one wants to see any city burn like Baltimore has the past couple days, and you hope Major League Baseball never has to take safety precautions like this again.

This was a one-of-a-kind game. As far as I'm concerned, it can stay that way.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gordon Beckham is drowning in his 'prove it' season

Time for another round of player comparison. Each of these four slash lines belongs to an everyday player in the White Sox lineup. Which would you say is the worst?

Player A: .235/.292/.328
Player B: .224/.274/.355
Player C: .235/.307/.361
Player D: .236/.287/.400

If you said B, that means you believe Gordon Beckham is the worst hitter in a Chicago lineup that has its share of weak bats.

Beckham is in the process of playing himself out of town with a painful, soul-crushing slump. He is 1 for 22 since the All-Star break. He is 6 for 66 in the month of July, posting a .091/.127/.136 slash line over that period. He has not hit a home run since June 24.

You can always tell when Beckham is in a terrible spin because White Sox TV announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson will always protect him by talking up Beckham's "strong arm" at second base, and by noting the number of double plays the Sox have turned on the season. If you watched the broadcast of Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals, you heard Harrelson give that speech no fewer than three times.

But no matter what way you slice it, Beckham is drowning in his "prove it" season, and it's time for the Sox to move on. I can live with fewer double plays being turned if I can have a second baseman with an OBP of more than .274. Beckham is on his way to the worst season of his mediocre (at best) career.  He's been in the big leagues for five years now, and it's folly to assume he's ever going to become more than he is. He's not a prospect anymore.

The Sox have other options, too. Marcus Semien (.241/.338/.454) hasn't exactly been tearing it up in the minor leagues, but Carlos Sanchez (.295/.355/.413) is having a nice year at Triple-A Charlotte. Prospect Micah Johnson (.303/.333/.404) is inching closer to being big-league ready, as well. Any of those three stands a decent-to-good chance of equaling or bettering Beckham's production with the bat, and all would cost less than the $4.1 million the Sox are paying this year for Beckham to hit .224.

There are plenty of trade rumors swirling around Beckham, and perhaps that has contributed to his miserable, seemingly distracted July performance. However, it's hard to tell whether trade rumors are the cause of Beckham's woes, because we've seen prolonged slumps like this from him before. I'm forced to come to the conclusion that he's just a poor hitter, and that the Sox can do better at that position. In fact, they must do better.

It's time to trade Beckham. Get whatever you can get and spend the last two months of the season taking a look at one of the infield prospects from Triple-A. The Sox are 10 games out of first in the AL Central. It's time to start looking toward next year. Beckham is part of the problem, and he's not part of the solution. Is there someone else in the organization who can help? Let's find out.

(For the record, Player A above is Tyler Flowers. Player C is Alejandro De Aza. Player D is Dayan Viciedo.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rounding up Jose Abreu's record-breaking April

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs on Sunday to lead the South Siders to a 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Abreu became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record four games with four RBIs or more during the first 26 games of his career. Abreu has a modest .262 batting average, but as Ken "Hawk" Harrelson might say, "It's a hard .262." Abreu leads the league with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs. Even with three games to go in the month, those figures are for the record books.

The 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in one month are both MLB rookie records. The 10 home runs are the most by a White Sox rookie in any month. The 31 RBIs are a new record for the opening month of the season by any Sox player -- the previous record was 28, set by Paul Konerko in 2002. The 31 RBIs are also the most by any Sox player in the first 26 games of a career. The 10 home runs tie the team record for the most by a Sox player in the first 26 games of a career -- Zeke Bonura accomplished the same feat in 1934.

This indeed has been an historic month for Abreu. He has homered off two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and David Price, which shows that he isn't just pounding on mediocre pitchers. He's won a few battles with elite pitchers, too. The cynic would say, "Let's see what happens when the league adjusts to Abreu." And the cynic isn't completely wrong. Opposing pitchers will change their pattern to try to slow Abreu down, and he will have to adjust.

But, let's also remember that Abreu is putting up these monster numbers in the miserable, cold April conditions at U.S. Cellular Field. The ballpark plays smaller and becomes more hitter-friendly when the weather warms up in the summer. Abreu isn't going put up 10 homers and 30-plus RBIs every month. That's just not realistic, but I'd wager he has a pretty fair chance of continuing to produce runs when the ball starts flying in June and July.