Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quantifying the White Sox offensive woes

Toronto starting pitcher Drew Hutchison entered Monday night's game against the White Sox with an ERA of 6.06. Naturally, he fired a four-hit shutout in the Blue Jays' 6-0 win over the South Siders. While not feeling well.

Right now, the Sox offense is enough to make you sick to your stomach. They've lost six out of their last eight games to fall to 19-23 on the season. They've scored just 15 runs during that stretch, and have not scored more than three runs in any game during that time.

You look around the league, and you'll see that most teams have a hitter or two performing under expectations. That's baseball. Sometimes guys have slow starts, or bad years. That's just how it goes.

But the Sox? Well, they've got seven of their nine regulars performing below their career norms and below the numbers they posted in 2014. Avisail Garcia is the lone exception. For purposes of this discussion, we'll just exempt second base, because the Sox have played two rookies with little or no track record there throughout the season.

Let's take a look at the on-base plus slugging (OPS) numbers for the eight Sox regulars who do not play second base -- biggest drop-offs listed first:

Only Avisail Garcia has swung the bat well for the White Sox this year.
Melky Cabrera
2015 OPS: .558
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.250
Career OPS: .747

Jose Abreu
2015 OPS: .964
2014 OPS: .808
Diff: -.156
Career OPS: .929

Adam Eaton
2015 OPS: .621
2014 OPS: .763
Diff: -.142
Career OPS: .721

Adam LaRoche
2015 OPS: .682
2014 OPS: .817
Diff: -.135
Career OPS: .808

Tyler Flowers
2015 OPS: .559
2014 OPS: .693
Diff: -.134
Career OPS: .660

Alexei Ramirez
2015 OPS: .614
2014 OPS: .713
Diff: -.099
Career OPS: .715

Conor Gillaspie
2015 OPS: .683
2014 OPS: . 752
Diff: -.069
Career OPS: .714

2015 OPS: .821
2014 OPS: .718
Diff: +.103
Career OPS: .746

So, there are basically six players in the Sox everyday lineup whose OPS is down 100 points over where it was last season. That's two-thirds of a lineup that could be characterized as severely underachieving. Remarkable.

Only Garcia is better than he was last season. Only Garcia is performing better than his career average. Everyone else is under career norms, some significantly so.

You would think these guys would eventually come back to their career levels, wouldn't you? There's no sign of that happening right now.

Friday, May 22, 2015

John Danks vs. AL Central: AL Central wins

Whatever good vibes the White Sox generated with their six-game winning streak are gone now, after the team dropped three consecutive games to the last-place Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field this week.

The latest loss came Thursday night, a 5-2 Cleveland victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The game started at 7:10 p.m. It was basically over by 7:30. Sox starter John Danks gave up four runs in the first inning, including home runs to Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles, and the Indians tacked on another run in the second to seize an early 5-0 edge.

The score remained the same until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, when Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hit the traditional, ceremonial meaningless home run to make the score look better in the paper.

The larger trend I took away from this game, though, is that Danks really struggles against AL Central division opponents. The teams than know him best tend to get to him early and often. I checked the numbers, and for the most part, they confirmed my suspicions. Danks is just plain lousy against three of the four teams he pitches against most regularly:

Danks vs. Indians: 5-13, 5.29 ERA
Danks vs. Twins: 7-14, 5.67 ERA
Danks vs. Tigers: 6-10, 5.11 ERA
Danks vs. Royals: 8-1, 2.73 ERA
Danks vs. AL Central: 26-38, 4.83 ERA

The Royals have to be wondering what they are doing wrong. For the Indians, Tigers and Twins, it's a fight at the bat rack when they see Danks is pitching. Those hitters probably can't wait to get to home plate.

Take out the stats against Kansas City, and Danks is 18-37 with a 5.38 ERA against Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota.

If you're wondering why the Sox can't seem to beat divisional foes these past few years, Danks is among the culprits.

The Sox (18-20) welcome divisional rival Minnesota to the U.S. Cellular Field for a three-game set this weekend. Fortunately, Danks is not slated to pitch in the series. Here are the weekend matchups:

Friday: Jeff Samardzija (3-2, 4.58 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.76 ERA)
Saturday: Chris Sale (3-1, 4.36 ERA) vs. Trevor May (2-3, 5.15 ERA)
Sunday: Jose Quintana (2-4, 4.13 ERA) vs. Kyle Gibson (3-3, 2.98 ERA)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trevor Bauer puts halt to White Sox winning streak

The day after longtime White Sox nemesis Bruce Chen announced his retirement, the South Siders ran into another pitcher who gives them all kinds of trouble.

Unlike Chen, at least we can say Trevor Bauer has good stuff.

The Cleveland right-hander retired the first 11 batters he saw Tuesday and limited the Sox to just one run on four hits over 7.1 innings to spark the Indians to a 3-1 win. Bauer struck out seven and walked three to improve to 3-1 on the season.

This was the third time Sox hitters have seen Bauer this year, and they haven't been able to solve the riddle yet. Here are Bauer's pitching lines in those three starts:

April 15: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 8Ks,. 4 BBs
April 20: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 7Ks, 2 BBs
May 19: 7.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 7Ks, 3 BBs

Add it all up and Bauer is 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in those three outings. He's struck out 22 and allowed only 12 hits in 20.1 innings.

The loss puts a halt to the Sox's season-best six-game winning streak and drops them back to .500 at 18-18.

Game 3 of this four-game set with the Indians is Wednesday night. The Sox will send rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon to the mound against Cleveland right-hander Shaun Marcum.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chris Sale vs. Corey Kluber: It lived up to the hype

Two aces took the mound Monday at U.S. Cellular Field with White Sox left-hander Chris Sale going up against Cleveland's Corey Kluber, the reigning Cy Young award winner in the American League.

Neither pitcher figured in the decision, but the matchup did not disappoint. Both pitchers were brilliant:

Kluber: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 12 Ks, 1 BB
Sale: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 Ks, 2 BBs

I guess you might give Kluber the slight edge, since he pitched one more inning than Sale and fanned five more batters. But I'm sure Sale won't mind that since the Sox extended their winning streak to six games with a 2-1 win in 10 innings.

The Sox have now won 10 of their last 13 games and have pulled their record above .500 (18-17) for the first time this season.

A game like this is usually decided by one mistake here or there. Both teams played errorless ball, but if there was a mistake made, Cleveland made it in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Sox center fielder Adam Eaton was on third base with two outs when Jose Abreu swung and missed a Kluber breaking ball that was in the dirt and deflected maybe just 10 feet away from home plate. Eaton boldly dashed for home as Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez scrambled to retrieve the ball. Both men dove for home plate and arrived at just the same time. Perez would have tagged Eaton out -- if he had held onto the ball. Instead, he dropped it in his attempt to apply the tag. Eaton scored, tying the game at 1-1.

It remained that way until the bottom of the 10th, when Carlos Sanchez delivered a two-out, game-winning single on an 0-2 pitch from Cleveland reliever Zach McCallister. Pinch runner J.B. Shuck raced around from second base to plate the decisive run.

About the only negative for the Sox: Shuck was pinch running for Avisail Garcia, who somehow tweaked his right knee while drawing a leadoff walk in that 10th inning. Garcia is hitting a team-best .338, so the Sox don't need him going on the shelf for any length of time. I imagine the Sox will be cautious and give Shuck the start in right field Tuesday for the second game of this four-game divisional set.

The pitching matchup for Tuesday won't be quite as marquee as this one was, but it will still be good. Sox lefty Jose Quintana (2-3, 4.39 ERA) will face Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer (2-1, 3.67 ERA). I wouldn't be stunned if that one ends up fairly low-scoring, too.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Unfounded 'concerns' about four left-handers in the White Sox rotation likely to resurface

With Carlos Rodon officially in the White Sox starting rotation, the team now features four left-handed starters -- Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks are the others.

That means it is time to brace ourselves for more Chicago media fiction about how having four left-handers in the rotation is somehow a detriment to a team.

When you read that tripe, don't buy into it. Instead, just reflect back on this past week's results as evidence that this is a nonissue.

The Sox threw two lefties back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Here were the results:
Jose Quintana

Sale: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 11 Ks, 1 BB
Quintana: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 10 Ks, 1 BB

Does it seem to you that facing Sale on Tuesday gave the Brewers any tactical advantage when they went up against Quintana on Wednesday? Doesn't look like it to me. Quintana was every bit as effective as Sale was.

Let's go back even earlier. Rodon pitched the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night. Less than 24 hours later, the Reds faced another Sox lefty, Danks. Under the prevailing media theory, the Reds should have been at an advantage against Danks, having faced another lefty in Rodon the previous game. Let's take a look at results:

Rodon: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 8Ks, 4 BBs
Danks: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4Ks, 3 BBs

Look at that. The Reds didn't do much against either of the two lefties, despite facing them in back-to-back games.

This is why Sox fans should ignore this invented "concern" about having too many left-handers. The Sox's 2005 World Series team had four right-handed pitchers in the rotation, and that never seemed to be an issue. So why would four left-handers be a detriment? Someone is going to have to explain that to me.

Handedness doesn't matter that much. Just give me guys that can pitch. As it stands right now, ironically enough, the one Sox pitcher who is struggling is the lone right-hander, Jeff Samardzija.

Samardzija hasn't been able to get his fastball inside to righties, and as a result, he's allowed 13 extra-base hits to right-handed batters this season (8 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs).

Right-handed hitters are slugging .505 against Samardzija for the year. By way of comparison, right-handers slugged just .359 against him last season, and have slugged .378 against him in his career.

That's something to watch when Samardzija takes his next start Sunday, and isn't it interesting that the Sox only righty is having more trouble with right-handed hitters than any of the lefties in the rotation?

The Sox will play a three-game series in Oakland this weekend. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Rodon vs. Jesse Hahn
Saturday: Danks vs. Jesse Chavez
Sunday: Samardzija vs. Scott Kazmir

Thursday, May 14, 2015

White Sox option Micah Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte

The White Sox on Thursday optioned second baseman Micah Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte.

Johnson, who was hitting .270 with no home runs and three RBIs in 27 games, has been the weakest defensive link on a Sox team that has struggled to catch the ball.

The Sox are expected to recall second baseman Carlos Sanchez before Friday's game against the Oakland A's. Sanchez was hitting .344 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 29 games at Charlotte.

White Sox finally generate some first-inning offense

Avisail Garcia has hit safely in 16 of his last 18 games.
A not-so-fun fact: The White Sox have scored just 10 first-inning runs through their first 31 games. That's the lowest total of any team in the majors.

Better news: Three of those 10 first-inning runs came Wednesday night, and they gave the Sox the jump they needed to come away with a 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Sox won consecutive road games for the first time this season and also won their first road series, taking two out of three from the last-place Brewers.

The three-run rally in the first inning featured both small ball and long ball. Adam Eaton started the game by working a walk after a 12-pitch at-bat. He moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundout by Emilio Bonifacio and scored on a sacrifice fly by Melky Cabrera.

Avisail Garcia and Adam LaRoche then hit back-to-back home runs to give the Sox the early 3-0 advantage. That was another in a night of firsts for the Sox -- it was the first time they've gone back-to-back this season.

Sox pitcher Jose Quintana was probably stunned to have three runs of support before he ever took the mound. The Sox lefty entered Wednesday's action with a 2.37 ERA over his previous three starts, but all he had to show for it was two losses.

Blessed with an early lead this time, Quintana made it stand up. He fired seven-plus innings of one-run ball, allowing just three hits and a walk. He struck out 10 batters.

The Sox have received quality starting pitching in four of their last five games. They've also won four of their last five games. Funny how that works, huh?

One other note about Garcia: His 2-for-4 night raised his batting average to .322. The right fielder has hit safely in 16 of his last 18 games. He's had more than one hit in nine of those contests. The 23-year-old has been mostly overlooked, even in Chicago, but he's been the Sox's most consistent hitter to this point in the season.