Walk THIS WAY…The White Sox free pass problem

The first stanza of this White Sox season has been marred with disappointments. Nothing seems to be frustrating the fanbase more than the White Sox hungover offense. In 2021, the White Sox offense was 4th in all of MLB with a wRC+ of 109 (effectively 9% above average), where as in 2022, the White Sox they currently rank 24th in MLB with a wRC+ of 90 (effectively 10% below average). A big reason for this dip is related to their BB%. Now I know people are tired of hearing about OBP (yea you know me!), but think about it as “NOT MAKING AN OUT PERCENTAGE” and you should be good with it.

Photo by Danny Sanchez in Boston Magazine

In 2021 the White Sox were 4th in BB% (funny how that follows their overall offensive production) at 9.6%. So far this season, they are DEAD LAST, 30th in MLB in BB% at 6.3% (Boston in 29th and they are at 6.8%, so the Sox are way last). So what gives, who, what, where is happening here?

Let’s dispel one myth first, despite the large down trend in offense overall, the walk rate in the league in 2022, is 8.6%, where in 2021 it was 8.7%. Effectively the same, so although the baseball is basically a bowling ball this year, it doesn’t appear we can blame our teams ills solely on that.

Let’s see BeefLoaf’s homemade excel chart to help us understand

Below is a chart of our White Sox walk percentage (BB%) year over year (so 2021 in total and 2022, thru Thursday’s game at KC). I list the percentage of times each player (in the top 7 on the team) goes to the plate, and the percentage of times they walk.

So what can we learn from this chart…..

Who is doing their job?

Jose Abreu. Always Jose Abreu. For all the years people have tried to start the “Jose Abreu is toast” campaigns, at least for his walk rate, he’s still doing this job. Abreu shows up and plays every day and he’s doing his job walking.

Tim Anderson doesn’t walk, but so fucking what! He’s been a great hitter both years and his walk rate across those years is effectively stable, so he’s gucci.

Who’s hurting the White Sox walk rate?

As much as I hate to say it. Leury Garcia is hurting us quite a bit year over year. Now, I am not going to blame Leury for playing as much as he does. He keeps his body in good shape and is durable, that’s valuable to a team and if the other guys can’t go, it’s great that he’s there. But his dip in walk rate from 2021 8.6%, to 2020 2.0%, is ghastly. He’s swinging at EVERYTHING!

Luis Robert by function of playing more often this year compared to 2021 is also dragging the White Sox overall walk rate. I don’t consider this a negative. The more Luis plays, not only the happier I am, but the better the White Sox should be, but he likes to swing. That’s prolly not changing.

The REST. That’s right the composition of the remaining players to fill out these plate appearances is of an entirely different profile than the 2021 team. 2021 had players like Brian Goodwin, Zack Collins and Jake Lamb covering nearly 10% of the teams plate appearances at a 13% walk rate combined. This team has players like Jake Burger, Josh Harrison and Reese McGuire who are basically doing the opposite. That’s probably not going to change much either.

Is There Any Hope?

Yoan Moncada playing a whole bunch more (he’s currently sitting today with sore legs) would really help the walk rate. He was second in BB% and plate appearances in 2021. He’s probably the single biggest hope that this improves from now through the end of the year and helps lift up the White Sox offense.

Yasmani Grandal had a MONSTROUS walk rate in 2021, 23.2%, a career high and something I don’t think we can count on in 2022. However, Grandal staying healthier and playing all the time even at his current walk rate of 13.5% would be a huge help. Even more helpful would be if he logged more innings and shoved Reese McGuire’s putrid walk rate straight out of the lineup.

Andrew Vaughn finally being healthy and playing everyday should also boost the team walk rate. Although Vaughn has only walked at a 6% rate in 2022, he did walk at a 8.7% rate in 2021, and given his likelihood to improve overall as a hitter, we could see that rate go up, especially as he comes into the power that is expected out of him.

So will we get out of this?

Yes and No. I don’t think the 2022 White Sox are built to walk as much as the 2021 version did. The additional parts of that team were more likely to give you plenty of walks and plenty of strikeouts. The 2022 team was built more to improve the defense (I know) and be damned the patience at the plate.

I do however think climbing out of the proverbial cellar in walk rate is just a matter of the right guys staying healthy and playing a whole lot more. I also think Tony La Russa‘s early season trend of erring on the side of lots of rest, subsiding as the season gets further along would help. You can’t overrate how powerful it is to have your best hitters hitting as much as humanly possible.


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