White Sox Ball In Air? NO! Ball On Ground :(
The Au Jus this past week was a fun one!!! I had Jacki Krestel join me for a spirited conversation on lessons learned from the 2022 White Sox (her excellent article on the subject can be read HERE), as well as our optimisms for the 2023 squad. But, if I am being honest, a good chunk, and the most satisfying and in-depth portion of our conversation, was expressing our displeasure with the White Sox fearless GM Rick Hahn.
I’ve had probably 17,864 discussions about the White Sox GM since he took over in 2013. In my podcast, other people’s podcast, at the bar, in the ballpark, with myself on the crapper and in my internal monologue, he’s fascinated and frustrated. Throughout that time, there have been brief waves of hope that THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT, followed by monsoons of crushing disappointment. The 2023 White Sox seem to be on a similar path. There are patches of hope littered amongst the lingering feeling of impending doom. Whatta rush it is to be a White Sox fan!!
Hope is a Good Thing, Maybe the Best of Things….
Andy Dufresne couldn’t have said it better. It’s what keeps us coming back. I made the meme above, to reflect both the hilarity of a team’s central strategy to be “JUST PLAY BETTER”, as well as to highlight that although that’s a goofy strategy, it is what keeps us coming back. There is the hope, that this year will be different and that unfulfilled potential will be finally realized. However, much of that comes down to doing a thing that is so obvious it’s difficult, so simplistic that players hire specific personal coaches to train them to it. Hitting the Ball In the Air!!
Above is a picture of Luis Robert, superstar-in-the-making emeritus, pounding a baseball directly into the ground. Even before the stats revolution and Joe Sheehan coining the phrase “Ball Go Far, Team Go Far”, the guys that smashed home runs were driving Cadillacs. The power of hitting the ball out of the ballpark was a main strategy of Earl Weaver‘s Orioles and that was before most of us were born. This isn’t a NEW strategy. It’s not a complicated strategy. Hit the ball hard, in the air, and you will win. Or conversely, DO NOT HIT THE BALL ON THE GROUND.
The Ugliest Chart You Have EVER SEEN!!
As much as we talk about Rick Hahn, the macro offensive equivalent for the White Sox is hitting too many ground balls and not enough home runs. So I decided to do the dirty work and track the White Sox Ground Ball % by their hitters since 2013 (you know why) versus the league. Below is that analysis. If you haven’t had lunch yet, I’d suggest going and doing that first, before you continue.
This chart is absolutely disgusting. The first column is the Ground Ball % by hitters of the World Series champ for that particular year. The second column is the Average of the Playoff teams’ Ground Ball % by hitters. The third column is the League Average Ground Ball % by hitters and finally the fourth column is our White Sox. The three additional columns all provide you the delta (that’s nerd talk for “difference”), between the first three columns and our White Sox. AND BOY IS IT UGLY!!
Imagine playing in one of the friendliest home run ballparks in the majors. Then imagine that you consistently build a roster that hits more groundballs than just about every other team. Per my homemade, excel chic chart above, the White Sox have been BRUTAL in the Rick Hahn era with pounding the ball into the ground. The last team that was even better than league average was in 2013. That’s a decade ago. Since then, they have been well below league and playoff team averages. How can one wake up every day, drive down to a ballpark that is so home run friendly and continue to invest in and develop hitters that can’t take advantage?
You Were Talking about HOPE??
The whole “Just Have A Career Year” meme is just so much funnier and inspiring before I pull these numbers. We did the macro, now let’s jump down into the micro. Who needs to turn this around specifically?
Here’s the 2022 squad (specifically anyone that took 250 PA or more). Out of this group, Engel was on the plus side, but he is no longer here, Harrison hovered slightly negative, so removing him should help. Jose Abreu was worse than league average, but pretty consistently made that work, so removing him helps the macro for this one stat while hurting the rest.
Tim Anderson is a groundball centric high average hitter, so not expecting change there. AJ Pollock is gone, that should help. Andrew Benintendi doesn’t hit for much power, but he has a career 40% groundball rate, so that should also help the macro stat, but not the underlying problem. Yep, you guessed, it, we are staring right back at the three most important offensive players on this team that need to flip the script.
Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn, Luis Robert.
It’s back on them. I don’t know if Mike Tosar and his merry band of hitting guru’s have gotten their claws into any of these three guys, but with a big offensive turnaround needed and our three biggest power threats being prolific ground ballers, I HOPE for such a thing. Re-assigning their positions or praying they “BASICALLY STAY HEALTHY” probably isn’t going to help. We’ll need real, tangible, changes. Can it happen? I sure hope so…
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