Archive for White Sox

Jason Coats: Stitches and a Ball for a White Sox Rookie

Jason Coats has had an unremarkable career thus far. In eight games with the White Sox, the rookie outfielder has one hit in 15 at-bats. He’s basically a spare part. An unheralded former 29th-round pick, he’s ridden the pine since getting his lone base knock a week ago today.

Of course, everything in life is relative. What qualifies as unremarkable to some could be unforgettable to another. Coats has had a pair of those moments in his short time with Chicago. The more recent of them came at Fenway Park.

Hitless in his first 12 big-league at-bats, Coats stepped up to the plate against Boston southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez and smoked a pitch to deep right field. Soaring beyond the reach of Mookie Betts, the ball one-hopped the short fence into the bleachers, not far from the visiting bullpen.

As the ball was caroming, Coats was motoring.

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The White Sox’ Hidden Catastrophe

I was reading through Jon Heyman’s latest Inside Baseball, and then I got to the White Sox section. Within, Heyman said something about Chris Sale, and though it wasn’t specifically about everything that’s going to follow in here, it at least works well enough for me to embed:

Chris Sale’s pitches come from such an unusual angle, it seems to fool umpires. It looked like he had an 0-and-5 count on Nick Castellanos in one at-bat (the actual count was 3-and-2)

Nothing important, really. Just a fleeting thought about one at-bat in particular. OK! Well, as you know, balls and strikes have to do with multiple factors. The pitcher plays a part. The hitter plays a part. The umpire plays a part. Dumb luck plays a part. And the catcher plays a part. In some previous posts, I’ve quickly touched on the White Sox’s catchers. It seems time for something in greater depth, because this has been an awfully big problem for a team that’s badly slipped.

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James Shields Has Been Messed Up for a While

One of the realities of the earlier part of the season is that we notice things we might not otherwise notice. A hot streak or a slump to begin the year stands out more than a hot streak or a slump in the middle of August, because at the beginning, everything starts fresh. This is one of the reasons why people tend to overreact to early results. The numbers make it look like they’re the only results, as new seasons stand out from prior ones. As others like to remind, players streak all the time, and we typically just accept it if we even notice at all.

So if it’s easier to notice a streak at the beginning, it follows that it’s harder to notice a streak in the middle. Which means when a streak in the middle does get noticed, that means something. We’ve all noticed James Shields‘ streak. James Shields’ streak is one of the very ugliest starting-pitching streaks on recent record. It is, very genuinely, just about unbelievable.

This could be a whole post of fun facts. The numbers are that extraordinary. I’ll try to limit myself, because the fun facts aren’t the point. But, all right: over his last four starts, Shields has allowed a total of 32 runs. Jake Arrieta has allowed a total of 32 runs over his last 30 starts, covering more than 200 innings. Shields, since his last game with San Diego, has yielded a 1.441 OPS. Barry Bonds, in 2004 — when he walked more than 200 times — finished with a 1.411 OPS. James Shields has strung together four starts of turning the opposition into prime Barry Bonds. This is James Shields, of the James Shields Trade.

It’s been impossible not to notice. Even the worst pitchers don’t bottom out like this, and this has become a serious problem for a team that’s trying to make the playoffs. Shields, of course, isn’t this bad — position players pitching aren’t this bad — but maybe the most troubling thing is this isn’t just a four-start slump. It’s been a horrible, unimaginable four starts, sure, but Shields hasn’t been quite right for some time.

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Scouty Thoughts on Tim Anderson and Michael Ynoa

Now that the draft has passed it’s time to get caught up on the weekend’s most significant call-up, that of White Sox top prospect Tim Anderson. Anderson was hitting .304/.325/.409 at Triple-A Charlotte before his promotion.

First, let’s appreciate how incredible it is that Anderson has come this far in such a short amount of time. He didn’t begin playing baseball seriously until his junior year of high school and received no Division I offers despite playing just under eight miles from the University of Alabama and for a school that has produced big-league talent in the past in former reliever Brandon Medders. Instead, Anderson’s chief athletic accomplishment in high school came in basketball, where he helped Hillcrest High School capture an Alabama state title in 2011 (video here, Anderson is #12). Jalen Brown, who clearly looks like the best scorer on that team, ended up averaging just over 10 points per game at Shelton State College, another local school that whiffed on Anderson.

After he began focusing on baseball, Anderson ended up at East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi, and slashed .306/.425/.500 with 30 steals in 30 attempts (per Baseball Cube) as a freshman in 2012 but somehow went undrafted. He was finally unearthed during a small college summer league later that year, then blew up at an autumn JUCO showcase and was selected in the first round the following June.

Anderson has prodigious physical skill. He has plus bat speed, clunky-yet-effective bat control and an ability to drive the ball to various parts of the field despite footwork that’s usually indicative of pull-only hitters. In fact, three of Anderson’s four home runs this season have been to right field. Despite special bat speed, Anderson doesn’t yet have a feel for striking the baseball in a way that generates consistent lift, especially to his pull side, and most of his contact is hard but into the ground. It’s a unique contact profile and one that’s tough to grade, but generally scouts think Anderson will end up a 50 or 55 hitter.

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An Annual Reminder from Eric Hosmer and Adam Jones

If you woke up this morning, looked at the WAR Leaderboards for position players and saw Mike TroutJose Altuve, and Manny Machado near the top, you might have had an inclination that all is right with the world. After all, those three players are some of the very best in major-league baseball, and we would expect to see them at the top of the list. Of course, when you look closely at the leaderboard, it’s important to note that there are 171 qualified players. To regard the WAR marks as some sort of de facto ranking for all players would be foolish. For some players, defensive value has a large impact on their WAR total, and it’s important, when considering WAR values one-third of the way into the season, to consider the context in which those figures.

“Small sample size” is a phrase that’s invoked a lot throughout the season. At FanGraphs, we try to determine what might be a small-sample aberration from what could be a new talent level. Generally speaking, the bigger the sample size, the better — and this is especially true for defensive statistics, where we want to have a very big sample to determine a player’s talent level. Last year, I attempted to provide a warning on the reliability of defensive statistics. Now that the season has reached its third month, it’s appropriate to revisit that work.

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Projecting White Sox Callup Tim Anderson

Super two deadline season is underway, so expect to see some well-regarded prospects get the call over the next couple of weeks. The most recent player to get the call is White Sox shortstop, Tim Anderson. Anderson hit .304/.325/.409 in Triple-A this season. He has 11 steals to his name this year, but swiped an eye-popping 49 last year.

Anderson oozes tools and has put up fine minor league numbers the past couple of years, but his plate discipline could use some work. He struck out in 23% of his trips to the plate this year at Triple-A, and walked in just 3%. The strikeout and walk numbers were just as bad in the lower levels. Read the rest of this entry »


White Sox Add James Shields, #4 Starter

Two offseasons ago, James Shields was seeking a five-year deal worth $125 million. He went unsigned until February, and ended up settling for a four-year deal worth $75 million in San Diego. One year and four months later, the Padres are paying more than half of Shields’ remaining salary for him to play on another team.

The deal goes like this:

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The Bullpen Has Saved, and Killed, the White Sox

On Monday, the White Sox lost 1-0, so that makes things fairly uncomplicated — they lost because they didn’t score. It happens. Also, they ran into Matt Harvey, and the Mets had reportedly identified a problem with Harvey’s mechanics beforehand, so if Harvey’s back on track now, well, there’s no shame in losing to him. Matt Harvey is an ace, and sometimes aces shut people out.

That’s how the White Sox lost their most recent game. Now let’s talk about the previous games.

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Adam Eaton Has Been Baseball’s Quietest Superstar

One problem you’ll hear with last year’s underachieving Chicago White Sox roster is that it was too heavy on the stars-and-scrubs model. Plenty of production came from guys like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu. Very little production came from the rest of the infield, the back end of the rotation, and both corner-outfield spots.

But this year’s White Sox have improved — they’re currently tied for the best record in the American League. They improved during the offseason by adding guys like Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie and Mat Latos to ensure that they’d have fewer black holes on the roster. Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia are each having bounceback seasons thus far, erasing two more holes from last year. Overall, there’s a more even talent of distribution around Chicago’s stars, and it’s a big part of this year’s success. Less scrubs is good. But so is more stars! And alongside the big guns, they’ve added another player who doesn’t yet have this type of reputation, but is making the case to be tossed into the “star” category. I’m talking about Adam Eaton, who, going back a whole year now, has quietly been one of baseball’s very best players.

We talk a lot about sample sizes, particularly this early in the season. What can we take away from small samples? When is a sample large enough to draw meaningful conclusions? Certainly not yet this year, but we’ve got a nice little feature here on the leaderboards in the “Past Calendar Year” split that helps with that. People are comfortable using full-season stats to evaluate players, and the Past Calendar Year split is just like an improved version of a full season’s stats, where the arbitrary endpoints are less arbitrary. It’s just “what have you done for me lately?” where “lately” is a full year, and everyone is on a similar playing-time scale.

I’ll often use this feature throughout the season to sort of help mentally readjust my perception of who the best players in baseball are “right now,” for whatever that’s worth. I went for a mental readjustment the other day, and something at the top of the leaderboard immediately caught my eye:

Position-player WAR, last calendar year

  1. Mike Trout, 9.5
  2. Bryce Harper, 8.5
  3. Josh Donaldson, 8.2
  4. Manny Machado, 8.1
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, 7.1
  6. Kris Bryant, 6.7
  7. Chris Davis, 6.4
  8. Adam Eaton, 6.3
  9. Paul Goldschmidt, 6.2
  10. Joey Votto, 6.2

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Using Statcast Against Jose Abreu

A few days ago, in the FanGraphs chat room, there was a little discussion about whether Statcast more favored run production or run prevention. I’m of the mind that having so much information works to the advantage of the pitchers and defenders, myself. I wrote about that a couple Hardball Times Annuals ago. But it’s by no means a settled matter. Someone during our conversation pointed out that, while Statcast is new to us, teams have had access to HITf/x for years, so they probably already had their ideas. Yet, perhaps Statcast makes everything easier. Perhaps more teams are just on board now than before. I don’t know. Many angles are interesting!

There’s something about Statcast that I think might be underappreciated. And it would be true about HITf/x, too, but Statcast is the thing that we get to see, so let’s roll with it. As a demonstration, I’m going to use Jose Abreu, of the White Sox. Abreu hasn’t been terrible, but he hasn’t quite been himself, not yet. Why is that? Could be any number of things, but it could have to do with how he’s been pitched. This is where Statcast can serve a purpose.

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Chris Sale: New and Improved?

The historic start of the club residing on Chicago’s north side has obscured some pretty amazing things going on at US Cellular Field, as the White Sox have raced out to the best record in the American League. Hopes weren’t all that high entering the season, with the club’s only spring-training noise emanating from the aftershocks of Drake LaRoche-Gate.

A month-plus in, however, the poor-fielding and weak-hitting Chisox of 2015 are a distant memory. A fine starting staff, led by perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and his wingmen Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and Mat Latos, are thrilled to find that most of the batted balls they allow are finding leather this time around.

About those batted balls: much is being made of the fact that Chris Sale is posting the best, small-sample traditional numbers of his career while pitching to much more contact than in the recent past. Today, let’s dig inside the numbers a little bit to see whether Sale is, in fact, new and improved.

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Let’s Watch Adam Eaton Save 12 Runs

Bryce Harper may have slumped recently, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a fantastic start to the season. He’s two homers shy of the league lead, and both the league leaders above him play half their games in Colorado. He simultaneously owns one of baseball’s best walk rates and one of baseball’s best isolated-slugging percentages. Bryce Harper is the man. Numbers weren’t necessary to make this point. All in all, Harper’s offensive performance to date has been worth nine runs above average.

Adam Eaton‘s been better. Not with the bat — Eaton’s just putting up his typical 117 wRC+ again. No, Eaton’s been better than Harper’s bat with his glove. Using Ultimate Zone Rating, our default defensive metric here on the site, Eaton’s glove has been worth a league-leading 9.6 runs above average. Use Defensive Runs Saved, where Eaton is running laps around the league with 12 runs saved, and it gets even better — Eaton’s defensive performance becomes equivalent to Mike Trout‘s season at the plate.

So this funny thing is going on with Adam Eaton in right field — a position he’s playing on an everyday schedule for the first time, having moved over from center field to accommodate Austin Jackson — and, especially considering Eaton’s outfield defense has been something of an enigma in the past, this development is something that’s begging to be explored.

Adam Eaton’s made 10 noteworthy plays this season, which, combined with all the other routine ones, have already been worth 12 Defensive Runs Saved. That’s more than Josh Donaldson had all of last year. Eaton’s number might not (probably won’t?) stay that high all year, but it’s that high right now. Let’s watch Adam Eaton save 12 runs.
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The White Sox Have Two Aces

Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League, and one of the true aces in baseball. He’s made the All-Star team four straight years, and has finished in the top six in Cy Young voting in each of those seasons as well. He may be overshadowed in Chicago by what Jake Arrieta is doing right now, but Chris Sale is still recognized as one of the game’s best pitchers.

Chris Sale has a teammate, though, who you probably wouldn’t recognize unless he walked up to you and said “Hi, I’m Jose Quintana, and I’m really good at my job.” And he should consider doing just that, because Jose Quintana is indeed really freaking good at his job.

WAR, Past Calendar Year
Name IP BB% K% GB% HR/FB LOB% BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP- WAR RA9-WAR
Clayton Kershaw 247.1 4% 34% 50% 9% 80% 0.262 50 49 54 9.8 9.8
Jake Arrieta 240.1 6% 27% 57% 8% 83% 0.230 37 61 68 7.5 11.3
Chris Sale 230.0 5% 32% 42% 12% 76% 0.293 71 65 67 7.0 6.1
David Price 217.0 5% 27% 41% 9% 76% 0.306 74 68 74 6.2 5.9
Dallas Keuchel 232.0 6% 24% 60% 14% 75% 0.301 80 73 69 5.9 5.8
Jose Quintana 216.0 5% 22% 47% 7% 79% 0.317 68 69 83 5.9 6.7
Zack Greinke 227.2 5% 23% 47% 8% 82% 0.252 57 75 84 5.7 8.7
Max Scherzer 231.0 5% 30% 36% 12% 80% 0.272 79 79 76 5.6 5.8
Jacob deGrom 179.0 5% 28% 47% 8% 78% 0.267 61 63 72 5.5 5.5
Corey Kluber 217.0 5% 28% 42% 11% 72% 0.281 86 72 75 5.5 4.6

Over the past 365 days, Quintana is tied with Dallas Keuchel for the fifth best WAR among pitchers in baseball. If you prefer the runs-allowed version of WAR, he’s fourth. No matter how you evaluate a pitcher, Jose Quintana has been amazing for the past year, and yet, he’s still somehow rarely discussed as one of the game’s elite.

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Chris Sale Is Pitching to Contact Now

I was talking with my father about Miguel Cabrera recently, and about how he’s undeniably one of the best hitters either of us have ever seen. One of the things we found so fascinating is that Miggy has seemingly never had to adjust. He’s got this approach, and that approach has been damn near unbeatable going on 14 years now. He’s been waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more for pitchers to exploit him, but there is no exploiting Miguel Cabrera, so he just keeps doing what he’s always been doing. Over the last decade, Cabrera’s swing rate’s always been between 46% and 51%. The contact rate’s always between 79% and 83%. The pull rate, always between 35% and 41%. Ground-ball rate, never wavering from the 39% to 42% range. There’s sure to have been little tweaks here and there, but for the most part, Miguel Cabrera’s been adjustment-free more than a decade, and he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time.

Of course, Miguel Cabrera is the exception. Seriously, the exception. Mike Trout‘s had to adjust. Bryce Harper‘s had to adjust. Hell, even Clayton Kershaw spends some of his off time looking for another piece. Everyone in baseball is adjusting, constantly, which benefits their own employment status as well as mine.

You know Chris Sale as one of baseball’s very best pitchers. Over the last two-plus years, he’s got baseball’s second-best strikeout-walk differential, third-best FIP, fourth-best ERA, and fifth-best xFIP. He’s no Kershaw, but it’s very simple to make the argument that he’s the next-best guy. But Sale’s not content with the next-best guy. Just like Trout and Harper weren’t content with where they were, Sale wants Kershaw status. I’d guess that Sale, personally, has no doubts he can get there.

And so Sale’s made an adjustment. It’s always tough to tell, especially this early in the season, whether the changes we’re seeing in a player’s process are intentional or moreso a product of their environment. It becomes a lot easier to cipher out when the player comes out and lets us know it’s the former. Chris Sale, the American League’s greatest strikeout artist, made a conscious decision to become a more contact-oriented pitcher, and he’s doing it.

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Finding a Trade Partner for Ryan Braun

Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal reported that the possibility of Ryan Braun being traded “was becoming more realistic”, as Braun is off to a fantastic start to the 2016 season, and he’s starting to put some distance between himself and the BioGenesis scandal that cost him half the 2013 season and a good chunk of his reputation. Since the suspension, Braun hasn’t played up to his previously established levels of performance, and when combined with his contract and the baggage surrounding how he handled his failed test, he was mostly an immovable object.

But with Braun hitting .372/.443/.605 — yeah, that is heavily inflated by a .409 BABIP, but his early season strikeout rate is back in line with Peak Braun levels, and he can still hit the ball a long way — and only four guaranteed years left on his deal after this season, dealing Braun is starting to look like something that could happen. It’s almost a certainty that the Brewers will take on some of his remaining contract in any deal in order to get better talent in return, with the question of how much of the remaining ~$90 million they’ll keep on their books being settled depending on how well he keeps hitting and what other sluggers hit the market this summer.

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Saying Nice Things About A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski has played baseball for a very long time. He’s one of the few players to predate not only the PITCHf/x era (2007-present), but also the Baseball Info Solutions era (2002-present). He’s one of just six active players who played in the 1990s — the others are Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Bartolo Colon, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. They are all well celebrated and beloved players. Pierzynski does not fit in that group.

If you’re familiar with Pierzynski, you likely know that his opponents generally have not been all that fond of him. A Google search for “A.J. Pierzynski hate” turns up plenty of results. Rather than focus on that, I thought it would be fun to find some nice to things to say about Pierzynski.

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The White Sox Have Gotten the Start They Needed

The White Sox beat the Blue Jays last night by a score of 10-1 (box). Comprehensive victory. Chris Sale won his fifth game, going a ho-hum 8 innings versus a lefty-destroying lineup in a hitter’s park. Southside hitters compiled 15 hits. They won on Monday in the first game of the series and five of the six games before that, too, and today they go for the sweep at the Rogers Centre — at which park the Blue Jays haven’t been swept since 2013. No one is saying that two games and the prospect of an early (and difficult) road sweep make a season, but the White Sox are one of two teams in baseball with 15 wins, and that merits some investigation. It would merit investigation no matter what team it was, but it especially merits investigation given where the White Sox were projected to finish this season.

At the beginning of the season, our projected American League Central standings looked like this:

2016 Preseason AL Central Projections
Team EXPW EXPL W% DIV WC POFF DOFF ALDS ALCS WS
Indians 87.5 74.5 .540 56.9% 12.6% 69.5% 63.7% 33.8% 17.9% 8.7%
Tigers 80.8 81.2 .499 15.0% 12.4% 27.4% 21.1% 9.5% 4.4% 1.9%
White Sox 80.5 81.5 .497 14.3% 11.8% 26.1% 20.1% 8.9% 3.8% 1.6%
Twins 77.8 84.2 .481 7.1% 7.5% 14.6% 10.7% 4.5% 1.9% 0.7%
Royals 77.5 84.5 .478 6.6% 6.5% 13.1% 9.6% 4.1% 1.8% 0.6%
SOURCE: FanGraphs

There’s a lot of parity in the AL this season — not necessarily top-tier parity, but a solid, middle-of-the-road type where each of the division races could go down to the wire. The AL Central fits that mold, with the preseason projections telling us the Indians were clear favorites — though if the 2014-2015 Royals were any indication, we could expect the race to possibly be tighter. The Central was potentially seen as one of the more volatile divisions, with the possibility we could have a four-way race for the division. There was even the idea before the season started that even the Twins — with a little luck and a few breakouts — could be in the mix, but that seems less possible (to put it nicely) given their woeful start. Where do the playoff odds stack up for the Central now? Let’s take a look:

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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

Maybe it was the fact that she spent her formative years in Germany, while I spent most of mine in Jamaica and America’s South, but my mother and I have always disagreed about a fundamental thing when it comes to the weather. For her, she wants the sun. It doesn’t matter if it’s bitter cold and dry; if the sun’s out, she’s fine. I’d rather it was warm. Don’t care if there’s a drizzle or humidity or whatever.

It turns out, when we were disagreeing about these things, we were really talking about pitching. Mostly because life is pitching and pitching is life.

But also because the temperature, and the temperature alone, does not tell the story of pitching in the cold. It’ll make sense, just stick with it.

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Ramirez to Ramirez: A Brief History

On Sunday, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Boston reliever Noe Ramirez fielded a comebacker off the bat of Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar. He flipped it to Hanley Ramirez for the putout. It wasn’t a particularly momentous occasion, but it got me thinking — was this the first ever Ramirez to Ramirez putout in major-league history? I probably would have let it go right there (I’m pretty lazy, after all) but Jim Reedy pointed out that there have only been 29 Ramirezes in major-league history, and that didn’t seem like to daunting of a number. So I dove in.

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Carlos Rodon Is Going to Break Out, or Already Has

It’s anecdotal of course, of little value maybe, but when you’re talking to Carlos Rodon these days, you get a different feeling than you might have last year. He’s more… comfortable. He’s not a rookie anymore. “Knowing you belong” is really important, as he put it to me.

But the reason he knows he belongs now is that he had a great second half last year. He agreed that went a long way to calming the nerves. But anyone can have a great half without a major adjustment, only to see things change once again at the whim of the baseball gods.

The good news is that Rodon made two huge adjustments last year that coincided with the start of his run. That suggests it wasn’t luck. That suggests that Rodon has found something that can help him walk fewer batters. And that’s about all that stands between Rodon and a breakout season.

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