The White Sox are a team on the rebound. After a dismal April in which they went 10-18 with a -34 run differential, they’ve turned things around and have gone 27-21 since, bringing them to within two games of .500 and to within 4.5 games of the AL Central lead. They still face a number of problems, including four starters with wOBAs below .300. But given how good their top guys have been, they can mask that for a bit until the trailers either pick up their performances, or GM Kenny Williams swings a trade for upgrades.
In the meantime, the Sox should be maximizing their resources by playing the guys who are actually hitting, and putting them in prominent lineup spots. Unfortunately, Ozzie Guillen has continued to hit one of his worst hitters atop the lineup, and doesn’t play another who has produced in his limited appearances.
The White Sox list of problems starts at the top of the order. In 72 of the Sox 76 games Juan Pierre has hit leadoff, and he has produced a .274 wOBA (.314 OBP). Of the White Sox with at least 200 PA, only Alex Rios has produced a lower wOBA. The .314 OBP isn’t quite as bad, since it’s close to the .320 league average. But that’s still poor for a leadoff hitter, and it’s made even poorer by Pierre’s nine caught stealings in 19 attempts. That, along with his complete lack of power — just eight extra base hits this season — puts his wOBA in perspective.
Even from this quick glance it is clear that Pierre does not belong atop the White Sox lineup. Guillen doesn’t have many good options for replacing him, since only five of the White Sox starters have OBPs above the league average and three of them clearly don’t fit as leadoff hitters. But he could easily slot in Alexei Ramirez or Brent Lillibridge as the leadoff man in order to give the big producers, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin, some base runners. Beyond the case for removing Pierre as leadoff hitter, there’s also a strong case for removing him as a starter completely.
It’s always tricky playing with small samples of defensive data, so the knock on Pierre’s defense this season isn’t necessarily indicative of his talent in the outfield. Yet both of our major defensive statistics, UZR and DRS, rate him natively in left field. If it were just UZR it would be one thing, but this is both sets of data, and both come to similar conclusions. It could be that he’s in a slump in the field, but that doesn’t help recoup the value he’s already cost the team. Regardless of what might happen later in the season, he has been a liability on both sides in 2011. A team scrambling back from a slow start can ill afford to continue trotting out a player like that.
In Lillibridge, Guillen has a ready made replacement. It’s silly to pretend that he’ll keep up his .390 wOBA or his .277 ISO, but even with a decent degree of statistical correction he still amounts to a better player than Pierre. He has displayed ability in the outfield this year as well, making him a wholesale upgrade over Pierre. He also has some speed and some semblance of discipline, making him a fit atop the order. Even if he regresses to the .270/.330/.378 level he hit in AAA in 2010, he’d provide well more than Pierre. If he hits to his previous major league levels, well, then it’s still a worthy experiment because of Pierre’s performance to date.
The White Sox have every opportunity to rid themselves of Pierre’s poor production. If, because of depth issues, they want to keep him on the roster, they can shift him down in the order. If they feel that someone such as Lillibridge, or an outside replacement, can slide in there, they can just get rid of him. His contract is up after this season, so they lose little by letting him go. That makes his struggles quite different to those of Alex Rios, who is under contract through 2014. It seems awfully odd at this point that the Sox, so close to becoming relevant again, haven’t done anything about their most glaring issue.
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