The Chicago White Sox have had a right field problem for most of the last decade. Since the start of the 2012 season, the Sox rank 25th in baseball in terms of WAR (15.3) at the position according to FanGraphs’ value measure. What has historically been viewed as a power position has been anything but for our boys at 35th/Shields.
During that time, the individuals filling the position have produced a 95 wRC+, ranking 24th across baseball, while slugging a paltry .407, good for 25th in the sport. I’m not breaking any news here. This is something that must improve in 2022 if the Sox are able to get over the hump and become a viable World Series contender. So how do the White Sox go about fixing the position?
A Marte Partay?
A sizeable and vocal portion of the fan base would like to see the Sox sign free-agent outfielder, Starling Marte. Marte has never played right field during the course of his 10-year MLB career. However, he has been a steady, well-rounded player while spending time in both center and left field. Whether Marte would be willing to shift positions remains to be seen, although most players are willing to do so if you compensate them enough.
Marte brings a skill set that would significantly benefit the White Sox. He has above average bat-to-ball skills, posting a K% below 20% every season since 2014. The Sox, as presently comprised, have quite a bit of swing-and-miss in their lineup. Marte would provide some balance to that.
The 33-year-old veteran is coming off a career year in time split between Miami and Oakland. He posted career bests in terms of wRC+(134), BB% (8.2%), and OBP (.383). Marte’s newfound plate discipline adds another dimension to his game that previously eluded him for most of his career. Should this carry over into 2022 and beyond, Marte would truly be a weapon to any team that is able to insert him into their lineup.
For his career, Marte has been a reverse split guy offensively, posting a 104 wRC+ against southpaws. He holds a 114 wRC+ against righties. While the Sox could benefit from adding a left-handed bat to the lineup, Marte’s ability to hit right-handers at an above-average clip would certainly benefit the Pale Hose. There is also not a sizeable gap in his production regardless of pitcher handedness, thus minimizing the need for a platoon situation if he were added to the roster.
Two areas where Marte would greatly impact a White Sox roster that is comprised of corner players with limited athleticism and defensive prowess would be both on the basepaths and in the outfield. For his career, Starling has been with 20 Outs Above Average according to StatCast’s defensive metric. That time has been divided between both center field and left field for multiple teams, so his ability has translated well to various home ballparks. That makes him a true defensive weapon.
Marte’s presence would be particularly valuable to a White Sox team that has Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez in center and left field, respectively, two players that have had issues staying healthy throughout the course of their young careers. Marte’s versatility would provide insulation to the team in the unfortunate event that either would miss time.
On the bases, Marte has served as a lethal weapon. For his career, he has a 78% success rate stealing extra bases, including a gaudy 47/52 in 2021. The efficiency with which he has been able to take an additional 90 feet throughout his career would certainly benefit a Sox team that is largely station-to-station. One would think an old-school manager like Tony La Russa would love to have a player with this dimension in his lineup on a daily basis.
Working against Marte, as mentioned above, is the unknown element as to whether he would be willing to consider a team that wants to install him in right field. The nine-spot is a position he has never played. Additionally, the Sox are very right-handed at the moment. The team could certainly benefit from having some lineup versatility with regard to handedness. Marte’s skill set helps to minimize some of these concerns. Ultimately, it is unknown at this time if the team is looking at handedness as a deciding factor.
At 33 years of age, Marte is what he is at this point. There is little realistic upsize growth trajectory in his game. Don’t mistake what I’m saying here, he is a very good player that would certainly help this team. However, it does stand to reason that his decline phase could certainly be approaching.
Comfort in Conforto?
In recent days, there has been some smoke around the idea of the White Sox aggressively pursuing former Mets right fielder, Michael Conforto. Conforto will be entering his age-29 season in 2022. He is a full four years younger than Marte and could still have some upside growth to his game. Conforto checks a number of boxes for the Sox. He hits from the left side of the plate with a career 12.1% BB rate and a 124 wRC+.
Adding a player like Conforto that has a sound plate approach, works counts, and gets on base consistently would help to lengthen a lineup that can be overly aggressive at times, leading to some ugly offensive stretches. The power output he has shown historically would be an added benefit for a team that simply didn’t slug enough in 2021.
The lefty out of Oregon State has bashed RHP throughout his MLB career, posting a 136 wRC+ and slugging .502 while playing home games in spacious Citi Field. Those numbers would, seemingly, see a nice uptick if he were to play 81 games a year at Guaranteed Rate Field. Conforto’s ability to provide power from the left side brings a significantly different dimension than that of Starling Marte. I’ve been quoting Joe Sheehan for quite a while, saying, “Ball go far, team go far.” Conforto would certainly help in this department.
Conforto is coming off a down season offensively in 2021. He still posted an above-average 106 wRC+, but his power output dipped significantly. The lefty slugged an ugly .384 with 14 home runs in 479 PAs. Some within the Sox fan base have allowed this recency bias to cloud their judgment about the player while choosing to ignore the totality of his career, during which he has been a steady performer.
For his strengths, getting on base and slugging against RHP, Conforto comes with some notable drawbacks. He has wide platoon splits, including a below-average 94 wRC+ against southpaws, necessitating a platoon partner at this juncture.
His defensive metrics have been inconsistent across the various rating platforms and have been trending in the wrong direction for the last two seasons. According to DRS, he has been a (-4) the last two seasons. StatCasts’ Outs Above Average also has him at (-4) during that time frame. Previously, both rated him as an above-average defender. It is entirely possible that his range is beginning to erode, which is not a positive sign for a player that hasn’t even hit 30 yet.
One or None?
At the end of the day, Starling Marte and Michael Conforto have significantly different skill sets that would both benefit the White Sox in 2022 and beyond. They both come with different risk factors. However, adding either player would drastically improve the outlook for a Sox team that is looking to continue pushing towards championship contention in 2022. Whether either player ends up in right field at 35th/Shields in 2022 remains to be seen. I firmly believe the Sox must address this position, and I would be ecstatic to see either donning the black and white going forward.
Right now, we don’t know which skill set the front office and Tony La Russa ultimately value. But another winter of half measures at the position certainly isn’t the answer. There are two options right out there in the open and it stands to reason that finally fixing this position after a decade of woeful play is a priority.
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