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Scratch And Claw: White Sox Start Strong Despite Injuries, Anomalies

The White Sox have managed to survive injuries and odd performances to take their first three series. All things considered, as a fan you have to feel good about that.

Jose Abreu Luis Robert Chicago White Sox
Photos: whitesox/Instagram

I think we can all agree that winning the first three series of the year is a good sign for a baseball team. It’s certainly the most positive outcome you can have to begin a 162-game marathon. For our Chicago White Sox, the path has already been a bumpy one with a cascade of injuries to integral pieces and some odd performances from those still here. It’s still too early to say if any trends are forming that may be causes for concern, but the first nine games have been interesting, to say the least.

Hacking Away

Through those nine games, the Chicago White Sox have drawn the fewest walks in the sport at 6%. This certainly is not something we want to see continue through the course of the season. However, it is once again too early to tell if this is going to be a long-term problem. Without regulars Yoan Moncada and newly acquired right fielder AJ Pollock, the Sox are missing two of the more patient hitters that the lineup was counting on this season.

Pollock equated himself nicely on Opening Day but injured his hamstring on the first Saturday of the season, and we haven’t seen him since. Luckily, his return should be just around the corner.

Moncada, as we know, has been sidelined since the last week of Spring Training with an oblique injury. He figures to still be a few weeks away from returning to the big league club.

These absences take two professional hitters out of the lineup and the subsequent offensive approach of the collective unit has taken a step back as a result. Yes, this team is still finding ways to win baseball games, which is commendable. But the Sox surely hope the returns of Moncada and Pollock will help create more offensive consistency, something that has been lacking to this point in the season.

While the overall lack of patience hasn’t been great, only the Cardinals and Royals are striking out less than our White Sox to this point. Sure, this is largely a function of having a lineup littered with free-swingers, but they are making contact consistently. We saw too many stretches a year ago where this team was devoid of contact at pivotal times that cost them ballgames. So if they are able to consistently put the bat on the ball this season, I believe we will see a shift in results in short order.

Results-Oriented

Speaking of results, let me tell you something. The results the Chicago White Sox have seen to this point haven’t aligned with what one would expect. The South Siders currently rank 24th in the league with 38 runs scored. However, if you dig into the numbers a little you’ll see that there’s some odd, perhaps even, bad luck involved.

Noted WST stat guru, @JayCuda (if you aren’t following Jay, you’re doing yourself a disservice), has done some of the heavy lifting again to highlight the disparity in the expected outcomes of the White Sox offense versus their actual outcomes:

This is quite the disparity in output versus expectations so far. Have cold Midwest temperatures played a factor in some of this so far? It’s entirely possible. The Sox have collectively hit into some bad luck, however. No two players more so than Jose Abreu and Luis Robert, two of the most critical offensive components in this lineup.

Jose Abreu

Abreu, a White Sox lifer, is currently slashing .212/.297/.364 with one home run. The casual observer might look at those numbers and say that perhaps father time is finally catching up to the former MVP. But this is where I challenge you to dig deeper.

Abreu’s average exit velocity is an absurd 98.9 MPH. Simply put, he’s hitting missiles around the field, but right at defenders. He has a Barrel% (the Statcast measure that accounts for the ideal exit velocity and launch angle ranges) of 26.1% right now. That is Ruthian-level stuff right there. Based on the quality of Abreu’s contact, his expected batting average comes in at .319. His expected slugging is a juiced-up Barry Bonds-esque .799! What I’m trying to tell you is that Jose Abreu is going to break out soon.

Luis Robert

His Cuban compatriot, Luis Robert, is similarly hitting into tough luck at the moment. Robert himself is sporting a 15.2% barrel rate. Given the quality of his contact, his expected batting average is currently at .342 and his expected slugging percentage is at .766! In reality, Robert is slashing an odd .194/.216/.389.

These are two of the top three hitters in the White Sox lineup and they are both being snakebit by bad luck at the moment. If they continue to square up the baseball as they have to this point, those screamers are going to start finding holes and the White Sox will begin scoring more runs with regularity.

Staying Afloat

We all saw how the injury bug bit the Chicago White Sox in 2021, yet they were able to persevere en route to a division title. They are being tested again early in 2022 and they are still finding ways to come out ahead of their opposition, thus far. The path will get a lot tougher starting at the end of the month as the team will embark on a 45-game stretch in which 33 will be against viable playoff contenders. It is imperative that the White Sox weather the storm over these next nine games and have positive momentum heading into that stretch.

They’ve found ways to piece together victories thus far, and while it’s too early to make heads or tails out of what this team will be, we know there are certainly some things to continue monitoring. Getting injured regulars like Yoan Moncada and AJ Pollock back will only strengthen the everyday lineup and put the Sox in a better position to score runs daily. Once Lucas Giolito returns from his IL stint, he will provide a boost to the rotation. If he can provide length on a start-to-start basis, it will relieve some of the pressure off the bullpen.

All things considered, you have to feel pretty good that the White Sox are 6-3 at the moment. Did they give a few games away in there already? Sure, but that will happen over the course of a 162-game marathon season. Are there things that need to be tightened up? Without question, but considering the injuries and anomalies to date, there’s no reason to be hitting the panic button at this time.

I said at the beginning of the season, this is a good team. I still feel that way, even though it’s been a very funky start, albeit a positive one.

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Former scrub JUCO pitcher

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