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The Curious Case of Eloy Jimenez

How the White Sox handle Eloy Jimenez’s return is not only key for 2022, but also Eloy’s career.

Eloy Jimenez Chicago White Sox
Photo: WhiteSox/Twitter

Eloy Jimenez has become an enigmatic player for the White Sox since his breakout rookie campaign in 2019. Injuries, which are largely out of anyone’s control, have certainly hampered his performance. It’s derailed his development as a player. It would be ignorant to say he reached his peak as a 22-year-old rookie in 2019.  31 home runs, 79 RBIs, and an OPS of .829 felt like an indication that the young slugger could become one of the most prolific sluggers in the game. He even did so in a season in which he missed 40 games. Eloy, while not known for his fielding, leaves a lot left to be desired. At this juncture, it seems fair to question whether he can actually be a long-term option in left field.

The Old Eloy Jimenez

In 2019, his last “full season” in the big leagues, FanGraphs shows a DRS and OAA of -4. He certainly had a lot of room for improvement, to put it nicely. Of course, we can’t talk about Eloy Jimenez without mentioning his joy for the game and infectious and affable personality. It should be clear to anyone watching the 2022 White Sox that joy and fun are missing. He stayed healthy during the Covid shortened 2020 season managing to stay on the field for 55 of the 60 games.

We even saw him avoid the dreaded sophomore slump that seems to affect a lot of players in almost every sport. In those 55 games, Jimenez smacked 14 homers, drove in 37 runs, and had an OPS of .891. These numbers extrapolated over 162 games are staggering. Leading fans to believe that Eloy can be the real deal.

After all of the great things we can say about Jimenez it is hard not to discuss his injury history. Obviously, the downside is that he does get hurt, and gets hurt often.

Eloy Jimenez and the Injury Bug

In 2021, we saw him tear his pectoral muscle trying to rob a home run at the end of spring training. He missed the majority of that campaign. We saw the White Sox mostly run away with the division without him in the lineup. The White Sox played to a 93-win record without his bat in the lineup for 107 games. He returned to the 2021 lineup earlier than expected, which was welcome at the time, but struggled mightily. In the 55 games he played, his numbers took a considerable dip. He slashed just .249/.303/.437 with 10 home runs. Paltry numbers when compared to his 55 games in 2022.

Just a few weeks into the 2022 campaign, on April 23, Eloy was injured running to first base. After suffering a torn hamstring that required surgical repair, Jimenez was initially expected to be out 6-8 weeks.  He began his rehab stint on May 28th which was roughly just four weeks after his surgery. Much earlier than originally expected.

After ramping up baseball activity, Jimenez had to be shut down due to discomfort after only 5 games with the Charlotte Knights. Eloy did not appear in another game for two weeks. That currently puts him back on the original timeline for his return. It’s more than fair to say the White Sox may have attempted to rush him back and may have gravely mishandled the situation. So far during his rehab, he has been relegated to DH duties and still has not played left field at all in 13 games. Something rather concerning given the current positional log jam at DH in the big league level for the White Sox.

Things Don’t Look Good Right Now For Eloy

Eloy Jimenez played just 11 games with the White Sox this season before going on IL with a leg injury. His numbers in that span were atrocious. It was a small sample size but it’s difficult to excuse a slash line of .222/.256/.333. I can’t overstate how much of a drop-in production that presents, given what we have seen Jimenez be capable of. He had one double and one home run during that stretch. He struck out 10 times in 36 at-bats and walked just twice.

None of us know how any of these numbers would have turned out by now, the mid-way point of the season. The early indicators, however, don’t inspire much confidence. However, he did show a bit of improvement on the defensive side of the game in his 11 games with a -1 OAA and -1 DRS. Sadly, that makes him a better defensive option (small sample – I know) in left than Andrew Vaughn (DRS -4, OAA-6), or A.J. Pollock (DRS +1, OAA -4).

He has been abysmal in his 2022 campaign regardless of where he has played. In his rehab stint despite his first homer/extra-base hit in last night’s contest. In 13 games at Charlotte, he’s hitting .196 with a .245 OBP and slugging .333. Charlotte’s home park is a launching pad for home runs and has worse pitching than at the double-A level. His performance is very concerning when considering park factors and level of pitching talent. He slashed .356/.399./.599 and belted 12 homers in 55 games in Charlotte in 2018 before his call-up the following year. In addition, in his 5 game rehab stint in 2019, we saw him slash .318/.318/.818. That should provide some perspective on how uncharacteristic his rehab performance has been.

Outlook

Jimenez could start tearing the cover off the ball at any moment. He certainly can be the hitter of old and back in the White Sox lineup within a week if he turns the corner. However, his early return from significant injuries in 2021 and the recent attempt at beating his recovery timeline in 2022 is cause for some concern.

The White Sox are currently 6 games out of first place in the AL Central and 5 games out of the Wild Card race. They are running out of time in 2022 to turn things around and Eloy Jimenez can provide a much-needed spark to the White Sox offense. We could see a repeat of his 2021 season, which would help a bit. What is really needed is the old Eloy. The one that hits the ball far in the middle of the White Sox lineup, on a team that so desperately needs the power to show up.

Long term, the organization is playing with fire if they panic. What we don’t want to see is the organization forcing Eloy Jimenez to return in an attempt to resuscitate a season that may already be lost. Shutting him down until he fully regains his strength is another option that could be on the table if the results don’t change soon, both for Jimenez and the club itself at the big league level. The front office may be prudent to slow things down as much as possible for Jimenez and keep him in Charlotte. Measures have to be considered to protect a player that’s shown the capability of being one of the all-time great sluggers in team history.

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