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How The White Sox Should Adjust Their Lineup With Yasmani Grandal Out

The injury to Yasmani Grandal will force the White Sox to confront some hard truths about their roster over the remainder of the season.
Tony La Russa Chicago White Sox

Photo: Bally Sports Kansas City

Late in Saturday night's victory over the Cleveland Guardians, the Chicago White Sox and their fans thought another devastating injury had befallen them. Yasmani Grandal, after being inexplicably sent home by third base coach Joe McEwing with no outs on a base hit to centerfield, went down like a ton of bricks and immediately grabbed for his surgically repaired knee. Many feared the worst, as things did not look good. Grandal and the team appeared to have dodged a major bullet, however.

Grandal's absence for the next few weeks will force the club to confront some hard truths head-on in their quest to erase a four-game deficit with just 39 games to play. The daily lineup machinations will be scrutinized more heavily than normal since one of the puzzle pieces that was making things so problematic is no longer present for the time being.

Face The Facts

Despite the ridiculous narratives you might see on social media, Yasmani Grandal has been a productive member of the White Sox since joining the club. There is a major dichotomy between the first two years of production in a White Sox uniform and what we've seen in 2022. Unfortunately, that recency bias has clouded a lot of judgment.

Through his 569 plate appearances in his first two seasons with the Pale Hose, Grandal slashed .236/.396/.484 with 31 home runs, good for a 144 wRC+. Those, in fact, are good numbers.

He brought an added dimension of plate discipline to a lineup that was sorely lacking it with his 20.6% walk rate. Again, not making outs is a good thing, particularly with a lineup filled with free-swingers. Anyone that tries to tell you that Grandal didn't produce offensively through the first two seasons of his contract, is either a liar or doesn't really understand what it means to be a productive MLB hitter.

A Massive Crater

The 2022 season has been a different story, however. Slowed by offseason knee surgery and hampered by the lockout that prevented a normal rehabilitative process, Grandal's season has been the worst of his career.

In 290 plate appearances, he's slashed a paltry .203/.307/.259 with just three home runs, resulting in a 70 wRC+. Compounding the issue is the fact that his famed plate discipline has been neutralized. He is walking at a mere 12.4%, which is still the top rate on the team, but it's well below the mark he set upon his arrival on the South Side.

To be blunt, Grandal has been a non-factor offensively, to put it nicely. Following a hamstring injury that cost him six weeks, Yaz rejoined the White Sox when they opened the second half of the season. And his offensive production has seen modest improvement to the tune of a .244/.337/.308 slash line in 89 plate appearances. Those figures are very Nick Madrigal-esqe, and that simply is not what the Sox need from a bat in the middle of their lineup.

The team has sorely missed the guy that was driving the ball from the left side of the plate and providing lineup balance. It appears as though that player is not going to emerge in 2022, sadly. Even before the injury, it was time that Tony La Russa came to grips with the fact that Grandal's diminished output and presence in the lineup every day were hindering the team.

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Now, the 33-year-old catcher will be on the shelf for 10-14 days (minimum). This gives the White Sox an opportunity to make some necessary adjustments in their efforts to optimize a lineup that has been mediocre all season.

Necessary Changes

The Chicago White Sox have a lot of square pegs they have tried to plug into round holes all season. They have been utilizing two catchers in the lineup almost all season, while playing first basemen in corner outfield spots. It's no wonder why this team is sitting at 62-61 given these roster constraints. Grandal's absence, however, will allow them make some needed changes.

Removing Andrew Vaughn From The Outfield

Look, I'm a big Andrew Vaughn fan. He's got a 129 wRC+ this year, but his value has been cratered by his continually playing the outfield. Simply put, it can't be allowed to continue. Whether it's been in left field (-5 DRS and -7 OAA in 185.1 innings) or right field (-6 DRS and -3 OAA in 260 innings), he is hurting the Sox with his glove. Grandal no longer occupying the DH spot, as has been the norm more than the exception, allows Vaughn to not be forced into outfield action.

The recent lower-body injuries that Jose Abreu is obviously dealing with need to be addressed. It makes all the sense in the world, no matter how much he might not like it, to get the big Cuban off his feet for a little bit and utilize the DH spot. Doing so would allow Vaughn to shift to the position he was drafted to play (what a strange concept). The Sox can ill afford a banged-up Abreu to miss any time, so limiting his exposure risk with the nagging injuries can hopefully help recharge his batteries for the season's final month.

Utilizing Vaughn and Abreu between the 1B and DH spots is the optimal setup for this club. Vaughn simply not having an outfield glove will improve this team significantly.

Utilizing Gavin Sheets

At the same time, Grandal's absence will allow Gavin Sheets to see more plate appearances against right-handers. Since returning from a brief demotion in June, Sheets has slashed .286/.324/.481 with five home runs, good for a 128 wRC+. That's the type of left-handed production the White Sox desperately need.

Granted, Sheets should not be confused for a quality defender either, but his glove has been less costly in the outfield than Vaughn's on an inning-by-inning basis. I know a lot has been made about AJ Pollock's recent BABIP-fueled hot streak since assuming the leadoff role when Tim Anderson went down, but he still only has an 82 wRC+ against RHP in that timeframe. As scary as this sounds, that's a marked improvement over his season mark against RHP (65 wRC+). So for a team that isn't going to be winning games with defense, it needs to maximize the lineup every day.

I know it sounds insane, but playing Gavin Sheets in right field ahead of Pollock makes sense for the time being. Assuming Luis Robert is healthy and available, he should take over leadoff duties over Pollock on a regular basis. That's not an optimal solution, but it will have to do for now, as this roster simply doesn't have optimal solutions to its problems.

Making The Best of It

Yasmani Grandal's disastrous season is a big reason why the Chicago White Sox are in the position they are in, and we have to be honest about it. His injury will give the team an opportunity to make some necessary changes. And should he return, the Sox shoudn't rely upon him to provide everyday production in the lineup. It's time to not care about a veteran's feelings or their contract status. It's time to win baseball games, plain and simple.

A lineup without Grandal will have to push forward, and it should do so without Andrew Vaughn in the outfield. The White Sox have the luxury now of playing matchups now more than before, although the idea of giving Tony La Russa more leeway to make lineup decisions is one that makes me queasy. How this team navigates their current personnel issues over the final quarter of the season will ultimately decide if we get to see Soxtober or not.