We've all heard the saying in recent years, "Ball go far, team go far." In many aspects, that sentiment is true with the modern game of baseball. The game has become more power-dependent, specifically with home runs, than at any point in its history. So how is it that a team ranking 24th in all of baseball with 41 home runs has an American League-best 26-16 record with a +73 run differential that is tops in the sport? The answer is that this isn't the same type of White Sox team many of us have grown up watching.
Ever since I can remember, the White Sox have been a team that has seen their success offensively dependent on hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Growing up watching sluggers like Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Paul Konerko, and now Jose Abreu, we have come to expect this team to put the ball in the seats with great regularity. For large chunks of the previous decade, the team failed in this area and their records reflected that. But something different is happening at the corner of 35th/Shields here in 2021.
As previously identified, this team is in the bottom third of baseball in terms of home runs, which is a startling development that I think would've induced panic had you told us that in March. We all know the pitching has been stellar to this point and a key driving force behind the tremendous start to this season, but the offense is doing its part just in an atypical manner. According to the all-encompassing offensive stat wRC+, the White Sox team 117 wRC+ trails only the Houston Astros as we enter play on Friday night.
As I mentioned above, the White Sox rank 24th in baseball in total home runs. What may surprise you is that they actually rank eighth in terms of team SLG% at .412. Currently, our boys rank sixth in the league in doubles (70) and sixth in triples (nine).
Have the changes to the baseball impacted the White Sox's ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark more so than other teams in the league to this point? I'm hesitant to say that, despite league-wide slugging being down dramatically. I believe it's simply a combination of some veteran producers getting off to slow starts, young players learning on the fly, and key injuries.
However, the White Sox overall extra-base production has been strong enough to land them at the top of the sport in terms of run creation. Once the weather warms in the coming days, I believe we will start to see the White Sox leaving the yard with more regularity, which should be a fearsome notion for the rest of the league.
Every 90 Feet Counts
Entering play tonight, the White Sox rank first in the sport in OBP (.346) and fourth in BB% at 10.7%. This is one of the greatest developments here in 2021, especially when considering they've done this without the services of Eloy Jimenez and now Luis Robert, two of the team's top projected offensive performers. This team has been averse to drawing walks and getting on base for much of the past decade, so to see this turn of events come about is a refreshing development to say the least.
Getting on base is the first step in terms of creating runs and winning baseball games, and the White Sox are doing this at a clip we haven't seen in well over a decade. Once they are on base, things are getting even more interesting. Using Fangraphs' BsR -- which is an all-encompassing baserunning stat that looks at data such as stolen base efficiency, taking extra bases, preventing double plays -- the White Sox rank second behind only the Colorado Rockies in the sport. How many times in the last 20 years have we heard that the White Sox resembled a slow pitch softball team that was just clogging the bases waiting for the three-run homer?
If you objectively look at this team, the baserunning metrics actually meet the eye test. I've espoused the baseball acumen and baserunning virtues of Tim Anderson at length to start the season, and he currently ranks eighth individually in BsR across the sport. The White Sox only have two other players, Adam Eaton and *cough* Nick Madrigal, that rank in the top 60 in this metric (Note: Billy Hamilton, Luis Robert, and Leury Garcia would be amongst league leaders if they met qualifying criteria). Collectively, this group does a tremendous job at taking an extra 90 feet whenever they can with savvy reads on balls that hit the grass or get away from catchers, as was evident by Jose Abreu scoring the game-winning run last Sunday.
Getting The Job Done
When you are not hitting the ball out of the ballpark as a unit, you need to find other ways to, dare I say, manufacture runs. The 2021 White Sox have done that surprisingly well to this point. A team that for so long showed defiance toward working counts and drawing walks is now doing that with great regularity.
When they get on the bases, they are combining the instincts with, in many cases, raw speed to take 90 extra feet whenever they can. That's a great way to overcome injuries and slow starts from players that are counted on to carry the load. Another prime example was Adam Eaton legging out an infield single on Wednesday to help set up the White Sox first run in their victory against the Twins.
This team has been doing the little things to put themselves in a position to win games. For such a long period of time, we couldn't say that about our beloved White Sox. This group is finding different ways to beat opponents on a nightly basis, and to the surprise of many, it hasn't included the long ball in many cases.
I think the White Sox will eventually start to hit the ball out of the ballpark with greater frequency, and if you couple that with the improved patience and skilled base running we've seen to this point, there is no reason why this won't continue to be one of the most potent offenses in baseball despite some notable absences.