The 2021 season did not go as planned for Eloy Jimenez. That fateful day in Arizona during Cactus League action derailed what I thought was going to be a historic season for the young, Dominican slugger. I went on record as saying I thought there was a legitimate chance that Eloy would be the first White Sox player to ever eclipse the 50 home run plateau this season. That went out the window when he tore his left pectoral tendon inexplicably trying to rob a home run in a meaningless Spring Training game.
We wouldn't see Eloy on the South Side until late July, and to be honest, he's been a shell of what we expected. If the Sox are to make a deep run at a championship, Eloy Jimenez has to be the force that we all believe he can be in this lineup.
If you look at Eloy's final line on his abbreviated 2021 season, you see a league average left fielder that slashed .249/.303/.437, good for a 101 wRC+ with 10 home runs in 231 plate appearances. This is a far cry from the player that terrorized pitchers in 2020 in roughly the same number of PAs, slashing .296/.332/.559 with a 139 wRC+ and 14 home runs. The decline in slugging is the greatest cause for concern with Eloy as he lost over 120 points in that department. It makes you wonder if there are after-effects of the torn pectoral tendon he sustained during Spring Training.
As mediocre as the overall line looks, things get even more nauseating if we look at his performance from August 15 onward. Over his final 175 PA, Eloy slashed a paltry .225/.291/.338, good for a 75 wRC+ and a mere four home runs. A lot was made about his mental state and feeling that he wasn't the same type of hitter when he was DHing versus playing left field. However, those numbers can't simply be a function of not taking his glove out to the field and face-planting into the fence.
Is Eloy the first good hitter to go through an extended power outage during the course of an injury-plagued season? Certainly not, but the White Sox can ill afford to have one of their projected lineup mainstays to provide them no offensive value heading into play against the Houston Astros starting this Thursday. If Eloy is able to find the magic again, he will help lengthen a White Sox lineup that is finally at full strength and could be a fully operational death star if everyone is rolling on all cylinders.
Give Him The Heater
The biggest problem that has plagued the "Big Baby" in 2021 is his inability to square up fastballs with authority. When you compare his performance against fastballs in 2021 versus 2020, the difference is startling:
Simply put, Eloy hasn't been making solid contact on fastballs in 2021. And if I can see this, I feel pretty confident that the people working in the Houston Astros data analytics department, who are much smarter than I am, can see it too. This represents a clear plan of attack on how to approach the young left fielder. Again, is this a byproduct of not having the bat speed we are accustomed to seeing coming off the pectoral injury? I'm not qualified to answer that but it is something to think about as we watch this series unfold.
Regardless, it seems as though Astros pitchers will probably attack Eloy with heaters consistently as he is swinging through them with greater regularity than previous points in his young career, and when he is connecting he simply isn't doing the damage he typically does. How well the 24-year-old adjusts to this plan of attack will ultimately decide what type of offensive output the Sox get from the cheerful Dominican in the ALDS.
If the last 7-10 days serve as any indication, Eloy projects to be hitting sixth on Thursday behind Yoan Moncada. If you would've told me before the season he would be hitting in this spot come October, I would've said you were crazy. But here we are.
Eloy's inability to make solid contact and drive the ball has forced Tony La Russa's hand in dropping him down the batting order. This represents a tremendous opportunity for him to do damage, however. Hitting behind the likes of Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, and Yoan Moncada, the latter two possessing the most patient plate approaches on the roster, will give Eloy opportunities to break games open if he can connect.
In many respects, I think Eloy will be the key to this offense against Houston. If he is able to make the most of the opportunities afforded to him, because I believe the guys in front of him will be on base enough, the Sox offense will show the potency we all know is there. If Jimenez is able to get his timing lined up properly, we can see him turn and burn on fastballs and put fans sitting in the Crawford Boxes in danger.
Make no mistake about it, a White Sox lineup that has Eloy Jimenez hitting sixth has the potential to make a run deep into the postseason. It is now incumbent on Jimenez to flip the proverbial switch and be the force we all know he can be. If he brings the thunder, the White Sox will be well-positioned to advance to the ALCS for the first time in 16 years.
Eloy Jimenez is looked at as being an offensive mainstay for this core White Sox group for the foreseeable future. We didn't really see that guy for much of his shortened 2021 season. But if we start seeing him talking to his mom on camera over the next few days, I think we will all be feeling good as White Sox fans.