Skip to main content

How the White Sox Can Maximize Luis Robert in 2022 and Beyond

As the White Sox prepare to embark on the 2022 season, Luis Robert will emerge as the organization's focal point now and well into the foreseeable future.
Luis Robert Chicago White Sox

Photo: WhiteSox/Twitter

I don't feel like I'm going out on a limb with the following statement: Luis Robert is the most important player in the White Sox organization. The 24-year-old Cuban centerfielder displayed what a dynamic force he can be on both sides of the ball last season upon his return from injury. This year, he is poised to take another step forward for a team with World Series aspirations. The rebuild has seen hype for players such as Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn, and others. But no player possesses the raw dynamic ability to be a game-changer more than La Pantera.

For this very reason, it is imperative that the White Sox do everything they can to allow Robert to tap into the otherworldly skill set that he possesses. Tony La Russa needs to position him for success in the lineup by providing him with protection from both sides. Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams need to surround him with the appropriate talent in the outfield that will allow him to survive a 162-game grind. Not doing either of these is tantamount to organizational negligence, in my opinion.

Lineup Positioning

Luis Robert's 2021 slash line was impressive following an up-and-down rookie campaign during 2020. For the season in 296 PA, Robert slashed .338/.378/.567 with 13 home runs, good for a 157 wRC+. Once he returned from his torn hip flexor in August, he took his performance in the box to a new level. He tapped into one of his more defining tools with a vulgar display of power by slashing .350/.389/.622 with 12 home runs and a 173 wRC+. This showed us a glimpse of what we all believe La Pantera can be.

His bat-to-ball skills improved significantly as he saw his K% decline by close to 12% due to some mechanical adjustments upon his return. His newfound power was eye-popping on many occasions and has led to discussions about his rightful place in the lineup. Personally, I think Robert fits perfectly sandwiched between his Cuban brethren, Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu, in the No. 3 slot in the lineup. With Tim Anderson and Moncada setting the table at the top, Robert will be in a prime position to use his aggressiveness early in counts to inflict damage upon the baseball. When he does so and reaches base, he is immediately in scoring position for noted RBI machine, Jose Abreu.

Positioning Robert appropriately in the lineup by Tony La Russa will give the White Sox offense the best opportunity to be the behemoth it could be. La Pantera has strength beyond strength as we've seen numerous times, and he must be allowed to display this in the batter's box.

Protection on the Sides

Luis Robert is like a gazelle out in centerfield with his blinding speed allowing him to go alley-to-alley with the best in the game. However, as presently constituted, he will be flanked on both sides by defensive liabilities. And if we're being honest, a team with championship aspirations cannot go into the season putting their most important asset at risk in this manner.

Internally, the White Sox have serious issues filling the corner outfield spots. Eloy Jimenez has shown to be a danger to himself and to Robert on multiple occasions since taking over in left field. On the other side, the team is trying to put square pegs in a round hole with two first basemen trying to cover the position in Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets. If the plan is to flank Robert with two of these options for the majority of the season, I have no idea how Robert survives a full campaign.

The internal options have not fared well according to advanced defensive metrics:

Defensive Runs Saved

2019

2020

2021

Jimenez

-10

-4

-1

Vaughn

0

0

-5

Sheets

0

0

-2

Scroll to continue

Recommended Articles

Outs Above Average

2019

2020

2021

Jimenez

-11

-1

1

Vaughn

0

0

-5

Sheets

0

0

-2

As you can see, these numbers don't inspire a lot of confidence and will tax Robert's legs immensely as he tries to cover ground in the outfield. Sample sizes for Jimenez and Sheets make the numbers look somewhat misleading given the shortened 2020 season and injuries, but this simply is not a viable strategy for a team that fancies itself as a World Series contender.

Conforto or Castellanos?

Michael Conforto Nicholas Castellanos White Sox

Photos: Conforto - Mets/Twitter | Castellanos - Reds/Twitter

Externally, two names currently garnering the most attention are Michael Conforto and Nicholas Castellanos. Both bring some defensive question marks themselves, although one more significantly than the other. So, let's break this down a little further and compare the two since Castellanos became a full-time outfielder in 2017.

During that timeframe, Castellanos has amassed a vomit-inducing (-43) Outs Above Average and (-47) Defensive Runs Saved. To be blunt, he has been one of the worst corner outfielders in the game. Conversely, Conforto has 9 Outs Above Average and 2 Defensive Runs Saved. In short, one of these things is not like the other. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Conforto's metrics have backslid the last two seasons, which is something to be mindful of. But even with this information, he is still nowhere close to the defensive liability that Castellanos is.

Is Michael Conforto a perfect player with no risk? Certainly not. However, if the White Sox are going to look externally to address the right field position, he is a better fit for the team than Castellanos. The offensive output of the two has been relatively similar since 2015. Castellanos showcases more power and Conforto highlights a more advanced plate approach, helping drive his on-base percentage. However, the gulf in their defensive abilities makes this a relatively easy decision from my perspective.

Yes, you will likely get greater power production by inserting Castellanos into the Sox lineup, but it is not enough to offset the defensive issues that his presence in right field would cause. Again, I'm open to alternatives outside of these options, but adding Castellanos to an already cluttered mix of poor corner defenders isn't going to help save Luis Robert's legs.

Rise of Robert

If he is able to play 150 games this season, I believe Luis Robert will be a top-three MVP candidate in the American League. I said what I said, and I am firmly entrenched in this position.

It is incumbent that the White Sox brain trust of Kenny Williams, Rick Hahn, and Tony La Russa do their respective jobs in allowing Robert to reach this ceiling. He is the most important player in the White Sox organization, and if he is able to stay in one piece and continue his progression, he may very well go down as one of the most important players in the history of the franchise. That might sound like heresy to say about a guy with only 124 games under his belt at the MLB level, but we all saw the dynamic ability in the second half of 2021.

The White Sox must protect him at all costs, and if they do, I believe we will see him becoming the face of this franchise before the calendar flips to October.