Around Chicago, there hasn't really been a whole lot of optimism about our baseball clubs this year, particularly with everyone so distracted by hockey's triumphant return to the Windy City. But I don't think that people should be so ready to write off this White Sox team, because I think that there are at least some glimmers of hope, even if things don't look all that good.
Yeah, they're in third place in the AL Central, but they're only 5.5 games behind the Twins for first. They haven't really been lucky or unlucky as far as their run differential goes, they're a 32-34 team with the run differential of a 31-35 team. But they've won 4 in a row and 8 of their last 10. And as far as balls in play go, few teams have had worse luck than the White Sox so far this season.
The ChiSox offense has easily the worst BABIP in baseball at .258, the Jays have the next-worse mark at .267 and only four teams are lower than .285 this season. They're in the bottom ten in the game in wOBA as a whole, but there's reason to believe that many guys in that lineup should improve as the season goes on.
And the pitchers aren't all that different. They've allowed a .314 BABIP so far, the highest mark in the American League. And it's not like that's a function of atrocious defense, DRS has the Sox at +10 while UZR is less optimistic at -8.1 on the year. Either way, that doesn't explain away the highest BABIP allowed by a team in the game. The White Sox have the fifth-best xFIP in the majors, and some serious room to improve on offense. They may not end up contending for the division in the end, but at least I'm not ready to give up on the Pale Hose yet. Not in a division that could be won with 88-90 games.
(Oh, and Alex Rios is on pace for a 8 WAR-season right now. At his current pace, he'd hit .311/.373/.553 with 40 doubles, 3 triples, 33 homers, and 48 steals all the while playing plus defense in center. So yeah, maybe that little [big] waiver claim)
Some other thoughts after the hip hop...
- The Carloses of the baseball world have been pretty unlucky
Go check out the hitters with the lowest BABIP's in baseball so far this season. The top 5 consists of two Blue Jays and three Carloses. Aaron Hill and Jose Bautista have been particularly unlucky with getting hits on balls in play, although at this point it's well known that Mr. Bautista is still off to quite the start this year anyways.
Beyond those two guys, the ensuing three players listed are all named Carlos. Quentin, Pena and Lee, the three slugging Carloses, have all been going through some serious struggles this season. Pena is still flashing his prodigious power, with ZiPS projecting him to finish with 36 homers, but otherwise it's been an underwhelming performance for the Ray. All five have BABIP's at .217 or lower, which certainly accounts for their awful batting averages. Although we probably shouldn't be that surprised, all three of them have career BABIP's below the league average (particularly Quentin's .249 mark, jeez..), and none of these players are exactly known as lightning-quick line drive machines.
- A hollow on-base percentage...? Probably not, this isn't 2000.
There's a term in baseball to describe offensive numbers for a player with a good batting average but little in the way of power or walks, the "hollow batting average", it's called. But this season we've seen a fairly remarkable number of players who are walking at a superb rate... but have done little else this season in terms of providing offensive value.
Last season, not a single player who qualified for the batting average (and other percentage) title had a walk rate over 12% and ended up with below average offensive performance. Now, that was more of an exception than the rule, as names such as Gregor Blanco, Nick Swisher and Daric Barton accomplished the feat in 2008.
Right now, there are five players with walk rates over 12% and negative RAA's. That hasn't happened since 2000, when Rickey Henderson, Mark McLemore, Matt Stairs, Robin Ventura and Jose Offerman pulled it off. This season, the [un]lucky five guys are Yunel Escobar, Chone Figgins, Raul Ibanez, Carlos Pena and Todd Helton. Now, those are some pretty good hitters as far as the past goes, so at least a couple of these will probably bounce back a good deal in terms of their power production and batting average.
But in case we do lose any of them to a decrease in walk rate or an improvement in general performance, we still have Derrek Lee, Lance Berkman and Mark Teixeira all under 1 RAA. Then again, those guys have been pretty good hitters in the past, too.
- Big Papi has had a good week or so
All that talk about Ortiz being done seems pretty premature and a tad bit silly at this point, doesn't hit?
In the past seven games, three against Philly and Arizona apiece and one against the Dodgers, he's gone 12-for-25 with four doubles, three home runs, NINE WALKS (ALL IN THE PAST THREE GAMES), 9 runs scored and 10 RBI. He's been going flat out wacky on these NL pitchers.
In those seven games, he raised his OBP from .338 to .374, and his OPS from .847 to .963, which I suppose is what happens when you put up a .480/.594/1.000 line. Yeah, the 31% strikeout rate is a little concerning, for sure. But he's got a .399 wOBA right now, and ZiPS projects him to finish with a .391 mark and 32 homers in 544 plate appearances.
I can bet you that the BoSox will take that.