Any Chicago sports fan over 20 has seen the list of “Bears quarterbacks during the Brett Favre era” and has cringed. The list is a who’s who of quarterback mediocrity and was a black hole that became so bad that it’s an easy punch line in Chicago Bears history.
There is another Chicago sports position list that rivals its futility by matching the number of candidates, and equaling in its ineptness. Almost as bad as the Bears QB situation of the 90s, the third base position for the Chicago White Sox has seen TWENTY-SIX different players take a shot at the anything-but-hot corner in the last nine years. The team has searched high and low for any possible player to try to stick. Do the names Jayson Nix, Alex Cintron or Wilson Betemit ring a bell? These are just a few of the options that have kept the search going for this long.
In 2006, Joe Crede won the Silver Slugger award as the American League’s best bat at third base. The next season, Crede turned 29 and was still looked at as the long-term plan for the White Sox future.
Then the back issues started – the type of back issues that are reserved for men far older than 29. Crede only played 47 games in 2007 and even though he had somewhat of a bounce-back year in 2008, earning an All-Star nod, his season was shortened to 97 games. That was his last season as a White Sox. He played one final season – with division-rival Minnesota – only playing 90 games before calling it a career. The back issues never let up and at 31, a promising career was cut short.
Over those nine years since Crede won the Silver Slugger, the White Sox haven’t come close to finding a replacement. Ironically, the White Sox manager for the last four years, Robin Ventura, was the franchise’s third baseman who Crede replaced. It’s odd that arguably the biggest position issue under his tenure is the one he manned for nearly a decade.
The organization is hopeful the drought ended December 16, 2015. In a three-team trade, the White Sox finally “found their man” in Todd Frazier – a two-time All-Star at the third base position, a large upgrade over the cast of characters that has tried to fill the hot corner since 2007.
In the last nine seasons, Conor Gillaspie has started the most games at third base for the White Sox – that being only 277 games over three different seasons. In fact, no individual has started more than 120 games in a season at third base except Gillaspie in 2014. Frazier has played in at least 150 games in each of the last three seasons. In the last nine seasons, White Sox third basemen have 149 home runs; Frazier has 108 in his four-and-a-quarter-season career. White Sox third basemen of the last nine years: a woeful .170 batting average; Frazier: .257. Best OPS of any White Sox third baseman in the last nine years: Kevin Youkilis’s half-season, .771; Frazier’s last two seasons: .795 and .806. Youkilis also had the best ISO that year with a .188. That’s fairly low for a position that should provide power to a lineup. Frazier’s career ISO is .206; he may finally be the answer to a position that has been searched for almost a decade.
Frazier’s power is only a part of what he will be able to bring to the table. One would think with the lack of power, maybe the White Sox had some third basemen with speed. In the nine years, they only had 64 stolen bases (and 52 caught stealing, for a horrible success rate of 55.2 percent). Frazier has 43 in his short career. Frazier is also an above-average fielder, earning a UZR of 6.5 in 2014 and 7.2 in 2015. Tyler Saladino had the highest UZR of the crew since Crede in last year’s half-season with a 5.0. Gordon Beckham’s 4.4 score last year was the second-highest non-Crede total in the last nine years. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 2011 and all the way down to the 2.4 put up by Mark Teahen.
For nearly a decade, third base for the White Sox has been a black hole for power, bereft of speed, and void of defensive excellence. Once upon a time, Joe Crede provided at least two of those three (although he never stole more than one base in a season). What he did provide was a staple at a key position, for a team that won a World Series. The White Sox have been looking for an heir for nine long seasons. Todd Frazier may finally be that heir. The hot corner is heating up.