Chicago White Sox: Five Things We Learned During Opening Week

Adam Eaton Starts Strong

Adam Eaton’s tenure with the White Sox has been successful, putting up wRC+s of 117 and 118 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. These numbers could have even been higher if Eaton had gotten off to stronger starts in those seasons. In 2014, Eaton hit .260 through May and in 2015 it was much worse at .232. Albeit through only five games, Eaton has gotten off to a very hot start with nine hits in his first twenty at-bats. Eaton had multiple hits in each of the team’s first four games and had reached base 26 straight games, dating back to last season before Friday’s 0-for-4 performance.

Perhaps contributing to his hot start, Eaton has moved to right field for the first time since coming over to Chicago. Eaton has looked comfortable in the corner spot, but a shoulder injury has noticeably sapped some of his arm strength. One can expect Eaton to get time at designated hitter as well this season, which the outfield depth of the White Sox can provide.

The only thing that could stop Adam Eaton’s hot start was the birth of his son (congratulations to him and his wife), which caused him to miss Saturday’s game. He was scheduled to remain out on Sunday before a rainout made the decision moot. Eaton should be back in the lineup Monday and the new father will hope to continue being a table-setter to the rest of the lineup.

Avisail Garcia Remains in the Everyday Lineup

There was much speculation about Avisail Garcia’s standing with the White Sox over the offseason. His numbers in 2015 put him as one of the worst everyday starters in the league and there was plenty of deliberation on whether or not the White Sox would look to move on from him in 2016. The signing of Austin Jackson pushed Adam Eaton to right field, and presumably pushed Garcia to a sub role. However, the retirement of Adam LaRoche created a hole at designated hitter, and Garcia has found himself in that spot five of the six games, starting in right the remaining game.

Garcia has struggled thus far, with only four hits in his twenty-one at-bats. He did reward the team for sticking with him on Saturday when he broke the game wide open with a three-run home run, his first extra-base hit of the season.

Garcia’s plate discipline has been criticized since last season, and early results have shown that he is still swinging at a high rate (60.2 percent matches his rate from 2015). However, Garcia is only swinging at 40 percent of pitches outside the zone, down from 46.6 percent last year. His contact rates are up and his swinging strike rate is down, so perhaps Saturday’s home run is a sign of better things to come. The team has shown their dedication to the 24-year-old which has been displayed by penciling in his name on each lineup thus far in 2016.

Defense Has Improved

The Chicago White Sox had one of, if not the worst, defenses in the league in 2015. While much of the offseason activity was brought in to help the offense, the defense almost had to improve by default. It has done better than that as Todd Frazier has secured the hot corner and Austin Jackson controls center field. Jackson makes all fly balls look relatively easy and in turn, helps Eaton and Melky Cabrera look better with the ground he can cover. The move has also removed Garcia from the outfield, whose defensive numbers were very poor in 2015. Jackson’s arm is weaker than an ideal center fielder but his introduction has made the outfield defense a greater strength than last season.

With the team not giving away runs from their defense, it has become an even bigger advantage when their opponent provides them runs from their miscues. Both the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians handed the White Sox multiple runs in each series. The wins on Opening Day, and Saturday’s as well, may have not been achieved without the help from the opposing defense.

The biggest defensive gaffe of the season for the White Sox may have been more of a rarity than anything else. On a bases loaded groundout, catcher Alex Avila made the decision to field the ball rather than hold his ground at home awaiting pitcher John Danks to field and flip to the plate. The play was made worse when Avila threw the ball away on his attempt to first base. The play led to a big inning and the only strongly poor game on the schedule to this point. From the look around the field in all other games, it looks like plays like that may be a rarity rather than the norm they were last season.

Matt Albers Continues His Streak

The success of Matt Albers was unexpected in 2015. Signed as a free agent after pitching only eight games in 2014, the White Sox were more-or-less taking a waiver on the then 32 year-old veteran. After a two month stint on the disabled list early in the season (with his injury occurring during a benches-clearing brawl), Albers returned in July and only allowed four earned runs in 31.2 innings, including a streak of 21 games without an earned run to end the season.

After a lengthy free agent period that saw little interest from other teams, Albers signed a one year; $2.25 million contract to return to the White Sox. He has continued his streak without an earned run, now up to 24 games, in his start to this season.

Along with a healthy Nate Jones to begin the 2016 season and proven elite closer David Robertson, Albers has given the White Sox an outstanding late inning trio.

Walk Rates Trending Well

In 2015, the White Sox were 26th in the league (13th in the AL) in walk rate as their plate discipline was one of the team’s multiple weaknesses. Their percentage has only raised a tenth of a point thus far in 2016, but a rise is a rise.

The change is much more noticeable on the pitching side. The team walked 7.7 percent of batters in 2015, 13th in the league. So far in 2016, the team has lowered that rate to 6.0 percent, good for fifth overall. Shockingly, Chris Sale has walked as many batters as the rest of the rotation combined (three).

The walk rates, as all of these statistics, are based on the smallest of sample sizes, but the White Sox have shown improvement in their severely weak spots from the 2015 squad. The most important stat they have improved in is W-L record – their 4-2 record is a nice improvement from last year’s 2-4 start.

Leave a Reply