White Sox

Blackhawks breakdown:Niklas Hjalmarsson

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Blackhawks breakdown:Niklas Hjalmarsson

Over the next five weeks, CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Niklas Hjalmarsson played in 69 games in 2011-12, scoring one goal with 14 assists for 15 points and finishing with a plus-9 rating. He averaged 20 minutes and 11 seconds per game, had 14 penalty minutes, 42 hits and 142 blocked sots. In six playoff games against the Coyotes his playing time dipped to 18 minutes and 10 seconds per game. He had one assist, five hits and seven blocked shots while finishing minus-3.

Boden's take: Hjalmarsson will turn just 25 years old in June, but as he enters his fourth full season, we probably have a pretty good idea who he is and what he provides. He sacrifices his body to block shots. At 6-foot-3, maybe we'd like to see him play a little more consistently physical against opponents, like he showed in glimpses against Shane Doan in the playoffs. But if he's considered a second-pair defenseman, would it be fair to expect a little more offensive bang for the 14 million the team invested in him to match San Jose's RFA offer sheet two years ago? He's halfway through that four-year deal now, and he has yet to top the 17 points he delivered in the 2009-10 Cup season, the three goals he posted the following season, or higher than a plus-13 rating.

Myers' take: One of the biggest questions regarding Hjalmarsson this season was, who was going to be his new partner and how would he adjust to him? Hjalmarsson had built up a great rapport with Brian Campbell the previous two seasons but had to get used to playing with someone else in 2011-12. He and Nick Leddy formed a good pair early. But as the season went on the defensive pairings changed -- as they and the forward lines usually do. Hjalmarsson had a few different partners, including Brent Seabrook during Duncan Keith's suspension. But he was sidetracked when he suffered a concussion in early February that cost him 13 games. Despite that, Hjalmarsson had a pretty steady, if not eye-catching, season.

2012-13 Expectations

Chris: Likely, more of the same. Hjalmarsson himself admits he'd like to provide more offense, and spent most of the first year of that deal pressing to do just that. I'm not sure how realistic that is. He's a regular on the penalty-killing units. He blocks shots, and somewhat overlooked is the fact that's he's also been paired for most of the past two seasons with a talented, but very "green" Leddy. Barring the addition of more veteran help on the blue line, he might very well have to help "coach up" Dylan Olsen next season.

If he can't supply any more offense, the Hawks need him to be more consistent and reliable in his own end, help the PK improve and look to play more physical with a body that goes through a lot of sacrifice as it is. This defense needs to be better next season -- whether it's in front of Corey Crawford in goal, or someone else. Others need to pitch in and take some minutes away from Keith and Seabrook. If it comes strictly from within the current defensive crop in place, Hjalmarsson will be among those who have to make it happen.

Tracey: Two seasons ago Hjalmarsson said he wanted to bring more offense to his game. It took him quite a while to get his first point last season and he finished with 15. Whatever offense Hjalmarsson adds, fine. But his defense is what he's getting paid for and he's still the best shot blocker on the team. If Hjalmarsson keeps focusing on that, and gets a steady blue-line partner this coming season, he should be fine.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out some of Hjalmarsson's highlights above.

Previously: Duncan Keith

Up next: Steve Montador

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

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USA TODAY

A deeper look at why Yoan Moncada is off to a hot start this season

Yoan Moncada continued his hot start to the season with a leadoff home run in Detroit on Friday.

He finished with two hits and a bases-loaded walk in a 7-3 White Sox win.

Moncada’s base numbers are all up this season. He is hitting .325 with a 1.002 OPS and a team-leading six home runs. Beyond that, a deeper look at the numbers show why Moncada’s production is up.

Moncada didn’t show much, if any, improvement in 2018 from 2017. Most of his numbers across the board were similar or slightly worse.

Moncada was patient at the plate, but maybe too patient in his first two seasons with the White Sox. He led the majors with 217 strikeouts last season and 85 of those were strikeouts looking. So far this season, Moncada is yet to strikeout looking.

This season, Moncada is swinging at more pitches both in the strike zone and overall, which is leading to a lower strikeout rate. A look at the advanced stats from FanGraphs shows Moncada swung at 63.9 percent of pitches in the zone in both 2017 and 2018 (these numbers are before Friday's game). That number is up to 69.1 percent this season. On top of that, Moncada is making more contact on those swings on pitches in the zone (up to 86.5 percent this season after 77.5 percent in 2017 and 79.8 percent in 2018).

His strikeout rate (32 percent in 2017, 33.4 percent in 2018) is way down at 24.1 percent. Strikeouts were the biggest red flag for Moncada last year. By being more aggressive this season, Moncada has been able to cut way down on that number.

His power has gone way up as well. He already has 12 extra base hits (in 82 plate appearances) and his home run on Friday was an absolute bomb. Moncada took it deep for 458 feet. That’s the longest White Sox home run of the season and is tied for the eighth longest home run in the majors this season.


He later showed that despite being more aggressive, he still has that plate discipline that was such a big part of what made him a coveted prospect in the first place. He drew a five-pitch bases loaded walk in which he did not swing the bat.

No matter how it's happening, Moncada’s turnaround has been one of the most important things in the young White Sox season.

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It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It's safe to say Kyle Hendricks has figured 'it' out

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Hendricks figured it all out. 

It appears Friday was that day. 

The 29-year-old right-hander was off to a slow start to the season, surrendering 24 hits and 8 earned runs in 13.1 innings across his first three starts, good for a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. 

Things looked a little better last time out — only 2 earned runs allowed on 6 hits in 5 innings last Saturday against the Angels — but even after that start, Hendricks admitted he still feels like he's fighting himself and searching for his fastball command.

"You can't rush it," he said after that outing. "You can't rush the process. But it definitely gets frustrating. I need to do a better job and give the team a better chance to win when I'm out there regardless. And set a better tone — be more aggressive with my fastball and set a better tone for the game. You want it to come quick, but at least I'm seeing something, so I just gotta stick with what I'm doing."

Whatever he was seeing with his mechanics came to pass in Friday afternoon's 5-1 Cubs win, as he completely baffled the Diamondbacks in a brilliant performance — 7 shutout innings, permitting only 3 singles while striking out 11. It was his first double-digit strikeout game since he whiffed 12 Cardinals on Aug. 13, 2016 en route to his ERA title that season.

"Yeah, like I said, you kinda always want it to come, but I didn't think it was gonna come this quick," Hendricks admitted after Friday's game. "So to go out and make that many good pitches, yeah it helps the confidence a lot. It solidifies the things we've been working on, so I just told the guys this was just one good day, so tomorrow, gotta get right back at it with another good work day and hopefully get on a roll here."

It was also the Cubs' third straight appearance from a starting pitcher of 7 shutout innings, after Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana turned the trick in the final two games in Miami earlier in the week.

The one pitch Hendricks felt good about last time out — his changeup — was his bread and butter Friday, too. He threw it 30 times out of his 100 pitches and induced 8 swings and misses.

"That was kinda classic Kyle," Joe Maddon said. "Great changeup, again. A lot of called strikes, pitching on the edges. ... That first inning or so, still seeking and then once he found it, he got into a nice groove."

Part of the success of the changeup was due to Hendricks' command with his fastball, which he apparently figured out — for one start, at least. He threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes throughout the game and 35 of his 56 fastballs went for strikes. 

"From the get-go, I just felt more comfortable in my mechanics, so it just freed everything up," Hendricks said. "From there, I just used my fastball a lot better — kinda like what I was talking about. Fastball command and just establishing it early. Everything else worked off that and it just had good action today. Kept it down, made a lot of good pitches, so it worked out."

Hendricks even saw 17 pitches at the plate despite an 0-for-4 performance, as the Cubs offense put 19 runners on base throughout the course of the afternoon.

However, his day was not without negatives. He took a 110 mph liner off the left leg in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game and finished off the last two hitters he faced.

He also snapped his fascinating personal streak, as he threw his first wild pitch since Sept. 5, 2016 — a span of 6,662 pitches:

"I had no idea; I came in the clubhouse and someone brought that to my attention," Hendricks said, laughing. "Time to start a new streak."

In all, Hendricks picked up his first win of 2019 and lowered his season ERA to 3.54 and WHIP to 1.67 with his performance. He also helped pitch his team back to the .500 level (9-9) for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

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