The White Sox entered Sunday winners of four in a row, and not coincidentally haven’t had any major defensive blunders against St. Louis and Baltimore.
But as a team, the White Sox defense still ranks last in Ultimate Zone Rating and second to last in Defensive Runs Saved, the two major advanced defensive metrics available on FanGraphs. Even if those stats don’t always have pinpoint accuracy, they nonetheless show a defense that’s been one of the biggest factors to the White Sox disappointing first half.
“We tried to address some of that with Carlos Sanchez promotion,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “You’ve seen Gordon (Beckham) get more times at third base to give Conor (Gillaspie) a break and even Gordon at short to give Alexei (Ramirez) a day when he needed it. The defense has improved, I believe. It’s not to the level where we need it to be.”
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Avisail Garcia’s game-saving catch on Saturday was a much-needed defensive boost, as the right fielder took away what would’ve been a game-tying home run from Orioles slugger Chris Davis. It felt like one of the first times the White Sox defense has picked up its pitching staff this season.
Entering Sunday, White Sox pitchers had a collective 4.05 ERA, ninth-worst in baseball. But that doesn’t tell the whole story — the pitching staff has actually been good at maximizing strikeouts and limiting home runs and walks, the three fielding-independent things pitchers can control.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) tracks a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed — none of which can be affected by the defense behind him — and spits out a number on an ERA scale that represents how good he is in those areas. As a pitching staff, the White Sox have a 3.64 FIP, 10th-best in baseball.
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That 0.41 gap between the White Sox ERA and FIP is the fourth-highest in baseball and represents a significant disconnect between how well the White Sox have pitched and how many runs they’ve allowed. The team’s defensive issues have had a lot to do with it.
But it’s a gulf that Hahn sees narrowing, and the last four games have only fueled that optimism.
“Physical errors are going to occur from time to time even on elite defensive clubs. But we need to eliminate the mental mistakes,” Hahn said. “I think those lapses have become fewer and farther between. But it’s a matter of them keeping the focus on daily basis, whether that’s through substitution or moving guys around a little bit. They are trying everything to improve that area because it’s important.”