White Sox

State of the White Sox: Left field

State of the White Sox: Left field

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to left field.

What happened in 2019

After all the service-time talk, Eloy Jimenez made his debut with the big league team on Opening Day, the product of a multi-year contract the White Sox worked out with him during spring training. Jimenez’s rookie season was a strong one, one that will land him high in the AL Rookie of the Year vote, but it wasn’t without the growing pains that aren’t exactly unexpected for a guy getting his first taste of the major leagues.

The good: Jimenez blasted 31 home runs, the third most by a rookie in team history. His power was frequently on display, sending balls out to dead center and routinely disturbing the foliage on the batter’s eye. His most majestic long ball of the season touched down on the stairs leading up to the Fan Deck. And of course he lifted the White Sox to a Crosstown victory over the Cubs with a game-winning, broken-bat dinger in his first game against the team that dealt him away in 2017 — perhaps the most thrilling moment of the White Sox rebuild to date.

Jimenez also impressed alongside core pieces Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson with a white-hot final month of the season, slashing .340/.383/.710 with nine homers, eight doubles, 25 RBIs and 19 runs scored. Jose Abreu declared that the 2020 season started in September, and Jimenez was one of a few guys who backed those words up.

The less than good: Jimenez’s final averages were nothing special. He finished the season with a .267/.315/.513 slash line. While those aren’t horrendous by any stretch, they’re probably not close to what fans, the team or Jimenez himself expect from a guy billed as a long-term middle-of-the-order bat.

Now, some of that can be blamed on a pair of injuries that sent Jimenez to the injured list for extended periods of time. The first came when he attempted to rob a surefire home run, spraining his ankle when he planted his leg into the left-field wall at Guaranteed Rate Field. In the second half, he crashed into Charlie Tilson in the outfield in Kansas City, suffering an ulnar nerve contusion. Those IL stints halted some of Jimenez’s in-season momentum and prevented him from playing in a full schedule. He finished the year with 122 games played.

Jimenez also had a mixed bag of a season defensively. Early on, there were plenty of ugly plays in left, including the one on which he suffered that sprained ankle. Communication with infielders ranging back for pop ups proved a repeated issue, and he rarely looked graceful on what might have been considered routine plays. But those issues did improve as the season went on, as manager Rick Renteria kept hammering home. At the very least they happened with much less frequency.

But in general, Jimenez’s rookie season put his potential on display and sent fans dreaming about those lineups of the future with him very much an integral part.

What will happen this offseason

With right field, designated hitter and starting pitching on the offseason to-do list, the White Sox are in no way going to be looking to shuffle things around in left field. But the question remains, regardless of its validity, about whether or not Jimenez is going to spend his career in left.

Those defensive moments that seemed glaring at times during his rookie season were enough to spark conversations about whether Jimenez would end up moving away from left, to first base or DH or wherever. The White Sox, for their part, seem to have no desire to move Jimenez in the foreseeable future, and everyone should expect him to be the guy in left.

“He's too young for me to view him as a DH, to be honest,” Renteria said when Jimenez came off the injured list at the end of July. “And I think he's shown so much improvement in the outfield that it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball.

“He's an extremely hard worker, he's very conscientious, he's been going through a lot of the things that we need him to go through. He sincerely has improved out there a lot. And so we want to see if we can maximize his ability to do everything he can as a Major League Baseball player.

“And then time will tell us. If that ends up ultimately being his lot — I don't foresee that. But if that ultimately becomes his lot, that becomes his lot. But I think right now we're going to continue to use him on both sides of the baseball, for sure.”

The White Sox figure to bring Abreu back, and he could be destined for some more time as a DH, despite the fact that he doesn’t like it. The White Sox just spent the No. 3 pick in the draft on Andrew Vaughn, whose own defensive questions as a slugging first baseman could have him destined for the DH spot. And with DH on the offseason to-do list, adding a big stick like J.D. Martinez wouldn’t be out of the question, gobbling up the at-bats at DH for multiple years.

So even if Jimenez was better suited to be designated hitter — and the White Sox are confident he’ll be just fine in left field — there might be no DH spot for him to slide into. Meaning he’s the left fielder.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

While Jimenez didn’t live up to those oversized preseason expectations, he’s nowhere near done trying to live up to his career-long expectations. In fact, no one is expecting for this to be anywhere close to it for a guy who has so much potential — and showed much of it during the 2019 season.

And so while 31 homers is nice, what to expect in 2020 and beyond is a lot more. Not just home runs — though a healthy season from Jimenez in 2019 probably would’ve seen him hit close to 40 of them — but everything. Throughout the season, he talked about not wanting to solely be a power hitter but an all-around hitter and a good defender in left field, too.

“Fantastic rookie season,” Renteria said at the end of the season. “There are a lot of rookie across the major leagues right now that are exploding onto the scene and doing great things. He's one of them.

“I think the two stints on the IL took some games away from him, but he continued to learn, grow, improve, take the experiences he was gaining. He worked extremely hard on both sides of the ball to try to put himself in a good position. Still more work to be done, but certainly has put him in a position where he can help us win ballgames.

"I think he wants to be a complete major league player. He doesn't worry about the homers because he's got the power that naturally provides some of the things that he's been doing. I think he wants to improve as a hitter.”

So moving forward, sure, expect more dingers. But expect the rest, too, everything that made Jimenez one of the most hyped players in recent memory to begin with.

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With Nicholas Castellanos on the market, how important is defense in White Sox search for new right fielder?

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USA TODAY

With Nicholas Castellanos on the market, how important is defense in White Sox search for new right fielder?

We’ve talked about this before.

The White Sox are looking for a new right fielder after getting some of the worst production in the majors out of that spot in 2019. The free-agent market looks to be the most realistic source of any new everyday player considering the team’s potentially weakened trade potential after a season of injuries and under-performance in the minor leagues.

The best outfield bat on that free-agent market? It belongs to Nicholas Castellanos, who long feasted on White Sox pitching as a member of the division-rival Detroit Tigers. He showed just how impactful his bat could be in a playoff race after a midseason trade to the Cubs, posting a 1.002 OPS in 51 games on the North Side. All told, he hit a major league leading 58 doubles in 2019, the 10th highest single-season total in baseball history.

The bat is no question, and it would look terrific in the middle of the White Sox order. But Castellanos’ tremendous offensive reputation is accompanied by a poor defensive reputation. Whether that reputation is deserved or not is another aspect of this discussion, with folks who followed his time on the North Side saying things weren’t that bad in right field. Though certain defensive metrics tell a different story.

And so we continue to wonder, as the White Sox have already been linked to Castellanos this winter, just how much that glove means to them.

Well, we’ve got some new insight from Rick Hahn, and yes, defense does matter. But like everything involving the White Sox offseason, it’s not going to close any doors.

“It’s a legitimate consideration,” Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “We don't want to send somebody out there and it's going to, you know, tax our center fielder too much or tax the pitchers too much by not making plays. So it's a legitimate consideration.

“I pause half a step because we have discussed some pretty good offensive contributors who might not quite be up to snuff to what you want defensively that conceivably at some point in the offseason we wind up saying, ‘They're the best option, so let's move on it.’ So I don't want to just say it's the end all be all.

“But as we sit here today, the prototypical guy that we add to that position will be an above average defender to help lighten the load on the rest of the fielders and our pitchers.”

While that’s hardly an ironclad commitment one way or the other, Hahn voiced a definite preference for someone who can provide some defense in right field. While Luis Robert, who’s expected to spend most of the 2020 season as the team’s starting center fielder, receives positive reviews for his defense up the middle, Eloy Jimenez is still a work in progress in left field. Putting another less-than-stellar defender in the other corner-outfield spot would put a heck of a lot of pressure on Robert as a rookie center fielder.

"You're asking a lot of (the center fielder) if you put a poor defender in right and Eloy continuing to develop and left," Hahn said. "It's a real consideration when we're putting together this outfield.

"We think Eloy's got a real special bat, and even though he's a work in progress and still improving defensively, we like having him out there in left field, even though he's not going to be mistaken for an everyday center fielder defensively. If we're looking and we absolutely had our pick of the litter, we're looking for a guy in right who can contribute with the glove, as well.”

Castellanos might not fit that description. But his offensive abilities could certainly outweigh that and push the White Sox to bring him aboard. Of course, he’s going to command a pricey contract, with his agent, Scott Boras, already talking him up last week with this gem: “Ol’ St. Nick delivers once a year. Young St. Nick delivers all season.”

Certainly the White Sox would enjoy that kind of season-long delivery. They also happen to have a hole that needs filling at designated hitter. If we’re playing fantasy baseball or creating video-game lineups, slotting Castellanos into that spot would make an awful lot of sense. But a guy looking for a long, expensive contract and doing so at just 27 years old probably doesn’t want to do it as a DH.

Maybe the White Sox end up throwing enough money his way that it doesn’t matter. But there’s also the risk of putting someone who doesn’t have DH-ing experience at the position, potentially continuing the not-so-great track record of the likes of Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Yonder Alonso. Castellanos has been a DH in just 41 of his 839 career big league games.

It’s all stuff to think about. It might end up, simply, that Castellanos swings a big bat and the White Sox would like that, no matter what comes with it. Hearing that they prefer a right fielder with a good glove might only apply if they have to move further down their wish list.

Time will tell.

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Lucas Giolito’s most impressive feat of 2019

Lucas Giolito’s most impressive feat of 2019

From the highest ERA in the Majors in 2018 to an All-Star appearance in 2019, Lucas Giolito had a season that nobody could’ve imagined possible.

As Giolito worked a pair of shutout masterpieces during the season, you knew you were watching something special. Then as the season unfolded, for the first time in MLB history four teams reached the finish line with at least 100 wins.

The White Sox, at 72 wins certainly were not among the ranks of the 100-win teams.

But the Astros and Twins both DID reach 100 wins, and something else those teams have in common is a 2019 shutout defeat at the hands of Giolito. Not only were those complete game shutouts the only ones thrown against those teams this past season, but they were the only complete game shutouts tossed against a 100-win team PERIOD. Nobody hurled a CG shutout against the Yankees and nobody pulled it off against the Dodgers.

So Lucas Giolito was the only pitcher in 2019 to toss a complete game shutout against a team that finished the season with 100 or more wins.

But let’s take it a bit further.

From 2012-2019 there were 12 teams who won at least 100 games in a season. And there were only five combined complete game shutouts against those teams. Giolito owns two of the five; Sean Manaea (against the 2018 Red Sox), Luis Severino (against the 2018 Astros) and Jason Vargas (against the 2017 Indians) have the other three.

Going back even further, from 2000 to present, 26 teams won 100 games in a season and there were 25 combined complete game shutouts tossed against those teams. Lucas Giolito & Jason Vargas (2017 vs. Indians and 2011 vs. Phillies) are the only two pitchers to have more than one. But Giolito is the only one to do it twice in a season.

To find the last pitcher with two shutouts against eventual 100-win teams in the same season, you need to go back to 1999 when José Jiménez of the Cardinals did it against the 100-62 Diamondbacks, which in itself is impressive given that Jiménez was only 5-14 with a 5.85 ERA that season. But Jiménez had both of his against the same team. What about the last pitcher to toss complete game shutouts against MULTIPLE 100-win teams in the same season?

Well, the last time THAT happened was 1980, when both Larry Gura and Moose Haas had one shutout apiece against the 103-59 Yankees and the 100-62 Orioles. Gura’s shutout against the Orioles came against eventual 1980 Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone.

As far as White Sox history is concerned, Giolito was the first White Sox pitcher to toss a CG shutout against an eventual 100-win team since both Melido Perez & Eric King shut out the 103-59 Athletics in 1990. And before that, Steve Trout had one apiece in both 1979 (against the 102-57 Orioles) and 1980 (against the 103-59 Yankees). But for the last time a White Sox pitcher did it twice in the same season, it’s Tom Bradley, who remarkably blanked the 101-60 A’s THREE TIMES in 1971.

So while Lucas Giolito’s shutouts were awfully impressive at the time, they become even more incredible when you look back at the season and realize that he was the only pitcher to shut out a 100-win team this season.

And he did it twice. 

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