After catching the baseball world by surprise with a 17-8 month of April, the Sox plummeted back to the team that a lot of people expected to see in 2016 (actually, probably even worse than that). The Sox went just 11-17 in the month of May – a month in which they lost 6 consecutive series, and saw their seemingly comfortable grasp of the AL Central division transform into a panic of falling into 4th place.
The bullpen was among the best in baseball in April, and it was among the worst in baseball in May. For a weekend series in Kansas City, the bullpen was so bad, you had to see it with your own eyes.
The White Sox have been a Jekyll and Hyde team for the first two month which leads us to the question – who are they?
Hopefully, this month’s edition of Buy or Sell can help us answer that question.
Buy or Sell: Jose Abreu’s Slump
This is perhaps the biggest storyline in White Sox nation right now – so big, that perhaps Robin Ventura might be relieved (in a sad, sad way) that the ongoing struggles of his slugging 1st baseman are taking some of the attention away from his poor managing.
No one has ever seen Jose Abreu this bad. Not in the Major Leagues, anyway. He will enter this weekend’s series in Detroit with a .242 average, 6 HR, and 28 RBI. His numbers are down across the board; and in some categories, they are frighteningly down. Most notably, he posted a .540 slugging percentage in his first two seasons, and is currently slugging just .379.
Not only are his numbers ugly at the moment, but from a viewer’s perspective, his at bats are miserable. He’s taking a lot of strikes, swinging at a lot of balls, fouling off hittable pitches, and jamming himself at a high frequency. Pitchers are pounding the inside corner against him, and he seems helpless at times. You almost get the same feeling as when a lefty would step into the batter’s box against Mariano Rivera. Everyone in the ballpark, including the batter, knew the cutter was coming, but Mariano would still get the hitter to jam himself almost every time. For Jose Abreu this season, it’s like he is facing Mariano Rivera’s cutter every at bat.
I’ve always been one to use history as a guide, and history says that a player who put up such astonishing numbers in his first two seasons can find his way out of his slump. I just hope that he does it soon enough to help give his team a good shot at making the postseason.
Buy or Sell: Robin Ventura’s Mismanagement
My oh my. Where do I begin? I guess I will begin in 2012 when the Sox hired the unqualified and overmatched Ventura primarily because he is a beloved former Sox player. It seemed like the only logic was, “Hey, we won a World Series with Ozzie, and Ozzie was a former Sox player.” 4+ years later, and Ventura seems as bad as he ever was. He was a big reason why the team collapsed in 2012, and hasn’t really done anything to make up for that in the years since.
The latest chapter in his book of failures is his recent misuse of the team’s bullpen. As noted above, the Memorial Day weekend series in Kansas City was historically bad. The Sox bullpen surrendered leads of 4, 6, and 2 on consecutive days in the 3-game set. Sure, some of the blame should fall on the pitchers. But a lot of the blame should fall on Ventura, who seems to always make pitching changes to early or too late. On Friday, he used 5 pitchers in a single inning. After that didn’t work out, he decided to do the polar opposite for the rest of the weekend by allowing his relief pitchers on Saturday and Sunday to completely unravel before he made pitching changes.
Ventura then topped off his weekend blunders with another ill-advised move on Memorial Day. In the 7th inning of a scoreless tie against the Mets, the Sox had runners on 1st and 2nd base with 0 outs and Melky Cabrera at the plate. Ventura then shockingly called for a bunt from Cabrera. While the bunt was successful, the remainder of the inning was not. Todd Frazier popped out to 1st base, and J.B. Shuck grounded out to end the inning. Granted, Todd Frazier failed to drive in a runner from 3rd base with less than 2 outs. But again, the blame should go further than the lack of execution. Ventura decided to go “all in” with Todd Frazier in the inning. For as good as Frazier has been at hitting home runs this year, he is a free swinger, and he probably wasn’t any more likely to hit a fly ball to the outfield than anyone else in the lineup, especially with 1st base open and J.B. Shuck on deck. Speaking of J.B. Shuck on deck, J.B. Shuck was on deck in the 5-hole. After Frazier popped out, it was up to a player who was just called up from AAA to drive in runs with two outs.
Everyone’s hindsight is 20/20, I get that. But you have to wonder why Ventura punted with Melky Cabrera in that situation. Sure, a successful bunt there allows the Sox to score a run without having to get another base hit. But not bunting there allows two above average run producers to drive in runs instead of just one.
Oh, and need I remind you that bunting in that situation means that the Sox were playing for a 1-run instead of the big inning? Yeah, and that was immediately after the bullpen blew 3 consecutive games in Kansas City.
Buy or Sell: Jimmy Rollins as the Starting Shortstop
In Jimmy Rollins’ defense, he is doing what the Sox expected out of him. When the Sox signed him during the spring, they envisioned Rollins to bring below average hitting, average fielding, and above average clubhouse influence. For the most part, he is fulfilling the job that he was hired for. With that being said, however, it’s time to start playing Tyler Saladino much more.
Rollins splits are so extreme, that he should be strictly a platoon player at most. He is currently hitting .455 from the right side of the plate and .181 from the left side. Defensively, he has lot of step – just like most 37-year-olds, and doesn’t have much range. His greatest contribution to the team appears to be his influence on Tyler Saladino, who looks like a completely different ballplayer than he did last year. Defensively, Saladino had made both the flashy plays and the routine plays. Offensively, he is stringing together quality at bats and he has also been providing some big hits of late.
Rollins’ presence on the team is certainly valuable from the clubhouse perspective, but it doesn’t seem like his value will go any distance beyond that. It might start to get hard to ignore the fact that he plays the same position as the 26-year-old Saladino and the organization’s #1 prospect Tim Anderson.