The near-perfect game thrown by the Mets’ Matt Harvey against the White Sox Tuesday night was a near-perfect combination of streaking pitcher and slumping offense.
Harvey allowed just one baserunner (an infield single) while striking out 12 in nine innings, as New York went on to win 1-0 in 10 innings and as Chicago’s offense grows increasingly anemic. A few particularly startling stats: The White Sox rank last in the AL in runs, hits, doubles, walks, average, on-base percentage and OPS. They are batting .205 with runners in scoring position. They haven’t scored more than seven runs in any of their 31 games.
But wait, there's more: Infielder Jeff Keppinger has not draw a walk in 112 plate appearances. Adam Dunn is batting .145. Paul Konerko has a .657 OPS that’s some 200 points shy of his career rate. Not one player with 30 or more at bats is hitting above .300, and three players with at least 75 ABs are hitting below .200.
Most damning is that the White Sox’ position players collectively have a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of -1.8, according to Baseball-Reference.com, meaning a lineup of replacement players would fare nearly two games better than what Chicago has trotted out so far this season. Chicago’s current pace of 3.35 runs per game equates to 543 runs in a 162-game season, which would be the second lowest total by an AL club since 1978, besting only the 2010 Mariners in non-strike-shortened years.
Despite those gory numbers, there is reason for offensive optimism on Chicago’s South Side. The Sox have almost the same lineup as they did last season, when they scored 748 runs, good for fourth in the AL. Only catcher A.J. Pierzynski and third baseman Kevin Youkilis are gone among everyday players, replaced by Tyler Flowers and Keppinger, a free agent signed away from Tampa Bay after batting .325 with a .806 OPS last season. Leftfielder Dayan Viciedo and second baseman Gordon Beckham are both nearing returns from the disabled list.
What’s curious is that the lineup is seeing slightly more pitches per plate appearance (3.85 this season vs. 3.81 last season), yet their walk rate has actually declined, from 7.5 percent of plate appearances in 2012 to 6.3 percent in 2013. There’s one other evident change in approach from 2012 to ’13: last year they scored 45.6 percent of their runs via homers, which ranked third in the majors, but this year that rate is up to 52.9 percent.
How one scores runs isn’t vitally important, but this stat matters because of what appears to be a trickle-down approach of getting too homer-happy. Last season White Sox batters had a groundball-to-flyball ratio of 1.19, which helped them maximize their team speed (especially Alejando de Aza, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez). Groundballs are more likely to result in hits than flyballs, and the team had a .289 batting average on balls in play. They also had 119 infield hits, or one every 0.74 games.
This year, however, that groundball-to-flyball ratio is down to 0.94, a 21 percent reduction, and their BABIP is correspondingly down to .263. (Some bad luck may also be a cause.) They only have 14 infield hits, or one every 0.45 games. In order to jumpstart their offense, perhaps the White Sox need to think smaller in each plate appearance to think bigger in scoring.