Poor defense and quiet bats doom White Sox in loss to Brewers

James Fox

CHICAGO — Big bats are nice, but bad pitching and defense can kill you when the swings aren't connecting. 

The White Sox entered Wednesday with the best offense in the majors, with their position players compiling an fWAR of 3.3 that was tops in the sport. The same offense has been stymied completely over the past 18 innings at Guaranteed Rate Field, however. 

The offense appeared fairly lifeless on Thursday outside of a two-run blast off the bat of Leury García in the second inning, a long drive from Zack Collins that nearly tied the game in the seventh, and a double high off of the wall from García in the ninth. The White Sox racked up 13 strikeouts against Milwaukee pitching, really struggling to find a consistent rhythm at the dish. 

The Brewers connected on 13 hits and two homers to tally eight runs in total. Christian Yelich hit one of the strangest inside-the-park homers anyone will ever see and also walked four times. The White Sox fell to the Brewers, 8-3, and settled for a series split on the year. Their record drops to 7-6, with Cleveland coming to town this weekend. 

Expedition Eloy! 

This isn't the way anyone wants to go viral, but his play into the netting likely led the nightly news in multiple cities. In the top of the fifth inning, Yelich hit a lazy fly ball to left field that the majority of outfielders would have handled without much trouble. That is not what happened, though. 

Eloy Jiménez has had some well-documented adventures in the outfield already during his young career. He missed multiple games this season after running into the wall during the opening series vs. Minnesota. The 23-year-old committed multiple mistakes last year as well. 

Being a poor outfielder isn't the worst thing in the world for the player or the club but he must find a way to improve enough to not injure himself. 

The calls are out from the masses to move Jiménez to designated hitter immediately, which happens every time a play is botched by the young slugger. Ricky Renteria confirmed postgame that Jiménez wouldn't be moving at this stage. 

The roster construction on the South Side makes moving Eloy out of left field untenable. Edwin Encarnación was signed to be the primary DH in the offseason. Yasmani Grandal is in Chicago for the next four seasons and he'll need to spend his off days at DH or first base. For this year only, James McCann is on the roster, and Zack Collins will see time sparingly; both will take plate appearances at DH.

The club currently has a conundrum in the name of José Abreu. An unnecessary three-year $50 million extension was rewarded to the veteran slugger this offseason, and he's been in the lineup every day. In 159 games in 2019, the 33-year-old hit .284/.330/.503 with a 117 wRC+. All of the damage was done vs LHP, for the most part: Abreu hit 24 homers vs righties but posted a 99 wRC+ vs RHP overall. 

Abreu also decided to not walk any longer as well. The veteran posted a 5% walk rate in 2019, contributing to his 1.9 fWAR. So far in 2020, Abreu has been in the third spot in the lineup religiously, and is hitting .268/.305/.429 with a 109 wRC+. Abreu does have two homers and a couple of big hits, but his negative trends have once again reared heavily. He's walking at a 3.4% clip, and his platoon splits indicate that he should no longer be receiving the third-most plate appearances in the club. 

Some have suggested that the White Sox should trade first base prospect Andrew Vaughn to accommodate Eloy's eventual move to designated hitter. Vaughn was recently ranked as the 17th best prospect in the entire sport according to MLB Pipeline. The former No. 3 overall pick would have tremendous value, but he factors into the long-term plans of the White Sox. 

When Jerry Reinsdorf is the owner of a baseball team, trading Top 20 prospects just doesn't make any sense. It's been proven that the club won't actively play at the top of the free agent, defying their supposed big-market status. Because of that reluctance, trading a young player of Vaughn's caliber would be foolhardy.  

Watch Renteria's full Friday pregame talk, including a ton about Eloy's defense, courtesy of the White Sox:

Leadoff dilemma

Luis Robert entered Thursday leading the American League in fWAR at 1.0. In his first 12 games, his slash was .354/.415/.542 with two homers. Robert had posted a wOBA of .415 with a 177 wRC+. Robert posted an unreasonably high .484 BABIP in the early going, but falls to the 75th percentile range in exit velocity and sprint speed. Robert's 9.4% walk rate was a bit of a revelation for the expected free swinger. 

Renteria wanted to remove pressure from the 23-year-old center fielder by hitting him lower in the lineup to start the season. In modern baseball, the leadoff spot seems like a great position for Robert to fit into long-term. Teams have prioritized getting their best players the most plate appearances, and it shouldn't be any different in Chicago. 

Robert moved into the leadoff spot to accommodate the club once Tim Anderson hit the injured list with a groin issue. Anderson is on the mend, however, and it seems like lineup changes will be in store once the 2019 batting champion returns in full. It's unclear where Robert ultimately ends up in the batting order, but Renteria has affirmed his affinity for Anderson as the table-setter. 

Anderson hit .335/.357/508 with a 130 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR in 2019. He's an aggressive hitter, with a .922 OPS on the season. Similar to Robert in multiple ways, Anderson doesn't go up to the dish to walk. The shortstop walked a total of 15 times in 2019, and he's shown no inclination to improve in that area this year. As he told the local media during Thursday's pregame, Anderson likes to "get the party started." 

Robert was on a torrid pace, and then struck out four times against Brewers pitching on Thursday. Hurlers are throwing the rookie a steady amount of high fastballs paired with sliders fading low and away. Robert has made adjustments so far this year, and he'll continue to make them. He's already walked five times, and that definitely wasn't an expected development. 

He'll be making those adjustments from somewhere other than the leadoff spot going forward, however. 

Leury Legend

On a recent episode of the White Sox postgame show, former manager and now talk-show host Ozzie Guillén praised the play of 29-year-old outfielder Leury García. Guillén called Leury Legend the "MVP of the 2019 club." While that assertion is quite the embellishment, García has lived up to some of that hype with his contributions in 2020. 

He began the season as the starting second baseman, has filled in admirably in right field and moonlighted at shortstop as well. With another home run and a long double last night, García is hitting .326/.383/.558 on the year. The switch-hitter has accumulated 0.6 fWAR in posting a .404 wOBA and a 168 wRC+. 

Defensive deficiencies present themselves often in Leury's game, but the bat has made up for it in the early going. The player is best utilized as a jack-of-all-trades type who could be deployed all over the field. Exposing him with too much field time would likely be a mistake, but it has worked to the club's advantage at this point. 

Drafting relief

Gio González is finally pitching for the White Sox, and despite a less than stellar official line, the 34-year-old southpaw was mostly fine on Thursday. That is the performance of a fifth starter, and it's not the fault of the player that he's manning the No. 3 spot. The White Sox have pitching issues, and we offered some remedies to those solutions this week. 

It's not all bad in the pitching department, though. Matt Foster and Ian Hamilton made scoreless appearances last night, and they've continued the run of stellar relief pitching from former draft picks in that bullpen. 

In addition to Foster and Hamilton, Jace Fry pitched well, too. Hamilton was selected in the 10th round of the 2016 draft out of Washington State, and Foster was taken from Alabama in the 20th round. Fry was a third round selection of the club out of Oregon State in 2014. The White Sox drafted Aaron Bummer and Codi Heuer as well. 

Jimmy Lambert is on the injured list with a forearm strain, and he's another member of the 2016 draft class (fifth round out of Fresno State) who has contributed in 2020. Zack Burdi (first round, 2016), Bernardo Flores Jr. (seventh round, 2016), Tyler Johnson (fifth round, 2017), Jonathan Stiever (fifth round, 2018) and Bennett Sousa (10th round, 2018) could also offer some help from the alternate site roster during this truncated campaign. 

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