Sox fans should give the season a little time to play out
Over a long season of 600 or so plate appearances, the first 40 to 50 fade into the big picture. So White Sox fans shouldn’t read too much into the slow start by shortstop Tim Anderson or the hot bat of outfielder Avisail Garcia.
Still, there are a few by-the-numbers notes of interest about each.
Let’s take Garcia first. With a 1.185 OPS through Sunday, Garcia has been the player the Sox dreamed of when they acquired him from the Tigers in 2013.
Garcia showed promise with a .304 batting average and .775 OPS in the second half of 2013, but he hit for a .250 average with a .687 OPS from 2014 to 2016. Garcia had a .692 OPS last season; American League outfielders had a .743 OPS overall.
His strong early showing in 2017 is built on a .465 batting average, .511 on-base percentage and .674 slugging percentage, including a double, a triple and two home runs.
Batting average on balls in play accounts for most of that. Garcia has hit .581 in plate appearances that weren’t strikeouts, walks or homers. That’s not sustainable. His career BABiP is .328.
Garcia’s fly-ball percentage is up, though it’s still below the 2016 AL average of 35.5 percent. For Garcia’s career, 52.9 percent of his balls in play have been ground balls and 25.4 percent have been fly balls (with the rest as line drives). This season, his grounders are down to 45.5 percent and his fly balls are up to 30.3 percent.
Last season, batters hit .241 with a .715 slugging percentage on fly balls vs. .238 with a .258 slugging percentage on ground balls. A change to a fly-ball approach has helped a number of hitters, such as the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy. In his career, Murphy has hit 34.2 percent of batted balls in the air. Last season, that jumped to 41.9 percent as he hit 25 homers — 11 more than his previous career high — and amassed a .985 OPS. From 2008 to 2015, his OPS was .755.
It’s too early to say Garcia is airing it out, but it’s worth watching.
As for Anderson, a .140 batting average and .368 OPS through Sunday obviously isn’t an ideal start after his .286 batting average and .738 OPS as a rookie in 2016 earned him a six-year, $25 million contract.
His strikeout rate — 27.1 percent of plate appearances last season, 27.3 percent in 2017 — is troublesome for a hitter with some pop but a low walk rate who mostly makes his living on balls in play. The average AL strikeout rate last season was 20.7 percent.
Anderson’s .167 BABiP this season comes after his .375 BABiP last season led the league and was the AL’s fourth-highest in the 2000s among players with at least 400 plate appearances.
Numbers for Garcia and Anderson are partly early-season illusions. But whether Garcia’s fly-ball increase is real and whether Anderson can put the ball in play enough to add value as his BABiP reaches a more normal level are things we’ll have to wait and see.
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