The lofty expectations for the 2015 White Sox makes the reality of their performance so disheartening.
Much was expected, collectively and individually. Oddsmakers who drew up those fun preseason over/unders set one bar for what figured to happen, and a look at one of them (Bovada) is a reminder of what was expected from the Sox: Melky Cabrera, .295 batting average. Alexei Ramirez .272 average. Jose Abreu, 33.5 home runs. Adam LaRoche, 23.5 homers.
Those holding “under” tickets are using a firm grip. Cabrera is hitting .251 as the All-Star break approaches, Ramirez is at .217, Abreu is on pace for 27 homers and LaRoche is on pace for 19.
The Sox’ offense ranks last in the American League in runs, slugging percentage and OPS, is tied for last in homers and is second to last in hits and on-base percentage.
So it must have been good for second-year hitting coach Todd Steverson to hear team vice president Ken Williams support the Sox’ coaching staff last week, going out of his way to call Steverson “one of the best hitting coaches around.’’
“It’s always nice to hear from your boss,’’ Steverson said. “I appreciate the kind words, but I’m not going to stop and say ‘woo-hoo’ because of it. I’m the same guy every day. Good or bad, I’m pretty relentless as I try to put the information out there and do the work to try to dominate another team offensively.’’
Steverson can’t swing a bat for Cabrera (13 extra-base hits), Ramirez, Carlos Sanchez (.176 average), Tyler Flowers (.224), Adam Eaton (.251), LaRoche (.233), Gordon Beckham (.205) and Conor Gillaspie(.245), but he looks at those numbers and feels responsible.
“Well, you have to — to an extent,’’ he said. “It’s baseball so you have to recognize that sometimes you got beat and the guy on the other side was better. Other times you carry the weight because you thought they would be better than the other guy and it didn’t happen.
“But yeah, when you’re the hitting coach and they’re not getting the results out of it, you want better for them. Not for me but for them — they’re the ones who make the world go around in the game.’’
Hitting coaches are easy targets and get fired when teams underperform. Fans see a hitter chase a pitch in the dirt and wonder, ‘What are they teaching this guy?” If only hitting were that easy.
“When a team is hitting, it goes unnoticed,’’ Steverson said. “Maybe some subpar performances and it’s ‘what’s he doing?’ It’s not like I’m coming here to screw these guys up so they lose ballgames. Not a person on this staff that does that. It’s part of the game.
“The bad part is it’s happened to a couple guys who’ve had history of doing better. I’ve always said a .300 hitter finds a way to hit .300 and a 5 ERA pitcher finds a way to have a 5 ERA. I still believe that and you can’t sell anybody short this early.’’
There are recent trends that are encouraging for Steverson. The team (.241 this season) is hitting .275 with 21 doubles and 10 homers over the last nine games; Cabrera is hitting .320 with five doubles and two homers over his last 21; Sanchez is 9-for-29 with three doubles in his last nine; Eaton is hitting .304 over his last 18; and Flowers has homered in each of his last three.
But will they sustain it?
“There aren’t too many players who haven’t gone through a slump or a bump in the road,’’ Steverson said.
It’s Steverson’s job to keep them on the right path.
“A lot of people say hitting coach is one of the toughest things in the game because hitting is the toughest thing,’’ he said. “People forget how tough hitting is. That said, it’s my job to make them get better.’’