A disappointing 64-81 record notwithstanding, there is enough to be encouraged about with the White Sox rebuild, notably the offensive strides shortstop Tim Anderson has taken, the breakthrough season enjoyed by third baseman Yoan Moncada on both sides of the ball, the power of rookie Eloy Jimenez, and the remarkable turnaround of right-hander Lucas Giolito.
Those things are all good and bode well for next season and beyond.
Jimenez hit his second opposite-field homer and collected four RBI for a second consecutive night, and Anderson stayed on top in the American League batting-title race with two singles in the 8-6 loss to the Royals on Wednesday. Jose Abreu, who leads the AL with 114 RBI, belted his 32nd homer.
Reynaldo Lopez, on the heels of a one-hit gem at Cleveland, followed up by allowing four homers and six runs over 4⅔ innings, a perplexing pattern that must be corrected. Lopez (9-13, 5.35 ERA) had good stuff but tried to overthrow. He also had trouble picking up catcher Welington Castillo’s target for some reason.
“It’s frustrating not being able to be consistent,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s mindset and focus issues will be on the Sox’ priority list to correct before Opening Day 2020. So should the team’s defense, which ranks 25th among 30 teams defensively per FanGraphs data.
Hitting and pitching ebbs and flows, but defense is a constant, and it comes as no surprise the top five teams in the majors in fielding — the Athletics, Indians, Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Phillies — are playoff contenders. Seven of the top eight defensive teams are in contention for the postseason.
Will the Sox be better in 2020? They might have to hit like the 1927 Yankees and pitch like the 2005 postseason Sox to be playoff-worthy with a dismal defense.
Using the advanced metrics of FanGraphs, here is where the Sox’ primary position players rank defensively among those with 600 or more innings played:
Catcher James McCann, 19th.
First baseman Abreu, 18th.
Second baseman Sanchez, first.
Shortstop Anderson, 28th.
Third baseman Moncada, sixth.
Left fielder Jimenez, 14th.
Center fielder Leury Garcia, 19th.
Right fielder Ryan Cordell, 31st (200 or more innings).
The Sox rank third-worst in the majors in errors, led by Anderson’s major-league-leading 25.
Anderson has made strides with his backhand and flashes range and athleticism. On Tuesday, he ranged left for a ground ball, spun around and had plenty of time but threw off the mark. It was scored a hit. On Wednesday, Whit Merrifield’s grounder to Anderson’s backhand skidded under his glove. Also scored a hit, it preceded a two-run homer to the next batter, Adalberto Mondesi.
Moncada, one of the Sox’ best defenders, made a diving stop behind the bag on a smash hit by Jorge Soler, but his long throw bounced past Abreu. The Sox have infielders with range, manager Rick Renteria said, but it must translate to outs.
“I know we had a ball yesterday where Timmy went across the middle, tried to come up to throw to first, [but] he threw wide to the right-field side of first,” Renteria said. “Those are plays that we believe and expect that he will be able to complete.
“But not just Timmy, everybody.”
Finishing plays and the overall team “defensive scheme” will be a talking point from now until next spring training, Renteria promised.
As for 2020, Sanchez might be replaced by prospect Nick Madrigal. Fleet center-field prospect Luis Robert has lots of range but the other elements of his defensive game are unproven. With the defensively challenged Jimenez in left, it would behoove the Sox to consider defense when they pursue a new right fielder in free agency or through a trade.
That said, there was no defense for the five homers allowed (four by Lopez, one by Carson Fulmer).Jorge Soler went deep on both.
A winning formula is tried and true.
“It’s about pitching and defense and timely hitting,” Renteria said.
With defense smack dab in the middle.