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Sports Saturday

White Sox broadcasters liked most — but not all — of what they saw in 2021

Jason Benetti, Steve Stone and Len Kasper share their thoughts on the 2021 White Sox.

Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez hit the ball on the ground too much for Jason Benetti’s liking. (Getty Images)
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Don’t get broadcaster Steve Stone going on the notion that White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t spend money.

“This idea that Jerry won’t spend is a bunch of crap. It’s ridiculous,” Stone said. “Jerry will spend more money. Jerry really wants to win. He gets this bad rap, and it’s infuriating to me.”

The Sox ranked 15th among 30 teams this season, according to Spotrac, and stand seventh with $167 million on the books for 2022.

Now, if only throwing money at their shortcomings would guarantee fixes where the Sox are broken. Stone, the team’s TV analyst, said the Sox’ house “has strong bones,” but he alluded to missteps on “the little things” that make a big difference in wins and losses, factors that showed up during the season and when the Sox lost three of four games to the Astros in the ALDS.

Stone, TV sidekick Jason Benetti and radio voice Len Kasper watched almost every game in 2021, and while they are employed by the Sox, they offered unbiased analysis this week on what they saw this season. They saw a talent-laden roster. They also saw flaws.

For Stone, missing cutoff men, throwing home from the outfield when there wasn’t a play, not completing double plays, pitchers failing to keep runners close and catchers not blocking balls and doing their part to defend against the stolen base all need attention.

That’s a lengthy list.

“The Sox had very good players and a lot of talent,” Stone said. “You don’t need a lot of additions, but you have to smooth out the rough edges in a lot of areas. It’s a team that plays pretty solid baseball at times, and when it does, it can play with anybody. But they don’t play a clean game quite often enough.”

The Sox ranked 26th in defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs. They allowed 119 stolen bases, the most in the majors. They made 97 errors, the sixth-most in the majors, and posted a .983 fielding percentage, which ranked 27th.

Stone and Benetti are bullish on the future of the starting rotation and, as Benetti put it, “a treasure trove of live arms in the bullpen” that posted a strikeout rate of 10.58 per nine innings, second in the AL to the Brewers.

“There is overwhelming talent,” Benetti said.

But the lineup’s propensity to hit the ball on the ground is underwhelming.

“Doing the Statcast shows I do for ESPN makes it difficult for me to watch ground balls offensively,” Benetti said. “The White Sox [third at 46.1%] were the only team in the top 12 in ground-ball percentage to make the playoffs this year. The slugging percentage in the league on ground balls is .266. Slugging the ball is really important.”

Three of the final four postseason teams were among the bottom four in ground-ball percentage. Tim Anderson’s ground-ball rate was 55%. Eloy Jimenez’s was 48%. Abreu (46%) hit into 28 double plays.

“That’s not sustainable over the long haul,” Benetti said.

Stone is a much bigger fan of manager Tony La Russa than he was of La Russa’s predecessor, Rick Renteria.

“It’s going to be addressed in spring training, I guarantee you that,” Stone said. “I don’t think people realize how good this coaching staff is. They know exactly what happened and what they have to do. Hopefully, players will adapt to a more solid way of playing baseball because that is what will always win games. You’re not going to beat teams 10-1. You have to beat them 3-2 and 4-3.”

The Sox (93-69) won the AL Central by 13 games but lost decisively to the Astros in the postseason.

“As disappointing as it was to lose to the Astros, overstating what happened in that series could be really dangerous,” Kasper said, “because the biggest strength of this team was the starting rotation, and they didn’t get long starts from anybody. Are there things to improve? Absolutely. But I don’t think connecting it to the loss to the Astros is the smartest way to do it. It was only four games.

“And if there is something about the postseason, there is this misnomer about all the little things. The Sox didn’t do all the little things well, but if they had hit like four more home runs, they still might be playing. Home runs do matter.”

But little things matter, too. It all matters. We’re just trying to see a way to get the Sox past the ALDS next time.

“There is not that much of a difference between the Sox and Astros, but there is a difference,” Stone said. “And the difference is, almost without exception, when a double play is turned, they turn it. If you don’t, a good team will bury you with that, and you saw that quite a bit.”

Stone would like to see Anderson fix his footwork around second base on double plays. He never hopes to see Jimenez airmail a throw home from left field again.

“We have some fairly young players that, if you allow it to go on, you are getting what you deserve,” Stone said.

You can take that to Jerry Reinsdorf’s bank.