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A New Complaint

We have to vent. Frustration builds up and boils over the top. An outlet is required. Point the finger at those we think are messing up? Without a doubt. We are human. Complaining is part of who are.

Of course, there are those of us who go overboard by moaning with just about every breath. And too often the vitriol becomes biting, mean and nasty, or worse. As long as we don't hurt anyone else, in the best of instances, a blustery dose of criticism targeting someone else or a situation should provide a respite, a taste of relief, alleviating rancor and making us feel better. Wouldn't that be nice?

Let's take the case of the Chicago White Sox, who, despite leading the American League Central by 9½ games this morning, receive their share of pointed criticism. After Saturday's 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay at the ballpark they call The Trop - it should be The Flop - left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel was on the hot seat.

Keuchel hasn't been very good of late. In his last six starts, he's 1-4 with a 6.21 ERA. In 33⅓ innings, he's given up eight homers. Keuchel is known as a ground ball pitcher, a species not known to yield a lot of home runs.

After Saturday's game, social media lit up after Keuchel lasted five innings, exiting with the Sox trailing 6-2.

Let it be known that the artificial turf at The Flop is just a tad bit slower than a billiard table. It's good to hit grounders there. They tend to travel very quickly. In fact, in six starts there with Houston and the Sox, Keuchel is 0-5 with a 6.44 ERA. In 2015 when he was 20-8, earning a Cy Young award, one of his losses was in Tampa, although by a respectable 3-0 score.

If one needed any proof that Keuchel is little more than fodder for the Rays at The Flop, Wander Franco's first-inning grounder bounced off third base for a run-scoring double. Yoan Moncada was positioned to field the ball for the third out before it took that weird hop into short left field. A double followed, and the Sox trailed 3-0.

Defending Keuchel's recent performances is not the objective here. Asking why manager Tony La Russa would tab his veteran lefty for an assignment in that abomination of a baseball venue is the question.

But let's not dally with the fortunes of Dallas Keuchel. As mentioned, despite splitting 36 games since the All-Star break and following Saturday's disappointment with a 9-0 shellacking on Sunday, the Sox own the largest division or league lead at this point in the season in the team's 121-year history.

Coming close to a 9½-game edge on Aug. 23 was the 1983 squad, which led by nine games at this point en route to a 99-win season and a final 20 games ahead of second place Kansas City. The 2005 eventual World Series champions led Cleveland by 8½ games on this date, although that lead shrank to a game-and-a-half with eight to play in late September. The Sox had a seven-game road trip to end the season while Cleveland was playing at home. The Sox finished 6-2 while the Indians reversed that mark at 2-6.

Of course, Ozzie Guillen's crew breezed through the post-season at 11-1. Judging from La Russa's recent maneuverings, he's aiming at those same lofty heights for this edition of the South Siders.

Tim Anderson was scheduled for a day off last Thursday in the finale of a four-game set at home against Oakland, a game the Sox lost 5-4. Anderson had one of the greatest games of his career in Tampa on Friday, hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and then driving in a run and scoring another in the top of the 11th as the Sox won 7-5. Earlier he had eluded a tag at the plate on an acrobatic slide in the fifth inning to give the Sox a 2-1 lead.

Anderson didn't play over the weekend because of leg soreness. If there had been any question of his value to this team, three losses last week without the Sox shortstop answered that query.

Despite the fact that the Sox have been hovering around 20 games over .500, Moncada has been the target of disapproval for much of the season. His slashline of .256/.371/.768 with just 11 home runs simply doesn't cut it in the eyes of some Sox fans. You might say that Moncada's 2019 season spoiled us when he was baseball's top prospect. He slashed .315/.367/.915 along with 25 round-trippers the season before last.

Nevertheless, the analytics tell us that only Cleveland's José Ramirez and Boston's Rafael Devers are more productive third basemen in the American League.

FanGraphs uses a yardstick of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) with a very fancy formula that takes into account every offensive facet one can imagine but goes a step further by "adjust[ing] performance based on park effects and league average." The average ballplayer for wRC+ is 100, and Moncada has a mark of 118 which means he's 18 percent better with a bat in his hand than the average player at third base. Devers' mark is 137 with Ramirez at 136. Leading major league third basemen are Justin Turner of the Dodgers and Austin Riley of Atlanta at 138.

Moncada ranks higher than guys like Nolan Arenado, Matt Chapman and Kyle Seager. Remember that wRC+ is strictly an offensive measurement. Without boring you with the numbers, FanGraphs ranks Moncada the third most effective defensive third baseman in the game, markedly ahead of Ramirez and Devers.

Moncada's strikeout rate of 26.5 percent is distressing, exacerbated by the fact that he trudges back to the dugout each time as though his music video just got panned by the critics. However, last season his K-rate was 31.2 and even in 2019 he fanned in 27.6 percent of his plate appearances.

If we look at Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Moncada leads the team. That's right. His 3.6 is a couple of ticks above Anderson's 3.4, while José Abreu, despite his MLB best 92 RBIs, has a 2.1 WAR. Lance Lynn checks in at 3.2.

If you are a proponent of a hitter's performance with runners in scoring position (RISP), Moncada's .277 ranks just behind Anderson's .289. Abreu is hitting .268 with runners in scoring position, meaning that the guys in front of him consistently get on base. As a team the Sox are hitting .265 with RISP compared to .242 without RISP. Pitchers also aren't eager to pitch to Moncada in crucial situations since his on-base percentage with runners in scoring position is .414.

One additional note about RISP. Before his season-ending injury and trade to the Cubs, Nick Madrigal was slashing .313/.346/.804 in RISP situations, easily tops on the ballclub. Just sayin'.

So why all the disdain aimed in Moncada's direction? He contracted COVID-19 last season so that scoring from first on a double exhausted him far more than one would expect. Perhaps he's a long-hauler, still experiencing the effects of the virus.

He also raised hopes in 2019 of perhaps becoming the best third baseman in team history. I'm reminded of golf psychologist Bob Rotella and his book Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect in which he offers this morsel of wisdom: "There is no such thing as a golfer playing over his head. A hot streak is simply a glimpse of a golfer's true potential."

So are we frustrated because Moncada, while playing better than most, has the potential to be so much better? Or, because we are human, do some of us simply have to complain about something?

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021