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The Stats Behind The Slump

Home runs are good. Strikeouts? Despite the viewpoint gaining traction that they're just another out, well, not so fast.

Take the White Sox, for example. They've hit 44 home runs in the season's first 45 games. Only four other clubs have hit fewer. When they've managed at least one in a ballgame, the team has won 22 of 28. To summarize, their chances of winning if they can deposit at least one ball into the outfield seats is almost 80 percent. And that's really good. When the Sox don't homer, they're 4-13, and that's downright crummy.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, such as Sunday when Tony La Russa's crew accounted for three round-trippers, one each from José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal, and a clutch ninth-inning blast from pinch hitter Andrew Vaughn off über closer Aroldis Chapman, tying the game at four before the local cast succumbed in the bottom of the inning by a 5-4 count.

The fellas are whiffing less this season than last, at a rate of 23 percent of their plate appearances or, to be exact, 8.84 times a game. (A year ago they averaged 9.52 strikeouts per game.) Again, to summarize, about a third of the outs that Sox batters make come via the strikeout, which ranks them near the middle of big league clubs.

In fact, approximately one in four plate appearances throughout the game end with a strikeout, which is one of oft-cited criticisms of baseball today. Strikeouts are boring (and fascist). They require no more than a pitcher and catcher while the other seven guys might as well grab a hot dog and a beer.

When the Sox are able to make contact and strike out fewer than 10 times in a game, the outcome has been an 18-6 record. Please understand that in 15 of those wins, they also homered, which, needless to say, abetted their success. They've only lost three times when homering while limiting their strikeouts to single digits. But still. When the boys are difficult to strike out, they tend to win.

Of course, there are other aspects like pitching and defense, but we'll focus this conversation on offense, which surprisingly has produced approximately five runs per game this season for the White Sox. Only six teams have scored more runs than La Russa's crew so far this year.

However, the club slowly has been slipping in that department. Gerrit Cole shut them out 7-0 on Saturday, but that's no disgrace. However, since the 16-4 blowout of the Twins last Monday - you might recall Yermin Mercedes' long ball on that 3-0 count that raised the ire of his manager - the team has scored just 11 runs in five games. which include the three losses in New York over the weekend.

This should not be surprising. A team that lost the services of two middle-of-the-lineup run-producers for months becomes saddled with the challenge of putting numbers of the board. No one is mistaking the likes of Leury García, Billy Hamilton and Jake Lamb for Eloy Jimenéz and Luis Robert. Over a short span the club can get hot, but reality tends to prevail during a 162-game marathon.

In addition, when it comes to home runs, statistically a staple for winning, an investigation is noteworthy.

For instance, Yoán Moncada is doing nicely with his slashline of .287/.413/.826. His walk rate has increased to 16.3 percent, while he's striking out less at 27.2 percent. Coming into this season, those numbers were 9.8 and 31.3, respectively. However, Moncada has hit just three home runs so far this season, the last one coming about a month ago on April 29. In those 21 games, the Sox third baseman has driven in just 11 runs.

Second baseman Nick Madrigal, the target of cynics who aren't impressed by his lack of power, has 10 extra base hits, only three fewer than Moncada.

Then there's the early-season sensation Mercedes, the Yerminator, whose .347 batting average still is third in the major leagues. However, in those 21 games dating back to April 29, the rookie is hitting .260 with a couple of homers, one being last Monday's blast, and 10 RBIs.

Table-setter Tim Anderson endured an 0-for-17 spell last week, which goes a long way toward explaining the Sox slump. Anderson has to get on base for Moncada, Abreu and whoever else is capable to drive him home. One can easily argue that the Sox shortstop is the key to their ability to score.

None of this is meant to disparage guys like Moncada or Mercedes. Moncada is an elite player both with his glove and bat. He ranks second on the club to Abreu with an exit velocity of 90.8. On batted balls in play he's hitting .408. Chances are he's going to start hitting some home runs, but if he starts worrying about doing so, his efficiency will suffer.

And no one saw Mercedes coming, and if you told any knowledgeable Sox fan that he would be a .260 hitter, such news would be gleefully received. Last year the DH position accounted for a .148 batting average. More long balls from the Yerminator would help, but we're not talking about a hitter who can or will carry a ballclub.

Slugging home runs makes the job of winning easier, but when power is absent, other means for success must be employed. The Sox' lack of power has resulted in La Russa ordering more sacrifice bunts than we've seen in the recent past. Hitting coach Frank Menechino appears less interested in launch angle than making contact. Chances are we're in store for more small ball as the season progresses.

It should be noted that Sunday the Yankees failed to hit a four-bagger but capitalized on a couple of Sox errors for three unearned runs. Pitching to New York's hottest hitter, Gleyber Torres, on Friday night resulted in him knocking in both runs in a 2-1 game in which the Sox produced just five hits. Carlos Rodón covered the first six innings, yielding only two hits, walking no one, and striking out 13. He and his starting mates will have to be nearly as effective to offset the lack of power.

National League Central Division leader St. Louis invades the Grate for three games beginning Monday night. On Tuesday, former Harvard-Westlake School teammates Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty will be the pitchers while their high school pitching coach Ethan Katz observes from the Sox dugout. Flaherty leads the majors with an 8-0 record, and he's given up just four home runs in 53⅓ innings while striking out a batter per inning. That's why he's 8-0.

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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