Two-strike struggles and other weird numbers

Victor Martinez's three-run homer off Gavin Floyd didn't just decide Tuesday's ballgame -- it also provided a handy example of one of the White Sox's biggest problems with the Detroit Tigers.

Floyd had no problems getting ahead of Martinez, starting him out with two strikes. But he couldn't figure out how to finish a job, and that problem has plagued White Sox pitchers all month -- especially against the team they chased.

In the five Detroit-Chicago games this series, the Tigers collected 15 hits in the 43 plate appearances that started with an 0-2 count, which is a success rate of 35 percent. For the rest of this season, opponents only can scratch out hits on 0-2 counts around 16 percent of the time.

When White Sox pitchers can't get the job done when all the pressure's on the hitter, it stands to reason that they'd fare even worse when Tiger hitters can be choosy. And that's how the Tigers have outscored the White Sox by a margin of 45-6 over their last 31 innings.

 

Another loss to the Tigers means the White Sox are 5-12 against Detroit on the season. Another sizable loss throws more garbage on top of the already staggering negative run differential, as our friend Rob Neyer highlighted:

Except for two teams, the Chicago White Sox have outscored their opponents 517-469 this season.

That's not great, but a +48 run differential is pretty good. With a little luck and a weak division, you can get into the postseason with a +48 run differential.

But after getting blasted (again) by the Tigers Monday night, the White Sox have been outscored 100-57 by Detroit this season. They've also been outscored 51-20 by the Yankees. That -- along with Adam Dunn and Alex Rios -- tells the story of the South Siders' 2011 season.

Make that 105-57 now.

Star-divide

Going back to counts, Tuesday evening provided Hawk Harrelson a few opportunities to audibly resign himself to the White Sox's reluctance to swing on 3-0 counts.

He has grounds for complaint -- as BuehrleMan pointed out in the gamethread, the White Sox are one of three AL teams without a single hit on 3-0 counts. Boston and Cleveland are the others, and the Indians are even stingier with their 3-0 swings than the Sox, because they've only put two balls into play on 3-0 counts. The White Sox have three at-bats on 3-0 counts, and the Red Sox have five.

The good news is that they've tripled their 2010 total of attempts. Only one batter put a 3-0 pitch into play last year. To nobody's surprise, it was Mark Kotsay. To nobody's surprise, he was unsuccessful.

To find the last White Sox hit on a 3-0 count, you have to go back to July 19, 2009, when Jim Thome lined a single to right off Jeremy Guthrie. That was the second of 3-0 hits that season, and the prior one was far more memorable -- A.J. Pierzynski's game-winning single off Trevor Hoffman in Milwaukee on June 14, 2009 (which is better known as the time he drove in pinch runner Clayton Richard).

Like low BABIP, the reluctance to take chances on 3-0 counts might possibly be another hallmark of the Greg Walker ERA. Here's where the White Sox have ranked in 3-0 ABs over the years (total in parentheses):

  • 2011: 12th (3)
  • 2010: Last (1)
  • 2009: Last (3)
  • 2008: Last (3)
  • 2007: 10th (6)
  • 2006: 11th (7)
  • 2005: 13th (2)
  • 2004: 8th (7)

But this could also be an effect of Paul Konerko's leadership by example, because Konerko swings at a 3-0 pitch roughly once every presidential term. Before he popped up a 3-0 pitch by Oakland's Graham Godfrey, he hadn't put a 3-0 pitch in play since 2007.

Alexei Ramirez seems to have taken to this strategy, because he's turned taking all the way into an artform. He takes every 3-0 pitch off, often dropping the bat and checking for Jeff Cox's next sign before the pitch is halfway to the plate.

Getting back to Harrelson, Tuesday night takes by the Sox didn't hurt them. They drew three walks -- two by Brent Morel, one by Alejandro De Aza -- after watching the first three pitches miss, even though the fourth pitch turned out to be a grooved fastball in each instance. But I can see where he's coming from, because there are more than a couple Sox who need hits more than walks, but seem obligated to have long at-bats for long at-bats' sake. If they never take a chance or two on the catbirdest of seats, they're not making their roads to respectability any easier.

Star-divide

While Morel adopts the Paulie Plan on a three-ball count, he doesn't follow in Konerko's footsteps in all respects. Take his performance against Justin Verlander, for example. After drawing those two walks and smacking a double on Tuesday night, Morel apparently finds the presumptive 2011 Cy Young winner far easier to deal with:

vs. Verlander PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Brent Morel 15 12 4 3 0 0 3 2 .333 .467 .583 1.050
Paul Konerko
55 49 8 2 0 2 5 15 .163 .255 .327 .581
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