The White Sox are solidly in mid-May now, but their offense still hasn't departed from Phoenix Sky Harbor. They occupy the cellar across the board so many important offensive categories -- runs, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage -- that it's a wonder that they're 16-21, and not 11-26.
(Good news, though -- they moved past the Kansas City Royals in walks!)
It's easy to see why -- out of the entire White Sox lineup, you could easily identify two-thirds of it as "struggling." If you're less charitable, you can even lump Conor Gillaspie in this group. Given that he's not anywhere near the worst in May (.235/.297/.353), he was great in April, and he just had the sinus infection, I'm willing to chalk it up as a mere "leveling-off." Really, we know so little about him that a .650 OPS might not be struggling at all, which is its own problem.
So that leaves six hitters who are still languishing below their expected level of contributions for the season -- although with one more good week, this list might be down to five.
- Season: .257/.293/.446, 8 BB, 45 K over 159 PA
- May: .308/.333/.519, 2 BB, 14 K over 55 PA
De Aza leads the Sox with an .853 May OPS, but since he's a leadoff guy with an OBP below .300, he's still not off the hook. Swinging and missing -- especially on breaking balls low and in -- has dogged him all season, but he hasn't suffered a multi-K game in a week, so maybe his biggest problems are behind him.
- Season: .284/.317/.366, 2 2B, 1 HR over 142 PA
- May: .298/.319/.333, 2 2B over 47 PA
The move to the No. 2 spot may have rejuvenated Ramirez, even though he was having a decent start by his standards before then. He's got 10 hits in his first 25 plate appearances backing up De Aza, he's only struck out once, and he's 7-for-8 in the basestealing department.
Concidentally, Ramirez hit his nadir last season at the 142-PA mark. He wore the collar against Kansas City on May 12, dragging his line all the way down to .199/.216/.257. He's seen much worse in previous mid-Mays, although respectable starts haven't foreshadowed breakout seasons. He always finds a way to end up around the same place.
- Season: .210/.275/.370, 7 BB, 32 K over 109 PA
- May: .263/.317/.368, 2 2B, 7 K over 51 PA
Flowers hoisted his average back over the Mendoza Line with a couple of two-hit games against Minnesota this series, but his game-winning double was just his second extra-base hit since April 20. It looks like he traded power for contact, because he hasn't struck out twice in a game all month. That may be an OK strategy for now, but it makes it hard to get a read on what's going to happen over the rest of May -- is he gradually reshaping and adjusting, or just surviving? He has stung the ball in these two games against the Twins, but Pedro Hernandez and Kevin Correia are pitch-to-contact guys, so degree of difficulty is a factor there.
Maybe he can cover for his flaws with enough repetitions, but this is all unknown territory, so good luck making a safe estimate about his next week. Either way, he's still a safe No. 3 on this list thanks to the guys behind him. Now, if only he could shore up his defense, since he was actually supposed to be good there.
4. Adam Dunn
- Season: .137/.236/.323, 13 H, 14 BB, 48 K over 140 PA
- May: .111/.220/.194, 4 H, 5 BB, 16 K over 41 PA
He's an Aaron Hicks highlight away from having two homers in two games, but it's going to take at least a couple weeks of that to have any faith he's woken up, instead of merely stirring enough to swat the snooze button. He's batting .178/.298/.401 over his last calendar year, and once his May 2012 cycles out of that group, it's only going to look worse.
How are there two people behind him when he's hitting .111 this month? Well, he's actually playing, his bat has shown some life, and he's holding his hands higher. Those are vital signs. Three vital signs.
5. Paul Konerko
- Season: .214/.273/.349, 5 2B, 4 HR, 9 BB over 139 PA
- May: .167/.231/.250, 1 2B, 1 BB over 39 PA
Dunn took Konerko's place in the lineup against the soft-tossing lefty Hernandez. Then Konerko sat for a second straight game against Correia. The reasons given for Konerko's lack of playing time -- first in the field, and now in the lineup -- could be read as talking around a bigger problem. Robin Ventura explained his first day off:
"It just made sense," Ventura said. "He’s frustrated with where it’s at. But this is still scheduled and it was put in there with the idea he was going to have these. It was nothing about performance or anything like that. It’s more planned for the purpose of keeping him strong."
And then his second day off:
"The way he’s been feeling there’s nothing wrong with giving him two days off just to kind of reboot and feel better," Ventura said. "It’s happened to other guys and when you feel that way, and you’re a little bit older, sometimes it’s better to kind of take a step back, get back in there tomorrow."
It's not a bad idea in isolation to give Konerko a vacation, but it means that a hitter with worse season and May numbers is taking his place, which is why this development is concerning. If the Captain follows his current course, Ventura is about one month from explaining why Konerko had to "visit a farm downstate," and why he's going to be very happy there, and I know sweetie we all miss him please stop crying.
- Season: .177/.174/.192, 2 2B, 0 BB over 132 PA
- May: .130/.130/.130, .130/.130/.130, .130/.130/130
He's not necessarily swinging at bad pitches. He doesn't look particularly overmatched. In fact, he's probably made his hardest contact over the last week or so. It just doesn't go anywhere, and when Ventura chooses an infection-ridden Gillaspie to pinch-hit for Keppinger despite his best swings of the year, well, I don't think he's won his new skipper over.
At the very least, his tendency to swing at second pitches has given BuehrleMan something to do during gamethreads. After going 4-for-4 in that respect yesterday, Keppinger has swung at the second pitch in 44 percent of his plate appearances according to his joint research with 3E8. White Sox Baseball: Games are $7 Now, So Make Your Own Fun.