At the beginning of the year the White Sox offense had a number of question marks. What kind of production will we get out of third base? Will Beckham produce? When will age catch up with Konerko and Dunn? These questions have largely been answered. However, over the course of the season a new and largely overlooked question has arisen. Is Dayan Viciedo still a future middle-of-the-order hitter for the White Sox? Before this season began this would have been answered by most that follow the team with a resounding "Yes" given his age and his power potential. However, just a few months later this is no longer an easy question to answer.
Viciedo ended the 2012 campaign with a reasonable .255/.300/.444, which put him right about league average offensively (98 wRC+). His defense and base running certainly decreased his overall value for the season but there was still optimism that the 24-year-old would develop into a feared power hitter. A year later his overall numbers look almost identical to last year, .258/.301/.418. The first thing I notice about his numbers this year is the decrease in power. He lost 30 points in ISO (isolated power) without much of a corresponding increase in any other area. What is even more perplexing about his most basic stats is that he decreased his strikeout rate by about 2% over last year while also experiencing an increase in BABIP from .286 to .299 but there was essentially no change in his batting average or on-base percentage. This is likely explained by his decreased power. Some of the extra-base hits he had last year are turning into singles this year. This is also exemplified by his 3.5% decrease in his line drive rate as well as a massive decrease (9%) in his HR/FB rate.
So what is the problem? When you dig a little bit deeper into the numbers his plate discipline stands out as one of the likely culprits that is sapping his power. Viciedo is swinging more at pitches both within (+7.6%) and outside (+1.3%) of the strike zone. He is making more contact with pitches outside the strike zone compared to last year (+3.9%). However, even though he is swinging at more pitches inside the strike zone, his rate of contact on those pitches has remained static compared to last season. This falls right in line with what we saw in the paragraph above regarding his decreased power this season. He is swinging more at and making contact with more pitches out of the strike zone that in turn leads to Viciedo making more weak contact, which results in a low line drive rate and a decreased ISO.
While Viciedo has always been known as a free-swinger, he has become even more so since last season. Based on a normal aging curve for position players, as Viciedo gets older you would expect his swing percentage on pitches out of the strike zone to decrease. Over the last three seasons and 1048 plate appearances it has actually increased (36.4% in 2011, 39.9% in 2012, 41.2% in 2013). While Viciedo is still considered to be just entering his prime, he has had just over 1000 big league plate appearances to show some improvement offensively. Given that he has been unable to do this, legitimate questions about his future arise. Of course we didn’t even mention his defense in left field, which has degenerated from below average to butcher based on both the eye test and fielding metrics. At this point, the only thing to get excited about with Viciedo is his arm, which has been one of the only constants since he became the starting left fielder for the White Sox.
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