The last time we checked in with Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham, June looked like a pretty big month for the both of them. Both players are theoretically young enough to be in the new core, but had disappointed long enough to be considered part of the outgoing line, and both could have enough trade value to expedite the latter..
For Viciedo, July 1 served as a referendum date of sorts -- the 2½-year mark as a full-time starter, with enough time to overcome small sample sizes or awful April weather in 2014. At that point, the Sox really couldn't beat themselves up over missing out on any unlocked potential, even if it took place with a different team down the road.
Viciedo put himself in a position to change minds with a dynamite April, but he followed it up with a flat May, which set up June as a tiebreaker. If only it were a close call...
The way Viciedo's performance shakes out, you can pretend that he was aware of the July 1 date all along and procrastinated himself into trouble.
- First 12 starts: .083/.120/.104 over 50 PA
- Last 12 starts: .250/.313/.523 over 48 PA
He even carried the late rush into Tuesday, hitting a long two-run homer to get the White Sox back into Game 2. However, it's difficult to separate Viciedo's home runs from pitches he can drive. None of the last four gopher balls qualified as power stuff, and the last two have been some of the fattest breaking balls he'll see all season:
Of Viciedo's nine homers, only three have come on fastballs. Moreover, only one of them was over 90 mph, and all three were outer-half (or farther away) pitches taken to right field. Really, his successes seem intertwined with the theory of effective velocity more than any other Sox hitter.
EV breaks the strike zone into nine regions, each having a different effect on how hitters perceive a given pitch. Based on a hitter's need to reach pitches close to his body more quickly, [Perry] Husband calculated that reaction time to a 90-mile-per-hour pitch is closer to that of a 93-mph pitch if it runs inside (96 if it's high and tight), and drops to 87 mph if it's placed on the outside edge of the plate (85 if it's low and away). [...]
What he means by this is that if a hitter swings at what he thinks will be a 90-mph fastball down the middle, he can still accidentally run into either a 96-mph fastball down and away or an 85-mph pitch on the inside — all intersecting the arc of his swing — and make solid contact. Husband believes this happens far more frequently than one might think.
The thing that keeps Viciedo from being any old hitter who can't turn on most piped fastballs is his strength. He can power the ball over outfielders and fences the other way, which most of the league can't do. Beckham's a good contrast, because while he tries to use right field, there isn't much out there for him. Per FanGraphs, you can see their difference in batted-ball stats in 2014:
- Viciedo to RF: .328 AVG, .313 ISO
- Beckham to RF: .161 AVG, .089 ISO
The problem is that Viciedo can't channel that skill for pitches that don't align with his natural swing -- fastballs middle and in, or breaking balls away. He's spent time with three different hitting coaches during his time on the big-league roster, and he's not getting any closer to where he needs to be.
One might say the same could be said for Beckham, at least if you needed to see two good months in a row:
Yet this actually represents sturdy progress in the big picture. Beckham cooled off a bit month to month, but the step back still exceeds his average production over the previous four seasons. This illustrates a good rule of thumb for evaluating him -- if he's carrying a .300+ OBP and a .400+ SLG at the same time, leave him alone. He's fine, because he can supplement that production with strong defense at a skill position.
"Fine" just might not be good enough when it comes to the White Sox' future plans, given the potential replacements waiting in the wings. But "fine" would be a boon to a number of contenders. With Beckham leading the way, the White Sox are 13th out of 30 teams in OPS+ for second basemen. Meanwhile, there are seven contenders in the bottom 10 -- Cardinals, Giants, A's, Braves, Orioles, Royals, Nationals and Marlins -- and the Blue Jays and Yankees could use reinforcement, too. This Beckham represents an upgrade for most of those teams, and that's before factoring in his defense.
It'd be better for the 2014 White Sox if both players re-ignited in June, but at least they seemed to provide some clarity with the way they went about their business. If players are who we thought they were, that might pay off more in the long run, because answers of any sort are better than a holding pattern with hope for good news.