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Home struggles persist for White Sox, but one reason is new

Jeff Francoeur homered on Sunday. Nobody on the White Sox did.
Jeff Francoeur homered on Sunday. Nobody on the White Sox did.

Back in 1899, Frank and Stanley Robison bought the sadsack St. Louis Browns from Chris Von Der Ahe. It probably shouldn't have been permitted, because the brothers Robison already owned the Cleveland Spiders, creating an obvious conflict of interest.

The brothers Robison had no intent of pretending to be legit, either. They looked at both situations, and thought St. Louis was a much more tenable baseball market. So they moved all their best players from Cleveland -- including future Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace -- to St. Louis, leaving a veritable sideshow at Cleveland's League Park. Really, Stanley Robison used that exact word.

Thanks to the addition of three stars, the newly named St. Louis Perfectos improved from 39-111 to 84-67. On the other side, the Spiders essentially suffered from a suck transfusion. After recording their seventh consecutive winning season with an 81-68 record in 1898, the Spiders finished with the worst record in baseball history -- 20 wins, 134 losses. The franchise folded afterward.

It didn't help that the Spiders were forced to play most of the season on the road. The fans were smart enough to not hand over their money. The Spiders averaged 199 fans through their first 16 home games, which didn't sit right with the rest of the league. The visitors' share of the ticket revenue was so paltry that the other teams lost money traveling to Cleveland. So the NL improvised, turning the Spiders into a road show. They played 112 of 154 games on the road, and lost 101 of them.

Spending most of the season on the road only exacerbated Cleveland's woes, and of course it would. But when looking at the way the White Sox have played at U.S. Cellular field so far, relocating home games doesn't seem as stupid an idea as it actually is.

After a solid 5-0 victory on Friday, the White Sox offense failed to show up for the final two games of the series. The golden arms of Luke Hochevar (9.00 ERA!) and Luis Mendoza (2.07 WHIP!) did the heavy lifting in holding the Sox to one run over the final 18 innings. Predictably, the Sox lost both games, and also lost their fourth home series in a row.

The Sox are 6-11 at U.S. Cellular Field, and they're right where they deserve to be considering they've been outscored by 18 runs. This comes after the Sox posted the second-worst home record in the AL last year.

Outside of random run distribution, there's one key problem for the White Sox at home this year -- they've only hit 16 homers in 17 games, and the pitching has allowed 21.

That's kind of a big issue, because the Sox historically outhomer their opponents by a significant margin at U.S. Cellular Field. It's an edge they've been able to maintain even while the overall quality of the lineup has decreased, and helps to make up for the persistent lack of OBP.

The last time the Sox were outhomered at home was 1999, and you may remember that as an unremarkable season. Here's how U.S. Cellular Field home runs have been distributed since.

  • 2011: 86 hit, 80 allowed
  • 2010: 111 hit, 79 allowed
  • 2009: 103 hit, 89 allowed
  • 2008: 143 hit, 83 allowed
  • 2007: 110 hit, 90 allowed
  • 2006: 136 hit, 111 allowed
  • 2005: 115 hit, 98 allowed
  • 2004: 145 hit, 127 allowed
  • 2003: 130 hit, 88 allowed
  • 2002: 132 hit, 90 allowed
  • 2001: 114 hit, 106 allowed
  • 2000: 125 hit, 104 allowed
  • 1999: 77 hit, 106 allowed

It's a small sample size, of course, The Sox haven't even played a quarter of their home schedule, and at this point, it just takes one big series to change the tides.

But when you look at the style of the White Sox offense in its current form, it's hard to see where the homers will come from besides Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn. The Sox are short on guys who can pull the ball in the air on a consistent basis.

A.J. Pierzynski and Alejandro De Aza aren't power hitters, but they're on the field for other reasons, and they're holding up their ends of the bargain. The same can't be said for the secondary power sources.

Alex Rios, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham are all focused on using right field right now. That might be good for their independent development (especially Beckham), but it's a step backwards from their power-hitting primes, however brief those windows were. None of those guys have the ability to hit the ball over the wall to right, except for the occasional fluke.

The struggles of the Cubans underscore the problem further. Alexei Ramirez has been able to pepper the White Sox bullpen for 10 homers a year, but he's been a nonfactor during his terrible start. Dayan Viciedo's issues loom larger. He was supposed to provide the all-field muscle to replace Carlos Quentin's power, but his swing is so long that he's jamming himself on any inner-half pitch. His spray chart shows that he's aligned properly in terms of direction, but he hasn't been able to square up the ball since returning to the majors last August. He has just four homers over his last 219 plate appearances.

The power outage means White Sox pitchers need to be on top of their collective game, but they're giving up the long ball at an increased rate (even though it's still acceptable in isolation). Add the two sides together, and the Cell may continue to play smaller for the wrong team. Alas, barring a rogue move by Jerry Reinsdorf, the Sox are still obligated to play 81 games there.