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The clutchest White Sox performances of 2015

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Pinch hittters and other subs crowd the list in a new development

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The White Sox had the league's worst offense in 2015, so obviously their starting players would find themselves at the bottom of the American League with regards to that particular split.

The lines for teams' starting players:

  • AL: .257/.318/.414
  • White Sox: .250/.306/.380

In a funny twist, though, the White Sox received the third-best production from players who entered in the middle of a game (pinch-hitting, pinch-running, defensive sub, etc.), at least in terms of OPS. The averages for replacements:

  • AL: .223/.299/.350 over 219 PA
  • White Sox: .234/.305/.394 over 210 PA

Perhaps you've already noticed, but if you add up the White Sox' lines, you'll notice they received a bigger punch from their subs than they did from their starters.

Unlike the White Sox' complete lack of steals of third base, though, this is far from the rarest of phenomena. All it takes are a couple of full-time defensive specialists to weigh down the starters' lines, and some fluky small samples to boost the bench. Look at the top of the subs' OPS leaderboard -- the White Sox are third, but well behind the Astros, whose subs' OPS (.850) easily outpaced everybody else's starters.

There's a difference, of course. When the Astros' bench guys supplement an above-average starting lineup, it's quirky. When the White Sox' mid-game barely nose out the league's worst offense, it's much sadder.

This is also reflected in our annual list of the White Sox' clutchest performances, as measured by Win Probability Added (I explain the stat and the process in the first of these posts back in 2012). When you look at that list, or the ones for 2013 or 2014, you'll notice the biggest games are all from starters.

2015 is the first year that the list includes somebody who didn't play the whole game. What's more, there are several such cases. The Sox did get their share of timely hits from surprising sources, but they also lacked those power games from starters who put the team on their backs, often times because they didn't get more than one opportunity to strike.

As far as fanfare goes, that's a little underwhelming. Seems to be a theme, huh?

No. 10: Conor Gillaspie vs. Rays

June 13 | WPA: 0.424

Here's one of those pinch-hitting appearances, and here was the entire idea behind the acquisition of Conor Gillaspie: a left-handed bench bat whose short swing would be effective against late-inning heat. Circumstances dictated that he would be an overexposed starter instead.

Hitting against Brad Boxberger for Geovany Soto, Gillaspie crushed a two-run homer on an 0-2 count to put the Sox ahead 4-3 in the top of the eighth. Zach Putnam threw too many splitters to David DeJesus, and Alexei Ramirez contributed a key error to return the lead to the Rays before the inning was over.

No. 9: Jose Abreu vs. Blue Jays

May 27 | WPA: 0.458

This game took the opposite route -- after David Robertson gave up another game-tying home run to Josh Donaldson in the ninth inning, Jose Abreu started the 10th with a bat-flippin' triple to right. That was his third hit of the game in five trips, and it resulted in the winning run. Before that, he contributed a two-run double in the third inning with two outs to give the Sox a 2-0 lead.

No. 8: Leury Garcia vs. Tigers

Oct. 3 | WPA: 0.463

Garcia wasn't supposed to hit in this game. He entered as a pinch runner for Melky Cabrera in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game, but the Sox couldn't get him home despite a stolen base.  The Tigers then took the lead in the top of the ninth, but the lineup eventually came back to Cabrera's spot with two outs after J.B. Shuck tied the game with a double off Neftali Feliz. Feliz intentionally walked Abreu to face Garcia, and Garcia made him pay by shooting a single through the left side for the walk-off hit. This one almost cost the Sox a protected draft pick.

No. 7: Geovany Soto vs. Astros

May 29 | WPA: 0.477

And here's yet another emergency situation. Soto only came into this game because Abreu's bothersome index finger acted up on him. With Gillaspie already out of the game, Robin Ventura moved Tyler Flowers to first, and Soto took his place behind the plate. The move worked beautifully. Soto reached base in his two plate appearances, drawing a walk, then hitting the go-ahead two-run double in the 11th to put the Sox ahead for good. He also gunned down a baserunner in the ninth inning. It doesn't count toward WPA, but it would work as a tiebreaker if he needed one.

(This was also the game where Ventura caught Flowers over the railing, making it a really eventful evening for catchers all around.)

No. 6: J.B. Shuck vs. Royals

July 18 | WPA: 0.491

Back in 2011, Brent Lillibridge made himself a minor sensation with a number of big-time plays and hits from somebody who wasn't expected to do much of either. Shuck basically did the same thing, providing good at-bats (a .340 OBP) and a knack for the highlight-reel catch off the bench. He didn't generate the same buzz, because the Sox were never really in contention enough for these moments to really resonate, and it's hard to see a future for him on the roster.

This game sums up his existence pretty well. Making a spot start, Shuck went 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a walk. The second double came off Greg Holland with two outs in the ninth inning inning, scoring two runs to tie the game at 6.

The Sox ended up losing in 13.

No. 5: J.B. Shuck vs. Tigers

Oct. 3 | WPA: 0.494

Speaking of game-tying doubles in the ninth inning, this was the one off Feliz in the season's penultimate game that set up Garcia's walk-off single up there at No. 8. He pinch-hit for Carlos Sanchez this time around.

No. 4: Carlos Sanchez vs. Tigers

June 25 | WPA: 0.501

Shuck had a chance to be a hero in this one, as he came to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs in the 10th. He kept the inning alive, but only with an infield single that thrust the situation toward Sanchez instead. Sanchez responded to the challenge, digging out a 1-2 Joba Chamberlain slider and rifling it to the wall in right for a bases-clearing triple. That did pretty much all the lifting for his WPA, although he did hit a leadoff single in the ninth, and also reached on an error earlier in the game.

No. 3: Melky Cabrera vs. Mariners

Aug. 30 | WPA: 0.503

While Sanchez used one big blow to land in the fourth spot, Cabrera nosed him out of the third spot by cobbling together a great game. He went 4-for-5 with a game-tying solo shot in the seventh inning, and hit a two-out double in the bottom of the 10th. There was a walk in there as well, so it was a strong night all the way around.

(It was Sanchez, not Cabrera, who factored into the game's biggest play -- Brad Miller's random-assed error on a grounder that should've ended the game.)

No. 2: Adam Eaton vs. Blue Jays

July 8 | WPA: 0.541

This the most typical high-WPA game, as Eaton capped off a productive day with a huge homer. In this one, he turned and burned on a 1-0 Roberto Osuna fastball and cranked it over the fence in right for the walk-off blast.

He also had the second-biggest hit of the game -- an infield RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 6. He also drew a walk and was hit by a pitch, although neither resulted in a run.

No. 1: Trayce Thompson vs. Red Sox

Aug. 25 | WPA: 0.578

Thompson solidified himself as a weapon against lefties by going 3-for-4 off Wade Miley. The first of those hits was a triple, the second was a single through the right side that tied the game in the fourth, and the third was a two-run double in the seventh that put the Sox ahead 5-4. It probably should've been a one-run double, but Hanley Ramirez can't play left field. Either way, he finished the game with a .522 average.