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White Sox opting for more contact in 2015

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Retooled roster projected to cut down on strikeouts by a significant margin

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

After the Houston Astros acquired yet another swing-and-miss type by signing Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal, Jeff Sullivan stacked up the projections and confirmed the hunch that they're likely to be the whiffingest team in baseball, and by a large margin to boot.

The Astros led the American League in strikeout rate last year, and they're willing to surrender to that flaw for at least one more year. However, their nearest neighbor charted the opposite course this winter.

The White Sox were a comfortable second -- or second-worst -- in strikeout rate last season ...

  1. Astros, 24.2 percent
  2. White Sox, 22.4 percent
  3. Red Sox, 21.5 percent

... but Sullivan notes that the Sox stand to cut down on their strikeouts by one of the greatest margins in the league in 2015:

As a quick aside, look toward the bottom of the table. Four teams in particular project to substantially reduce their strikeout rates. Those teams, compared to themselves in 2014:

White Sox: -1.4 standard deviations
Giants: -1.4
Braves: -1.6
Red Sox: -1.9

Sure enough, with the upgrade from Alejandro De Aza/Dayan Viciedo to Melky Cabrera and a less extreme Adam at DH, it's definitely going to register over the course of a season. But looking at the entire lineup, it could be less noticeable on an everyday basis, at least based on their projected strikeout rates from ZiPS:

2014 K% 2015 K%
C Tyler Flowers
36.0 Tyler Flowers
33.4
1B Jose Abreu
21.1 Jose Abreu
18.6
2B Gordon Beckham 16.6 Carlos Sanchez 17.9
3B Conor Gillaspie
15.4 Conor Gillaspie
16.7
SS Alexei Ramirez
12.3 Alexei Ramirez
11.2
LF Alejandro De Aza 22.8 Melky Cabrera 12.0
CF Adam Eaton 15.4 Adam Eaton
17.0
RF Dayan Viciedo 21.7 Avisail Garcia 24.0
DH Adam Dunn 30.3 Adam LaRoche 23.9

Abreu might be the one incumbent whose change you can believe in, as he cut his strikeout rate 5 percent (23.4 to 18.1) from the first half to the second. Garcia has the potential to shave a few points off that projection with a full year of plate appearances, but that's more of a gut feeling.

Otherwise, I don't know if there's a reason to believe Flowers will cut his strikeout rate significantly, considering he struck out 35 percent of the time even with the magic glasses. Likewise, Sanchez struck out 25 times over 104 plate appearances in his first run at MLB pitching, and if he has more bat-to-ball problems, Emilio Bonifacio (20 percent) isn't going to beat Beckham's contact ability.

The more noticeable gains will -- or should -- come from the bench. Out of the seven most strikeout-prone White Sox last year, Flowers is the only one who should be on the 2015 roster, at least on Opening Day. Dunn retired, and then you have this fivesome:

  • Jordan Danks, 34.8 percent
  • Adrian Nieto, 32.2 percent
  • Leury Garcia, 31.0 percent
  • Marcus Semien, 27.5 percent
  • Moises Sierra, 25.2 percent

Bonifacio might not be Nellie Fox, but he doesn't live in this ZIP code, either. Same goes for Viciedo if he hangs around. Strikeouts are one problem Rob Brantly has avoided (but you can't say the same for George Kottaras).

It's hard to make a firmer prediction, because Bonifacio is the lone clear addition to the bench, and his versatility creates umpteen permutations for the two bench spots that aren't Flowers' backup. And if you think the reserve is coming from outside the organization in an eleventh-hour out-of-options rescue job, it's even cloudier.

With the "right" combination for those last two or three bench spots, Rick Hahn could systematically eliminate everybody whose inability to make consistent contact smothered their potential. That doesn't necessarily guarantee a better bench or a better lineup, but if the Sox offense falls short, it's probably going to fail differently.