The 2015 White Sox offense didn't pack a heck of a lot of thrills, primarily because there was a relative lack of baseball's most exciting play: the home run. The struggles in the power department were obvious all year long, and this comment from CSN's Dan Hayes really struck a chord with me:
The 136 HRs hit by the #WhiteSox in 2015 were their fewest in a full season since 1992 (110). https://t.co/O7EXUWQgNo— Dan Hayes (@CSNHayes) December 21, 2015
1992 is like, a long time ago.
The piece linked in the tweet is worth a read, as it highlights that the acquisitions of Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier are projected to be a combined 20-homer upgrade over 2015's options at the keystone and hot corner, respectively. That would be enough to drag last year's punchless squad up to someplace around the MLB median.
Still, the American League is more dinger-happy than its NL counterpart, and an extra 20 home runs in 2015 would have put the Sox in a tie for just 10th in the AL (but oddly, first in the AL Central) with the Minnesota Twins. When you consider a home park of U.S. Cellular Field and a lineup that figures to continue to be near the back of the pack in on-base percentage, that's not going to cut it. The White Sox simply need to score more runs to support what should be one of the Junior Circuit's better pitching staffs and dingers are the most efficient, easiest way to do that.
Since making the move to their current stadium in 1991, home runs have been the lifeblood of the White Sox offense. They've hit 4,256 of them over the past 25 seasons, trailing only the Yankees and Rangers. The Sox have also been the worst baserunning team in the majors during that span. A station-to-station, homer-dependent attack is practically a core character trait of the franchise at this point, for better or for worse. If you look back at all the Cell-era postseason appearances, you'll find teams of varying construction that had one thing in common: they all could launch it out of the park with regularity.
- 1993: 162 home runs, 6th in MLB
- 2000: 216 home runs, 8th in MLB
- 2005: 200 home runs, 5th in MLB
- 2008: 235 home runs, 1st in MLB
When the White Sox revolved around Frank Thomas in 1993, they were a home run hitting team. When the White Sox boasted a fat stack of .300 hitters in 2000, they were a home run hitting team. When the White Sox were allegedly about Ozzieball, bunting, speed, and productive outs in 2005, they were a home run hitting team. And finally, when the White Sox were a home run hitting team in 2008, they really were a home run hitting team. Good White Sox teams don't just feature the home run, they depend on them.
After their recent acquisitions, Steamer projects the White Sox to hit 178 home runs in 2016. That would've been good for a top-10 output last season, but it includes 18 from Avisail Garcia, who's never done that before and might be quickly phased out, and a 21-homer bounceback from Adam LaRoche, who might be toast. Chances are, additional help will be needed in order for the Sox to stand out in the longball department.
And stand out, they must. Putting up prolific power numbers is something the White Sox need to do in order to be taken seriously as a contender. As it stands, the defense isn't an improvement over 2015's league-worst unit and Frazier (.321 career) and Lawrie (.316 career) aren't going to suddenly transform the Sox into an OBP machine. The home run is the White Sox' best hope at getting enough out of their position players to support a promising pitching staff.
The White Sox should keep this in mind as they continue to flesh out their 2016 roster. When discussing the big three remaining free agent outfielders, I've stated a slight preference for Alex Gordon's stellar defense and good all-around offensive game. However, the arguments for the more powerful Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are just as strong, and the team's need for slugging in a low-OBP offense (plus what we know about Markov chains) is the reason why.
This logic extends beyond just the search for a starting right fielder. The Sox may well be on the lookout for a bench bat that could serve as a hedge against the end of LaRoche's career, and it would make a lot of sense to target a player with a chance to provide some pop. Yesterday's claim of outfielder Jerry Sands seems to fit that philosophy. Despite his contact woes, Sands owns a .506 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching in the major leagues in a limited sample and has a track record of thumping in the minors. Whether the Sox will roll with Sands or a more proven option as their fourth bench player remains to be seen, but you can never have too much depth with home run potential.
No matter the source, the Sox need to find a way to bring fireworks back to U.S. Cellular Field and keep charity dollars flowing out of Alex Snelius' wallet. This is not just important for playoff aspirations or the team's final record; it'd help make a team that's been short on excitement a heck of a lot more compelling. It's time to bring dingers back to White Sox baseball.