It's been hard watching the White Sox offense the past month. It doesn't really matter whether the pitcher is good or bad, hitting his spots or missing big. On the rare occasions where the pitchers' backs are against the wall, it's never that hard to escape:
A big part of the problem has been at the top of the order. While Adam Eaton has put together an encouraging June (.276/.368/.382), Robin Ventura can't find a guy who hits behind him. Melky Cabrera was supposed to be the plug-and-play answer, but a two-month slump cost him that responsibility.
Default Backup No. 2 Choice Alexei Ramirez replaced him, but he's been a mess all year. Ventura then turned to Avisail Garcia, just as he hit the roughest patch of his season.
Looking at the box scores for the second spot since the White Sox swept the Astros, the results ... won't surprise you:
The situation has degenerated to the extent that Ventura thought of the unthinkable: batting Jose Abreu in the second spot.
We've discussed the merits of trying a slugger in the second spot:
- It's where one of your two best hitters should bat, according to The Book.
- If the Sox only have two functioning hitters, may as well clear out any obstacles to get them to the plate as often as possible.
- Other teams have beaten the Sox with that strategy.
- It'd just be something different for an offense that can't be worse than it is.
We've mostly used Adam LaRoche in these examples, because we already expect that Ventura wouldn't be able to bring himself to rope Abreu into this madness. But desperate times call of desperate measures, and with the Sox unable to score more than three runs in nine straight games -- their longest such streak since 1976 -- would Ventura finally dare trying something so drastic?
Again, the answer won't surprise you:
Robin Ventura flirted with batting Jose Abreu second, but 'you want potential of him hitting w runners on' in first inning, he said.— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) June 23, 2015
Which is severely frustrating, because the entire plan hinges on somebody who can't even get on base in a larger sample, doing so at a very precise moment. Sure enough, in the first inning, Eaton reached and Garcia didn't.
Moreover, in the eighth inning, Eaton reached scoring position by doubling with two outs ... and Garcia flied out to center to end the inning. That's assuming Ventura cares about what happens in non-first innings. I'm hoping that tweet is an imprecise summary of Ventura's philosophy, because it's not encouraging if it is.
Worse yet, I don't know if that answer will ever be revealed. With Cabrera's luck evening out, I'm guessing we'll see him back in the second spot soon enough, and inaction will win the day, even if the victory is far from complete.
The same thing is going on with Ramirez, except he's probably going to force the issue no matter how hard Ventura tries to look away. He played on Tuesday after a mistake-prone game on Monday. The immediate reaction from Chicago Columnist Voice didn't quite sum up my feelings:
The problem is, it's not in isolation. Of all the under-performers, Ramirez is the under-performiest. He's hitting .223/.245/.292, and he has the second-most plate appearances on the team. His approach is reflected in his OBP, and the quality of his contact is putrid.
We've spent a lot of time this season debating how unlucky Cabrera is, whether he's actually hitting the ball hard, and whether there's any hope of improving. Well, look at his exit velocity compared to Ramirez's:
Even when Ramirez gets lift, his flies and liners are in the bottom 15 percent when it comes to exit velocity. It's been a problem for most of the season, it's not getting any better, and that's why he's the American League's least valuable regular at least when it comes to fWAR (B-Ref is slightly more charitable -- fourth-worst for those with over 200 PAs).
Ramirez has a history of running extremely cold and hot, so I understand why he gets some benefit of the doubt. But there's nothing going in Ramirez's favor, he's not a hard-luck case, and so he's actively costing the team in his current form. There's a whole lot of room between "bench him" and "start him in 68 of 70 games," but Ventura isn't keen on exploring it.
I'm not sure why this is the case, because he's been active elsewhere. He chose Carlos Sanchez's defense over Micah Johnson's offensive upside. He's sliding the playing time toward Geovany Soto. Gordon Beckham got another chance to get whomped on by the Peter Principle.
But those are half-measures at positions that were naturally uncertain. The applecart remains intact, albeit on blocks, and I don't feel a proper sense of scale about it all. When the offense is this broken, disassembling it and putting it back together can't hurt. It probably will never work like it was supposed to, but maybe we all something about what some parts actually do. Or maybe you just get some jollies from smashing it apart, which is fine when nobody can effectively articulate what's worth saving.