The White Sox made a risky bet when they handed Avisail Garcia significant playing time to start the 2016 season. We might've talked about it here or there.
Depending on how you look at it, slotting him at DH might've exacerbated the hazard, since it counted on his bat while introducing a position that seems to eat up even formerly productive position players.
Robin Ventura said a normal slump can become magnified for a player when he isn't playing in the field.
"It's pitch selection, plate discipline, the simpler stuff," Ventura said. "When you're not on the field, you don't feel like you're part of it. … The hard part of DHing is you're going from a standstill to a sprint, and sometimes it takes a while for you to adjust to that."
That's the same line we've heard with Adam LaRoche and Adam Dunn, and so the hex purported nice guy Jim Thome placed on the position continues.
Lest you think that Garcia will get 120 more games to prove himself, though, here's where it gets a little different:
"You talk about developing, but he also needs to produce, and he knows that," Ventura said. "I think he’s at a point now where he needs to get some at-bats and produce, and it’s not as much about developing as about just playing."
This is mild criticism for most. By Robin Ventura's standards, though, this could register as an "OH SNAP" moment.
For as much as the White Sox have been patient with Garcia, they've at least stopped catering to him. The DH position could've been a rotating arrangement since neither of the incumbent corner outfielders will win a Gold Glove. But Melky Cabrera is more reliable in the field, and he's also having the kind of start people expected from him last year (.302/.351/.358).
Elsewhere in the outfield, Adam Eaton is the team's most effective offensive player (.327/.373/.418), and right field has been very flattering to him. Most figured his range would transform from a liability into an asset after his shift from center field, but the questions about his arm have eased up, too:
And in center, Austin Jackson has hit into the team's worst luck, both by the eye test and the numbers. He's leading the team's regulars in hard contact (37.8 percent) with improved contact, but only has a .222 BABIP to show for it. As we wait for that to reverse itself, his ability to cover center better than Eaton allows Eaton to become the White Sox' best defensive right fielder since ... who, Sammy Sosa?
We can argue that one, but there's little debate over the improvement of the outfield's range, which might be the leading secondary reason why the pitching staff looks so strong. Ventura seems to recognize this as an asset, and he's not watering it down in an attempt to get Garcia going. Instead, Garcia is sopping up almost all of the DH plate appearances:
- Garcia, 42
- Jerry Sands, 7
- Cabrera, 6
- Jose Abreu, 4
That's bad news for Garcia, but good news for just about everybody else. Garcia was such a problem last season because he didn't hit enough to cover for his defense, which was also some of the league's worst for a regular. He might be hitting worse as a DH, but it's not like hitting better was a guarantee, since he remains ever exploitable with the weaknesses Steve highlighted yesterday.
And as StockroomSnail pointed out in the recap comments, one of those weaknesses -- turning around velocity, no matter the quality of location -- isn't a problem that even other below-average White Sox hitters have:
The Sox know this. He's still getting a lot of plate appearances, but he wouldn't be if LaRoche hadn't retired. The lack of run in the outfield is a sign of further disenchantment, as is his slide down the batting order:
The only thing slowing Garcia's descent is the lack of a natural successor. He's not the best use of those plate appearances, but nobody else is making a great case, whether on the bench or in Charlotte. If one doesn't emerge and Garcia's still struggling, a wide-open rotation -- maybe bringing up Carlos Sanchez and letting Brett Lawrie pace the dugout in between plate appearances once a week -- might be the least unsavory option.
Chris Sale has started the season 4-0 after his victory on Thursday, and the way he's done it puts him in pleasant company:
Chris Sale (4-0) is first @whitesox pitcher since Mark Buehrle in 2005 to last at least 7 IP in 4 consecutive starts to begin a season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2016
Mat Latos is just behind Sale, both in terms of wins/starts (three) and innings (he hasn't yet completed seven). But his introduction reminds me of another 2005 pitcher who was overshadowed by Buehrle.
Jon Garland started that season by winning his first eight starts. Like Latos, it wasn't clear how he was getting such eye-opening results, as he only struck out 27 batters over 59⅔ innings during that streak. Yet it didn't really matter, because while regression set in over the rest of the season, he built up such a head start that he still delivered enormous value the Sox didn't expect, but benefited handsomely from nevertheless. Latos won't have to go as far to beat his own projections, but I'm not going to stop him from trying.