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Have the White Sox achieved normalcy?

James Shields' third straight respectable start is another sign of a stable product

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

On the 100th episode of the South Side Sox Podcast, I described the White Sox as being more normal than they’ve ever been this year.

They weren’t as good as 23-10.

They weren’t as bad as 10-26.

But 43-40 feels like a better fit, especially when it looks like it does lately, with four consecutive series victories and a good start against a soft schedule.

James Shields is another point of evidence. He needed three no-hitters to undo the statistical damage of his first three starts with the White Sox, but setting his own numbers aside, the three-start run that followed will serve everybody’s purposes.

Starts W-L ERA IP H R ER HR BB K Allowed
First 3 0-2 21.81 8.2 24 22 21 5 9 5 .480/.550/.880
Last 3 2-0 3.06 17.2 18 6 6 2 7 11 .265/.333/.441

While Shields’ velocity is still troublesome, the location has improved. He set White Sox bests with strikes swinging the last two starts — eight and nine -- but there’s also been a big jump in strikes looking. He averaged eight over his first three starts, and 20 over his last three. He’s doing a better job at getting ahead, which is keeping hitters from pouncing on a wounded animal like they did over the first half of his to-date White Sox career.

His start against the Yankees on Monday makes me wonder if Shields may be more comfortable facing a lefty-heavy lineup. He threw 73 of his 100 pitches to lefties, which allowed him to settle into a fastball-changeup mode. The splits so far favor that idea:

  • vs. RHB: .418/.467/.731
  • vs. LHB: .275/.383/.490

But I’d caution anybody against looking at Shields’ splits. Hitters have posted a .300/.386/.520 line against him in two-strike counts, so it’s going to take a while to wash the blood out of the spreadsheets.

After six starts, it’s probably best to view them through John Danks goggles -- earning the salary seems like a stretch if he needs more command than he can routinely summon, but a quality start more often than not would suit the Sox’ needs. That undermines all the benefits of DFAing Danks in the first place, but the Sox can regain a little ground if the commitment to Shields doesn’t undermine the Sox’ flexibility elsewhere.


Other things from Monday that need to be normal:

No. 1: Todd Frazier separating himself from the Mendoza Line.

He’s spent the last several days being an 0-for-4 away from a sub-.200 batting average, but evenly distributed individual hits kept him from sinking. Then he went 3-for-3 with two doubles(!) and two walks, raising his line to .212/.309/.467. Pitchers had been picking on Frazier with alarming frequency over the last month, and it’s nice to see him bite back.

No. 2: Dioner Navarro delivering.

Forget 2016 Tyler Flowers -- Navarro is worse than 2015 Flowers by every notable offensive measure except one: high-leverage situations.

  • Navarro: .275/.341/.425 over 44 PA (12 strikeouts)
  • Flowers: .167/.218/.278 over 80 PA (23 strikeouts)

Between that and the 2-for-25 performance with the bases loaded over the previous three seasons, nobody enjoyed seeing Flowers come to the plate in a big moments. Navarro gives the Sox a little more fight in these cases.

But he needs to do way more across the board to justify the swap, because none of his other numbers — even situational — are distinguishable, and Navarro has shown no particular acumen for high-leverage situations elsewhere in his career.

He’s off to a good start in July, going 4-for-12 with a homer, a triple and seven RBIs over his first three games. It’d be nice to have a substantive discussion about framing vs. actual hits, and not just the potential threat of offensive contributions.

No. 3: A legitimate margin of victory.

The lack of early-game hits is one big reason why the Sox hadn’t won a game by more than three runs since May 13. It’s not like we can expect this Sox team to make routs routine, but it’d be cool if Nate Jones and/or David Robertson didn’t have to pitch in every win.