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Can small ball fix the dead ball?

Let’s find a lineup that takes the sting out of this new dead-ball era.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Chicago White Sox
Meet your new cleanup hitter.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The term might be oversimplified and glorified, but the tale of the White Sox 2005 season starts with the idea of Ken Williams wanting to embrace the concept of “small ball.” No longer satisfied with the team’s identity of power hitters unable to play situational baseball or having a clear table-setter who can wreak havoc on the basepaths, Williams signaled a clear shift in philosophy by trading Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik.

In some ways, the Sox appear to be in a similar spot a month into this 2022 season. Thanks to what seems to be a deadened baseball, launch angles and barrels no longer equate to an automatic home run. Despite the calls for firing hitting coach Frank Menechino, the White Sox, as a whole, are not lacking in solid contact — about half their offensive players are better than league average in expected slugging and expected weighted OBA (wOBA). Instead, the White Sox have been exceptionally unlucky. All but Tim Anderson and Jake Burger have an xwOBA and wOBA differential far higher than the league average.

There’s a solid case for this being sheer bad luck for the offense, as every MLB team (supposedly) uses the same “dead” balls. However, the deadened balls also bring up another opportunity in lineup construction. The White Sox are stacked with power hitters, but until the weather truly warms up, it’ll be impossible to tell if the warning track power the team is displaying will translate into better results — and by then, it might be too late.

It’s also not realistic to expect most White Sox hitters to adjust their swing significantly mid-season — most of these guys are what they are by now, and that’s OK.

Instead, what if Tony La Russa emphasized speed and bat control in his lineup, as best he could with the talent available? Doing so is going to infuriate parts of White Sox Twitter, but that lineup would look something like this:

  1. Tim Anderson
  2. AJ Pollock
  3. Andrew Vaughn
  4. Luis Robert
  5. Jake Burger
  6. Jose Abreu
  7. Gavin Sheets
  8. Yasmani Grandal
  9. Josh Harrison

It’s unlikely that La Russa would ever sign off on a lineup with Grandal and Abreu this low in the lineup, but there are reasons to consider this alignment.

For one, Tim Anderson and AJ Pollock on top and Josh Harrison at the bottom bookends the lineup with speed. Vaughn and Robert lead the team in xwOBA. While Abreu is third in xwOBA, he also leads the team with a horrendous 50% ground ball percentage. Lining up Burger between Robert and Abreu gives him far better protection than he’s experienced in the lineup. Grandal’s continued ability to get on base gives the White Sox a better opportunity to turn the lineup over, assuming Harrison can sacrifice the runner in scoring position.

It’s not a foolproof solution, and ruminations around lineup construction ultimately show how much the White Sox miss and need Yoán Moncada, as he’s one of the few consistent line-drive hitters on the team and can hit opposite field as well.

However, until Moncada returns, the lineup above is the best way forward as the White Sox need to find their way toward a “small ball” 2.0.