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Recognize this picture? Most White Sox hitters have apparently never seen it.

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White Sox, take a hike! Please!

It won’t reflect on your manhood. Honest

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. — Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a walk. — u/i White Sox fan

Things are looking up. Sort of.

As of Wednesday, the White Sox had risen all the way to 28th in MLB in on-base percentage. Of course, that’s only better than Oakland and Kansas City, but these days we take our achievements where we may.

On the other hand, it’s quite a fall from recent years. In 2021, the Sox were third in OBP — third! — and even last year they were a middling 18th. Of course, go back to 2019 and they were 23rd, so there is history in the depths.

Why are the White Sox so terrible at getting on base, at the skill Billyball deemed most important? Perhaps they didn’t have this T-shirt as toddlers:

This is the generally accepted order of life. White Sox batters skipped a step.

Let us, if we may, take a ponder at White Sox walk levels (for batters — the rate at which Sox pitchers walk batters is scary) for the past five seasons. Because walks influence on-base figures, let’s toss that in, and because striking out a bunch means you get to walk more (you’re not putting the ball in play), let’s give K ranks, too — the higher the number, the better. And maybe some runs and homers data just for fun.

2019 378 walks (30th in MLB), .314 OBP (23rd), sixth in Ks, 24th in runs, 25th in HR
2020 179 walks (24th in MLB), .326 OBP (12th), fourth in Ks, fifth in runs, third in HR
2021 586 walks (fourth in MLB), .336 OBP (third), 18th in Ks, eighth in runs, 19th in HR
2022 388 walks (29th in MLB), .310 OBP (18th), 24th in Ks, 18th in runs, 23rd in HR
2023 220 walks (29th in MLB), .299 OBP (28th), 13th in Ks, 24th in runs, 15th in HR

As you can see, there’s an oddball year on the walking front — the status is dismal except for 2021, when it was very good. That was the first year under the management of the Hall-of-Famer Baseball Person, of course, so it could be explained by him telling all the hitters to be more patient — except, he was still manager in 2022, when walking disappeared again, so that can’t be it.

The majors abandoned the Three True Outcomes for a season? Nope.

Perhaps a better explanation is that in 2021 the White Sox played an extremely easy schedule, with the NL Central the interleague matchup and the entire AAAL Central (my son says we should downgrade that to AAL Central this year, which is a reasonable point) either tanking or collapsing, leading to almost two-thirds of games coming against teams with losing records. But, if anything, the 2020 schedule was even easier, with no games outside of the two putrid divisions and the walking and on-base stats were much better, as were HR numbers for some reason.

The 2021 season did include 87 BBs for Yasmani Grandal and 84 for Yoán Moncada, numbers that took a dive in 2022, even adjusted for games they played. Quite possibly by 2022 pitchers had figured out there was no reason to be afraid to pitch to either of them, or maybe Grandal’s persistent whining didn’t win him essentially every close call any longer. But their dip doesn’t begin to cover the differential, so that’s not a good explanation, either.

And what should provide a good explanation doesn’t quite do so

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing — Duke Ellington

And we were swingin’ (swingin’), yeah, we were swingin’ (swingin’) — John Anderson

Apparently White Sox batters are big jazz and/or country fans, because they sure do like swingin’ (swingin’). They like it more than any other players in the majors do. Only for them it’s not a big hit, like it was for the Duke and John.

To get in the swing of swings, let’s take a look at O-swing rates, the percentage of time batters swing at pitches outside the zone. Worst offenders only include players still with the 26-man, so Daniel Palka and Leury García are reprieved. You may want to shield the eyes of any impressionable young Sox fans.

White Sox O-swing Rates, 2019-23

2019 32.1% o-swing rate (28th in MLB), worst offenders Tim Anderson (42.7%), Seby Zavala (42.1%)
2020 30.7% (28th in MLB), worst offenders Tim Anderson (39.1%), Luis Robert Jr. (38%), Eloy Jiménez (37.6%)
2021 29% (28th in MLB), worst offenders Luis Robert Jr. (39.5%), Romy Gonzalez (39%), Tim Anderson (36.1%),
2022 32.7% (29th in MLB), worst offenders Luis Robert Jr. (41%), Tim Anderson (40.6%), Jake Burger (37.9%)
2023 33.7% (30th in MLB), worst offenders Jake Burger (42.6%), Eloy Jiménez (41.2%), Luis Robert Jr. (36.5%)

Some players are better at making contact on bad pitches: Andrew Benintendi is doing well this year, Seby and Jake are the worst. But that doesn’t mean they hit the ball well, just that they hit it.

You may note the O-swing percentage was down in 2021, but apparently that was MLB-wide, because the White Sox maintained their absolutely dismal standing and made no relative improvement.

There is, of course, a difference between protecting the plate on a close pitch when you have two strikes and flailing at a one that bounces halfway up the baseline. Unfortunately, the eyeball test gives a pretty good idea of which is the case with the Sox.

Is there a cure for total lack of discipline?

Not this kind of discipline. Though admittedly it’s sometimes a thought among fans.

Discipline is the bridge between goals and achievement. — Jim Rohn

Discipline, schmiscipline — White Sox batters

What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do. — Aristotle

Yeah — like Aristotle never swung at a slider in the dirt. — WS rejoinder

Rohn and Aristotle and a few million other sages are right, of course, but that doesn’t solve the problem that the White Sox have less plate discipline than a velociraptor. And it’s hard to know where to even start.

The problem seems to be worst among those who came up through the White Sox system, where plate discipline is apparently only taught at breakfast. So replacing oh, around 100% of minor league coaches and managers and overseers would be a start — but it’s still up to the players.

Even newcomers succumb, though, so is it a question of game prep? Do they not study video of opposing pitchers enough? Are they not taught how to read pitches, or are they bad learners? Do they just like to swing way too often for some reason?

Or does no one in the organization even care enough to do something about it?

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