Brett Lawrie is back from his ortho dilemma this season, but should the excellent play of Tyler Saladino in his absence last season be enough to warrant a debate over who should assume the starting role at second base?
On December 9, 2015, the Chicago White Sox traded two minor prospects to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Brett Lawrie, who they hoped would bolster their middle infield and lineup. However, 2016 proved to be a down year for Lawrie, who batted .248 in just 94 games before injuring his legs, which took months to diagnose, as no one thought to blame Lawrie’s orthotics (shoe inserts), which were causing him trouble.
As a result, Lawrie missed the rest of the 2016 campaign, paving the way for Tyler Saladino and his famous mustache to step up. In multiple roles, but most often at second base, Saladino played well, compiling a 1.8 WAR, which bested Lawrie’s 1.3 WAR, despite Saladino having 65 less plate appearances. So, heading into 2017, who deserves the starting spot at second base?
For now, the answer seems to be Lawrie. Although relatively cheap at $3.5 million this year, the White Sox still have a lot more invested in Lawrie, as Saladino was only paid $513,000 last year. Especially now that the orthotics have been removed, it seems only fair to give Lawrie another shot. His career started off much more promisingly than Saladino’s, as he was a first-round draft pick who hit .293 in his first year in the pros. Saladino could surprise, but Lawrie just has much more potential. After all, his career averages are much better than Saladino’s, most noticeably in the OPS category (.734 to .670).
On the flip side, if Lawrie and Saladino perform similar to how they did last year, the nod should go to Saladino. Other than the significant advantage in WAR, Saladino vastly outhit Lawrie, and despite the normal conception of the two, the two were neck-and-neck in power numbers. First off, Saladino hit .282, to Lawrie’s .248. Secondly, keeping in mind the increased number of At-Bats for Lawrie, Saladino nearly matched him in home runs, as he blasted eight dingers, nearing Lawrie’s tally of 12. Their slugging percentages were nearly identical, as Saladino’s ended at .409 while Lawrie had a .413 mark.
Lawrie’s best argument is his high walk rate, as he notched 17 more walks than Saladino, which accounted for an OBP difference of only .05 below Saladino’s (.310 to .315). If he can increase his batting average slightly and maintain his walk rate, it would put Rick Renteria in a tough position. The skipper would then have to choose between a slightly better OBP in Lawrie, or a mildly better batting average in Saladino.
Fielding-wise, the two appear close, as both would have been around 9 errors if Saladino were to play the same amount of innings. Saladino’s career fielding percentage is .976 to Lawrie’s .964, both pretty decent. Yet despite Lawrie spending more time getting accustomed to second base, while Saladino patrolled multiple positions, Saladino seemed to be more comfortable at second. In 344.2 innings there, Saladino totaled just one error. While this seems fluky, there’s no denying Saladino’s superior output at that position. Seeing as shortstop is now locked down by Tim Anderson, all defensive signs would point to a Saladino reign at second. But, as the bat usually outweighs the glove, the Sox would have to come to terms with Lawrie’s defensive inferiority if they play him for his hitting abilities.
One solution could be to insert Saladino at second and move Lawrie to DH. With Saladino’s defensive prowess, and Lawrie’s power, it would make a lot of sense. But for many other reasons, it wouldn’t make much sense. The Sox have Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson already lining up to be the DH, and it seems unfair to sentence the decent Lawrie to a life without a position.
Another solution could be to trade Lawrie. He’s cheap, and if he plays well, could be a quality addition to a contender looking for a boost at the mid-season point. In return, the White Sox could probably fetch a team’s top-5 prospect, depending on the organization. This would make room for Saladino, and the dilemma would disappear.
Overall, we can’t make a decision now. Fresh off of injury, Lawrie deserves a chance to rejuvenate his career. Conversely, Saladino played solidly in 2016, and has every right to a starting role if Lawrie doesn’t improve. Once we witness a couple months of the season, then we can make a judgement on what plan benefits the team the most. Until then, we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the competition. And Saladino’s majestic facial hair.