There’s nothing more cathartic than a blank slate of 162 ballgames. Pitchers start with an 0.00 ERA. Hitters have a goose egg in the strikeout column. More importantly, the win-loss ledger looks more like a portal for dreams, with fans able to generate just about any record their hearts desire.
Baseball and hope are synonymous. No matter how cynical the average fan, no matter how much history has ingrained a propensity to temper expectations, just about every forecast is inflated by the romanticism of America’s past time.
That’s why Chicago’s 4-11 record on April 19th may feel like a gut punch. Seven games under and just three weeks in. It’s an early hole topped only by the hole in Adam Engel’s swing. There’s even an argument that the best player on the South Side at preventing losses has been mother nature. You can’t lose when you don’t play.
Yet this anemic ball club, the one with the 5.64 team ERA and the one that’s slashing .193/.278/.386 with RISP won’t just be a footnote in the chronicles of the next good White Sox team, it’ll likely be an inconsequential memory as soon as the All-Star break.
They say April showers (or in this case, snow) bring May flowers, but it will take a little longer than May for this garden to grow. To not mince words, the worst may not be over for Chicago. They have a daunting May schedule on the horizon, and three-fifths of a rotation that should probably be in the bullpen or laboring somewhere on a minor league deal.
This team could very well be 10 or more under through sixty games, but that’s all this is. This is merely 60 more games of frustrating baseball. That’s the deal for White Sox fans. If you shake hands with the baseball devil now, you’ll only be tasked with watching sixty more contests of a team that looks off the rails.
There’s no formula that suddenly converts a poor start into a shift of the rebuild timeline by x-calendar years. The April White Sox are simply a blip on the radar screen.
By mid-July, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer will be traded in for arguably the best cars on the lot, namely Michael Kopech and a hopefully rejuvenated Carlos Rodon. Eloy Jimenez, with his light tower power and personality that seems to blend Moncada’s swagger with Nicky Delmonico’s lovable aura, will be getting acquainted with the outfield seats at The Rate.
The record won’t matter at that point. There will be so much talent flooding this roster that there won’t even be time to look at the standings. The White Sox will be a tough draw on any opponent’s schedule. They’ll appear so different that one might question if this current iteration was sent to the farm upstate. And with a little luck, the middle of the AL might be just mediocre enough to make the second wild card feel like a long shot rather than a downright miracle.
It’s easy to let 15 games taint what has otherwise felt like an airtight blueprint to sustained success, but the reality is that their performance thus far isn’t a barometer for anything. There’s no formula that suddenly converts a poor start into a shift of the rebuild timeline by x-calendar years. The April White Sox are simply a blip on the radar screen.
Now this doesn’t mean that even 15 games of data doesn’t provide any sort of insight. Even this minuscule sample size has given us a few narratives to extrapolate on.
The first determination is pretty straightforward. Adam Engel is not a major league baseball player. The toolsy center fielder with the plus glove and plus-plus speed simply cannot hit enough for those buoying traits to save him. His .179/.238/.205 line is somehow worse than his showing in his cup of coffee last season. The swing is flat. Expose that to pitches with downward plane and he’s been and will continue to be a weak fly ball machine. Cordell’s injury and Charlie Tilson’s glass vase impression will buy him some time, but he’d need a hit tool overhaul to survive. And that’s arguably his biggest problem, because the internal tinkering he does with his approach is akin to Gordon Beckham on steroids.
On a more positive note, Matt Davidson may be walking his way into above replacement territory. The California slugger with the surfer hair and explosive swing has been one of the best hitters on the ball club. The difference is that he’s finally combating a poor hit tool with the only medicine that really works for a power profile, which is to walk, walk, and walk some more. He’s always had a decent batting eye, and even when he was struggling back in Charlotte, he was still walking at a 10-percent clip. He’s upped his 4.3-percent walk rate from last season to a remarkable 17.5-percent mark in the early going.
That’s done wonders to his OBP, which is decidedly way more critical than batting average in determining whether a hitter can be deployed. The free passes will come down, but even regression could leave behind a player who can mash 30 bombs with a ~ .320 OBP. As someone who can be shuttled between 1B/DH/3B, it’s the kind of profile that locks down a roster spot.
Tim Anderson’s 11.1-percent walk rate is an even more welcome sign. Anderson has walked seven times in 2018. That is 53-percent of his total from all of last season. This is a monumental development, because a player with Anderson’s quick hands and plate coverage is all the more dangerous when pitchers are actually forced to challenge him in the zone. He’s also finally gotten the green light on the bases from Rick Renteria, leading baseball with eight stolen bases at a 100-percent success rate. With his sneaky pop, 20 HR and 30 SB from SS is something you can reasonably pencil in. Now if only he could clean up the defense on what have been rather routine miscues.
Moncada might be microcosm of this entire thesis, which is that patience is requisite rather than optional. His near 40-percent strikeout rate burns holes in the eyes, but the oozing tools and athleticism have been front and center. He’s a high IQ hitter, who is walking in 13-percent of his plate appearances. He’s also swinging at pitches outside of the zone at a below average clip.
The issue is that when he does expand the plate, he only makes contact 40-percent of the time. That’s not a plate discipline issue. That’s a hit tool issue, and it’s been the epicenter of concern regarding the talented Cuban at the keystone. The upshot is that he’s just 23 years-old and leading baseball with a 99.3 MPH exit velocity. Time is on his side.
Second on that exit velocity leaderboard by the way is Jose Abreu, who looks primed to turn in another patented 30/100 season. The slow start notwithstanding, this team will have no issue generating offense; especially when it gets a dose of Eloy Jimenez.
The remaining pain points will be reserved for the pitching staff, and there’s enough data here to lead to our final insight: Carson Fulmer is not a starting pitcher. Through three starts, his control has been abysmal (7.59 BB/9) and the peripherals call for a “strong sell” rating on the market index. He simply doesn’t have the stuff he once had at Vanderbilt, and his delivery is both rushed and chaotic. He slings the ball, falls off the mound, and lacks one of the greatest assets for a pitcher, which is a balanced delivery to the plate.
The door for Fulmer taking the ball in the first inning has closed. The former Top 10 pick needs to be relegated to the bullpen, where he could carve out a middle relief role. Maybe the stuff plays up in shorter bursts and Chicago can salvage a top draft pick into a set-up man, but the words starter and Fulmer no longer belong in the same sentence.
So those are the takeaways from a bevy of monotonous contests and snow outs. The April White Sox have been a fundamental mess with red flags from Adam Engel to Carson Fulmer, but Opening Day 2.0 is only a couple months off. The new roster will not only have Carlos Rodon but there’s a good chance it will also have added two of baseball’s top ten prospects.
There won’t even be enough brain capacity to remember the April White Sox in July. After all, your brain will have to find a place to store all those Eloy moonshots and Kopech fastballs.
Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune