2018 was rough for White Sox fans and followers. Some things went well down on the farm but a 62-100 season can never be construed as good. During every successful rebuild, unexpected contributors are unearthed.
While the organization struggled to stumble upon potential superstars out of nowhere, they might have accidentally found some useful pieces. Matt Davidson and Daniel Palka were given almost 1,000 total plate appearances this season. Admittedly, that is probably too many.
A brief glance at the overall stats for these players doesn’t tell the entire story though and the organization might want to mimic the platoon strategies often employed by the Oakland Athletics.
Neither of these players are first division regulars. They shouldn’t be receiving 500-600 plate appearances in a given season. Neither player is good defensively. That is fine though. They both have strengths that can outweigh their significant weaknesses.
Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Palka was claimed off of waivers from the Minnesota Twins on November 4th, 2017. We profiled the move at FutureSox but it’s worth another look almost a full year later. The South Carolina native was a 3rd round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The former Georgia Tech standout showed his substantial raw power throughout his minor league tenure but his warts were present as well. The 6’2″220-pound lumberjack shows a solid recognition of the strike zone but his approach doesn’t allow the eye to translate toward high on-base numbers.
When Palka was acquired by the White Sox, he was listed as the #22 prospect in the Twins’ system according to MLBPipeline. The scouting report stated that he possessed above-average power to go along with plus bat speed and tallied first base and corner outfield as the positions in which he would be playable. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs listed him as the 11th rated prospect in the Minnesota system in 2017.
The veteran prospect evaluator surmised that Palka has no trouble getting to his power in games due to his, “pull happy uppercut, beer league softball swing”. That’s the swing that the fellas in Section 108 have soliloquied about often. Pipeline also noted that the slugger could theoretically “profile on the long end of a platoon” but also mentioned that he could become a “power first everyday player if he can elevate his hit skills while showing better on-base ability”.
Daniel Palka kind of is what he is. It’s also why he’s become so popular and a bit of a cult hero during a 100-loss campaign. He’s fun. Massive blasts that leave the yard mixed with youthful exuberance has been a hearty recipe in this case. Palka had hit 105 minor league dingers to go along with a strikeout rate hovering close to 30% when he was acquired by the Sox.
He’s not a savior by any means but he definitely has a spot on a big league roster if used advantageously. Daniel had 449 plate appearances for the 2018 club. He hit 27 home runs and drove in 67. His strikeout rate was 34% with a walk rate close to 7%. He was worth 0.7 fWAR according to FanGraphs. His 109 wRC+ places him slightly above league average and he slashed .240/.294/.484 on the season.
The 2018 season did show that Palka would be very useful if used in a platoon role though. In over 340 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, Palka hit .249/.298/.526. He displayed a staggering .278 ISO which elevated the rest of the stat line. Palka didn’t walk enough but his .824 OPS and 120 wRC+ makes him an appealing option in a true platoon role. Let him face lefties at your own peril, however.
The White Sox acquired Matt Davidson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RHP Addison Reed in December 2013. At the time, Davidson was seen as a potential answer to the organization’s woes at the hot corner. He was coming off a great age 22-season in the Pacific Coast League and fresh off being named MVP of the 2013 Futures Game.
At the time, Rick Hahn said, “We view him as potentially a middle of the order, run-producing third baseman for a long time”. Davidson was a 1st round selection of the Diamondbacks out of Yucaipa High School in California back in 2009. The 6’3″220-pound slugger had compiled 80 homers but always had strikeout percentages in the mid-high 20% range as a prospect with Arizona.
2014 was a disaster in the White Sox system and 2015 wasn’t much better. Playing for the Charlotte Knights in Triple-A, Davidson slashed .199/.283/.362 with a 77 wRC+ in his first full season with the team. His wRC+ (94) and slash line (.203/.293/.375) improved in 2015 but he was starting to look like a guy that wouldn’t sniff the majors any time soon. He did post 43 homers in those two years despite the poor showing. He had a nice bounce-back year in 2016 and had a brief cup of coffee in the majors with the White Sox.
Davidson will never be the star that the team envisioned. He’s further proof that development isn’t linear, however. The former California prepster has turned himself into a useful major league piece that could be in Chicago for the immediate future. Davidson is now 27-years-old and has played first base, third base and designated hitter for the most recent iteration of the Chicago White Sox. At first glance, his 2018 line of .235/.328/.434 in 472 plate appearances leaves much to be desired. He has been worth 1.2 fWAR after hitting 20 homers, driving in 61 runs and posting a 111 wRC+.
Like Daniel Palka though, there is some hidden value in Davidson’s game. Similar to Palka’s strength vs RHP, Matt shares the same type of prowess against LHP. Facing lefties only, Davidson hit .289/.382/.500 and posted a .381 wOBA with a wRC+ of 144. He has a 211 ISO and an absurdly high BABIP but it helps make up for all the strikeouts. Davidson also played vs righties quite a bit in 2018 and there’s proof that while the power still played, those trips to the dish hampered his numbers overall.
What Should The White Sox Do?
It might be tough to justify keeping two similar players on a 25-man roster that would be best used not playing the field. Both guys are playable at multiple spots but their bats are the reasons for their lineup inclusion. Many analytically inclined organizations use platoons to their advantage.
Davidson and Palka offer the White Sox front office an interesting case study if they’d like to take advantage for 2019. Neither should play on a regular basis for a legitimate contender. Both players have value though. In a true platoon, the club might be able to extract a combined wRC+ in the 130-150 range with 50 homers annually from the two players.
The White Sox will look different in 2019. There will additions and likely just as many subtractions. It would surprise nobody to see Palka and/or Davidson elsewhere next April. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see the combo back in Chicago for another season though. If used in a strictly productive manner, some value could be unearthed from this pair and the 2019 club could benefit for the near future.
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