When I was a young lad, and perhaps, when no one else was looking, my Irish-American father actually referred to me as a "lad", a White Sox player I had come to trust got off to a pretty piddling start. Something to the tune of
71 plate appearances, .200/.282/.267, 0 HRs
"What the heck?" 6-year old James fretted aloud.
"He's getting warmed up still," my father--who has almost no knowledge of sports beyond cliches and books he read in the '60s--assured me, "By the end of the season, you won't remember this."
Sure enough, he was right. The player heated up with the weather and by the end of the year, it was absurd to wonder if his season could have been better. From then on, I stopped worrying about slow starts.
Unfortunately, that was back in 1993, and the player was Frank Thomas. This was not an occurrence you base a principle on.
Current White Sox bad badness in the month of April probably merits more concern.
Perhaps it's always a natural by-product of playing in a city covered in freezer-burn, but the White Sox offense has been turgid death march in the opening month for a few years now (24th in runs scored in '10, 17th in '09, and well...Carlos Quentin going aggro kinda kept the team above average in '08, but 24th in '07) .
Whatever, so what if U.S. Cellular plays like Safeco in April? It would help counteract playing like a softball stadium the rest of the year.
But last year entailed the Sox being significantly worse than the competition playing in the same icebucket hellhole (I kid! I like being able to hide multiple flasks because I'm wearing three coats!) as their opponents, and that ain't right.
Jim Margalus (a fine writer) wondered in print the other day what kind of player Alexei Ramirez could be if ever cut out his aversion to frostbite. While he's the most notable offender, let's examine all of the problem-guys, and wonder in print whether they could ever actually get better.
Alexei Ramirez - SS - April: 79 plate appearances, .221/.231/.312, 1 HR, 1 BB, 13 K.
A typically cold April to put next to his .214/.273/.286 in 2009 and his out-of-Cuba-and-into-the-freezer .129/.156/.194 in 2008.
Can he recover?: Well, if three is a trend, then Alexei has certainly established a pattern with cold starts, but if it's truly weather related, it would stand to reason that he's more likely to adjust the longer he sticks around. Another trend for April? Bad BABIP. .160 in '08, .230 in '09, and .254 in '10. His batted ball numbers aren't that much different, so even though his strikeout/walk rates suggests he really just isn't that comfortable out there in the chill, if his BABIP comes closer to his career mark of .294, we should see some dividends.
Juan Pierre - LF - April: 98 plate appearances, .193/.260/.193, 0 Extra-base hits. None! 5 BB, 4 K. Is there anything more disheartening than a slap hitter who can't get the ball out of the infield and is a step too slow to turn grounders into hits?
Can he recover?: Historically, (Career Mar/April: .271/.328/.324, 77 RC+)the opening month is just not a very good time for Juan. Also, he's not due to get any better at legging out grounders (a portion of his hits diet that can't be overlooked) barring a medical miracle. Still, it's hard to imagine someone having as bad an opening to the season as Juan had in 2010 ever again. At least, it's hard to imagine that happening without the player being moved from the leadoff position.
Gordon Beckham - 2B - April: 94 plate appearances, .235/.315/.321, 17.3% K-rate. Sure, this was bad, but the sobering thought is that his month of May was infinitely worse. He didn't even get hit by his own gum bouncing off the wall in this month.
Can he recover?: It seems silly to lump this into the larger trend of coldness given how out of sorts Beckham was in general for the first half. But at the same time, Beckham is a Georgia native, played college ball in the SEC, and 2010 was his first April in Chicago. It's something to consider.
Carlos Quentin - RF - April: 91 plate appearances, .187/.319/.413, 4 HR, .169 BABIP. He still had a bit of pop, but a lot of that pop...went straight up. 17.9% of his contact was infield fly balls, which might be the most useless thing a hitter can do. Hell, even a strikeout makes the pitcher use some of his arsenal and leaves the possibility for a wild pitch.
Can he recover?: Three years ago, April was no friggin' problem (.310/.442/.631 with 7 HR), and really, it not being three years ago is a far bigger issue than anything weather-related for TCQ. Quentin's extreme-fly ball approach is always going to be streaky, and maybe he'll shade toward being worse in April because the ball carries better in warm weather, but he can hit in the cold. It just doesn't mean he will...
A.J. Pierzynski - C - April: 71 plate appearances, .169/.229/.200, 0 HR, 13 RC+. It's always great to burst out in the opening month of your contract year when you're an aging catcher like you've lost all the muscle mass in your arms. Sure FanGraphs tracks groundball rates (47.5% +11.8% infield flyballs - that's not a lot leaving the infield), but they don't track weak rollers that provoke the batter to trot to the bag like he's being led to the electric chair. Porque, FanGraphs?
Can he recover?: Perhaps not, actually. April is historically AJ's weakest month (.265/.313/.369), he's 34 years old, and has caught over 1200 games. Even if 2010 was a season robbed from Pierzynski via two horrendous and unfortunate slumps, he's still set for some serious deterioration to take place, and it's more likely to show up early than any other time. Brace yourself. Or start Ramon Castro more. Or both.
Mark Kotsay - DH - April: 41 plate appearances, .108/.195/.189.
More! Mark Kotsay was given more plate appearances after this month! There was an increase!
Can he recover?: Oh who gives a crap!?!? He's Milwaukee's anathema now.
Apologies to snubbing Omar Vizquel's April struggles, but I'm guessing/hoping his bat isn't a major factor this season, and I'm leaning strongly that Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham's are. Pierre and Pierzynski aren't capable of being above-average performers, and Quentin's fluctuations are outside any kind of typical understanding. Ramirez and Beckham both can be impact players if they kick the slow starts that marred last season. Stock up on hand-warmers and perhaps, just maybe, a hot toddy.
J.J. Stankevitz is a fan of the Lastings Milledge signing, and sees him as a part of a master plan, where the Sox use all their players to do the things they're good at. He too enjoys a $7 Leine's Amber Ale on a Summer Day, and like Jim Margalus, he's a fine writer.
U-God at South Side Sox breaks down the 1st basemen in the AL Central.