Alex Rios' game-winning RBI double on Saturday night was simply gorgeous. The roar of the crowd as it cleared the infield, Hawk's pleading call of "Turn it on, Brent!", along with Lillibridge's face shaking with every step as he rounded 3rd made it one of those moments I'll cling to into the off-season, especially with the White Sox playoff hopes sitting right around 'Puncher's Chance' at the moment.
The Leverage Index for the play coming in was 2.38 (officially high-leverage) and the result raised the Sox win probability by 28.8%. A certifiably clutch hit.
Unfortunately, Alex's mighty blow couldn't single-handedly redeem his situational (or any situation) hitting stats for the season, so it definitely couldn't redeem the dreck that the White Sox offense has been in high-leverage situations.
I touched on the fact the White Sox were inexplicably awful in high-leverage moments earlier in the year, with the expectation that such an anomaly in situational performance would normalize to overall levels, and mild improvement would result.
Well, that didn't happen.
.208/.279/.324 - That's the White Sox triple slash in high-leverage situations. Or a .264 wOBA, which in the run-factory that is U.S. Cellular, is worth a 57 wRC+. Also known as 43% worse than any respectable offense would be.
To place that in horrible perspective; the 2008 Giants and the 59 wRC+ they gagged up in high-leverage plate appearances are the most recent team that's even in the neighborhood of the Sox situational deficiencies. The '04 Expos (yes, the Expos) matched the 57 wRC+ mark, and the '03 Tigers actually managed to get under that terribly, terribly low bar of performance.
The '03 Tigers were kinda bad at everything though. Except beating the White Sox. They went 43-119 on the season, but 8-11 vs. the Sox.
When a team just inexplicably bottoms out in the clutch, it lends itself to a lot of theories. A journalist looking to craft a stinging narrative might call them gutless. Approached at a bar and acting off no evidence, I might theorize that their impatient team plate approach gets exploited by skilled late-inning relievers. Or maybe it's just bad luck.
That last theory probably deserves more credit than anyone would like. There's plenty of tangible reasons: a .238 BABIP, the fact that the Sox returned pretty much the same team that was the best at this last season, and that this sample only represents a measly 547 plate appearances.
That's not a full season, or really any kind of size to offer stability. The White Sox are a bad offense; decidedly below-average (91 wRC+). While this cut of performance is certainly sub-standard for them, in just 1/9th or so of their plate appearances, its certainly within the realm of standard variation.
Unfortunately, just because it's goofy and inexplicable doesn't mean the effect hasn't been real. Imagine if the Sox performed up to their total average in these situations. In effect, imagine if they were the Cubs with their sparkling 91 wRC+. Yes, imagine if the Sox were the Cubs, who have created a little more than 20 more weighted runs above average in around 50 less plate appearances. The Sox horrible cross section has weighed down their total numbers a bit, so one might even have a flight of fancy and imagine if they performed to league average.
In either case, we're talking about 2-3 wins worth of runs blown through crappy high-leverage offense. If we could pick and choose which high-leverage moment for the White Sox to get a hit or two, we could surely add 7-10 wins without dramatically altering their stats, but in reality this is simply one very costly problem among many for the 2011 South Siders. The rest of the Tigers' 5.5 game divisional lead probably have be lumped into the 'How much value would a red-hot Dayan Viciedo provide' category.