Kosuke Fukudome, and a relentlessly functional outfield

Kosuke Fukudome, and a relentlessly functional outfield
Same picture, y'all! // Phil Velasquez, Tribune Photo

The 2012 White Sox outfield is what dreams are made of.  

Not blissful childhood dreams of Disney World or the like, but the dreams you have when you doze off on the couch next to your significant other, only to be told later that you were muttering half-coherently in your sleep about "sticking to our grocery list", "if we split up, we can get out of this Trader Joe's in half the normal time", and other minutiae that indicate that even your subconscious is in a bit of a rut.

A more pure dream probably has three outfielders the Sox can plug in every day without worry, but the current arrangement allows for plenty of enjoyable and beneficial tinkering...and purity is a futile pursuit anyway.

I spent a lot of too many words the other day worrying about Fukudome's defensive utility, while acknowledging that his career platoon split was not unreasonable, but not insignificant.  Since Kosuke posted career lows in just about every useful offensive category in 2011--OBP, SLG, the walk rate that's sustained his career--it's probably for the best not to challenge him too much by asking him to hit against left-handers to a great extent.  He's barely treading the waters of decline as is.

Fortunately, a cursory glance at the outfield reveals two encouraging things.  First, Fukudome should never have to start against a left-handed pitcher, and relatedly second, he should never need to play center field.  Since his walk rate drops 4% for his career when he faces lefties (and was an eve more pronounced split last season), and as his defense was discussed yesterday, that's pretty important to facilitating a productive season for Fukudome.

The White Sox outfield will feature three right-handed options; Alex Rios, Dayan Viciedo, and Brent Lillibridge.  Lillibridge, and even Rios, are probably better-suited for center field than Fukudome.  Pretty much the only thing Rios was able to do in 2011 was maintain some smidgen of respectability against right-handers - .287/.304/.400.  A lot of that could be a result from not having the hideous .212 BABIP that Rios was cursed with against righties, but Alex making solid contact and getting hits is as much under his control as it is for anybody.  Your BABIP can really hit the toilet if every single ball is rolled over to short.

Lillibridge did well enough against righties, but it's his absurd success against lefties that saw him post a nearly .300 ISO (.287/.346/.585) that made his dream season.  With his big, home run hack, it's only appropriate that a longer look at the ball unleashed his power.

Viciedo has barely had the time to let his major league cup of coffee cool, but has already posted a frankly, quite terrifying line of .226/.284/.298 against righties, and .366/.388/.598 versus lefties.  This could all be fluky--and hopefully it is for the most part--but the presence of an entire outfield chomping at the bit to get a chance against lefties, along with lefty Alejandro De Aza's splits being essentially neutral, gives Robin Ventura a litany of reasons to avoid the excess difficulty of Fukudome facing southpaws.  

It's not a bold position.  Fukudome has only garnered 409 plate appearances against lefties in 4 years in the MLB.  The Cubs apparently weren't very big on marching him to his doom either.

With Lillibridge's shaky hold on making enough contact a constant concern, and possibly serving roles elsewhere on the diamond, and Alex Rios being hard-pressed to prove that he deserves significant defensive responsibilities, the onus is on Alejandro De Aza to stake out center field, become a fixture at the top of the lineup against right-handed pitchers, and keeping Kosuke glove on the corners.  With any luck, the Sox could skate away mostly free of asking Fukudome to do any of the things he's very demonstrably bad at.

Well, within reason.

White Sox outfielders combined for 2090 plate appearances last season and 2095 the year before that.  With their primary leadoff hitter likely being an outfielder, that total is likely to be in the 2050-2100 range again.  While conceding the tendency to get optimistic in playing time estimates, let's set Viciedo for 550 PA as an outfielder with the acknowledgment that he could DH here and there, especially if Dunn still is useless against lefties.  Projecting De Aza much above 500 seems to be blindly ignoring the extensive injury history that brought him to this point in his career, and much more than 500 plate appearances for Rios seems like flaggelation. 

That would still leave 550 to be split between Lillibridge's time as an OF, randoms and September call-ups, and Fukudome.  The purpose of this exercise is not to put an exact number, but just show that injuries and struggles of this highly unproven roster could spike Fukudome's workload beyond where Ventura can still be highly judicious about his usage. 

The same could be said about almost any season.

At least for now, until the bones in De Aza's legs snap like matchsticks while he runs over to catch a pop fly that Alex Rios lost in his malaise, the readily apparent weaknesses of the outfield are at least properly balanced against each other.  There's a good mix of handedness and platoon splits, and there's three guys who can play center field (two who can do it somewhat well), so there will be no need to rely on a guy who can only man the middle in Kenny Williams' dozing-on-the-couch dreams.

 

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  • Nice post. All of a sudden there seems to be some complimentary players and a contingency plan in the OF. And that makes me feel good. But I see it as a means of maintaining mediocrity or of preventing a slip into terribleness if Viciedo, Rios, and DeAza pretty much falter. At the end of the day, to contend for the division hitters on this roster are going to have to generate more gap and HR power than they did last season, and get on base a little bit more. And do it without Carlso Quentin. Doses of Fukudome, and some platoon action with Rios/Fukudome/Bridge will help the OBP. Thankfully, Pierre's 700 PAs are gone. But in the end, the big question for me is still, can this lineup generate enough power to contend? I think the answer to this question lies in the performances of Dunn and Viciedo, and to a lesser extent the development of Morel and Beckham. Those are still BIG ifs, and it's doubtful that these players in combination will be up to the task.

  • In reply to Chris Lamberti:

    It's pretty clear to me.

    Dayan Viciedo needs to hit 85 HR or EVERYONE dies.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    You know, I've been reading a little about Cuban baseball lately. And I have to admit, I find a bit discouraging the opinion on Viciedo of some in the know after Dayan arrived stateside. The gist of it being "He's OK," "Not one of the best Cuban prospects," etc.

    Something that the scouts don't know though: I really WANT Dayan Viciedo to be great. And I always, without exception, get what I want.

  • In reply to Chris Lamberti:

    Hopefully most of that centered around him not having the slightest bit of defensive utility.

    Which, he still doesn't really have. I know he's got the arm at all, but I kinda think he's the next Adam Dunn out there....in terms of fielding.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    I think part of it was that Viciedo was a 15-year old phenom who signed with a big club in Cuba. When he didn't show development in his late teens, and gained weight, I guess there was concern. All sounds a bit premature in hindsight.

  • In reply to Chris Lamberti:

    This article is weird

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/sports_blog/2008/11/white-sox-add-t.html

    He's simultaneously a child prodigy, was expected to be plugged into the major league lineup at age 19, while also being too fat for the Earth. I think the writer just misinterpreted the meaning of "major league contract", which was just an excuse for him to receive a higher salary, not in any way a guarantee or even an indicator of a 25-man spot.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    A couple of thoughts on that piece:

    I wonder who "Jermaine Day" is and whether or not the White Sox were able to move him that offseason.

    I also wonder what's in it for the Dominican to naturalize these Cuban ballplayers right away (Cespedes is now a DR citizen too). Seems likely that cash is part of the answer. If Cubans arrive in the US as political refugees then they must enter the MLB draft. Dominicans sign as free agents. The absurdity of this system is beginning to reveal itself to me.

  • In reply to Chris Lamberti:

    Jermaine Day sounds like a White Sox prospect. I'll assume he was also thrown in as part of the Jake Peavy trade, and that his kidneys exploded upon setting foot in San Diego.

    Cespedes is kind of an exception to the general rule. He's too old to be forced into the draft, and he went to the Dominican under direction of his handlers, who don't want their prospect wooed away from them by American agents. Kevin Goldstein mentioned that Cespedes going to the DR had to be under the direction of his promoter/agent for their personal benefit, because it's pretty much the worst place they could go. All the offices Cespedes had to get clearance from---to establish residency, to get a visa, etc.--are overrun with other applicants in the DR. That's why Aroldys Vizcaino actually chose the Netherlands to establishe residency, and Viciedo was in Mexico.

  • Oh. That article on Viciedo you linked to had him as a DR citizen:

    "Torres than arranged for Viciedo to acquire Dominican citizenship,"

    And now we can add "confuses then with than" to the litany of errors revealing themselves in this published story upon further scrutiny. I'm just going to say that it's not a viable source, leave it at that, and get on with my life. A life, now that I think of it, that is not much more exciting or worthwhile than(heh!) I imagine a life spent combing over old baseball stories for writing errors might be. Maybe it's time to reassess.

  • In reply to Chris Lamberti:

    Nope, I just misread it. He went to the DR, his original point of defection was Mexico. That probably stalled his timeline a bit, but it doesn't look like he was in the huge rush to start Spring Training that Cespedes was.

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