Previously, I referred to the ballooning strikeout total of White Sox hitters as somewhat refreshing, given all the years of emphasizing contact over all other concerns. Now that it's lasted for more than a week and exploded in scale, it's every bit the horrible illness one would expect.
The White Sox have struck out a league-leading 111 times (which is tied with Baltimore for the most in the league) and they've struck out in 24.7% of their plate appearances (which is a fair bit more than Baltimore). To give a rough idea what that means, imagine the strikeout rate of Adam Dunn in his prime, combined with the power of oh, I donno, Herbert Perry. I liked Herbert Perry, I liked Adam Dunn in his prime. The thought of combining them--especially in this way--is rather unappealing.
As Jim Margalus already tackled today, a strikeout bump from last year was expected for this team--not just because of the regime flip--but because the Sox were shifting who received the most plate appearances on the team from the impossible-to-strikeout Juan Pierre, to a more normal baseball player in Alejandro De Aza. It's the disappointing returns from Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham, and Brent Morel's complete collapse that's really cratered the Sox.
Hitting coach Jeff Manto doesn't see it as a problem:
"They are striking out aggressively," Manto said. "They are getting to two strikes in the proper way. It's not sloppy at all."
"It's actually not alarming at all. We are not swinging at bad pitches, and we are taking deep counts. That's what happens."
But he's also hiding Morel and Beckham from the gruesome footage:
"We're making sure [Morel, Beckham] have a plan in every at-bat and not to over-analyze every swing, to stay out of the video room because that will drive you nuts," Manto said. "You're just going to reinforce another bad moment (from studying video)."
More worryingly, the recent onslaught of strikeouts has been coming at the hands of less-than-revered pitchers. Baltimore starters Jason Hammel and Tommy Hunter both matched career-highs in K's against the White Sox the last two games, with Hunter whiffing 8 in 5.2 otherwise disastrous innings, and Jason Hammel striking out 10 in 6 IP. Neither of these guys even averaged as many as 5 K's per 9 innings last season.
As Manto cited, this seems to have solved the "taking pitches" problem that was complained about when Rick Porcello was only at 84 pitches through 7 innings on Sunday, or Jake Arrieta was only at 65 through 5 on Monday. As is often bandied about when old-school baseball-types preach the need to "pitch to contact", it actually does take quite a few pitches to strike someone out. It takes at least three, and often four, and the White Sox rate of 4.0 pitcher per plate appearance is the 2nd-highest rate in the league. As a result, opposing starters on average are falling short of 6 innings per outing. That's not to say the strikeouts are good, because obviously they're terrible, but some of the side effects are peculiar.
Even more odd, is that the Sox appear to be reaping what they sow. The 24.7% strikeout rate is just a little bit worse than the 23.2% White Sox pitching is coaxing out of opposing hitters, which is 2nd in the AL behind the Yankees. Sox hitters are walking only 7.8% (slightly below average) of the time, but opposing hitters are only getting free passes in 7.2% of their appearances. Thanks to some deceptively good pitching, and by the grace of A.J. Pierzynski, the team is barely out-hitting the opposition. Just barely. Enough to go 6-6.
Now the White Sox voyage to Seattle, who will offer Hector Noesi, Kevin Millwood, and Blake Beaven as starters. Noesi has a chance to post a league-average strikeout rate this season, Millwood probably doesn't, and Beaven is so far away from it that it's not even what he's trying to accomplish on the mound anymore. If the M's can't do anything to stall the tidal wave of whiffs coming from the Sox, Robin Ventura will have to start looking outside of the box--or just further into their own dugout--for cures.
The Mariners' hitters for their part finished in the top 2 in the AL for the last two seasons, and while they've cleared out much of the debris of the past two years, they're still doing things like batting Chone Figgins' leadoff, and DH'ing Miguel Olivo.
Tags: Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Baltimore Orioles, baseball, blake beaven, Brent Morel, chone figgins, Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham, hector noesi, herbert perry, jason hammel, jeff manto, Juan Pierre, kevin millwood, Miguel Olivo, Rick Porcello, Robin Ventura, tommy hunter, White Sox