There have been some attempts to sum up the surprises, both good and bad, for the White Sox this past season, and generally I feel they could use some context.
Everything needs buckets of buckets of context; it's just a matter of how much we can stand.
Mark Gonzales of the Tribune highlighted a fun little tidbit of info--Alex Rios' 77 point jump in batting average from 2011 was the largest gain of any player who qualified for the batting title in each year. That's highly significant for Rios, a guy who has always needed to hit his way on base, and was functionally useless (and actually worse than Adam Dunn) when he hit .227 in 2011.
However, while there was great talk of Jeff Manto's work on Rios' approach (and woe to the person who cast stones at the work he's done), the actual adjustment made served to make Rios more assertive and aggressive at the plate. At 31 years of age, Rios posted the lowest walk rate of his career (4.1%), resulting in an on-base percentage (.334) that's a little mundane both in terms of the league at large, and Rios' own personal prime.
Rios had the biggest improvement of pretty much any hitter in baseball, but of course, titling an article about batting average jumps "Sox's Rios makes biggest improvement in majors" de-emphasizes the more nuanced sea changes from other White Sox hitters.
Adam Dunn made little alteration to his approach until his September oblique injury, but was simply healthy and on balance enough to drive mistakes with power like old. His contact rate continues to be in worrisome decline.
A.J. Pierzynski most interestingly did the opposite of Rios in tweaking his approach. Traditionally an all-fields singles hitter, A.J. became choosier about trying to pull pitchers for power to right field, and saw his batting average drop nine points, while simultaneously compiling the best offensive season of his career.
Meanwhile, Zach Gropper of Grab Some Bench compiled his list of the five most disappointing players on the 2012 White Sox. I have some bones to pick with it, but have to acknowledge that the degree to which the post prodded me to fashion my own list, is a strength in and of itself.
Primarily, I disagree with the inclusion of Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham, and Philip Humber, and I believe that reflects a difference of approach to constructing such a list at the end of the season.
Konerko and Humber probably endured the biggest stockfall over the course of the season, relative to their highpoint, and how useful they were by the end of the year. Beckham, is the constant walking heartbreak of the franchise.
However, if told at the beginning of the season that...
- Gordon Beckham would show no meaningful offensive improvement
- Paul Konerko would deal with health problems, and finish with a year that is a step down from 2010-11, but still fits nicely next to his career batting line
- Philip Humber, after coming off the scrap heap to pitch together a year as a decent mid-rotation starter, would slip back into being as ineffective as he had been for his entire career prior
...I would be able to listen calmly while sipping my coffee, with nary a drop spit out on my laptop.Mapping out who on this team fell short of any reasonable pre-season expectations is difficult, since it was anyone's guess who was deadweight in so many instances.
That said, I'd just have to start my list with Alexei Ramirez. He shed his "forced-patience" approach of the past few years, grew shamelessly hacktastic, and didn't even get more power production to show for it, nor did he improve his awful work against fastballs. The year went so poorly Alexei was pledging to work harder in the off-season while the Sox were still alive for the AL Central.
Next would be Addison Reed, who simply lost his slider early in the season, and never regained it as an effective offering he could have confidence in. After blowing through the minors with the pitch and posting insane strikeout levels in five levels in 2011, Reed spent the year tooling around with his approach as a fastball-change righty during the highest-leverage situations.
It's tempting to put Dayan Viciedo in this group too, who was far more frustrating than fun to watch, displayed massive platoon splits, and struggled too much with average for someone of his bat speed. And yet, a late flurry put his final line right around the league-average territory he was pitted for.
Most of all, I'd take Gropper's #2 listing and center my lament of the season around it.
In a year where the starting rotation was based around them, while the Sox hoped for the best from Jake Peavy and Chris Sale, lynchpins John Danks and Gavin Floyd couldn't stay healthy. Both failed to reach 30 starts, both posted the lowest innings totals of their White Sox careers, and both struggled with inconsistency when they were able to take the mound in between their respective ailments.
Instead of All-Star caliber years from Peavy and Sale launching the Sox into the playoffs, it was all that was left to keep a patchwork group together.