Checking in with the outfield

Checking in with the outfield
Fukudome, seen here preparing to smash a fly on the back of Lillibridge's neck // Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images

The number of really, truly proven outfielders the White Sox entered the season with totaled around, oh, let’s say zero.  Alex Rios was terrible in 2011, Dayan Viciedo was dreadful in a September call-up, and Alejandro De Aza was a quarter-season wonder getting an enormous promotion.  It would behoove us to check in on how they’re doing from time to time.

Alex Rios

There was quite a split on the debate of who was more hopeless between Rios and Dunn after last season.  Dunn had fallen apart in every manner of play, where Rios had systematically embraced every one of his flaws as a player.  While Rios still resembled a baseball player at times–athletic, made tons of contact–his devolution was also something that made sense from an analytic standpoint.  Rios’ tentativeness crippled him as a center fielder, and his pull preferences at the plate became so distended and off-balance that he became the easiest scouting job in the world for opposing pitchers.

The best entry of this spray chart for Alex Rios is his gorgeous RBI triple from Sunday, where Alex took a 93 mph fastball on the outer half and sliced it into the right field gap.  Even without that ideal example of every skill he was neglecting last season, this chart is still carrying several examples of Rios being so bold as to drive the ball to fields other than left.  A remarkably good contact hitter, Rios becomes a lot more tricky when he isn’t willingly getting himself out on everything to the outer half.

There’s still plenty of groundballs to the left, and after witnessing marathon slumps during what should have been his physical prime, terming Rios’ hold on his approach “tenuous” is the nicest someone can be to him without drawing a restraining order.  There will surely be some struggles ahead, but a .333/.396/.511 line to start the year, and a revamped approach is enough to make Rios a good choice to move up to the #2 spot; while this lasts.

Alejandro De Aza

Currently, Alejandro sports a .268/.333/.536 line.  That kind of enormous power still seems like way too much to expect from him over a full season, even with his ability to stretch singles into doubles, and doubles into triples.  He should be better than Juan Pierre in that department, but his lifeblood as a leadoff man is the first two categories.  More explicitly, it’s the second.  De Aza is getting on base at a .333 rate, which is above the league average of .321.

He’s achieving that while only sporting a .279 average on balls he puts in play, which seems a bit low for a guy with his speed and capability to sting the ball.  Sure enough, his career average on balls in play is a rousing .341.  If he can fall back to his career average, and his walk and strikeouts stay where they are, he’ll finish the best batting line for a White Sox leadoff man since the Ray Durham era.

If the random goof-ups in the outfield could go away too, then he’d be a star.

Dayan Viciedo

Well, he’s looked terrible.

Viciedo’s at-bats have featured plenty of lunging, off-balance overswings, mountains of whiffs, and none of the plate discipline that was such a welcome addition in 2011.  He’s not pulling the ball with authority on a consistent basis, and the tremendous bat speed he has isn’t getting utilized because pitchers have little reason to stay honest with him and throw fastballs.

It’s all bad, but it’s from the one guy who could have a dreadful start and not ring all the alarm bells.  With a .186/.205/.372 line and strikeouts in 29.5% of his plate appearances, Viciedo can at least argue that he’s improved since Spring Training.  He’s also only 23 years old, and wasn’t expected to win the MVP award in his first month as a starter.

Still, he’s been bad, and his defense isn’t going to support that batting line.  Not that any defense could.  But for those calling for….

Brent Lillibridge

…he’s struck out in half of his plate appearances.  It’s hard to hit in short bursts, but that is massive, and doesn’t lend itself to getting more than the running & fielding work he’s gotten so far.

Kosuke Fukudome

If anything, Fukudome is in line for more work, even though his results aren’t any better.  Being left-handed, his skill set complements that of Viciedo’s better, and would lend itself more to part-time opportunities.


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