White Sox defensive woes prove costly with no viable solution in sight
We all saw it last season. The Chicago White Sox weren’t a hugely confident team defensively. This was evident for a number of different reasons and, like many fans, I was hoping it would be a point of attention this winter. However, the team chose not to address this concern in any meaningful way. On the contrary, the Sox let the problem escalate and it is already showing up in the first six weeks of the 2022 season.
Entering play Monday, the White Sox rank fifth in all major league baseball with 26 team errors. That leaves them one mistake behind a quartet of rebuilding clubs: Pittsburgh, Arizona, Washington and Oakland. Needless to say, this isn’t a group you want to be associated with statistically, especially if you imagine yourself to be a viable World Series contender.
Those of us who observe this team day to day know what we see with our eyes. These errors are largely not due to players having excellent range to reach balls that average defenders would not. Instead, it was largely unforced errors. And those mistakes are costing the team games, most recently in the ninth-inning slump that happened last Monday against Cleveland.
Left side, weak side
No player has been more prone to these blips than shortstop Tim Anderson. TA received praise last season for his improvement on the field as he put on one of the most consistent defensive seasons of his young career. He ended the 2021 campaign making just 10 errors. Well, here in 2022, he’s committed a league-high nine errors in 13 games that started in Cleveland a few weeks ago.
Again, many of these errors were unforced in nature, as we saw rushing throws from Anderson that either knocked Jose Abreu out of the sack or missed him completely. The impact of these errors on the pitching staff cannot already be underestimated. During Anderson’s two-error inning at Cleveland, Dallas Keuchel was unable to stop the bleeding that eventually led to him allowing 10 runs. Last week against the Guardians, two more Tim errors allowed the floodgates to open in the catastrophic ninth-inning collapse.
But this problem goes beyond Tim Anderson. His leftwing counterparts Jake Burger and the recently returned Yoan Moncada have compounded the problem. Add to that a pair of first basemen playing from outside corners (more on that later) contributing to unforced errors, and this team has simply been a giant mess on the defensive side of the ball.
out of position
As if unforced errors weren’t enough, the Chicago White Sox’s poor roster construction forced square pegs into round holes in the form of Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets attempting to play outside corner positions. The issues with these two surfaced quickly, as Vaughn’s lack of range prevents him from making plays that even average outfielders would make.
Meanwhile, Sheets notably missed a routine steal directly on him that would have ended the top of the first against Cleveland last week.
Sheets himself has shown he lacks the athleticism required to be anything other than a 1B/DH. I hope with every fiber of my being that Tony La Russa does the right thing in Kansas City’s vast outfield this week and doesn’t put this team behind the eight ball playing alongside Luis Robert and/or by Adam Engel.
There’s an old adage that apparently dates back to the early days of this game, “pitcher and defense win championships.” If so, then the White Sox as they currently stand are anything but a championship-caliber team. Being one of the top five teams in the league by team errors won’t position the White Sox as a viable threat in October.
I did some independent research and went back to the turn of the century to see how many teams finished in the top five in team errors and won the pennant. The answer was one, that’s all. Only one team consistently gave teams extra outings and managed to overcome it. The 2012 San Francisco Giants, at the heart of their championship dynasty, found a way to overcome their constant defensive mistakes en route to beating the Detroit Tigers to win their second of three championships a decade ago.
Seeing a single lone team being able to excel in other facets of the game to undo a poor defensive performance doesn’t inspire a huge amount of confidence for the Sox at this point. Now, I know that errors aren’t a huge measure of overall team defense and effectiveness. However, as we’ve seen with our own eyes, this team consistently giving their opponent four and five outs in an inning hasn’t been something they can overcome for a host of other reasons.
We’re sitting 33 games into a 162-game marathon, and a problem that plagued the Chicago White Sox a year ago continues to do so. How do they solve these problems? Frankly, I have no idea. List construction flaws will, in my opinion, prevent the team from resolving the issue in any meaningful way.
It looks like the White Sox will just have to rely on players here who either come close to career standards or who, in some places, overperform. The collective leadership of this team that finds ways to put players in the best position to succeed will also prove important. The hope is that as the season progresses they are able to maneuver enough pieces that they don’t have to put 1B/DH types in vital corners of the outfield and compromise an already questionable group. .
Can the South Siders defense improve by the end of the season? Sure. But I’m fairly certain that if it doesn’t, it will be one of the main culprits in preventing the Sox from achieving their preseason aspirations and it will represent another lost year of a competitive window.
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