As the Detroit Tigers try to shrug off coming out on the bad end of a home series with the Seattle Mariners, they turn to face the Chicago White Sox this weekend. at the moment, the AL Central is one big clumped up mess, which is somewhat unexpected.
To get an idea of where the White Sox are at this point in the year I asked Casey Boguslaw, Managing Editor of RO Baseball, and White Sox fan, a few questions about the South Siders.
BYB: At approximately 20 games into the season I think it would be safe to say the White Sox are exceeding expectations. What are your general impressions of the team at this stage of the season?
Casey: My general reaction is to remain skeptical. Especially after last season's “magical” start at 23-10, and that being with a team that was trying to win, I believe I have the right to keep my guard up. But the team has done all the little things right, and that is something I have been wanting to see for a few years. It does seem like the squad has reacted well to the new skipper, but I do still expect the other shoe to drop soon, especially once they start playing some of the stronger teams in the American League.
BYB: Avisail Garcia is a name many Tigers fans are familiar with. After several seasons of lackluster performance most people had assumed he wasn't going to get it all together. Garcia has come out this season and destroyed the baseball. What gives?
Casey: Avi is, of course, the first topic brought up in any White Sox conversation right now -- he has certainly earned it. He's had hot stretches in the past, but usually they're short spurts where he's hitting everything. This has been different as he's been hitting since the jump and hasn't stopped. I'm writing this a few hours after he hit a 450+ foot blast which served as the go ahead run Wednesday afternoon. While the first argument of any naysayer is to go to his ridiculously lucky BABIP, which will certainly regress, he's not getting cheap hits. He's roping the ball consistently and he's essentially carrying a lineup. It's been him -- not Jose Abreu, not Todd Frazier -- who has been the key, time and time again, to cashing in on rallies this season. Again, the guard is up. He was a very, very poor hitter for the majority of the last two seasons, and most, including myself, were ready to leave him for dead. But maybe he figured it all out; it wouldn't be the first time a player had that sort of career renaissance, and it won't be the last.
BYB: The Hawk Harrelson alarm clock. It's a device that I imagine would be used to rouse me from sleep at three minute increments if Hell exists and I end up there. Where does that rank for you on the list of giveaways as a White Sox fan?
Casey: Ah yes, Hawk is the type where you hate him if he's not for your team and love him when he is part of yours. At least some of us feel that way. I've always loved Hawk; he was the voice of my childhood baseball watching. As for making the giveaway day a must-attend? I wouldn't call it purgatory, but having that on my bedside table isn't exactly my style.
BYB: When do we see Yoan Moncada up with the big club?
Casey: As a math and baseball lover, you would assume I'd be able to figure out the whole service time thing, but it does seem tougher than advanced calculus to solve. But the White Sox will be smart with his service time -- even with the hot start, there is no reason to bring Moncada up to the big league club. They'll wait for the extra year of control to hit, and then maybe wait a little bit longer. He does have work to do -- mostly bringing down a strikeout percentage currently resting in the area of 30% plus his defense could still use improvement as the Red Sox were trying him all over the diamond but it does seem the White Sox are set with keeping him at second.
BYB: James Shields was reported to have made himself some adjustments. What did he change up and is it helping things?
Casey: Shields has seen some good fortune early in the season. Other than an injury which will keep him out of the series this weekend, the baseball gods have looked fondly on him so far. He's given up his fair share of walks, including five in his first start of the season, but the home runs he has given up have been with mostly no one on, which is rarely sustainable. I have not seen enough from him to think last year was the aberration - he still isn't fooling hitters.
BYB: Do you miss Chris Sale (Not just personally, but on an organizational level as well)?
Casey: That's probably a loaded question. I was on the fence with whether I wanted the White Sox to rebuild or keep as is. I think there was enough top talent on the team the last few seasons, that with the right pieces around them, they could have made a contender. My biggest qualm of considering a rebuild was I never thought they would find a team to give a package worthy of Chris Sale. I do actually believe (and hope) I was wrong. I think what they got for Sale was a wonderful group of potential impact players. And if the strategy of the White Sox the last few seasons was "stars and scrubs" the future sure looks like the talent will be more evenly dispersed.
BYB: Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are both off to slow starts. Who are you more concerned with in that regard?
Casey: Giolito -- by quite a bit. Even if you rack up his struggles at the big league level last season to being a rookie forced up in a playoff push (which I do with Moncada), it hasn't gotten better, either in Spring Training or so far at Triple-A. The velocity is down, his spin rate is down, and he is falling down the prospect rank lists. The White Sox have done a great job with several pitching prospects in the last few years, and maybe they can right Giolito's wrongs, but I am a little worried. Anderson has struggled some at the start of the season, and he ultimately may end up as a bottom of the order bat on a loaded lineup in the future, but his slow start doesn't bother me.
BYB: I know you on Twitter (and many others do, I'm sure) as the barrels guy. Here's your chance to share something interesting barrels related about either or both of these teams coming into this series.
Casey: Did you know that first half barrel rates in the 2016 season were a better predictor of second half home run rate than first half home runs were? Crazy, but true. Did you know that Barrel FIP was a better predictor of second half ERA than ERA, or even FIP, was in the half seasons as well? You can't cheat a barrel — they're not affected by weather or parks. I truly believe its a fantastic way to measure how a batter is seeing the ball — or how a pitcher can avoid bats. As far as the two teams being discussed, Barrel FIP doesn't like either of these pitching staffs thus far into the season. And I don't want to upset my audience here, but the Tigers are in last place in the metric by a significant margin, and I'm probably not surprising anyone, but their bullpen has been even worse. The White Sox have pitched well, but Barrel FIP does predict regression will hit them. The big barrel hitting team of Detroit may be creating some of that regression themselves (see, now I got you all back in my good graces).
BYB: Tyler Saladino. Does he know how terrible that facial hair is? Do White Sox fans actually like it?
Casey: White Sox fans LOVE Saladino's facial hair - I can't explain it.
Thanks again to Casey for stopping by to talk about the White Sox. You can read all his barrel — and non-barrel — related musings at RO Baseball.