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What’s Wrong With the White Sox?

The team has the worst hitter in baseball, the worst offense in the AL, and what would be one of the worst bullpens—if they ever had a lead to protect.

Robin Ventura

Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune

The season is not going well for the 2005 World Series Champions.

What’s wrong with the White Sox? If you guessed “everything,” you’d be close.

But a few things really stand out.

Jeff Keppinger:

The White Sox signed the respectable utilityman after a career year in Tampa Bay, in which he hit .325/.367/.439. No one really expected a repeat, but expectations were around .280/.330/.400 and an end to the team’s ongoing futility at third base or second base, depending on which was worse.

(It was also described as “the Chicago White Sox’s biggest move of the offseason,” which explains a lot about this year.)

What they’ve gotten is the worst hitter in baseball.

Keppinger’s wRC+ (a measure of runs created) is 43, on a scale where 100 is average and -100 is not ever getting a hit. Only two players have had a wRC+ lower than that since 2000 over the course of a full season. Only four players have had a lower isolated power than Keppinger over that same period. He’s not historically bad, but he’s notably bad.

And he’s bad in really weird ways. His career line against lefties is .319/.362/.464. Against righties, it’s .267/.316/.349. This year his splits have reversed: .190/.226/.253 against lefties, .252/.277/.287 against righties. In 84 plate apperances against lefties, when Keppinger has made contact—and all Keppinger does is make contact—23 percent of the time he’s hit an infield fly ball.

It’s unlikely that he’ll be this bad all season, but he hasn’t been any better since the all-star break.

Paul Konerko: 

Konerko has a 79 wRC+ and an OPS that ranks him between Conor Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez. And then there’s this:

And to round out our “done” club, joining Berkman in the old age category is the man whose jersey I own, Paul Konerko. The slide began last year when his [average batted ball] distance fell to about league average at 280 feet after previously sitting between 285 and 298 feet. Now he ranks just 255th out of 279 batters on the leaderboard, flanked by such luminaries as Marco Scutaro, Alcides Escobar and Eric Sogard, proud owner of zero long balls.

That was July 2, and his average was 258 feet. Now it’s 256 feet, and he’s ranked 268th, between Reds shortstop Zach Cozart and Angels shortstop Alberto Callaspo. He’ll be hard pressed to reach half of last year’s home run total.

Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley: 

The former has the third-worst walk-to-strikeout rate in baseball; the latter hasn’t walked in his first 65 plate appearances. Both have hit better than Hector Gimenez, a 30-year-old with 100 major-league plate appearences, 80 of which came this year.

Gordon Beckham:

Actually, he’s been great, but he’s only played 56 games.

John Danks:

Since shoulder surgery, Danks has lost velocity; of pitchers who’ve pitched at least 80 innings, Danks has the highest home run rate, 1.85 per nine innings. In essence, he’s guaranteed to give up a home run every time he starts (he’s started 13 games and given up home runs in nine of them; the four he gave up against the Twins skewed the numbers a bit.

In truth, the White Sox’s starting pitchers have been okay, very slightly above average. Chris Sale, despite his 6-11 record, has been better than last year: he’s lowered his walk rate, raised his strikeout rate, lowered his home-run rate, and lowered his ERA. He just happens to have the worst run support in baseball this year, thanks to the Sox’s abysmal offense. (He’s also locked in until 2017 for half what Danks cost.)

The bullpen has been bad—the lowest left-on-base percentage in baseball, plus the highest walk rate, not a good combination—but has only blown 11 saves, since there haven’t been many leads to protect.

The good news? Beginning next year, the Sox can begin blowing up the team. Only Sale, Danks, Ramirez, and Keppinger are signed after 2014. This year was an atrocious combination: immovable contracts, disappointing prospects, and the complete collapse of Konerko and Keppinger mean a team that’s not going anywhere, and can’t really do anything about it for the rest of the season, which is why the team sat on its hands in 2013.

The result is a team that’s not only worse than the Cubs, but more boring, without even the poker game of rebuilding to enjoy.

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