The White Sox lineup has been largely easy to figure out with injuries this year. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal‘s absences, guys who could potentially fit in the top of the order, meant Yoan Moncada in the 2-hole was a no-brainer. Add in Eloy Jimenez‘s injury and the middle of the order has caused little argument in 2021.
Yet here we are now. The entire White Sox core is healthy as of September 19 (knock on wood), constituting Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, and the four mentioned above. But where do we arrange these players in the top six of the lineup heading into the playoffs? I should note that Andrew Vaughn has shown flashes, Adam Engel has been superb when healthy, and Leury Garcia has turned it on as of late, but none of those guys have the combination of talent and consistency to merit top-six consideration.
But within the core six, it gets tough. Luis Robert has been flat-out fantastic since returning from injury and largely batting out of the one-spot, but upon Tim Anderson’s return on September 14 was dropped to sixth in that lineup. Yasmani Grandal has somehow been even more impressive, tearing the cover off the ball for almost three weeks now. Yet, he’s been relegated to fifth in most lineups, with a recent jump ahead of Eloy Jimenez. To me, these are lineup injustices that just can’t be tolerated.
Here are relevant stats for each player: Grandal is rocking a 158 wRC+ and .937 OPS; Robert is at 155 and .933 OPS; Jose Abreu is at 127 and .834; Moncada has 123 and .786; Anderson sports 114 and .783; and Eloy’s at 104 and .747 with his recent cold spell.
But much more than just “who’s the best offensive player” goes into lineups. If that were the case, Jose Abreu would’ve batted first in the back half of 2020 when he was the hottest hitter in baseball, and Mike Trout would be a perennial leadoff hitter. Instead, managers rightly have to balance questions of comfort, run-producing, slugging tendencies, and lineup protection. So what’s the right mix of these factors for the (healthy) 2021 Chicago White Sox?
As much as I’d love to put Robert and Grandal in some order at 1 and 2 in the lineup, I have to take a step back. The fact is that Grandal is an exceptional run-producer. In addition to great slugging, his offensive numbers only get better with men on base and then runners in scoring position. I’d rather a couple of high on-base players ahead of him, so the team can capitalize on his value. Thus, I propose the following: Robert leading off, and Yoan Moncada in the 2-spot. Yes, Yo-Yo isn’t driving the ball as much as many would like, but he still gets on base really well. Let’s get a guy or two on for Yas, and even if he walks like he often does, you then have two or three men on base for your captain Abreu.
I certainly think that there are valid criticisms of Jose Abreu, but he generally does hit well with guys on base, there’s no denying this. Pito’s wRC+ jumps significantly to 149 with RISP, both for this season and his career. He also deserves a certain level of respect with all he’s done for the franchise, not to mention that he played great in his first career playoff games against Oakland last year. Consequently, I wouldn’t be too upset if Grandal batted fourth and Jose third. But by every worthy measure, Yasmani is still the superior hitter, so I’d slot them in the opposite order.
Behind this, it gets a little tough. One’s gut might say to put the powerful Jimenez fifth and Anderson sixth, but I wouldn’t do that unless Eloy really starts to turn it around. At this moment in time, I want TA7 getting more at-bats then Eloy. Some might be mad at me for dropping TA from his seemingly concrete leadoff spot, but there’s really just no comparison between him and Robert or Moncada when it comes to getting on base. TA’s OBP is only .329, miles behind his third base and center field teammates. Nearly any Tim Anderson interview is defined by Tim uplifting the team over himself, so I’d be shocked if TA7 took offense to such a move.
Then, give me a healthy Adam Engel all day at spot 7. He’s been impressive so far, but only seen 105 at-bats, so the sample size is too small for me to declare him superior to anyone in the top six. Cesar Hernandez and Garcia have been better of late than Vaughn, so I’ll go with them at 8 and Andrew at 9. Choosing between the two second basemen is an article for another time.
Here’s my lineup in all it’s glory:
- Luis Robert
- Yoan Moncada
- Yasmani Grandal
- Jose Abreu
- Tim Anderson
- Eloy Jimenez
- Adam Engel
- Cesar Hernandez/Leury Garcia
- Andrew Vaughn
Realistically, I’d bet that Anderson and Abreu will stay as leadoff hitter and 3-hitter due to Tony La Russa‘s orthodox mindset. In that case, I want Robert at 2, Grandal at 4, and Moncada at 5. But TLR may live to regret seeing the occasional Anderson strikeout over a Moncada walk.
What I absolutely would hate to see is either of Robert or Grandal batting below the 4-spot. They’re just too damn good to not want to give them a high number of turns at the plate. Given the recent trends, it seems like Tony might be realizing this too, but there’s no guarantees of exactly what he’ll do come October.
However, there won’t be any need for good lineup construction if the South Siders put together the right mix of complete games, dropped third strike magic, and go-ahead slams. That can’t be too difficult, right?
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