We are about a week into the 2022 White Sox season, and I wanted to share some early impressions of this team. This ball club has shown in week one that they are going to be really special. They have had their best start since the 2005 season and I’m amped. I’m 21 years old and this is the best White Sox squad I have ever seen. Was I too young to remember the 2005 team? Yes. Am I getting too excited and hyped after only a week? Maybe, but why not get pumped. This team is fun to watch now and I have no reason to believe we can’t be fun to watch throughout the rest of the year.
Here are my early impressions:
Andrew Vaughn Rakes
Through seven games this year, Vaughn is slashing .348/.400/.652 with a .455 wOBA and a 210 wRC+. He has an 8.0% BB% and 16% K%. Now, this is obviously an incredibly small sample size and he’s not going to keep this up all year, but he is making adjustments from last year. He needs to be more patient at the plate as his O-Swing% (Percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone) is still hovering around 33.3%, which is what it was at last year. He is actually making contact with these pitches though, so it’s not as bad of a thing as it used to be. His O-Contact% is 81.3%, 26 percentage points higher than last year. Still, he and this team as a whole need to be more patient at the plate. These are some of his splits this year:
Offensive Numbers by Pitch Type
Platoon Offensive Splits
He is hitting the breaking balls much better compared to last year, almost having as many home runs off the breaking ball this season as he did last year. The launch angle is up, so that means he is waiting back on the ball and getting under those pitches and not getting ahead of them. He is hitting righties very well at this point in the season, which is a pleasant surprise for this righty dominant team. This is great to see early in the season, and though we are not going to see these high numbers all year, there is definitely more positive things to come from Vaughn in 2022.
The Team Has to be More Disciplined
Here are some stats I will throw at you. The White Sox, prior to Sunday’s game, had a .279 OBP (4th lowest in the league), 5.0% BB% (lowest in the league), 35.3% O-Swing% (2nd highest in the league), and a 59.9% Swing% (highest in the league). This is not good. This team has to start drawing out at-bats longer and taking more pitches. Being aggressive at the plate is not a bad thing, but being too aggressive is.
As we saw on Sunday’s game, runs were generated when the team worked the count and drew some walks. In the 4th inning, Jimenez and Grandal walked to load the bases, so when Sheets got hit, he drove in a run. In the 5th inning, Anderson and Abreu walked to load the bases with one out. Though the White Sox did not score a run that inning, they increased their run expectancy from .865, when just Engel was on third, to 1.520, when the bases were loaded. Walking avoids out and walking starts with plate discipline. I know a lot of you are going to read this and say, “Hey, but they are still winning!” and you’re right, but the Sox are 18th in the league in runs and have a 99 OPS+. By walking more, the team will generate more opportunities to score runs and not have to rely on our slim starting pitching depth.
On the brighter side, the team has the second-lowest strikeout rate in the league, so at least when they are swinging, they are making contact. Here is Jordan’s opinion just in case you don’t trust me:
We Have Depth!
Unfortunately, the boys in black seemed to be made of glass the last two seasons. The good thing is this team is deep. Yes, I know our Adam Kaplan just wrote an article about depth, but it was a thing the Sox struggled with a lot last year and it’s so exciting to see that they have made improvements. Yes, the team had guys like Brian Goodwin and Billy Hamilton that stepped up in some big moments for us, but the depth this year is much better.
I’ll start with Jake Burger. It is tough that Yoan is hurt right now, but it is nice that Burger finally gets a shot to prove himself for a couple of games and he’s a damn good replacement. Burger has had such a battle getting to the MLB missing minor league games in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Burger still reminds us why he was a first-round pick. He plays decent third base and he hits the absolute daylights out of balls. He ranked in the 95th percentile in max exit velocity last year and is in the 89th percentile this year. Obviously very low sample size, but hey, check out this stat:
Next up: Reese McGuire. Wow! Can this guy catch or what?! Reese isn’t going to hit .280 for the Sox, but I’m perfectly fine with him being a below-average hitter and above-average fielder. Yaz is getting older, and as catchers age, it’s harder on the knees to be behind the plate 150 games a year. This means he is going to DH more for the club during this year to keep his bat in the lineup. It’s great to know that when Yaz isn’t behind the plate, the club still has a guy who can catch very well. In 2021, McGuire had 4 Catcher Framing Runs, which was tied at 10th in the league. This year he is in the 98th percentile for framing. We can compare this to Zack Collins last year who was 58th in framing rate, which was second to last only behind Salvador Perez.
Finally, the front end of the bullpen. This is really important depth and the front end of the bullpen has been great so far this year. Of course, we like to look at guys like Kendall Gravemen, Bummer, Joe Kelly, and Liam Hendriks, but the front end of the bullpen is important too. Guys like Bennett “Chief Keef Love” Sousa, Kyle Crick, Jose Ruiz, and Tanner Banks are also essential to the White Sox’ success. If these arms can hold down the fort until Gravemen/Bummer/Hendriks come in, the Sox should look pretty solid come October.
Liam Hendriks is Going to be Fine
On that note of getting to Hendriks, he is going to be great this year, don’t worry. He had a short spring training and it’s a week into April. I know I’m being a hypocrite by hyping guys up only a week into the season and then also saying, “It’s only a week into the season” for Hendriks, but Hendriks is different. For the past two seasons, he was the best pitcher in the AL for a reason.
His ERA is 5.40 right now, but his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 3.26 and his xFIP is 2.37. His velocity is only a tick down on his four-seamer and his slider. His spin rates haven’t changed either. He is simply getting unlucky. Once he throws more and mixes his pitches more, his numbers are going to drop down to normal and he is going to be great. Hendriks is a guy that as he pitches more, the better he is going to get. Steve Stone once said on a broadcast last year that, “Pitchers like Hendriks rust before they wear.” He is going to be okay.
It has been a fun week and we have a lot of ball games left to be played. Enjoy the highs and don’t get down on the lows of the team just yet. This is going to be a fun season based on what we’ve seen so far. Go Sox!
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