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Eloy Jimenez: A Lesson on Patience Amidst Injuries

by Tim Moran

Early this season, many White Sox fans were dismayed over Eloy Jimenez‘s lackluster start to the season. The 25-year-old outfielder/DH injured himself on April 23 with just a 64 wRC+ (total offensive value, relative to 100) to his name, and came back in early July just to see that mark fall to 51 entering the All-Star Break. Of course, this all followed a 2021 campaign where Eloy struggled mightily at the plate in September and October, sporting a 69 wRC+ in those months before recording just 5 hits, all singles, in 17 postseason at-bats. All indications seemed to signal that Eloy had hit a wall at the plate.

No. 74 then thundered out of the break with a power surge and never looked back. He finished the 2022 season with a .298/.361/.505 batting line and a 146 wRC+, the latter good for twelfth among all MLB hitters (min. 300 PA) and sixth among all AL hitters. Looking at just the second half, Eloy was the third-best hitter by wRC+ in the MLB. While the Sox as a whole didn’t enjoy a similar second-half revival, this major bright spot provides something valuable for fans to consider moving forward: have patience with players who battle through multiple injuries in a short period of time.

Let’s examine the math of Eloy’s injuries and ensuing playing periods. Jimenez ruptured his pectoral at the end of Spring Training 2021 and proceeded to miss just over 100 games to injury. He then played 55 games to round out 2021, and despite a solid August showing, generally was not in form by the end of the year. So after playing half of the number of games lost to injury, he hadn’t fully recovered. That’s not encouraging, but understandable for a young player.

After a very brief Spring Training in 2022, Eloy was scuffling 11 games into the season before injuring his hamstring. That’s too small of a sample size to judge his performances, especially with the shortened preparation period. Then he came back and played just eight games before the All-Star Break. Thereafter, he put it together in a major way.

To recap, a young player suffers his first major injury, plays subpar for a couple of months, starts cold after a short offseason, then comes out of injury cold for eight games before enjoying consistent success for the first time since prior to the major injury. That is a totally reasonable path for a young hitter to take. At no point in that period was there any reason to doubt Eloy’s long-term prospects, especially considering he notched a 115 and 138 wRC+ in his first two seasons, respectively. So why did many seem to think that Eloy had hit his ceiling?

Essentially, we fans have blinders to the bigger picture. 70 mediocre games sandwiched between 160 games of injury and a hasty offseason feels like 100 terrible games to the fan who struggles with witnessing three bad games in a row (that’s been me at times). Yes, Eloy’s low home run, high ground ball profile was bothersome for a while. But seeing how much strength he showed off in 2019 and 2020, there was no basis for concluding he was simply not a power hitter.

The most poignant example of this in the future will be Luis Robert. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Robert on Twitter recently, and I believe these critics are again suffering from tunnel vision. La Pantera owned a 126 wRC+ on July 22, 2022, and was heating up with a 175 wRC+ in July. All indications pointed to another stellar year for Robert, if maybe a tad bit worse than his elite 68-game 2021 campaign. He then went on the injured list for ten days after experiencing lightheadedness and blurred vision, came back for eight games, then injured his wrist on August 12.

If you watched any White Sox games after that point, it was evident Robert was severely hampered at the plate. He was swinging with one hand pretty much from his return onward and saw his season batting line fall to .284/.319/.426, still good for a 111 wRC+. While most people seem to be aware of the lingering issue, I’ve seen many non-injury-related complaints about Robert since August. It’s unfair to make judgments on anything Luis Robert did after August 12, but many critics seem unfazed.

It is fair, although, to wonder if Robert will ever stay healthy for a full season. It’s also fair to call him out for his lack of plate discipline. However, it’s completely rational to expect a high-floor, high-ceiling player if he stays healthy over the coming years. After all, he demonstrated great plate discipline (17.7 K%) with a 172 wRC+ in 43 second-half games in 2021 while also sporting these stats in his first career 162 games:

Yoan Moncada may not deserve as much forgiveness for his disappointing 2022 campaign but bear with me here. Moncada missed 56 days in 2022 across three injury stints involving an oblique and two hamstring strains. He clearly felt less than 100% confident in his body, attempting just two stolen bases all year and finding himself on the team’s controversial list of players cleared to not run out ground balls.

The White Sox third baseman finished the season with a 109 wRC+ in September and October, largely in part due to a power surge where he slugged .466 for an impressive .214 ISO. If the 27-year-old recovered his power, things could be pointing up. There’s no doubt Moncada can be a stellar ballplayer, as he demonstrated in 2019 and 2021. So yes, I haven’t fully given up on Yo-Yo. Give him a half of injury-free baseball to start in 2023, and let’s see where he is then.

Yasmani Grandal is getting old, so there’s less reason to expect a major bounce-back season. Still, after getting his second knee surgery in five months on Oct. 21, 2021, Grandal wasn’t back to full health even by mid-2022. Via our friends at NBC Sports Chicago, Grandal said this in June, well into the season:

“We knew that Spring Training for me was going to be a very important time, especially getting back on the field and getting as much catching in as I could. Then all of a sudden, as soon as we ramped up, the knee started kind of acting up and now we had to take it slow”.

A few days later, after enjoying a solid May, Grandal found himself on the IL for 40 days with a back injury, played for a month, then suffered another knee injury on August 22. Case in point, the veteran’s knees were finally getting under him immediately before two IL stints. He may very well just be another catcher whose knees give way in his early 30s, but I’d again like to see him play with a fully healthy offseason under his belt.

Are White Sox players just soft? In a way, some are. Lots of players have the ability to return from injury and hit the ground running. But many players don’t, and for whatever reason, a good portion of the White Sox roster belongs to this category. It’s frustrating, absolutely, but doesn’t change the fact that uninterrupted health may be all Robert, Moncada, Grandal, and others need to succeed.

The South Siders may have already exhausted all of your patience, and that’s understandable. But if you have some left, consider waiting to see how key players perform in 2023, granted they stay healthy.

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Featured Image: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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I would have all those guys just play golf over the winter to relax their hammies

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