No White Sox player has experienced a more drastic shift in production and public sentiment since the end of the 2020 season than Eloy Jiménez. Jiménez followed up an inconsistent but promising rookie year with a dominant (albeit pandemic-shortened) campaign, hitting .296/.332/.559 with a .891 OPS and 139 wRC+. Jiménez won an American League Silver Slugger Award and appeared to be en route to a monstrous run of seasons as the premier home run hitter in the heart of a dangerous White Sox lineup.
Two major injuries later, Jiménez is now viewed by some as more of a burden than an asset. Throughout all of his ups and downs on offense, Jiménez has always been a poor defender at the MLB level and therefore is often considered a future designated hitter. More importantly, he only appeared in 55 games in 2021 due to injuries, and even if he finishes the 2022 season healthy, Jiménez does not figure to play in more than 85 games this season.
In 2021, Jiménez’s long-awaited return was supposed to be a statement to the rest of the league. The White Sox were already in first place, and adding a powerful middle-of-the-order bat to an already strong lineup would vault the team on par with the Astros, Dodgers, and the rest of the league’s elite lineups.
To some extent, Jiménez delivered. In his first 17 games in 2021, he hit .323/.338/.662 (1.000 OPS). This includes a red-hot seven-game stretch during which he hit .464/.467/1.036 (1.502 OPS) with five home runs and 15 runs batted in. Jiménez had multi-home run games against the Cubs and Twins, as well as a home run against the Yankees in the Field of Dreams Game.
Unfortunately, Jiménez could not sustain his production, as he hit .216/.288/.338 (.626 OPS) over the remainder of the season, finishing the year with a roughly league-average 101 wRC+. Many had high hopes for Jiménez entering 2022, which figured to be his first season since 2020 where he could hit the ground running without any rust or timing issues. However, a torn hamstring forced him to miss all of May and June.
Hope in His 2022 Season
This may sound familiar, but since returning from the injured list, Eloy Jiménez is hitting .328/.361/.537 with a .898 OPS and 148 wRC+ over 19 games. His numbers for the whole season (which include his 11 games in April) are encouraging as well, as he is up to .291/.324/.466 with a .790 OPS and 123 wRC+. Is this sustainable, or might it be a repeat of last year’s hot streak?
For reference, looking back on his 2021 hot streak, there were not really any warning signs that Jiménez was experiencing particularly flukey results. While nobody can sustain a 1.502 OPS, Jiménez at least looked to be his usual self at the plate before his performance rapidly deteriorated. It was not a luck issue, but a timing issue (perhaps due to his rust from missing over half of the season).
The same is true of his current hot streak. In fact, if anything, Jiménez had been unlucky entering this week’s series against the Royals. A very productive series headlined by a 7-for-7 stretch was buoyed by a few cheap singles, as baseball tends to reward unlucky hitters and punish lucky hitters eventually. Nevertheless, Jiménez has been driving the ball to all fields, making consistently hard contact, and elevating as he did in 2020.
As was the case in 2021, if Jiménez suddenly undergoes a prolonged cold stretch, it would not be an example of luck balancing out, but likely some sort of timing issue or mechanical flaw. These cannot be easily predicted, and they happen to all hitters throughout the course of the season, so the key for Jiménez will be to identify problems and correct them as they arise.
If Jiménez continues to hit as he has since his return from the injured list, the White Sox would likely win the AL Central. His presence in a lineup starved for power is enormously impactful. As always, Jiménez needs to stay healthy, but it should be noted that he has been hitting as fans have always hoped since his return. Whether or not his performance will significantly regress as it did in 2021 remains to be seen, but now that Jiménez is armed with the experience and knowledge of what went wrong, one would figure that inevitable cold stretches will not last nearly as long as the end to his 2021 season.
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