A few weeks ago, Sox On 35th Contributor Noah Phalen poised this Thought Experiment on Twitter:
It’s a question that’s fun to debate on social media, but more often that not moot because these things, generally, tend to work themselves out. However, Eloy Jimenez is now back in the line up, and how did skipper Pedro Grifol choose to give Jake Burger at-bats? He didn’t.
Since Jimenez’ return, the above position players are the players that Grifol has chosen to generally start. The White Sox have had a six game homestand against the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers since Jimenez came off of the IL due to his appendix removal. In those six games, Jake Burger has started twice and sat on the bench in the other four. The underlying factor in all of the starts: the handedness of the starting opposing pitcher. The above players (generally) start against righties. Below is Pedro Grifol’s set of position players (generally) against lefties.
Jake Burger has been excellent against left-handed pitching in 2023. He’s hitting .297/.366/.730, with 4 home runs, good for an OPS+ of 185.
Jake Burger vs. RHP
However, choosing to bench Jake Burger against right-handed pitching is a confusing choice, because he has been hitting righties well in 2023. While Burger most certainly does love lefties (185 OPS+) compared to righties (126 OPS+), his splits against right-handed pitching are still better than comparable defensive teammates.
On the season, Jake Burger is slashing .253/.293/.539 against right-handed pitching. On first glance, these numbers can seem quite poor considering his OBP starts with a “2”. However, these numbers are still better than Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, Eloy Jimenez, and Andrew Benintendi. Below are the OPS+ and wRC+ of some Sox players this season against righties:
|Jake Burger||Andrew Vaughn||Gavin Sheets||Eloy Jimenez||Andrew Benintendi|
Despite a seemingly less-than desirable stat line against right-handed pitching, on the whole, Jake Burger is still providing more value to the White Sox against RHP than most of his teammates.
Jake Burger at home
An argument I have seen for Jake Burger losing playing time to players like Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn is that Pedro Grifol is just playing the hot hand. As such, that makes Jake Burger the odd man out. Though, I am not so sure this is based on a solid foundation of logic.
As a result of his appendectomy, Eloy Jimenez did not play from May 6th through May 27th. Since Jimenez has primarily been the Sox DH this year, this led to more playing time for Jake Burger (once he also came back form his IL stint), since Yoan Moncada has been playing Burger’s technical natural position of third base. During this stretch of Jimenez’s absence, Burger slashed .292/.286/.563 with 3 home runs. Again, his OBP raises an eyebrow, but overall, an OPS of .848 is quite respectable and still providing positive offensive value to the team.
Part of Burger’s “poor performance” before Jimenez’s return was the result of the Sox having a brief road trip. During series’ at Cleveland and at Detroit, Jake Burger slashed .148/.143/.185 for 7 games. By no stretch of the imagination is this good. This poor stretch of games seems to have led Pedro Grifol to assume that Jake Burger has gone cold, and thus when Eloy Jimenez came back when the Los Angeles Angels came into town, Burger needed to ride the bench.
The thing is though, that playing away from Guaranteed Rate Field seems to be Burger’s Achilles’ Heel. On the road, Jake Burger is slashing .148/.203/.259, good for an OPS+ of 29. Burger’s cold streak at two division rivals lines up with his season long trend of playing poorly outside of Illinois, but I would also assume the cold streak would end during homestands.
Jake Burger has been a Monster at Guaranteed Rate Field. This season, Burger is slashing .351/.395/.838, with 10 home runs, good for an OPS+ of 224. During Eloy Jimenez’s IL stint in May, Burger slashed .423/.423/.885 during the 7 home games of this stretch. To bring everything full circle, Jake Burger is slashing .333/.371/.772, with 7 home runs, good for a wRC+ of 205 against RHP at home.
As such, I find it quite infuriating that Pedro Grifol is not starting Jake Burger during all home games, and benching one of the Sox best players due to poor handedness logic.
Offensively, the White Sox are back at full health. The team has a “good problem” of having too many potential starters than players in a batting line up. However, so far, Pedro Grifol has shown a poor ability on how to handle this situation. The White Sox are many games under .500 yet are still fighting for a playoff spot thanks to an extremely weak AL Central. Every game matters, and Pedro Grifol needs to put his players in the best position to win every game.
Grifol does have tough decisions to make, but consistently benching Jake Burger, especially at home, is not the correct choice. The former first round draftee has proven that he deserves to be in the line up during every home game, and every away game versus lefties. A good player will be on the bench when Grifol makes a line up, but more often that not, that player should not be Jake Burger.
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