The 2023 Chicago White Sox have been nothing short of a disaster. Resembling 2022, almost every core player has either been injured, performing well below career norms, or both.
You might as well replace “Dylan Cease” with “Luis Robert Jr.” in the above tweet (from last season) because Robert Jr. has been the only White Sox player who has consistently provided value to the team (shout-out to Lucas Giolito, who is proving that 2022 was a fluke for him, Jake Burger, who has been excellent when healthy, as well as Gregory Santos, but none compare to Robert Jr. so far).
Even during Robert’s awful slump at the plate, he was still playing top tier defense at a premium position in center field. He is not just one of the only White Sox regular position players who has largely stayed healthy so far (knock on wood), but he is also the only player aside from Yoán Moncada, whose sample size is too small, that has been valuable on both offense and defense.
Robert Jr. is hitting .275/.335/.562 with an .897 OPS and 141 wRC+ while ranking first among all outfielders in both outs above average and defensive runs saved. The only facet missing from Robert’s game so far has been plus baserunning, as he has only attempted (and converted) one steal. However, he has still been plenty fast on the basepaths, as his sprint speed of 28.4 feet/second is his fastest mark since his rookie year.
Robert Jr. is far from a perfect player, and some of the criticism he has received in 2023 has been deserved. Of course, there was the viral moment a couple of weeks ago where he appeared to not hustle, only to later reveal that he was playing through an injury that he did not disclose to the coaching staff. In any case, Robert Jr. absolutely deserved at least some, and likely most of the blame for this event, which he and the team thankfully have moved on from.
Additionally, Robert Jr. had a brutal 8-for-67 slump during which he made very little hard contact and often chased pitches well outside of the strike zone. I fully understand why people get so frustrated with Robert Jr. during his slumps — while this is not truly the case, it looks like he is just going through the motions since he is routinely whiffing on sliders and hitting weak grounders on pitchers’ pitches.
However, what I do not fully understand is why it is so hard for fans to maintain perspective when he is slumping. One would think based on the level of vitriol he receives that Robert Jr. is always the hitter he is when slumping, rather than the career .287/.334/.487 hitter that he has been in his nearly 1,100 plate appearances. While it is not very aesthetically pleasing, it seems clear at this point that Robert Jr. is the kind of player who will go through a few prolonged slumps each season, but end up with above-average or even significantly above-average numbers overall.
Perhaps this is the problem for some: fans were sold a superstar, and “significantly above-average” may not be good enough. While harsh, this does make sense. But given that Robert is still just 25, it’s not necessarily too late for him to reach that level. In 2023, he is on pace for over 40 home runs and 6.5 fWAR while playing Gold Glove-level defense. With the team’s luck, an injury will derail Robert Jr. from playing enough games to reach that figure, but my hope is that during his next slump, Robert Jr. gets a bit more slack from fans given his streakiness and overall body of work.
In the meantime, and as those who listen to our podcast know, I believe criticism should be redirected from the lone entertaining and productive players to watch (even during cold streaks) such as Robert Jr., Giolito, etc., and directed toward the consistently underperforming players — otherwise known as the majority of the roster.
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