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Rest or Reps: The White Sox’ September Strategy

by Nik Gaur

While the White Sox are a near-lock to make the 2021 playoffs, many are concerned about the team’s September strategy. The White Sox conspicuously do not care much about winning their remaining regular-season games. Players are being rested and/or placed on the injured list for injuries that are described as both relatively minor and manageable to play through if the playoffs were occurring. At the same time, it would make little sense for the White Sox to go all-out to win (relatively) meaningless regular-season games and risk even more injuries — especially after the team has waited so long to have Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yasmani Grandal all in the same lineup with the rest of the team’s stars.

As always, the team’s handling of players should be judged on a case-by-case basis and with the understanding of information asymmetry — the White Sox coaching staff knows much more than we do with respect to player injuries and fatigue. Andrew Vaughn, for example, has only played in 3 games over the last 8 days, a fact that has bothered some fans since he could stand to benefit from more reps to work out of a mini-slump. While Vaughn has never played this much baseball in one season and should be managed accordingly, the team still should ensure that he is receiving enough playing time to stay sharp (unless, of course, he is dealing with nagging issues that fans are not aware of).

It is difficult for me, as someone whose first instinct is always to gather data, to opine on whether I think the team’s arguably extreme “rest over reps” September approach is optimal. Historical data concerning such decisions would be too sparse to draw conclusions from. Data from this year suggests that the White Sox are a significantly better team at home, and should therefore attempt to surpass the Astros in the standings and secure home-field advantage against them in the ALDS. However, data from this year also suggests that the White Sox are a much better team when their best players are in the lineup, and any potential injuries to prominent players in an attempt to secure home-field advantage — an attempt that is not guaranteed to work in the first place — could be short-sighted.

From my point of view, there is not really a correct answer. I thought I could arrive at one while writing this, but I can really understand both sides of the argument. The playoffs are fluky by nature — they are not necessarily a determinant of the league’s best team, but rather the league’s hottest team among its best few at a given time. The White Sox, despite their immense talent, could very easily be swept or eliminated handily by Houston due to this fact. If they are, questions about the way the White Sox treated September will be abundant.

Nevertheless, a best three-out-of-five series against the Astros will be challenging, regardless of how many games are played at home or on the road. The White Sox have decided that rest and a hypothetical full-strength team are more important than attempting to gain an extra home game in the series. The fickle, small-sample nature of the playoffs will make it nearly impossible to decide (even in hindsight) whether or not the organization is making the right choice, but the front office and coaching staff are certainly setting themselves up for plenty of scrutiny should the team be eliminated in the ALDS.

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Featured Photo: White Sox / Twitter

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