Manager Robin Ventura and the Chicago White Sox have gained national attention with their surprising success in 2012. Most of that success has been due to the performances from some of their key hitters, such as Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Alex Rios.
The White Sox, who have been holding down first place in the AL Central since June 24th, currently rank fifth in team offense in the American League. While the White Sox offense has performed well above expectations, there is room for improvement.
The team is currently ranked 10th in base-on-balls, eighth in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging percentage. Despite those below-average rankings, the White Sox have managed to outscore their opponents by 62 runs this season, good for the third-best run differential in the American League.
With the Detroit Tigers now leapfrogging the Cleveland Indians into second place in the division, the division race will heat up when the White Sox travel to Detroit for a three-game series next week.
As the White Sox's playoff push continues, the team will have to do a better job of getting men on base.
Despite a series win in Kansas City this past weekend, White Sox pitching gave up an average of five runs per game, and while the offense answered the bell once again, more scoring opportunities will be crucial in maintaining the division lead.
One of the keys to getting on base consistently is plate discipline, something a couple White Sox players have excelled at this season.
A sign of a good, grind-it-out at-bat is a hitter seeing several pitches. A hitter who can make contact, foul off several pitches and take pitches outside of the zone is a hitter who regularly gets on base.
Despite possessing a poor batting average of .215 in 2012, White Sox slugger Adam Dunn has been getting on base, even when not smashing balls over the fence. Dunn's 2012 OBP is currently .365, and he leads the league in base-on-balls with 72.
Dunn also leads the league with 4.54 pitches-per-plate-appearance (P/PA). The more pitches a hitter sees, there is a greater chance of inducing a walk, or forcing the pitcher to make a mistake pitch.
More pitches-per-plate-appearances also can wear down a starting pitcher. Despite the White Sox losing to the Royals last Saturday, lead-off hitter Alejandro De Aza forced Royals starter Luke Hochevar to throw 18 pitches during De Aza's first two at-bats. Hochevar was relatively effective, but only lasted five innings, forcing the Royals to lean on their bullpen following a 14-inning game the previous night.
De Aza is currently the 17th-best AL hitter in regards to P/PA, making him a valuable and effective lead-off hitter.
Of the top 30 P/PA hitters in the American League, 14 play for top-five offenses this season, further evidence that plate discipline leads to runs scored.
With some important games on the horizon for the White Sox, and the division race heating up, the White Sox will benefit from better overall plate discipline which will help the team hold onto first place.