Chicago White Sox's Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments
The 2014 Chicago White Sox are the antithesis of last season’s squad. They are brash, energetic and the offense is full of the never-say-die attitude that was largely missing from the team that went 63-99 in 2013.
Of course, much of the renewed optimism is due to the play of Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and the ever-dominant Chris Sale. They are only a small part of the reason that the White Sox have gone from being an embarrassment to being highly entertaining, however. There are others, like Conor Gillaspie (.341/.396/.439) and Adam Dunn (.273/.419/.515), who are playing larger-than-expected roles in the team’s success.
For every player who has exceeded expectation, unfortunately, there is one who has been a disappointment. Guys like Erik Johnson (0-1, 9.58 EA, 2.226 WHIP) and Alejandro De Aza (.179/.200/.410) have been downright bad to start the season. And it is their play that has kept this team from sitting atop the AL Central.
With 13 games down and 149 yet to play, though, there are two position players who have surprised the fanbase most with their performances and one pitcher and one position group that have been the most disappointing.
Let’s take a look.
Surprise: Tyler Flowers, C
Tyler Flowers is playing baseball at the professional level like he never has before. Going into the series finale with the Cleveland Indians, Flowers was hitting .419 with 13 hits and five runs scored in 31 at-bats. He has been so consistent, as Jim Rome from CBS Sports noted in an interview, he set a White Sox record for catchers with seven straight base hits.
To be fair, he had struck out 11 times in those 31 at-bats, but Flowers has looked fluid in the batter’s box more often than at any other time in his career. And as MLB.com’s Scott Merkin noted, the right-handed hitter has brought balance to the bottom of the order.
Perhaps the shoulder injury that required surgery this past offseason was the reason he failed to capitalize on the opportunity to be the starting catcher last year. Perhaps 2013 was the true measure of his capabilities. Time will tell, but Flowers is off to one heck of a start.
Disappointment: The Bullpen
The bullpen has been an utter letdown.
Going into action on Sunday, the relief corps had compiled a 7.53 ERA, .302 batting average against and had issued 23 walks in 34.2 innings, according to splits taken from Baseball-Reference.com. Worse yet, they have converted on only one of the five save opportunities the starting pitching and offense have handed them after Matt Lindstrom's meltdown Sunday afternoon.
And then there’s this nugget CSN Chicago’s Christopher Kamka shared after Saturday’s 12-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians:
White Sox have now allowed 28 runs in innings 7-9 through 12 games this season. Average of 2.33 per game.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 12, 2014
At the heart of the bullpen’s struggles are Scott Downs and Ronald Belisario. Between the two, they have given up 12 earned runs and have walked six batters in only 7.0 innings pitched. Both were counted on to provide much more to the White Sox than they have to this point, and without legitimate contributions from them, manager Robin Ventura will have to continue juggling the matchups.
Now, it’s not all negative. Daniel Webb, Jake Petricka and Maikel Cleto have pitched fairly well. Sure, they have allowed too many inherited runners to score, but by and large, they have been bright spots in an otherwise dire situation.
Disappointment: Felipe Paulino, SP
Felipe Paulino is the gift that keeps on giving—to the other team. Now, it’s not as though anyone expected him to challenge for the Cy Young award, but his performance to this point is quite disappointing.
In three starts covering 14.2 innings, Paulino has yielded 13 earned runs, given up four home runs and walked nine batters. It has been even worse than those numbers would indicate. In his last start against the Cleveland Indians, for example, he allowed the leadoff man to reach base in each of the first four innings.
To fully comprehend how poor he is pitching, consider that Paulino has a 7.02 FIP (fielding independent pitching), surrenders 2.45 home runs every nine innings and has a .346 batting average on balls in play against him, according to FanGraphs. In other words, the free-agent acquisition is getting hit hard every time out.
The reality of the situation is not lost on the right-hander, via CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes:
It’s frustrating because I know in my past I never missed my pitch up. It’s something that’s happening right now and I have to figure it out. The season just started … I’m worries too sometimes because I want to be good for the team. I want to make the White Sox win. But it’s baseball. It’s a long season. I believe in myself and that I’m going to be OK.
Let’s hope so. There may not be many more chances for Paulino to prove his worth. To be sure, he is not in danger of being designated for assignment next week, but with Andre Rienzo, Eric Surkamp and Scott Carroll pitching fairly well at Triple-A Charlotte, general manager Rick Hahn has options to replace him on the 25-man roster.
Surprise: Alexei Ramirez, SS
Alexei Ramirez is off to the hottest start of his career—by a wide margin. Not only has he safely hit in all 13 games this season (14 overall if the two hits he collected in last season’s finale are included), but he has been the White Sox’s best hitter.
Overall, Ramirez has compiled a .420/.463/.680 slash line and hit three home runs with 12 runs driven in. More impressive than his overall body of work is how well he has performed in with runners in scoring position.
Going into Sunday’s game, he was 6-for-11 with eight RBI, four doubles and had a 1.455 OPS with runners in scoring position. Then, for good measure, he hit a game-winning, two-run home run against the Cleveland Indians. Talk about coming through in pressure situations.
He is also flashing some serious leather at shortstop, making 12 plays out of the zone in only 106.0 innings when play began on Sunday, per FanGraphs. Compared to last season when he only made 65, that’s really quite impressive.
And oh, he recently passed D’Angelo Jimenez for the longest hitting streak to start the season for a shortstop, according to Baseball-Reference (Play Index subscription required).