White Sox Nation cringed a little the second Nick Swisher drew a walk in the 9th inning to load the bases with one out, down by one against Toronto's closer B.J. Ryan.
This is of course, not a knock against Swisher, whose talent for walking is one of the major reasons Kenny Williams traded for him. Rather, it was the cringing of knowing the on-deck hitter was manager's pet and easily replaceable commodity, Pablo Ozuna.
Of course, with a guy of his speed, few would have predicted the game-ending double play that resulted. However, with the game on the line, why didn't the White Sox pinch hit for a hitter who has amassed all of a 0.5 VORP total over the last three seasons (505 plate appearances)?
The reason was simple: There was no one better available.
Joe Crede was out with a migraine. Toby Hall (who, admittedly, would have been an even worse option despite the fact that B.J. Ryan is left-handed) had already been replaced. Brian Anderson was pinch running and standing on third base. Alexei Ramirez was busy not being allowed into Canada.
This has been the most recent of several situations in which the White Sox have had to send a replacement-level hitter to the plate in a game-deciding situation. This is due in large part to the fact that the Sox insist on keeping 7 arms in the bullpen, rather than 5 hitters on the bench. I say that having 7 arms in the bullpen is a luxury, not a necessity, and that it's a luxury only teams with an adequate bench can have.
As of today, Brian Anderson is the best White Sox hitter off of the bench. Gone are the days of reliable pinch-hitter Ross Gload and solid 4th outfielder Rob Mackowiak. In recent memory, the White Sox have always had solid, if unspectacular bats off the bench, and it's something that White Sox Nation probably took for granted a little.
You almost have to wonder if the White Sox would be better served having a power bat like Brad Eldred on the 25-man roster. Eldred probably strikes out too much to cut it in the big leagues even as a bench player right now, but the thought of Pablo Ozuna having more at-bats like that with the game on the line makes Big Brad an intriguing thought.
However, the most likely aids for the ailing Sox bench are in the forms of Jerry Owens and Danny Richar returning from injury. Unfortunately, only one of these men can be considered a solution. Despite the "success" of Jerry Owens last year as a leadoff man and base stealer, the fact of the matter is, a player with his skill set simply isn't very valuable. Think of him as the outfield version of Pablo Ozuna. When you watch Jerry Owens play, you don't see anything wrong with him. However, he has such an utter lack of power that pitchers simply pound the strike zone against him to the point where his above-average batting eye is only good enough to make him a replacement-level hitter (-1.1 VORP in 2007). When's the last time you've seen a White Sox regular have a .312 slugging percentage? That's far below even Scott Podsednik territory! So it's what Owens doesn't do, rather than what he does do, that hurts the Sox.
And so, the White Sox can only pray that Danny Richar is on his way back in the not-too-distant future, or perhaps that some help from the free talent pool is available. The impact of bench players can easily be overstated, but there's no question that having a good bench as opposed to a bad one can be the difference between winning and losing a few games over the course of the season.
In any case, something needs to be done about this problem, because the crew of Anderson, Ramirez, Ozuna, and Hall is the worst backup corps the White Sox have seen riding the pines in this lifetime. I miss you Ross Gload. I really do.
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