Crazy 88: With Luis Robert now expected to be on this year’s Opening Day roster, the offense should be absolutely lethal. (@KnightsBaseball)
Thanks to the extension of potential superstar outfielder Luis Robert, the Opening Day roster looks relatively set — at least on the offensive side. That’s not to say that there’s a bit of uncertainty, as the White Sox could still pursue a second base option in case the team feels Nick Madrigal isn’t quite ready for Opening Day. Also, the possibility exists for a right-handed platoon for Nomar Mazara in right field (Hunter Pence, Kevin Pillar or Yasiel Puig may make some sense there, if they’re willing to accept a platoon scenario). While Madrigal may receive a preseason extension, chances are the White Sox pass for now, due in part to his lack of power potential.
Anyway, here’s what this Sox fan would like to see (assuming that Madrigal does make the Opening Day squad) versus righties and southpaws.
Lineup vs. righties
(1) Nick Madrigal — 2B. Perhaps I’m a little old school, but I prefer my leadoff hitters to run like the wind and see enough pitches to work the opposing pitcher’s counts. Enter Madrigal. In the minors, he slashed a terrific .325/.395/.407 against righthanders in 2019. He obviously knows how to handle the bat, and isn’t afraid to hit with two strikes because of his impeccable ability to make contact. Infield defenses will likely play him to bunt, which could free up numerous opportunities to poke base hits through the infield. Sure, Madrigal’s walk total (44) last year wasn’t all that impressive; however, he still would’ve led last year’s White Sox squad with that number if he wouldn’t have played in the shortened minor league schedule. Expect Madrigal to walk a bit more with experience as he acquaints himself with each pitcher.
(2) Yasmani Grandal — C. This actually was a difficult call for me, as I was toying putting Yoán Moncada here. Grandal’s OBP (.372) versus righties was similar to Moncada’s, but Moncada owned a significantly higher slugging percentage versus righties than Grandal. Thus, I’d prefer to see Moncada in a lineup position where he could drive in more runs. Grandal makes an excellent No. 2 hitter here with his .372 OBP and .441 SP, and as evidenced by his 109 walks last year, he’s willing to take pitches that would allow Madrigal more opportunities to steal bases.
(3) Eloy Jiménez — LF. The easy choice would be to go with José Abreu here, but his numbers last year simply didn’t stack up to those Jiménez compiled against righties. Jiménez provided far better offensive numbers against righties (.270/.313/.535) than the veteran first baseman, and his 31 homers despite missing 40 games show he should be a force for quite a long time. While he struck out at a high clip last year (134), Jiménez did improve as the season went along and has a history of adapting and learning from mistakes.
(4) Edwin Encarnación — DH. Despite missing essentially one-third of last season due to injuries, Encarnación still managed to club 34 homers and knock in 86 runs. He did strike out his fair share (103), but posted a solid walk total of 58. Encarnación has hit at least 32 homers in each of his last eight seasons, and if he’s healthy, should continue to produce similar numbers. Despite a relatively low average last year versus righties (.244), he still provided a respectable .332 OBP and .510 SP.
(5) Yoán Moncada — 3B. The 24-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019, yet it seems like he’s merely scratching the surface. All he did last year was slash .315/.367/.548 with 34 doubles and 25 homers, despite missing 30 games due to injuries. Moncada’s numbers were even better versus righties (.322/.377/.569), and he should provide ample protection for Jiménez and Encarnacón in this lineup. He’s also stolen double-digit bases in each of his first two seasons, and he could easily be one of four regulars to do so in 2020.
(6) José Abreu —1B. It just makes more sense to place Eloy in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. Abreu’s still no slouch, as his .284/.330/.503 slash line with 72 extra-base hits and 126 RBI last year attest. However, his slash line versus righties was relatively weak in 2019 (.257/.298/.472) so it actually makes sense to drop him to sixth in the lineup. He should still receive plenty of RBI opportunities with the bats in front of him.
(7) Luis Robert — CF. By the end of the year, Robert could very well spend time at every single lineup position. He clearly has the speed to be a leadoff hitter, as he swiped 36 bases in an abbreviated minor league season in 2019. He’s also got massive power potential, as displayed by his 32 homers (16 of which came in just 47 games, with half hit in Birmingham where bats often go to die). Robert also posted lofty slash lines against righties and southpaws alike, but I like giving him a little left-handed protection with Nomar Mazara batting behind him for now. Versus righties in the minors last year, all Robert did was slash .315/.373/.580. The only concern with Robert offensively is his pitch selection, as he walked just 28 times as opposed to 129 strikeouts last year.
(8) Nomar Mazara — RF. Mazara’s provided consistently decent yet uninspiring offensive numbers with Texas during each of the last four seasons. Perhaps he was a victim of high expectations? He was regularly ranked among MLB’s Top 50 prospects prior to his 2016 Rangers debut, and he was asked to play against both righties and lefties. Certainly, his numbers versus southpaws last year left much to be desired (.220/.252/394), but he still provided quality numbers when facing righthanders (.288/.344/.500). Last year, he clubbed 27 doubles and 19 homers, which is a massive upgrade from what the White Sox ran out in right field.
(9) Tim Anderson — SS. I know what you’re thinking: The league’s batting champ hits ninth? But I like Tim here for two reasons. The first is that he has well-chronicled on-base deficiencies, so if he’s not hitting, he’s not on base; secondly, he’d basically serve as a second leadoff man when the lineup turns over. Anderson, surprisingly, enjoyed a better season versus righties than when opposing southpaws, with a .339/.360/.514. Of course, this was aided by a perhaps fluky .399 BABIP. I’m expecting some drop-off here, perhaps to a .349 BABIP which would be squarely between Anderson’s 2018 and 2019 numbers. With Madrigal’s ability to handle the bat, expect more stolen bases and hit-and-run opportunities with Anderson in this spot in the lineup. Of course, if Madrigal gets off to a slow start, Anderson and Madrigal could easily be switched.
Additional notes: In 29 games for Charlotte last year, Madrigal slashed .331/.398/.424 with 13 walks and just five strikeouts; thus, it’s hard for me to believe he truly won’t be MLB-ready to begin the 2020 season. It’s difficult to believe they’d hold him down for contractual purposes, since the White Sox clearly plan on being in a close race with Cleveland and Minnesota as evidenced especially by the Encarnacion signing. If Madrigal doesn’t make the trip north for Opening Day, however, Danny Mendick would likely slot to the ninth spot while Anderson would shift to leadoff. It’s easy to like the versatility of this lineup, and the bench will feature numerous defense and pinch-running options with Adam Engel, Leury García and Danny Mendick. James McCann also provides leadership and defensive skills (excluding framing) as the backup catcher, and would be valuable as a No. 8 or 9 hitter in this lineup (.265/.311/.448 in 2019 vs. righties). Also, with just three lefty bats in this lineup, I spread those hitters three batters apart from each other to make it more difficult for opponents to use their best bullpen southpaws against them.
Lineup vs. lefties
(1) Nick Madrigal — 2B. Despite better slugging numbers, his numbers dropped to more pedestrian levels against southpaws in 2019, as he slashed a still-respectable .278/.338/.431. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him better those numbers, even while donning a major league uniform, in 2020.
(2) Yoán Moncada — 3B. Moncada enjoyed a much-improved 2019, and nowhere was this more evident than when opposing southpaws. In 2018 against lefties, he slashed just .209/.287/.297; in 2019, he slashed .299/.345/.500. I’ve switched Grandal and Moncada vs. lefties, because Grandal’s power numbers are significantly more impressive.
(3) José Abreu — 1B. While Abreu had his struggles against righties last year, the same can’t be said against southpaws. In 2019, he slashed an impressive .360/.418/.591 against them.
(4) Edwin Encarnación — DH. While Encarnación was solid against righties, he fared even better against southpaws last year, with a .245/.375/.594 slash line.
(5) Yasmani Grandal — C. Like Encarnación, Grandal was quite good against righties. However, when as a right-handed batter versus lefties, he performed even better, to the tune of a .258/.397/.529 slash line. This would be nice protection for Abreu and Encarnación indeed.
(6) Eloy Jiménez — LF. Jiménez’s numbers, though quite good, dropped off slightly against southpaws in 2019. That’s not to say when he was bad by any stretch (.259/.322/.459). It’s a credit to the rest of this lineup that he actually drops to sixth versus lefties.
(7) Luis Robert — CF. Robert absolutely murdered lefties last year, to the tune of .356/.386/.719. Of course, those numbers were against minor league competition, so the verdict’s still out for him in 2020. If Robert continues to mash lefties as this rate next year, he likely will move up significantly higher in the lineup.
(8) Tim Anderson — SS. I kept wavering between inserting Anderson here and the leadoff spot. The reason I have Anderson eighth is because he simply provides stronger lineup protection for Robert than would either of the next two hitters. If others disagree with this spot, I certainly wouldn’t argue. For the year, Anderson slashed .326/.351/.493, which isn’t too shabby.
(9) Leury García — RF. García is a better defensive alternative than Mazara, and has generally produced far better numbers versus southpaws throughout his career. Last year as a right-handed hitter, García slashed a respectable .311/.344/.443. While García likely won’t be a game-changer as a right-handed platoon, he’d add a little speed element (15 stolen bases) with his defense.
Additional notes: As good as the team’s lineup appears versus righties, the lineup opposing southpaws should be even more lethal. On games in which Grandal sits, the offense shouldn’t suffer much with McCann in the lineup, as he slashed .295/.372/.492 against southpaws last year. The same caveat for righties as above applies for Madrigal; if Mendick or some other player begins the year at second to open the season, Anderson could easily slot leadoff while García and the second baseman hit in the eighth and ninth roles. The lineup above features five guys with double-digit stolen bases (Madrigal, Moncada, Robert, Anderson and García) while Mendick and Engel also provide stolen base potential off the bench.