Defense a key for Nicky Delmonico in 2018

Defense a key for Nicky Delmonico in 2018

For nearly all of last season, I fell into the “anti-tank” camp of the White Sox world because racking up losses just meant (with infrequent exceptions) that players that are potentially important for the future weren’t playing well. Most players on the roster were either being counted on to play an important role in the White Sox’ future, could potentially be traded for a non-trivial return, or were unheralded young players that could stake their claim to a long-term role with a breakout performance. There were a few players on short-term deals with zero or negligible trade value, but you could call the performance of everyone else on the roster “important” to varying degrees. It’s why I took no joy in the 2-17 stretch in the dog days of July, because there wasn’t a single breakout or surprise player to latch onto.

Then, the calendar flipped to August and Nicky Delmonico happened.

In early 2017’s Cody Asche (remember him?) era, I was beating the drum for a Delmonico promotion not only because Asche was so bad, but because Delmonico had been posting impressive contact and plate discipline stats at Triple-A Charlotte. His early-season success waned as the summer dragged on, but once he got promoted to the major leagues, you’d never know he slumped. Delmonico reached base in 21 of his first 22 games and posted excellent plate control stats (18.7 percent strikeout rate, 13.9 percent walk rate) in the majors. He was worth about a full win in just 166 plate appearances, so extrapolate that to about a full-season’s workload and Delmonico’s a 4-WAR player!

OK, let’s not get carried away.

Delmonico’s offense was very good last season, but there’s certainly some concerns for regression. As I looked into this past fall, Statcast identified Delmonico’s contact profile as weak compared to his results. He hit a lot of soft ground balls and had some cheap homers (plus an inside-the-parker, which is obviously fluky). Still, even after stripping out the non-repeatable stuff, Delmonico’s plate approach was still good enough for a .325 Expected Weighted On-Base-Average (xwOBA). This decade, the league-wide wOBA for left fielders has fluctuated between .317 and .327, so assuming the league doesn’t “figure him out”, the bat plays even without the luck.

With no established DH on the roster as of yet, Delmonico has a clear avenue to at-bats regardless of how the White Sox decide to sort out their outfield. The knock on Delmonico has long been that he doesn’t have a defensive position, so there’s some justification for pushing him to DH to make room for players with more of a reputation for glove work. However, doing that would hard-cap Delmonico’s upside and potential utility to the competitive rosters of the future. A .325 wOBA from DH (assuming Delmonico can repeat his performance) would be thoroughly unremarkable. The White Sox would be better-served to give Delmonico some run in the outfield to see whether something clicks — especially because he’s never proven he can’t do it.

Delmonico was moved around the infield in his six-year minor league career, but only logged a total of 33 games in the outfield. He understandably looked very rough out there at times (especially on this play), but there’s plenty of hope that he could play left field well enough given time to iron out the kinks. Despite small-sample caveats, the three major defensive metrics (Ultimate Zone Rating, Defensive Runs Saved, Fielding Runs Above Average) all put him within a rounding error of being an average left fielder, with UZR and FRAA particularly liking his range while dinging him for mishaps. Meanwhile, Statcast’s Catch Probability suggested he did about what could be expected of him:

  • 5-star plays (0% – 25% probability): 1-for-7, 14.3%
  • 4-star plays (26% – 50% probability): N/A
  • 3-star plays (51% – 75% probability): 4-for-7, 57.1%
  • 2-star plays (76% – 90% probability): 7-for-9, 77.8%
  • 1-star plays (91% – 100% probability): 6-for-6, 100%

Overall, he made one fewer play than the average player over his chances. For comparison, Melky Cabrera didn’t convert a single 4- or 5-star play in 58 chances and was just 4-12 (33%) on 3-star plays last year, so Delmonico at least looks like an upgrade over what we’re used to. He seems to have the athleticism for left field, so if he can learn route-running skills (no easy task for a career infielder), there’s a chance that he could become an average-to-plus defensive left fielder. That will take time and reps, so it might behoove him to have a buddy swat fly balls at him over the winter, if he’s not doing it already.

If  a .325 wOBA is around Delmonico’s true offensive talent, it’s easy to see what a big difference defense makes in his future role. If he’s a bad defensive left fielder, that probably pushes him to a spot-starter / DH role and makes him a below-average player. If he’s average in left, that’s a start-able, roughly league-average corner guy. If he’s good with the glove, suddenly he becomes a player that you’re happy to run out there as a starter on a contending team. As unlikely as that might sound, the White Sox would be wise to use this rebuilding year to find out rather than toss the possibility aside.

What makes that decision even easier is the lack of compelling alternatives. Presumably, Delmonico only gets squeezed out of left field if Avisail Garcia doesn’t get traded (which is likely) and Adam Engel or Charlie Tilson shove a healthy Leury Garcia over to a corner. Engel didn’t show anywhere near enough promise at the plate to justify marginalizing Delmonico’s role and Tilson hasn’t shown anywhere near enough health to prioritize his needs. The White Sox got a fortunate boon when Delmonico burst onto the scene from well off of the top prospect radar to produce at the major league level. It’s now up to the organization to make the most of him.

23+

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soxygen
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soxygen

If Nicky bis roughly an average defender and Avi isn’t traded, then I think his 2018 playing time will depend on the Eloy situation (not on a scenario in which Leury shifts to LF).

Right Size Wrong Shape
Member
Right Size Wrong Shape

I agree completely; Nicky should be given every chance to prove he can’t play leftfield.  I think with enough reps he could become adequate.  Also, agree with Soxygen, I think Leury goes back to a supersub role rather than becoming the everyday LF (although I think he’s the best everyday CF option).

katiesphil
Member
katiesphil

Thanks, Patrick. I agree that Nicky should be given every opportunity (within reason) to become something valuable. Part of rebuilding is finding pleasant surprises and he may well be one. Just tossing it around, I think he could become if Not-Actually Carlos Quinten, close enough. He already seems to have the smolder-appeal.

karkovice squad
Member
karkovice squad

The best case scenario for Delmonico is Robert being a plus defensive CFer with Jimenez in RF. That could take the pressure off his glove enough to have a spot in the field.

Josh Nelson
Editor

I think 5 White Sox hitters will beat their ZiPS projection in 2018. Nicky Delmonico is one of them as you outlined, Pnoles. I think he can be 110 wRC+ hitter that’s average with the glove. Not sure how the arm will play out in LF, though. I sure as hell know it doesn’t play well at 3B.

Maybe Delmonico in the second half of 2018 will get more reps at 1B than at DH. I wonder if we see that in Spring Training.

Eagle Bones
Member
Eagle Bones

I admittedly didn’t see a ton of Delmonico on the IF, but I didn’t think his arm was the problem.  Am I reading this wrong?

Josh Nelson
Editor

I watched a lot of Charlotte Knights games last year. Delmonico is a bit wild with his throws from 3B.

Rex Fermier
Member
Rex Fermier

Hopefully then he doesn’t have to throw to first from Left Field!
<smile>

Eagle Bones
Member
Eagle Bones

Ah I thought you meant arm strength, not accuracy.  Carry on.

ChiZou11
Member
ChiZou11

Is Yolmer one of them?  I believe that, if he gets consistent reps at 3B, he can be close to what we saw last year.

Josh Nelson
Editor

Speaking of ZiPS Projections, I just asked Dan in his Fangraphs chat which White Sox hitter he thinks ZiPS is low on:

 

Josh Nelson
2:04
The last two seasons a White Sox hitter has far surpassed their ZiPS projection (Adam Eaton in 2016, Avisail Garcia in 2017). Which White Sox hitter going into 2018 do you think ZiPS is low on?
Dan Szymborski
2:05
Maybe Tim Anderson.  He has the tools still I think to suddenly put it all together
Especially defensively
karkovice squad
Member
karkovice squad

He definitely deserves a shot to stick in the field. With the caveats that Delmonico both doesn’t really have anything like their defensive tools and is playing on the opposite side of the field, the team’s recent track record with getting improvement out of both Eaton and Avi gives some reason to think they might help him figure out enough of the position to be serviceable.

Because of what he showed with the bat, even if it regresses to expectations, his improvement doesn’t have to be as dramatic as theirs to really make it worthwhile.

Greens
Member
Greens

After seeing him in Spring Training, I was surprised at how good his swing looked. He has nice balance at the plate, looks as though he’s direct to the ball.

Are bunts included with exit velocities, or when determining what classifies as a weak ground ball/hit? He had a few bunt base hits against the shift, and I’m wondering if those dragged those numbers down.

It looked like his defense in LF got better as the season wore on, which only makes sense. I think given enough reps he can be league average or better. At the very least he should be able to competently fill-in if he isn’t there every day.

Anyways, good article. Thanks for posting. Nicky is an easy guy to root for.

loch
Member
loch

Using Pnoles’s assessment it sounds as if the best outcome is either a fourth outfielder or trading him off with some value. I agree he probably won’t be a top of the line defender, which makes his best likely outcome an average left fielder.

And as Soxygen points out, Eloy is eventually happening.

gibby32
Member
gibby32

If you think that’s the best outcome, you should reread the post.  Now, most likely positive outcome, perhaps.

loch
Member
loch

Maybe I should have capitalized “best likely outcome” in my comment, or italicized.

Or I could just say “you should reread” my comment.

Sophist
Member
Sophist

or not wrote both “best outcome” and “best likely outcome”. I see the different ways you’re using them, but the nuance is slight.

Eagle Bones
Member
Eagle Bones

Hey pnoles – Great write-up! Where do you get the x stats like xwOBA?  Been looking around for these and can’t seem to find them anywhere.  Thanks!

Jason.Wade17
Member
Jason.Wade17

I’m rooting for Nicky, but this article reminds me how crowded the outfields are in Chicago, AAA, and the lower levels.  The Sox have a lot of shuffling of guys to do.  Sure, most of them are probably throwaways, but they still gotta play somewhere.

35Shields
Member
35Shields

Only crowded in the sense that there are physically a lot of outfielders. Not crowded in the sense that there’s an abundance of OF talent in Chicago.

 

Delmonico, Engel, Tilson, Leury and Cordell are all likely fourth OF / utility types, each with slightly different reasons for hoping they could be more.

Jason.Wade17
Member
Jason.Wade17

Agreed, and I won’t lose sleep if any of these guys get DFA’d or relegated to the bench but those five, Palka and Willie Garcia each need to fit in 2 spots on the lineup or Charlotte outfield.  And in the not too distant future they need to make room for the real prospects that also have logjams in Kannapolis and Winston Salem.  I’m just saying I feel like the White Sox need to make decisions on most of these guys sooner than later.

Eagle Bones
Member
Eagle Bones

They’re going to carry at least one backup OF and they can cycle through to make sure that guy gets PAs.  DH is also essentially vacant at this point, so that’s another spot.  This is probably just what depth looks like.  I can’t say for sure because I’ve never seen it on this team.

Jason.Wade17
Member
Jason.Wade17

Psh, DH is not vacant.  I’ve got Casey Gillaspie penciled in for 500 AB and 35 HR’s this year.

gibby32
Member
gibby32

Very solid analysis, Patrick.  Based on current status, the Sox have a likely opening at DH.  They also have a number of outfielders that they want to look at.  Nicky is in a flex position as to both.  If Casey Gillaspie is a plausible DH, Nicky is an outfielder.  If some combination of Leury, Tilson, and Cordell are plausible outfielders, then Nicky may have to look to DH.  I left out Engel because at best he is a reserve outfielder and that will depend on how others perform.

jsb_sox_23
Member
jsb_sox_23

Don’t forget about Ryan Cordell!

Anohito
Member
Anohito

NickyD pretty much saved the second half of the 2017 season. His explosive bat but even moreso his enthusiasm and that beaming smile coming from what we all know was his rough journey up just makes it impossible not to root for the guy and keep rooting for him. Sure there’s roster crunch, crowded outfield, and all that but seeing him just makes you want to simplify it all into yelling BOOM STEAK DINNER!

SouthPawJackson
Member
SouthPawJackson

Nice assessment! Maybe the Sox could get  Rowand or One Dog to work with him on route running and fly ball tracking during spring training.

winningugly
Member

NICKY NOT ONLY STARTS, HE FINISHES!  HE WILL BE TEAM MVP.

That is all.  Gotta set the fucking tone at the outset with you people.

KenWo4LiFe
Member
KenWo4LiFe

I like him. Hope he performs well. Is third base entirely out of the question

MadManx
Member
MadManx

He was fucking brutal in spring training at third

Jim Margalus
Admin

And Charlotte.

BCurley3
Member
BCurley3

Great article. I agree that this is the year to test Delmonico out and make a determination on future use.

I do think he is athletic enough to make a transition to left field successfully (defensively) if he puts in the work. Then it’s a matter or remaining consistent with the bat. It would be a great development for the organization!

Joist
Member
Joist

Obviously Delmonico doesn’t have his pedigree, but is an Alex Gordon-esque defensive improvement in the cards? How was Gordon at 3rd before he was moved to LF?

Joist
Member
Joist

Also, any idea why I post a comment and it immediately says I posted it 5 hours ago? Or am I just drinking too much at work again?

Ted Mulvey
Editor

Yup, it’s a time zone setting thing that Jim is aware of and looking into.

MrTopaz
Member
MrTopaz

Off topic, but I saw MLB Pipeline tweet that Jake Burger is tweaking his swing this off season for more loft (don’t know how to embed on this new/old site). I don’t know if his swing was a problem last year, but since I’ve seen it compared to Todd Frazier’s I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic.

Jim Margalus
Admin
MrTopaz
Member
MrTopaz

Thank you!

yoyo
Member
yoyo

I like the idea of Delmonico getting some infrequent reps at 1B also.  Adding to his availability can only be good for him (if he is decent defensively)

yinkadoubledare
Member
yinkadoubledare

Presumably they will also make Gillaspie report on the first day: “Today’s Date is February 14”

https://twitter.com/whitesox/status/948683171444518913

asinwreck
Member
asinwreck

Underrated.  (Is this the first “underrated” post on Sox Machine?)

Jim Margalus
Admin

If you’re wondering why comments are in blue, the closest simple fix I can find to “mark as read” is “highlight unread.”

Joliet Orange Sox
Member
Joliet Orange Sox

Thanks for the simple fix.  I like the idea.  However, on my screen the blue is very faint.  I would prefer more noticeable highlighting.

I’m also glad that the avatars are back to being squares not circles.

Son of Gargamel
Member
Son of Gargamel

Nicky Delmonico is one o’ them pretty boys. Y’know who else was a pretty boy? Scotty Pods. Still is maybe. But then again, you’d look like a pretty boy too…if they sat you next to Joe Crede after somebody stuck a pump up his ass at the Mark Buerhle Day ceremony. My point is: every great team needs a pretty boy. Look at the ’48 Indians for example.

littlelooie
Member
littlelooie

OKaaay.  Here you all are! Due to rosterbation phobia I don’t check in a lot over the winter so this is a big surprise. I do not in general like change but I’ll do my best to get used to this site, adjust to the different formats, and play nice here when spring training starts.  It seems like the very  least I can do when my team is also having to adjust to a rebuild and endure much change.  Glad to see so many of the same old faces and same old writers, though.  Nicely done analysis on Delmonico here Pnoles, and congrats Jim.

Rock's Sox
Member
Rock's Sox

Good stuff, Pnoles. I’m excited to see the progression of Delmonico this season.

Un Perro
Member

I am perpetually astounded by our fanbase’s willingness to countenance Melky Cabrera, and even insist that he wasn’t actively killing the team/somehow had trade value, yet continue to insist that Delmonico in his current form is a DH/1B type.  This team has been trotting out a DH in LF since Dayan Viciedo (arguably Juan Pierre with his noodle arm, except he had no bat to boot).  If Nicky makes any defensive improvements he’ll be the best starting defensive LF this decade, which is incredibly sad, but if he runs even a 110 wRC+ you’re looking at a league average player with his regular bad defense.  If last season wasn’t a fluke maybe he turns into Pat Burrell.

Clearly I’d rather have an average or even above-average defender out there, and let’s all hope that’s Eloy, but Nicky is more than adequate to keep trotting out there for now. Glad to see him finally get the chance.

gibby32
Member
gibby32

It’w weird to argue that Melky didn’t have trade value when we traded him for a plausible reliever.  I don’t disagree with your point that Delmonico has some promise, but there’s no need to exaggerate Melky’s failings in order to make that point.

Un Perro
Member

Fair point, but I would note that very few GMs other than Dayton Moore would trade even two low-value relief prospects for a replacement level player still owed $4.5MM.

Un Perro
Member

I broke out the partial seasons on his FG page and disregarded the disparity before I posted. You’re quibbling over the half-win error bars on a half-season sample? 

He was a league average bat and one of, if not the, worst starting LF in the Show at the time of the trade.  Looking at his post-injury tenure, there was nothing to suggest he was anything more than that.

In any event, Gibby was right.  I didn’t need to shitpost on Melky again just to express relative optimism about Nicky.  My point was only that pessimism isn’t really warranted w/r/t Delmonico given the past decade of White Sox left fielders. This is the most optimistic I’ve been in a while.

Jim Margalus
Admin

One of the biggest surprises from the Catch Probability unveiling to me was how poorly Melky fared. He didn’t lose his composure along the warning track like Viciedo did, which made him seem far more playable.

That said, Melky’s arm >>> Nicky’s arm. Guy had that thing calibrated in left field.

Lurker Laura
Member
Lurker Laura

Nicky = Pat Burrell would be an excellent outcome.

Un Perro
Member

Absolutely. I don’t think it’s terribly likely. Nicky is a year later to the show, and they have different contact profiles–Burrell walked more and struck out more, and had more pop in the minors–but I also think Nicky’s defensive floor could be a little higher than Burrell’s.

Trooper Galactus
Member

I was pleasantly surprised by Nicky’s arrival, but count me skeptical on his ability to play left field.  I didn’t think he was much of an athlete nor that he was anything more than an average runner at best.  He would need to develop instincts for high efficiency routes really fast in order to be even an average left fielder, which seems like a tall order for a single year.  Still, I do agree that the White Sox would be well served to give him as much playing time out there as they can spare.

winningugly
Member

YOU ARE A LYING BASTARD.  NICKY TRANSCENDS SKEPTICISM.  HE ALSO DOESN’T NEED YOU TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT HIMSELF, as evidence by his holding court at SoxFest.

ENJOY EATING YOUR SKEPTICISM, LYING BASTARD.  🙂