What Playoff Offenses Do Well That the White Sox Don’t

What Playoff Offenses Do Well That the White Sox Don’t

Following up on my piece trying to determine how far away the White Sox are from having an average lineup, I went one step further to see what teams that make the postseason do well. Looking at the last ten years (2008-2018), I compiled various hitting and pitching metrics to track trends and averaged out the results hoping to find some type of baseline in performance. In total, the data extracted was for 102 teams regular season numbers and compiled from Baseball-Reference.com.

Before highlighting the trends, a quick look at how dismal the White Sox were in 2018 (NSFW).

R/G BA OBP SLG OPS+ BB% K%
White Sox Offense 4.05 0.241 0.302 0.401 93 7.00% 26.26%

I apologize for reminding you how terrible the season was, but it does get worse when you compare those same numbers to what the average metrics are of postseason teams the last ten years.

Offense

Offense R/G BA OBP SLG OPS+ BB% K%
’18 White Sox 4.05 0.241 0.302 0.401 93 7.00% 26.26%
Avg. Playoff Team 4.72 0.261 0.331 0.423 102 8.74% 19.43%

In 2018, the Chicago White Sox ranked 24th in runs per game as the season’s MLB average was 4.45 R/G. There have been multiple teams to reach the postseason scoring fewer runs per game:

  • 2013: Los Angeles Dodgers (4.01 R/G) and Pittsburgh Pirates (3.91 R/G)
  • 2014: Kansas City Royals (4.02 R/G) and St. Louis Cardinals (3.82 R/G)
  • 2015: St. Louis Cardinals (3.99 R/G)

On average, a team that has made the postseason scored 765 runs during the season, or 4.72 R/G. In 2018, the Chicago White Sox only managed to score 656 runs, short by 109 runs. Last time the White Sox scored 765 runs or more was in 2008 when they crossed home plate 811 times. The best run production teams to make the postseason since 2008 have been the 2009 New York Yankees (5.65 R/G), the defending World Champion Houston Astros (5.53 R/G in 2017), and the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays (5.5 R/G). When you break down the average R/G by leagues, the American League, of course with the Designated Hitter, has averaged more runs per game.

  • American League: 4.90 R/G
  • National League: 4.54 R/G

Unless Jerry Reinsdorf has plans on moving the White Sox to the National League, the better number for this franchise is to aim for is scoring 4.9 runs per game. That’s 794 runs in a 162 game season, an increase of 138 runs from their 2018 output.

To help score more runs the front office needs to find hitters to improve the slash line. Batting average doesn’t have as strong of a trend line as the on-base percentage does with runs per game as you can see in the graphs below.

Slugging percentage has a better correlation to runs per game than the on-base percentage (0.736 to 0.624), but the best metric to use is OPS, which combines slugging and on-base percentages.

Now there is a problem with the usage of OPS that I have been at fault of many times. In Keith Law’s book, Smart Baseball, he explains why OPS is flawed.

OPS itself is just bad math. If you think back to fourth grade, you’ll remember that you can’t add two fractions with unlike denominators, yet that’s exactly what OPS does. On-base percentage is just the number of times a hitter reached base safely divided by most of his plate appearances. Slugging percentage is a hitter’s total bases divided by his at bats, a denominator that in nearly all cases will be smaller than the denominator of OBP because it doesn’t include walks, sacrifice flies, or times hit by pitch. If you do this in elementary school, you get a back a paper covered with red ink, and maybe a dunce cap. If you do it in baseball writing, you get a gold star.

I have lost track of the numerous times I’ve referenced OPS in a post, podcast, and radio appearance, but Law is right. We are better off speaking to an individual’s OBP and SLG because not all .800 OPS are created equal. One .800 OPS hitter could be split evenly with OBP and SLG (.400 each), and that’s a much different offensive profile of someone who has a .300 OBP and .500 SLG.

Funny thing is that team OPS works. From Law:

But, in spite of all the objections I raised above, the truth about OPS at the team level is that the damn thing works: it correlates better with team runs scored than OBP or SLG do alone. Where OBP’s coefficient of correlation to runs per game is .893, and slugging’s is .846, OPS’s is 0.914. It’s a modest improvement, but it is indeed better.

OPS does the job – in ugly fashion, yes, but it does it.

Teams that have made the postseason in the last ten years have an average OPS of .753. A slight difference between the two leagues as in the American League the average OPS is .764 and the National League is .743.

The 2018 White Sox had a team OPS of .703 which is way off the playoff average. First gap worth looking at is in the extra bases hit department. Instead of using the final sums it’s better to look at the rate of extra-base hits (XBH%). Last ten years the average playoff team has an XBH% of 8.1% with the AL at 8.3%. Here we have some good news as the White Sox this season had an XBH% of 7.9%, so not far off the pace.

Looking at where the White Sox left off in 2018, they are short in the following areas in slugging: doubles and home runs. It’s not a significant margin for either category as it’s just 26 doubles and six home runs off the AL playoff team pace. That’s like having another Yolmer Sanchez help out in the lineup.

I wrote about the White Sox continued problem with OBP earlier this season. With only 425 walks in 2018 (29th in MLB), the White Sox 7% walk rate is 1.74% below playoff team average. In 2018 that would have translated to 105 more team walks which is a significant chunk. That would raise the team OBP from a terrible .302 to .313.

They are behind in the total hits department. Looking at how many hits per plate appearance, the average playoff team gets a base hit 23.2% of the time for each PA. In 2018, the White Sox had a base hit in 21.9% of their plate appearances. That difference is 76 fewer hits.

Where those additional hits and walks should come from is cutting down on the strikeouts. I found Rick Hahn’s comments at his season end media session interesting where he came off not that concern about the team strikeout total.

“I’m not concerned about the number of strikeouts, no,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said Wednesday. “Yes, we have struck out a ton as a club. It’s up throughout baseball. If you look at the caliber of pitching right now, it’s no surprise strikeouts are up throughout the game.’’

Hahn is right. From 2008 to 2018, MLB has seen it’s average K% go from 17.5% to 22.3%, but few teams have seen a dramatic increase like his White Sox the past couple of seasons.

Since 2015 when the White Sox had a league average K% of 20.3%, they have seen a six percent increase and now hold the title for most team strikeouts in a season. Yes, strikeouts are on the rise, but this should be an area of concern for Hahn as his team’s totals are alarming compared to the league average.

For playoff contenders, they find a way to stay below league average, especially in the American League.

Season AL Playoff Team AVG K%
2018 20.59%
2017 19.68%
2016 20.45%
2015 19.36%
2014 18.70%

The gap in K% between the White Sox and their division rival Cleveland Indians this season is 7.39%. If the White Sox had the same K% as Cleveland, they would cut their strikeout total by 449. That’s 449 plate appearances could have ended in a different result. Based on the 2018 rates, the White Sox would have:

  • 98 more hits
  • 31 more walks
  • 13 more home runs (3% HR/PA)
  • 19 more doubles (4.2% 2B/PA)
  • Raise the team SLG from .402 to .427
  • 48 more runs scored (10.8% R/PA)
  • Four more wins

In the grand scheme, there’s not much of a difference between a 62 and 66 win ball club other than draft position, but the White Sox should take this strikeout issue seriously. This is a margin where the best teams in baseball are finding ways to reduce while the bad teams are whiffing more often. If this rebuild is going to produce a playoff team(s), the goal is building a roster that can generate 800 runs in a season. The White Sox are not that far off in the power game, but by not consistently putting the ball in play like their top competitors is why they are well short of that goal.

Perhaps experience will help fill that gap. In 2018, the White Sox position player average age was 26.5 years old. That’s two years younger than the average playoff team at 28.8 years old. Lessons learned from this atrocious season could be just the right building blocks to find improvement. Or, the majority of players on this roster are terrible and need to be replaced. Probably a mixture of both.

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GoGoSoxFan
Member

Well done Josh. Might I suggest you do a deep dive on the Sox run prevention vs. playoff teams?

CarolinaSoxFan
Member

One point of emphasis on the strikeouts. You note that the White Sox strikeout rate increased by six percent (from 20.3% to 26.2% – or just under 6 points) since 2015. But that only expresses the change in raw numbers.

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the rate of strike outs increased by nearly THIRTY percent, not six percent? (5.9/20.3 = .2906 or roughly 30%). I think that might be a better way to put this rate of change into perspective.

Nonetheless, this article was interesting and well-constructed, if a little disheartening. Of course, we already knew this years team was bad – anybody who saw them play regularly didn’t require any statistical analysis to be convinced of the fact. 🙂

asinwreck
Member

I have always enjoyed the fact that OPS is a junk statistic that is effective at revealing offensive effectiveness. KLaw summed it up nicely with the gold star comment.

Right Size Wrong Shape
Member

I know a lot of people hate Law, but Smart Baseball was a pretty good read.

As Cirensica
Member

Keep in mind that Law says it works when used on a per team basis. It does not work well at individual basis.

35Shields
Member

It works just fine on an individual basis.

According to this nice BP article, wRC+ and OPS+ are highly correlated – like really highly correlated – like approaching-perfect-linearity correlated (0.992 R^2).

And while we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting that team OPS actually has a higher correlation with runs than wOBA does.

As Cirensica
Member

wRC+ has his flaws. K. Law mentions it in his book (can’t remember in too much detail now..I think it has to do with it’s not park adjusted). Law prefers wOBA which for him is a superior stat over rWC+. That two stats with flaws correlates does not help too much.

35Shields
Member

wRC+ is literally just wOBA with park adjustments

As Cirensica
Member

I need to reread that chapter again…I have the feeling that there is much more between wOBA and wRC+

Jim Margalus
Admin

Jonathan Judge at BPro seems to think there is a critical flaw with wRC+, but I suppose we’ll find out in a few weeks.

GreatjonHumber
Member

I just did a quick sort on fangraphs and the Rockie’s home wRC+s are what you’d expect (a fairly normal distribution around 100). The aways are crazy. Average is about 81. I checked a bunch of other teams – an away wRC+ over 100 for a year is a rarity. I guess that’s to be expected to some expect, but the consistency of the results is troubling.

roke1960
Member

Excellent article Josh. With all that, how does Steverson still have a job? As a recall. he was brought in to improve OBP. This team has way too many guys that don’t walk and strikeout way too much. Is that on the player or on the coach? Since they are not going to get rid of all the players, a new approach might help. It certainly can’t hurt.

mikeyb
Member

I’m pretty indifferent to Steverson, but the idea that this is all his fault is hilarious. Here are the guys who got the most ABs for the Sox in 2018:

Yolmer Sanchez – A guy with a .699 OPS in AAA
Yoan Moncada – A 23 year old who struck out 30% of the time at AA and AAA
Tim Anderson – A guy who averaged 15 walks per season in the minors (and did raise his BB% 1.5% this season)
Jose Abreu – 🙁
Matt Davidson – A guy who struck out 30% of the time in AAA (in nearly 2000 PAs!)
Adam Engel – LOL

I have to imagine it’s not easy being a hitting coach when that’s what you’re working with.

knoxfire30
Member

This lineup is going to desperately need two major free agent additions. I dont see anyway around it. They dont get on base, they dont hit homers, they for whatever reason have not been able to put a respectable offense together despite playing with a dh and having 81 home games in a hitter friendly environment. Project out everyone in the system right now… how many “good” offensive players do you have??? 2 maybe 3? I feel great about the 2020 bullpen and good about the 2020 starting rotation but the offense is miserable. All the money the team has hoarded the last couple years and all the new revenue from the tv deal on the horizon needs to be fired at free agent bats.

roke1960
Member

As much as I’d like to see them upgrade center field, there just is no one except for Pollock that is worthwhile in this free agent class. And with Pollock’s injury history, he’s a big gamble. That is why Machado is a must this year. The 2019 free agent class isn’t great either. Hopefully by then, they will have an idea who will be part of the future core and who can be packaged in deals. They should be able to package 3 or 4 of their better prospects for a good hitter. They really need Robert and Madrigal to make big strides next year so they can be part of the 2020 team.

knoxfire30
Member

I think they can get creative in ways to avoid being pigeon holed into having just 1 or 2 free agent options each year. You bring up CF but what if say Moncada shifts to cf… well now maybe you have the option of a stud middle infield free agent… stuff like that. Im not exactly thrilled by the idea of trading prospects for a bat, when we have the available financial resources to just sign some, but its certainly an option. Watching the marlins closely to see how realmuto is going to be handled cause that is certainly a guy the sox should be in on if made available.

oljeto
Member

No agent would ever let his stud sign with this woeful team.  Timmy to center, Rondon (their best middle infielder) moves up, while they package Moncada, Avi and Giolito to get Arenado while they still have some buzz.
You buy or trade for pitching.  Cease is a keeper.  Everyone else is broken.

Trooper Galactus
Member

No agent would advise a player leave the biggest money offer on the table. The White Sox have to be willing to offer above and beyond their peers when the time comes, especially if this is the sort of team they’re asking players to sign up for.

lil jimmy
Member

Right you are. Highest offer wins almost always. And Chicago is a nice place to live.

knoxfire30
Member

exactly, its almost always highest offer and if the sox tie I dont think most teams have as good of spring facilities, a city better then chicago, or as good a place to hit like g rate…

roke1960
Member

I think Moncada ends up in the outfield too. If they can sign a stud 3rd baseman in the next two offseasons (Machado, Arenado or Rendon), and Madrigal makes it, then Moncada will have to move to the outfield. I still like an outfield of Eloy, Robert and Moncada in 2020.

mikeyb
Member

Madrigal is a 4’11” slap hitter who might cobble together 15 doubles and 10 SBs in a season for you. It blows my mind that people are writing off Moncada, who has both a higher ceiling and higher floor, for Madrigal.

As Cirensica
Member

Madrigal is taller than Altuve….MVP!

roke1960
Member

I am certainly not writing off Moncada. I think he will be a star. I just think he can play just about anywhere, and if Madrigal makes it, he can then move to the outfield.

oljeto
Member

No improvement possible without cleaning out the entire coaching staff.  Won’t happen, so save this article for a year from now.

WhereisRobin
Member

Although strikeouts don’t carry the positive possibility that putting the ball in play can, it can never turn into a double play without some poor baserunning happening in conjunction with it. It’s that sigh of relief when Adam Engel whiffs with bases load, one out, that at least our leadoff hitter has a chance.
2018 grounded into double play stats (via ESPN):
Range: 92 – 158
MLB median: 116.5
MLB avg: 117
Al avg: 119
White Sox: 101 (t-4th)

This may say more about how often the White Sox were able to put runners on the bases than anything. I was hoping to find a stat for GIDP opportunities because there’s no telling from the counting stats what teams were best at avoiding GIDP.

As Cirensica
Member

In 2018, the Chicago White Sox only managed to score 656 runs, short by 109 runs.

That is sooooo bad, that using the average 4.72 per Josh calculations, the White Sox needed a whopping of 23 extra games to score runs at an average clip.

Looking at where the White Sox left off in 2018, they are short in the following areas in slugging: doubles and home runs.

Machado will fix that

When Hahn says that he is not concerned about the %K the White Sox is posting, he is just admitting he is a fool. A strikeout is an out. The more outs you make, the worse your team offense is. So, yes, please, DO worry about the incresing K rate, and DO something about it.

Thanks for this article Josh…very interesting.

GreatjonHumber
Member

Strikeouts aren’t bad in a vacuum. An aggressive approach that leads to strikeouts and extra base hits is fine – numerous players and teams have succeeded with that formula. The Sox’ problem is that we strike out too much and also don’t hit the ball hard enough. It’s just too many at bats being given to untalented hitters.

roke1960
Member

Yes, that’s the problem. Nobody complained about Mike Trout striking out 130+ times each of his first 5 seasons. It’s what you do when you make contact. Palka’s strikeout rate is acceptable because of how hard he hits the ball. Adam Engel’s rate is not acceptable.

As Cirensica
Member

Striking out 130 times per season is not that bad.

roke1960
Member

Trout struck out 184 times the year he won MVP. Judge struck out 207 times in 2017. My point is strikeouts aren’t the problem. Strikeouts and soft contact are.

As Cirensica
Member

You are talking about players that are NOT average. They are elite players. There are very few of those. When your overall team strikeouts as much as the White Sox do, then, we have a problem. If our Mike Trout strikeouts 200 times, then who cares, right? Problem is that our Mike Trout is Yoan Moncada. The talent difference is huge.

roke1960
Member

I agree. Yoan struck out way too much. But I think a lot of that is because of the wrong approach at the plate. A good hitting coach could correct that. Unfortunately, we don’t have one of those. I can live with guys like Palka and Avi striking out a lot because they make hard contact. But Yolmer and Engel strike out way too much for guys that don’t make a lot of hard contact.

mikeyb
Member

He was a 23 year old rookie, so we’ll see. Also, his K rate dropped by 4% in September while his BB rate stayed the same. So sss, but it’s possible some adjustments were kicking in at the end of the season. (Of course, I’m still higher than a lot of people on Moncada, so maybe I’m just looking through rose-tinted glasses)

GreatjonHumber
Member

Striking out a ton with power is a classic route to being average. Our problem is that even the guys who manage that, like Avi and Palko, are completely undone by their defense. We don’t have anybody who is good enough at enough things to even get to average except for Timmy and Yolmer. You can win a lot of games with Anderson and Sanchez in the lineup, you just can’t win a lot of games when they are your best players.

roke1960
Member

Machado is just so critical to bringing this team to respectability. A lineup centered around Abreu, Eloy and Machado will allow the other guys to hit in spots they are more comfortable. Avi would be ok in the 6th spot. Your team is in trouble when he has to hit cleanup. It would also allow Yolmer to move to a super utility infielder, where he wouldn’t have to play every day. By the end of the season what little power he had was gone. He would thrive in a role playing 2-3 times per week. The front office needs to step it up this winter.

Trooper Galactus
Member

Avi would not be okay in the sixth spot. There is literally only one season in his career where he was a quality hitter, especially for the corner outfield.

roke1960
Member

I’m talking about 2019. If Avi can stay healthy, which is a big if, he would probably put up average numbers for a 6th hitter. The Sox are just trying to get to average. Avi in the 6th spot is much better than in the 4th/5th spot, which he has been for most of the last 2 years.

Trooper Galactus
Member

I disagree.

2015: .675 OPS in 148 games
2016: .692 OPS in 120 games
2017: .885 OPS in 136 games
2018: .719 OPS in 93 games

There’s zero reason to believe he will be healthy across a full season, and even less to think he will provide a plus bat in the middle of the order.

roke1960
Member

But right now we’re not even close to average. I would take average in 2019.

Trooper Galactus
Member

Avi’s part of the reason we aren’t close to average.

Trooper Galactus
Member

Palka’s strikeout rate isn’t a problem given his power, but his low OBP is still a concern, as it is for the team as a whole. Strikeouts are bad, but the overall effect can be mitigated if accompanied by good plate discipline and a solid BB%. The White Sox have neither across their entire team.

As Cirensica
Member

Yup…think of Adam Dunn. He K’ed a lot, but he had a career OBP of 360+ and hit a ton of homers. Palka needs to improve a lot to be Adam Dunn useful

Trooper Galactus
Member

He doesn’t need to develop his plate discipline to that level, but he certainly can’t keep rolling out a sub-.300 OBP. That’s just too many outs being made by one guy. With the kind of power Palka has, shoring up his discipline even a little will go a LONG way toward giving him a respectable (say .325) OBP as pitchers will be forced to work out of the zone more to avoid his crushing power.

Lurker Laura
Member

I thought this was going to be a really short article:

“Everything. The end.”

yolmers gatorade
Member

No one seems to mention the huge hole in center field. The Sox should trade for Keon Broxton. He showed some decent pop and defense in Milwaukee, and he is doing nothing while blocked there by Cain. I am sure they don’t need to give up much, a decent minor league player, but no top 100 guys, to get him.

Third base is probably a hole too. The Sox should look at that market too along with second base (move Moncada back to third). Maybe Brian Dozier will take a one or two year prove it deal to rebuild his value some.

I don’t know if a big free agent will come to Chicago yet. The Sox should work around the edges though while the second and third wave prospect gell in the minors.

roke1960
Member

I agree with the huge hole in center field. Pollock is the only good free agent cf out there, and he comes with a lot of risks. I could see going with a combination of Tilson/Leury/Engel in 2019, with the hopes of Robert being ready in 2020. Adding another young somewhat unproven outfielder like Broxton may further complicate the potential outfield logjam in 2020-21, but it would also give another potential trade piece going forward.

Jim Margalus
Admin

I like Broxton in a vacuum, but the reason the Brewers overwrote him (and Domingo Santana) on the depth chart with Cain/Yelich despite decent production is because their old outfield contributed too heavily to a record-setting strikeout total.

With Engel striking out a ton, too, Broxton’s production would be welcome, but the rest of the roster might cap the kind of impact he can make.

yolmers gatorade
Member

His walk rate is pretty high though. It’s essentially a one year tryout for Broxton, who is not that young. The reinforcements will come around 2020. I like the possible upside for a year. I think trading Leury Garcia plus a lottery ticket would get it done. Broxton can move to 4th outfielder if some bursts through the door too.

As Cirensica
Member
CarolinaSoxFan
Member

The worst part about the strike outs for me is the failure to try protect the plate with two strikes. I haven’t looked that stat up for Moncada, but it sure seems like he doesn’t even try to protect the plate in that situation.

PopeDonnPall
Member

I don’t think they track exit velocity in the minors but I’d be curious what it was for Madrigal? The games I saw even hit hits seemed a little bloopy. I know power’s not his game but I think he’s gotta be able to scoot it by the outfielders to get some extra bases.

I loved the pick when they made it and really want him to be good but the eye test left me a little underwhelmed. I’m hoping some rest and a full off season will make a diff. Love the no strike out and strong D profile – we desperately need it. Callis seems like the biggest fan of a lot of our prospects so when he expresses some concern and ticks guys down – even a little – I take note.

asindc
Member

Good job, and thanks for this. What do you know, actually hitting the ball works. 

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