A lack of hitting in April and May doesn’t often generate the same kind of fret among players and managers as it does in a fan base.
The White Sox haven’t been hitting the cover off the ball this season, but Rick Renteria & Co. are confident the hits and the runs will come.
But what about walks?
The White Sox entered play Sunday dead last in baseball with just 88 walks in their 34 games. That’s nearly half as many as the majors-leading Tampa Bay Rays, who have walked 153 times so far this season.
While hitting the ball hasn’t gone much better for the South Siders — they’re third-to-last in baseball with 271 hits and tied for 25th out of 30 big league teams with 137 runs scored — could a lack of getting on base in any fashion be a bad sign of things to come?
The ball starts jumping off bats when the weather warms up, meaning those hit and run totals could soon jump up, too. But will the White Sox not-so-great .299 on-base percentage (fourth from the bottom in baseball and second worst in the American League) get a boost, too?
“It’s a good question,” Todd Frazier, the team’s walks leader, said ahead of Sunday’s game against the San Diego Padres. “If you’re not getting walks, how are you getting on base? Are you getting hits? How else you get on base? Errors and all that kind of stuff? I think you need walks. You need guys to take some pitches and battle some counts, foul some pitches off, get an eight-, nine-pitch at-bat and end up getting walked.
“I think walks are big. It goes to show you’ve got plate discipline, goes to show you’re not swinging out of the strike zone. I think walks are big, but at the end of the day, if you’re getting your hits and getting on base, everything will even out.”
Common thinking is that things even out, as Frazier said. It’s a 162-game season, after all, and the White Sox are just past the 20-percent mark.
And the White Sox low walk total could just be one of those baseball things.
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Manager Rick Renteria and infielder Tyler Saladino both said that walks are the result of individual at-bats, not necessarily a indicator of a trend outside of one game.
“Walks are a consequence of the at-bat,” Renteria said. “They’ll come when you’re recognizing pitches as well as you want to. So it’s a byproduct of a good at-bat.
“You don’t work a walk. Hitters go up there to hit. I think the game dictates how aggressive or how passive you might want to be. Obviously you’re thinking about getting on base. Whether it’s through a hit or a walk, however you do it, I think it’s mostly based on you focusing on the strike zone and what you’re able to handle.
“I think that there are situations that maybe ask for you to get up there and take a pitch because you want to see what that guy’s doing or maybe he’s getting in a little trouble. Think about it now, he’s not anywhere near the plate, let him get himself out, let him get himself in trouble. And then sometimes when that guy’s just missing — I’ve talked to guys about this. When a guy’s missing around the plate, just missing by just a hair, it’s like, ‘He’s around there, be ready.’ So it just depends on your feel of what’s going on in the game and the batter and the trust that they have and the confidence they have to do what they need to do.”
But like the approach can change from at-bat to at-bat within a game, it can also change within the scope of a season.
Frazier has had a tough time at the plate this year, coming into Sunday’s game with a .189/.292/.344 slash line. So he’s changed things up a bit, trying to find another way to get on base while he waits for the hits to start falling.
Frazier has 13 walks so far this season. He’s on pace to fly by the 53 walks a season he’s averaged in his career.
“I’ve got more walks over this first month and a half than I’ve had in my career,” Frazier said. “Trying to change my approach a bit and understand my strike zone. But I’m still not going up there looking for a walk, I’m looking to drive the ball.”
So while there isn’t much clarity to be had on whether more walks are coming for the White Sox, or whether they care if they do, the numbers show that this team is having trouble reaching base. And the more you get on base, the more opportunities to score. If the offensive totals stay low, maybe the rest of the team takes an approach more like Frazier’s.
“Say you’re down every time, sometimes you’ve got to take that first pitch or that first strike and try and focus from there,” Frazier said. “Everybody can hit with one strike, not many can hit with two strikes.
“It’s a tough balance, but at the same time you’re looking for that one pitch in that one area. And if you go away from that — which I’ve done numerous times. Sometimes your mind gets in the way of things. You’re like, ‘Oh man, I’m ready to launch here.’ You never know.
“But if you can stay disciplined in your mind going up there looking for one spot and one pitch only — it could be a curveball that hit the spot, but that’s not the pitch you were looking for. Basically less is more in those situations. Keep one thought in your mind and go from there.”