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White Sox Mon May 20 2013

White Sox Offensive Woes Start From The Top

Sox_200.pngAlejandro De Aza is a good ballplayer. The guy came from nowhere and became a regular on the White Sox. He's got speed, he can drive the ball, and, despite four errors this season, he's a serviceable defensive outfielder.

But he shouldn't be batting leadoff.

The Sox are 27th in the league in OBP from their no. 1 hitter in the lineup, reaching base just 28 percent of the time. Since De Aza has batted lead off in 39 of the team's 42 games, the team's splits nearly equal his total stats.

A leadoff hitter's top job is to get on base, and De Aza isn't doing that. Looking at his splits even more, he has only a .306 OBP with three walks this season when starting off an inning. The only positive is his surprising power, with four homers in that spot (and three homers to start a game). Hence, De Aza's .827 OPS in that split is skewed.

He has 18 strikeouts when leading off a frame, and 47 overall (trailing only Adam Dunn's 51 for the team lead). Now, sabermetricians say that strikeouts aren't any worse than any other type of out, but that's partially because batted balls can lead to double plays. Well, batting first, that downside is non-existent. Strikeouts are the worst possible outcome, and De Aza does that often.

This is all not to say that the club should jettison De Aza. He can still be one of the better offensive players on the team. In an ideal situation, the Sox would move him down in the order, where he would get less at-bats and his lower OBP wouldn't hurt them as badly. That creates another issue, though: who would bat leadoff?

Alex Rios has been superb this year, but he's perfect in the number three spot because of his power. The Sox would be neutralizing that by batting him first, where he would be driving in nobody. Other guys can be ruled out because they don't make any sense (Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Tyler Flowers), Alexei Ramirez can be ignored because he hardly walks, and Jeff Keppinger would be a decent option if he wasn't so terrible this year.

Unorthodox choices remain. One is Conor Gillaspie. No, he's not a base stealer, and no, he doesn't draw a large amount of walks, but he is still hitting the ball well. Two is Dayan Viciedo. Say what? Tank has actually been drawing walks this year, and he's been on a tear since returning from injury a few weeks ago. He's actually been one of the club's most patient hitters this year, seeing more than four pitches per plate appearance.

The Sox would be better off with Gillaspie or Viciedo at the top of the lineup. This isn't just some wacky opinion, though. It's backed up by the data.

The website Baseball Musings has a lineup analysis tool which measures the optimal and worst possible batting orders based on projecting runs per game. After plugging in the typical Sox starters and their OBPs and slugging percentages, we see that of the top 30 potential lineup combinations, Viciedo or Gillaspie is batting first in all but one of them. De Aza slides back to fourth or fifth.

The Sox would be a better team if they mix up the batting order. De Aza is a good player, but he'd have a more positive impact with less leadoff at-bats.

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