White Sox: what to do in the right field, right now
The Chicago White Sox have had a problem at right field for most of the past decade. As of the start of the 2012 season, the Sox are ranked 25th in baseball in terms of WAR (15.3) at position according to the FanGraphs measure of value. What has historically been considered a position of power has been anything but our boys at 35th / Shields.
Meanwhile, those in the job produced a 95 wRC +, ranking 24th in baseball, while also getting a lean .407, good for 25th in the sport. I’m not announcing any news here. This is something that needs to improve in 2022 if the Sox are able to overcome the hump and become a viable World Series contender. So how do the White Sox go about correcting the situation?
A Marte Party?
A significant and vocal part of the fan base would love to see the Sox sign free-agent outfielder Starling Marte. Marte has never played on the right ground in his 10-year MLB career. However, he was a stable and complete player while spending time in center and left field. It remains to be seen whether Marte would be willing to switch positions, although most players are willing to do so if you pay them enough.
Marte brings a skill set that would greatly benefit the White Sox. He has above-average batting skills, posting a K% below 20% every season since 2014. The Sox, as they are currently composed, have quite a bit of swing-and-miss in their roster. Marte would provide some balance to that.
The 33-year-old veteran has just completed a year-long career between Miami and Oakland. He has set career records in terms of wRC + (134), BB% (8.2%) and OBP (0.383). Marte’s new home plate discipline adds another dimension to his game that had previously eluded him for most of his career. If that were to continue until 2022 and beyond, Marte would truly be a weapon for any team capable of squeezing him into their roster.
For his career, Marte has been an offensively reverse division guy, posting a 104 wRC + against lefties. He holds a 114 wRC + against right-handed people. While the Sox could benefit from adding a left-handed bat to the roster, Marte’s ability to hit right-handed people with an above-average clip would certainly benefit the Pale Hose. There is also no significant gap in his production regardless of the pitcher’s hand, thus minimizing the need for a field situation if he was added to the roster.
Two areas where Marte would have a huge impact on a White Sox roster of corner players with limited athleticism and defensive prowess would be both on the grassroots trail and in the outfield. For his career, Starling has been with 20 above-average outs according to StatCast’s defensive metric. That time was split between center and left field for several teams, so his ability translated well in various home stadiums. This makes him a real defensive weapon.
Marte’s presence would be especially valuable for a White Sox team that has Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez in center and left field, respectively, two players who have struggled to stay healthy throughout their young careers. Marte’s versatility would provide isolation for the team in the unfortunate event that either one ran out of time.
On the bases, Marte served as a lethal weapon. For his career, he has a 78% success rate in stealing extra bases, including a screaming 47/52 in 2021. The efficiency with which he was able to gain 90 extra feet throughout his career would certainly benefit one. Sox team which is largely station to station. You would think that an old school manager like Tony La Russa would love to have a player with that dimension in his day-to-day roster.
Working against Marte, as mentioned above, is the unknown element as to whether he would be willing to consider a team that wants to set him up in the right field. The nine place is a position he has never played. Also, the Sox are very right handed right now. The team could certainly benefit from some roster versatility when it comes to handling. Marte’s skills help minimize some of these concerns. Ultimately, it’s unclear at this time whether the team views manual skill as a deciding factor.
At 33, Marte is what he is at this point. There is little realistic growth trajectory in his game. Make no mistake about what I’m saying here, he’s a really good player who would definitely help this team. However, it stands to reason that its phase of decline could certainly be approaching.
Comfort in Conforto?
In recent days, there has been a bit of smoke surrounding the idea that the White Sox are aggressively pursuing former Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Conforto will begin his 29-year-old season in 2022. He is four years younger than Marte and could still have positive growth in his game. Conforto is ticking a number of boxes for the Sox. He hits the left side of the plate with a career BB rate of 12.1% and a 124 wRC +.
Adding a player like Conforto who has a healthy plate approach, works counts and bases regularly would help lengthen a formation that can be overly aggressive at times, leading to ugly offensive stretches. The output power he has shown historically would be an added advantage for a team that just didn’t bang enough in 2021.
The Oregon State southpaw has beaten RHP throughout his MLB career, posting a 136 wRC + and a .502 while playing at home in spacious Citi Field. These numbers would, apparently, see a nice increase if he played 81 games a year at Guaranteed Rate Field. Conforto’s ability to deliver power to the left side brings a very different dimension to that of Starling Marte. I’ve been quoting Joe Sheehan for a long time saying, “The ball goes far, the team goes far. Conforto would certainly help in this department.
Conforto is coming out of a bad season offensively in 2021. He has consistently posted an above-average 106 wRC +, but his power has declined significantly. The left-hander hit an ugly 0.384 with 14 home runs in 479 PA. Some members of the Sox fanbase have let this recency bias cloud their judgment of the player while choosing to ignore his entire career, during which he has been a regular performer.
For its strengths, base and fight against RHP, Conforto has notable drawbacks. He has broad peloton divisions including a below par 94 wRC + against lefties, which requires a peloton partner at this point.
His defensive measures have been inconsistent across different scoring platforms and have moved in the wrong direction over the past two seasons. According to the DRS, he has been a (-4) the past two seasons. The above-average StatCasts outputs also place it at (-4) during this time period. Previously, both viewed him as an above-average defender. It’s entirely possible that his lineup is starting to erode, which isn’t a positive sign for a player who hasn’t even hit 30 yet.
One or none?
Ultimately, Starling Marte and Michael Conforto have very different skills that would both benefit the White Sox in 2022 and beyond. They both have different risk factors. However, adding either player would dramatically improve the outlook for a Sox team looking to continue heading into the Championship. in 2022. It remains to be seen whether either player will end up in right field at No. 35 / Shields in 2022. I firmly believe the Sox need to approach this position, and I would love to see one. either turn on black and white in the future.
Right now, we don’t know what skills the front office and Tony La Russa ultimately appreciate. But another winter of half-measures at the post is certainly not the answer. There are two options in the open and it stands to reason that securing this position after a decade of dismal play is a priority.