Jake Burger (CWS): 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI.
It feels a bit like the same old story for the White Sox in 2023, even with a new manager and coaching staff.
The White Sox in 2022 pretty much had the same roster as the one that won the AL Central division easily in 2021. Unfortunately, injuries, an awkward clubhouse environment, and some down seasons from key players at the plate contributed to only 81 wins in 2023, and general manager Rick Hahn made the move to shake things up with the manager and coaching staff this past offseason.
The clubhouse seems better under new manager Pedro Grifol, but the other two issues remain, especially the injuries.
Key players such as Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada, and Liam Hendriks have all seen time on the IL already this year. And as a result, the White Sox are sitting at 6-9, once again in the middle of the pack of a mediocre Central division.
In order for the White Sox to turn things around, they are going to need some surprising performances to help carry this squad on the hitting end, especially with so many key players struggling to stay healthy.
And Burger could be one of those guys.
A Missouri State product, Burger is pretty much an “all bat, no glove” kind of corner infielder. According to Savant, he was seven outs BELOW average at third base last season, which isn’t exactly encouraging to see on a defensive end. That porous defensive play, along with an inconsistent bat in 2022 (eight home runs in 183 plate appearances but also 56 strikeouts) is a big reason why he was left off the White Sox’s Opening Day roster.
However, since being called up due to Moncada being on the IL, Burger has absolutely flourished in 2023. Through seven games and 19 plate appearances, he has hit three home runs and collected six RBI. Additionally, he is slashing .353/.368/1.000 with an OPS of 1.368.
Granted, the strikeout rate continues to be high (31.6 percent), and he’s not drawing a whole lot of walks to make up for it either (0.17 BB/K ratio). So it’s unlikely that the batting average and OPS will stay that high as he accumulates more plate appearances at the Major League level in 2023.
That said, he is hitting the ball harder than ever, as his hard-hit rate of 58.3% is 15.3% higher than a season ago. Additionally, he is also being a bit more judicious at the plate, as his chase rate is down 2.5 points and his swing rate is down 7.5 points from 2022. He is still whiffing a lot at 35.1%, but at least he is working on laying off pitches that he cannot do serious damage on.
It will be interesting to see what Grifol and the White Sox do with Burger once Moncada returns off the IL. Burger lacks defensive versatility, and it’s unclear how versatile Moncada can be with his back issues.
On the other hand, if Burger continues to rake, it’s likely that Grifol will find a way to keep Burger in the lineup regularly, even if it means putting him in some “unnatural” positions. It seemed to sort of work last year with Andrew Vaughn, whose strong hitting made up for his weaknesses defensively in the outfield.
If Burger keeps this production up, the wins may start coming more regularly for the White Sox. After all, his two-hit performance on Saturday was a big reason why they beat the Orioles 7-6 in extra innings.
And if that happens, he may slowly become “king of the South Side” sooner than White Sox fans may think.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Saturday
Wil Myers (CIN): 4-5, 2B, 2 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI.
Myers was tabbed as this year’s “Brandon Drury” breakout candidate, as many fantasy managers felt that Myers would bounce back in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark after a down season in San Diego in 2022. So far, Myers’ performance in Cincinnati hasn’t exactly replicated Drury’s, as he was only hitting .213 with a .549 OPS going into Saturday’s game. However, after a four-hit, two-homer performance against the Phillies, the average and OPS have spiked up to .269 and .779, respectively. One has to wonder if Saturday’s game is what he needs to get back on that “Drury-esque” path.
Jake Cronenworth (SD): 3-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 6 RBI, BB.
The batting average of .240 doesn’t look good, but Cronenworth is still showing a disciplined approach at the plate (0.57 BB/K ratio) and some impressive batted-ball improvements to boot. His hard-hit rate is up 11.8 points from a season ago, and he has nearly doubled his 2022 barrel rate with a 10.8% mark. On Saturday, he not only knocked in two home runs but also collected six RBI in the Padres’ 10-3 win over Milwaukee. The average may not be endearing, but Cronenworth is proving to be a solid fantasy play in nearly every other category so far in 2023.
Gio Urshela (LAA): 2-5, HR, R, 5 RBI.
Urshela is on his third team in three years, but he’s doing his best in Anaheim to prove that he is more than just a “glove-first” corner infielder. This season, he is hitting .347 in 51 plate appearances, and his .822 OPS would be his best mark in this category since the 2020 COVID-affected season. On Saturday, he hit his first home run over the year and added five RBI to his season total as well. The Angels still have Anthony Rendon (and his massive contract), but Urshela is proving that he deserves everyday consideration in the lineup.
Yu Chang (BOS): 2-4, HR, R, 4 RBI.
Speaking of journeymen, Chang is on his FOURTH team in two years, though he did finish 2022 in Boston. Chang has struggled to find consistency at the plate over the course of his MLB career, as he sports a career batting average of .208 in 560 plate appearances. This year, he continues to struggle, as he has struck out 36.4% of the time, and only hit .100 as well. Against the Angels on Saturday though, he did collect two hits, four RBI, and hit his first home run of the year. Chang still has a long way to go, but considering the Red Sox’s shortstop woes this year, it would be nice to see Chang give them something close to average in value at the position offensively sometime soon.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT): 2-4, HR, 2 R, RBI, BB, SB.
Fantasy baseball managers who roster Hayes are going through the same cycle again: enormous hope in draft season, only to be disappointed once the season starts. For the season, he is only hitting .182 with a .546 OPS in 59 plate appearances. That being said, there seems to be some hope in his batted ball metrics, as he ranks in the 85th percentile in max exit velocity and 82nd percentile in hard-hit rate, according to Savant. Unfortunately, that hasn’t resulted necessarily in barrels, as his barrel rate remains paltry at 4.1%. On Saturday, he hit his first home run of the year, stole a base, and collected two hits. Hopefully, Saturday was the spark Hayes needed to get the hype train moving again.
Jorge Mateo (BAL): 3-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.
Mateo’s outlook in 2023 was unclear with Orioles super prospect Gunnar Henderson making the Opening Day roster. While Henderson has struggled (38.9% K rate; .146 average), Mateo has gotten off to a scorching start, highlighted by a .350 average and 1.038 OPS. The 27-year-old infielder has always been known for his speed, and he does have seven stolen bases in 13 games. However, he also has hit three home runs this year, including one on Saturday against the White Sox. It’s still early, but Mateo is starting to show Orioles fans, as well as fantasy managers, that he is more than just a “stolen bases only” kind of threat offensively.
Garrett Hampson (MIA): 1-2, HR, R, RBI.
After failing to gain any kind of consistent playing time in Colorado, Hampson made the move to Miami this offseason. And so far it’s been more of the same, as he is only hitting .167 in just 13 plate appearances. Hampson is seeing more playing time recently because Luis Arraez has been on the bench due to some minor injury issues. On a positive note, Hampson did hit his first home run of the year on Saturday, which was a 366-foot shot off of Ryne Nelson. With Arraez expected to be back soon though, Hampson shouldn’t be on the waiver or FAAB radar for any fantasy manager.
Javier Báez (DET): 2-5, 2B, R, 2 RBI.
It was a tough first year in Detroit in 2022, and it hasn’t been much better for Báez in 2023 either. He is only hitting .184 with a .504 OPS and his chase rate sits in just the third percentile, according to Savant. Add to that him having mental errors on the basepaths where he doesn’t know how many outs there are and it’s no surprise that the boo birds have been out early for a guy who signed a massive deal with the Tigers prior to the 2022 season. Báez did have a nice bounce back on Saturday, as he had two hits and two RBI and helped fuel a Detroit 7-6 comeback win over the Giants. That said, he will need a lot more of these kinds of performances to get back in the good graces of Tigers fans as well as fantasy managers who roster him.
Josh Bell (CLE): 2-4, 2 2B, R, RBI, BB.
Hopes were high with Bell when the Guardians signed him as a free agent this past offseason. Bell struggled in 2022 with the Padres after being traded from Washington at the Trade Deadline, but there was some thought that Progressive Field and the AL Central would be a better fit for him. So far, that hasn’t been the case, as he is only hitting .167 with a .588 OPS in 65 plate appearances. Once again launch angle continues to be a problem, as he is producing a -1.8 degree average launch angle, which as expected is producing a lot of groundballs (70.7% groundball rate) despite the decent hard contact (43.9% hard-hit rate). Bell did hit two doubles in Saturday’s win over his former team, so perhaps this Nationals series is what can get him going after this slow start.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)
How did Big Sean Murphy get left off this list? 3/3 with two double and a big fly? Also had 4 RBI’s and a walk. Man is catching fire.