Diversified offense a point of emphasis for White Sox
Home runs always important, but club intends to focus on multifaceted attack at plate
CHICAGO -- Having an offense that consistently clears the fences becomes a necessity and not a luxury for the White Sox to hold serve over 81 games at the hitter-friendly environs of U.S. Cellular Field.
But as the South Siders learned in 2013 and numerous years prior, they cannot live and die by the long ball.
"In 2012, we would win a game if we could hit a homer," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura during SoxFest festivities. "And last year, we couldn't hit a homer, so we didn't win too many games."
"We had gotten to the point where it was hard for us to beat clubs without pounding on them," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We wanted to build a club that can beat you multiple ways."
Mission possibly accomplished.
Ventura's first year at the helm featured a power-packed offense that ranked third in homers with 211, trailing the Yankees' American League-leading total of 245. The White Sox also stood fourth in runs scored at 748 and had an on-base percentage of .318, ranking just below the league average of .320.
Those numbers dipped precipitously in 2013, with the White Sox offense falling to last in runs scored at 598, second to last in on-base percentage at .302 and tied for third from the bottom with 148 homers. That total was just as surprisingly four ahead of the Yankees' total of 144.
To avoid that all-or-nothing equation, Hahn built a younger and more athletic offense through the additions of Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson. He brought in greater competition and greater balance, presenting Ventura with enough right-handed and left-handed-hitting options that a few roster spots look unnaturally crowded at this point.
There's also the change to Todd Steverson as the White Sox hitting coach. A product of the Oakland system, Steverson already watched a number of young position players and prospects as part of a hitters minicamp at Camelback Ranch the week before SoxFest and worked with others at U.S. Cellular Field last weekend when they came to Chicago.
Steverson has familiarized himself with the power principle in Chicago. He still strives for that offensive balance mentioned by Hahn.
"Everybody likes to see the long ball, and it is a home-run friendly or hitter-friendly ballpark," Steverson said. "Overall, you'd like to see more people on base when those things happen.
"Home runs aren't easy to come by. We glorify the guys that hit over 25 and 30 each year, and if you look at it, they had 600-plus at bats. So somewhere along the way, they got 550 other at-bats where something else has to happen.
"An ability to use the whole field, the ability to put yourself in position to create runs in this game, is the biggest part about it," Steverson said. "If you're on-base consistently and you happen to get one of those two- or three-run homers that puts you up, then it's beneficial."
Teams combined to hit 179 home runs at U.S. Cellular in 2013, per hittrackeronline.com, ranking the ballpark fourth friendliest in the AL behind Camden Yards, Rogers Centre and Minute Maid Park. The South Side ballpark often plays to the pitchers' advantage in April and May with spring's delayed arrival, but the ball carries when the temperature rises.
Hitters at U.S. Cellular speak about a power alley to right-center, which benefits the left-handed bats of Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza and Conor Gillaspie. But using Abreu, Garcia and Davidson as examples, the White Sox believe they have right-handed hitters who can take the ball the opposite way with authority.
Eaton is committed to getting on base any way possible at the top of the order -- a knack he had at the Minor League level -- and will be at the forefront of that run manufacturing. Even players such as Dunn and De Aza, who struck out a combined 336 times in '13, have the ability to work the counts and drive up opposing starters' pitch totals.
Ultimately, pitching and defense stand as reasons No. 1 and 1A for White Sox success. A more diversified offense completes that reshaping package.
"Given the ballpark we play in and given the league we play in, we are going to have to hit home runs to win," Hahn said. "We just want to make sure that in players such as Avi Garcia, we have guys that can not only beat you with a home run, but also run the bases well and play good defense and ideally get one base.
"It was important to us to diversify the offense, to give Robin more options in terms of playing matchups or situational hitting or whatever he wants to do in the dugout in a given situation. We had gotten to the point with our core that it had gotten a little bit older, and our ability to beat you had sort of narrowed in terms of our offensive punch."