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Hard-hitting White Sox off to historic slugging start

Team's 51.7 hard-hit rate is 2nd-best six-game stretch on record
MLB.com @mike_petriello

The 2018 White Sox are in what's well-understood to be something of a rebuilding year, but there's also an expectation that the hard work of the teardown is done. Many of the best young prospects acquired in recent trades are in the big leagues, and more are on the way. That's especially true on offense, where the Sox currently have the youngest lineup in the American League, averaging 26.9 years old.

They also have the most powerful offense in baseball, at least so far. While pretty much every early-April article has to be loaded with reasonable caveats about small sample size and not projecting it out for the entire season ahead, that doesn't mean you can't at least take a look at what's happened. What's happened, so far, is a ton of crushed baseballs -- in ways we've rarely seen over the last few years.

The 2018 White Sox are in what's well-understood to be something of a rebuilding year, but there's also an expectation that the hard work of the teardown is done. Many of the best young prospects acquired in recent trades are in the big leagues, and more are on the way. That's especially true on offense, where the Sox currently have the youngest lineup in the American League, averaging 26.9 years old.

They also have the most powerful offense in baseball, at least so far. While pretty much every early-April article has to be loaded with reasonable caveats about small sample size and not projecting it out for the entire season ahead, that doesn't mean you can't at least take a look at what's happened. What's happened, so far, is a ton of crushed baseballs -- in ways we've rarely seen over the last few years.

It's been so overwhelming that really, the best way to do this is to simply list all the things the White Sox rank well in on offense. Get a coffee. There's a lot.

They're first in slugging, at .538, with three players in the Top 20 and four in the Top 30. Last year, they were 22nd, at .417. Actually, saying they lead the Majors in slugging undersells it a little. Between 1908 and 2017, there were 2,370 team seasons. Only 40 of those team seasons, or about one percent, had a higher slugging percentage through six games (excluding strike years). Of those 40 great slugging starts, 26 ended up with winning seasons (65 percent), and 10 ended up in the World Series. It doesn't guarantee success, but it's sure a good sign.

They're first in home runs, with 14. (Last year, they were 24th.) The Royals, by comparison, have 12 runs. Not home runs. Runs. (They've played just four games, to be fair.)

They lead baseball in exit velocity (92.9 MPH, where the league average is 88.2 MPH) by just an enormous amount. They're the only team with a hard-hit rate above 50 percent (51.7 percent). That makes them first. They have 25 barrels, the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle, at a time when no other team has more than 20.

As you'd expect, they have five of the top 24 qualified hitters in exit velocity, including two of the top three.

2018 Hitting Exit Velocity Leaders, Min 10 balls in play

98.2 MPH -- Jose Abreu, White Sox
97.9 MPH -- Miguel Sano, Twins
97.8 MPH -- Yoan Moncada, White Sox
97.4 MPH -- Jason Heyward, Cubs
97.1 MPH -- Christian Yelich, Brewers

They have four of the 10 longest home runs of the season, including the longest home run that Statcast™ has ever tracked by a White Sox player, Avisail Garcia's 481-ft blast in Toronto. They also have the second-longest average team home run distance in the game.

Video: CWS@TOR: Statcast™ measures Avisail's 481-foot homer

Now, as you are almost certainly pointing out: It's April 6. It's so, so early. It's unlikely that this team is going to be baseball's hardest-hitting crew all year. If this was a random six-game stretch in mid-August rather than to kick off the year, no one would have ever noticed, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

The thing is, there's a way around that. We can look back at every rolling six-game stretch of every team since the start of 2015, when Statcast™ came online. We're talking about just over 14,000 different six-game spans, all told. In all of those many, many thousands of six-packs, the 2018 White Sox hard-hit rate is second. 

Highest team hard-hit rate, six-game stretches, 2015-18

52.3 percent -- 2015 Indians (Sept. 22 - Sept. 27)
51.7 percent -- 2018 White Sox (March 29 - April 5)
51.3 percent -- 2015 Indians (Sept. 20 - Sept. 26)
49.6 percent -- 2016 Blue Jays (Apr. 29 - May 4)
49.4 percent -- 2016 Mariners (Sept. 6 - Sept. 11)
(Of 14,171 six-game stretches)

So it's not just about being at the start of the season, though that certainly helps; this is a stretch that stands out no matter when it happens. Those other teams were good, too, or about to be. Those late-season 2015 Indians had called up Francisco Lindor and would head to the World Series the next year. The 2016 Blue Jays ended up winning 102 games. The 2016 Mariners were 86-76 and in the race until the end.

They stand out, really, no matter how you look at it. Don't like rolling six-game stretches? How about first week (defined as "seven days") in a season? In this year's first week, the White Sox had a 99.9 MPH average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls -- you know, the kind of balls where exit velocity matters the most. It's not just the best in 2018; it's the best of any week since 2015.

Video: CWS@TOR: Abreu crushes a go-ahead solo homer in 8th

These are the same White Sox who outscored only seven other teams last year… except in a lot of ways, they aren't. Last year's Opening Day lineup included Tyler Saladino, Cody Asche, Melky Cabrera, and Todd Frazier. Omar Narvaez was the primary catcher. Some of those names are still around, but they're not focal points.

Instead, shortstop Tim Anderson (24 years old), who upped his slugging percentage from .369 in the first half last year to .440 in the second half, is off to a .304/.385/.696 start -- even if it's still notable when he draws a walk. The reliable Abreu is off to a great start. Matt Davidson, still just 27, smashed three homers on Opening Day and has a .909 slugging percentage. So are Yolmer Sanchez (.800 slugging) and Welington Castillo (.500), even if Yoan Moncada is off to a slow start and Nicky Delmonico hasn't yet repeated his 2017 heroics.

It's young talent, and it's small samples, and it's also strong plate discipline. Only one team, has seen fewer pitches in the strike zone than Chicago has, but also only one team has put a swing on a higher percentage of pitches in the zone. Find strikes, and crush them.

This won't last like this, because it can't. A group this young is going to have ups and downs. But in the early part of the 2018 season, the young White Sox are showing a bit of the promise of the future. They're crushing baseballs, even while waiting on the arrival of Eloy Jimenez. They're giving South Side fans hope. So far, so good.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.