A wholesome preview
Starting Monday, May 24 at 7:10 pm CT through Wednesday, May 26 at 1:10 pm CT the St. Louis Cardinals will be on the South Side of Chicago to take on the White Sox for a three-game set. Both teams have been steady all season, but with the Cardinals coming off a frustrating series loss against the Northern Chicago team, the Cubs, and the White Sox returning home after a disappointing 2-4 road trip that handed them three walk-off losses, both teams will be looking to rebound. The Cardinals and White Sox both sit atop their respective Central Divisions; the Cardinals hold a two-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central and the White Sox are 1.5 games ahead of Cleveland in the American League Central. With the division races tightening up, both teams need to keep winning to stay on top. Should be fun!
The White Sox Offense
The Chicago White Sox have the most valuable team of position players in baseball with a total non-pitcher team fWAR of 9.8. The offense is second in the league in wRC+ with 113 (only behind the Houston Astros) and on base percentage at .341, and fourth in team batting average at .255. When they get on base they are also among the best — the White Sox are second in the league is BsR, the baserunning component of fWAR, with 6.0.
Looking closer, the lineup it is an absolute gauntlet. Of their usual starting nine, seven have a wRC+ of 100 or greater. The other two are second baseman Nick Madrigal (96) and right fielder Adam Eaton (92). The toughest out so far in 2021 has been designated hitter Yermin Mercedes who is batting .347/.400/.531 with 162 wRC+. Behind him is the highly-regarded Yoan Moncada. Moncade is hitting with a 141 wRC+ and walking over 16% of the time. The most interesting batting line to me, though, is Yasmani Grandal. Grandal is slashing .141/.395/.376. His low batting average is likely due to a .122 batting average on balls in play, but he is still hitting at a 130 wRC+ by walking almost 30% of the time and hitting with a .235 ISO. José Abreu leads the White Sox in home runs with 9 and Tim Anderson leads his team in stolen bases with 7.
Carlos Rodón and Lance Lynn
Two of the three starters the Cardinals will face this series are the two most valuable pitchers on the White Sox in 2021 in Carlos Rodón and Lance Lynn. Each have only made seven starts so far this season, but in that time they have been some of the more valuable pitchers in baseball, according to fWAR. Rodón would be tied for sixth best, Lynn is in the top thirty among pitchers with over 40 innings pitched.
Cardinals fans probably know the most about Lance Lynn after he spent the first six seasons of his big league career in St. Louis so let’s start with him. Lynn’s pitch arsenal is five pitches, but three of them are a different type of fastball, a pitch we are all aware he likes to throw.
Lynn throws a 4-seamer around 45% of the time, a cutter about 29% of the time, and a sinker 20% of the time. He has a changeup and a curveball he has used a combined 5% of the time. His fastball averages around 94 mph, but according to Baseball Savant it is in the 82nd percentile in spin, which is maybe why hitters have such a hard time squaring it up. If you need a good comp for Lynn, Baseball Savant suggests Jack Flaherty.
Moving on to the pitcher Cardinals fans might know less about, we have Carlos Rodón. Rodón at 28-years-old is in his seventh season with the White Sox and in on pace to have the best year of his career by far. He is striking out more batters than he ever has, he is walking less, and is giving up less home runs than ever before. There are two and a half things that seem to have brought this newfound success. The first thing I noticed is the pitch selection which leads into the half thing — the addition of catcher Yasmani Grandal in 2020. (Rodón had a very poor 2020 but only pitched just under 8 innings, so let’s ignore that as noise.) Look how his pitch usage has changed since Grandal took over behind the plate:
Since 2019 Rodón’s use of the 4-seamer has increased, he is throwing the slider less, the changeup more, and completely ditched the sinker. I won’t go so far as to say this is because of Grandal — there are likely several contributing factors, but it is curious, don’t you think?
The last change I noticed was the movement on his pitches. Here is another graph:
Look at where his pitches ended up in in 2019:
By elevating the fastball he turned one his worst pitches to one of his best. Per Baseball Savant’s Run Value his 4-seamer is now tied for the third most valuable in baseball.
Edmundo Sosa has been on quite a tear since taking over for the injured Paul DeJong. In 38 plate appearances over the season he is slashing .387/.500/.516 for a 184 wRC+ and in the eight games since DeJong last played he has hit .526/.609/.737 for a 268 wRC+. He has also played well on defense. In the last eight games the Cardinals have gone just 3-5, but Sosa has been a bright spot.
Tyler O’Neill’s Injury
The Cardinals are really missing the presence of Tyler O’Neill in the lineup. The Cardinals left fielders have just 16 hits and three home runs without O’Neill. With O’Neill the Cardinals are 20-10, without him the team has gone 6-10. His absence is even more glaring when another starting outfielder (like Dylan Carlson) has to miss a game.
Luis Robert’s injury
The White Sox have been without Luis Robert since May 2 and he will likely be out several more weeks as he recoveries from a hip injury. The centerfielder had been off to a great start, hitting for a 131 wRC+ and playing solid centerfield defense. Robert was a highly anticipated prospect from Cuba, and though the Cardinals have a better chance of winning with him on the sidelines, as a baseball fan, it would have been nice to see him play.
The Cardinals will be facing off against a few familiar faces. Leading the White Sox is manager Tony La Russa, whom you might remember as the Hall of Famer manager for the Cardinals. The Cardinals will also see the afore-mentioned Lance Lynn. Also on the White Sox is speedster Billy Hamilton. The White Sox might use him for pinch running opportunities. He often got the best of Yadier Molina in the past, so another rematch should be pretty compelling. The matchup I will have my eyes on is Yadier Molina against his former battery-mate in Lance Lynn. Anecdotally I feel like Molina seems to have done well before in matchups against pitchers he used to catch, but I don’t feel like looking that up. The game I am most worried about will be John Gant, filling in for the newly injured Miles Mikolas, against this patient and powerful White Sox offense, with Carlos Rodón pitching against him for the Sox.
Game 1 – May 24, 7:10 PM CT – Kwang Hyun Kim vs. Lance Lynn
Game 2 – May 25, 7:10 PM CT – Jack Flaherty vs. Lucas Giolito
Game 3 – May 26, 1:10 PM CT – John Gant vs. Carlos Rodón