MINNEAPOLIS -- The walks and base runners in general haven’t been there, but White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto has been given a vote of confidence.
Though the White Sox offense has performed at a historically poor level through the team’s first 70 games, manager Robin Ventura gave his approval of Manto’s performance on Thursday morning.
As his team teeters on dropping to 12 games below the .500-mark for the first time since 2007, Ventura doesn’t find fault in the work done by Manto or assistant hitting coach Harold Baines.
The White Sox entered Thursday’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins with just one walk in their past three games and have averaged more than half a run less than the rest of the majors all season. The team also ranks last in the American League and 28th in the majors with a .292 on-base percentage.
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But Ventura likes the work he sees his hitting instructors put in and the message that goes with it.
“When it goes like this, you look at me, too,” Ventura said. “(Speculation is) part of the game. I see what Jeff’s doing. I’m behind him because I know how hard he works, what he’s put into it and what he’s teaching. The things he talks about, he and Harold. I’m definitely in his corner.”
Ventura knows Manto uses the same message he tried to convey last season when the White Sox finished fourth in the AL in runs scored. He and Baines were teammates in the mid-1990s in Baltimore and speak the same language.
What is different is the team’s makeup.
Manto believes the White Sox have drawn fewer walks in part because of the younger bats in the lineup trying to discover their game. Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers and Conor Gillaspie are limited on experience and Manto has tried to get the trio to focus on an up-the-middle approach instead of being pull happy.
Paul Konerko’s OBP is also 43 points below his career average, Adam Dunn is 95 below his and Alejandro De Aza is 41 under last season’s .349. Free-agent signee Jeff Keppinger (.239) is also well below his career norm.
Only Alex Rios (.341), who is 17 points above his career average, has improved among players with more than 49 games.
“We have some young hitters,” Manto said. “Right now they’re trying to figure out their strike zone and that all plays into it as well. I think the (opposing) pitching is a lot better than it has been in the past overall. That on top of young hitters trying to figure out the zone, they’re throwing a lot of strikes and we’re not getting hits.”
Manto may have a point in regard to pitching. The White Sox are hardly alone in this category as they’re one of seven teams currently with an on-base percentage below .300.
But overall, the league on-base percentage currently sits at .319.
If the team were to finish at .292, it would match the 2011 Seattle Mariners, who had the worst OBP in the majors since 1976.
Only the 1968 White Sox, who had a .284 OBP, and the 1967 squad (.291), finished with a lower figure and those occurred in the Bob Gibson Era. The league OBP for those seasons was .303 and .297, respectively.
Ventura is a firm believer that the message handed down by Manto and Baines, and to some extent himself, isn’t the issue.
“We’re consistent with what we’re doing and what we like to see,” Ventura said. “At some point it’s frustrating for them too that results aren’t there. The players are just as frustrated as anybody else. You want that feel and get it going in the right direction just like anyone else.”
Manto believes that feeling and direction aren’t too far away from becoming reality. Yes, he’s tasked with maintaining a positive mentality and his job is to say the right things because ripping his hitters won’t accomplish anything. But Manto truly believes an increase in temperatures should help the team’s bats heat up.
“The guys are gonna get better at-bats as the summer-time comes around,” Manto said. “Pitchers will get a little more tired and they’ll leave some more breaking balls up. I don’t anticipate this being like this for long.”