White Sox hope weaning off homer dependence wakes up offense

White Sox hope weaning off homer dependence wakes up offense
February 3, 2014, 1:15 pm
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Only 4 1/2 months into the 2012 season, enough one-run losses full of strikeouts had piled up for Robin Ventura to suggest change.

It’s not that the third-year White Sox manager wanted to rid his lineup of muscle; he’s a proponent of home-run hitters. He knows they play a vital role for most successful teams. But after a 16-strikeout, one-walk showing in a 3-2 to loss the injury-riddled Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 13, 2012, a performance replicated far too often for his taste in 2013, Ventura didn’t hold back.

“We can’t just sit around and wait for home runs,” Ventura said from the office of the visiting clubhouse at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Instead, Ventura spoke about an offense that could beat teams in multiple ways whether it’s running the bases, manufacturing runs, etc.

Turns out Rick Hahn had similar thoughts.

And when given the chance last summer, the White Sox general manager began to remodel the roster with an emphasis on athleticism and on-base percentage.

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Through the additions of Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Leury Garcia, Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson the White Sox believe they have diversified their offense.

“We had gotten to the point where it was hard for us to beat clubs without pounding on them,” Hahn said. “We wanted to build a club that can beat you multiple ways … guys that can get on base, grind out an at-bat, run the bases well, go from first to third and place solid defense, as opposed to relying perhaps too much on home runs.”

The White Sox were extremely dependent on homers in 2012.

With Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn at the core, the 2012 team hit 211 home runs, the eighth-most in franchise history. Five players finished with 25 or more homers as the White Sox scored 748 runs (fourth in the American League) and spent 117 days in first place.

The team ranked third in the majors as 45.59 percent (341 of 748 runs) of their production came via homers.

In their 85 wins, the White Sox blasted 149 homers. They had only 62 in their 77 losses.

Their dependence was clearly evident during a 2-10 stretch in September in which they lost the AL Central title. The White Sox hit nine homers and only scored 31 runs during the stretch and succumbed to the Detroit Tigers.

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Last season, the White Sox saw their home run production fall sharply as they stuck to the same formula.

With only 148 homers — their third fewest since moving into U.S. Cellular Field — the White Sox scored 598 runs and lost 99 games. Their 3.69 runs-per-game average in 2013 ranks 96th of 113 in franchise history.

“In 2012, we would win a game if we could hit a homer, and last year we couldn’t hit a homer so we didn’t win too many games,” Ventura said.

So Hahn worked to make the White Sox younger and more athletic. And more versatile.

But he won’t abandon home runs outright.

“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.”

Ventura likes the new look.

He has more left-handed bats than he did headed into 2013 and can base lineups on matchups. His offense projects to have more on-base percentage than it did last season when the White Sox finished with a .302 OBP. And he believes there’s plenty of speed with Eaton, both Garcias and Alejandro De Aza.

He sees fewer tight losses marred by high strikeout totals and appreciates Hahn’s reconstruction of the roster.

“It takes guts to be able to do what he (Hahn) did,” Ventura said. “It’s one thing to have that idea and have that plan, it’s another thing to be able to implement it and do it. … There was a plan and he was able to do a lot of things that he set out to do that we were for, and that’s not always easy to do.”