MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox

Going into Thursday's MLB slate -- and ahead of a weekend crosstown clash with the Cubs -- the White Sox are above .500 and in playoff position. That's not entirely surprising. The Sox were one of the most active teams this past offseason when it comes to complementing the roster with targeted veteran free agent additions. The real driver, though, is the young core of hitters. 

Said young core -- the fruit of the organization's somewhat protracted rebuild -- is of course vital to Sox's long-term success, but in 2020 it will in a real sense be that core that determines whether the South Siders realize their postseason aspirations. So let's check in on them, shall we? 

Luis Robert
CHW • CF • #88
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Robert arrived as a ballyhooed force of nature, and he has certainly not disappointed. Presently, he's running a slash line of .276/.330/.517 (130 OPS+) with five home runs, six doubles, and four stolen bases through the first 24 games of his MLB career. Those are quite obviously strong numbers for a 22-year-old rookie, and they're backed up by similarly strong quality-of-contact measurements. Speaking of which: 

  • He's in the 83rd percentile in all of MLB for average exit velocity off the bat. 
  • He's in the 86th percentile for hard-hit percentage. 
  • He's in the 91st percentile for percentage of balls "barreled." 
  • His quality of contact is such that he's got an expected slugging percentage of .560, which is in the 87th percentile. 

Of course, Robert offers more than "mere" excellence at the plate. He's also a standout defender at an up-the-middle position. Per Statcast, he's in the 100th percentile thus far in 2020 in terms of outs above average. According to Baseball-Reference, he ranks fifth in all of MLB in defensive WAR, and over at FanGraphs he's 13th overall in their all-encompassing Defense metric. When all the advanced measures are saying the same thing and their conclusions pass the eye test, then you're probably getting accurate information. Given Robert's elite sprint speed and honed instincts in center, he indeed profiles as a top-tier defender at the position. And that's what he's been so far. 

Thus far in his debut season, Robert has looked like nothing short of a future superstar and MVP candidate. 

Yoan Moncada
CHW • 3B • #10
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Moncada, 25, is a plus fielding third baseman who's presently batting .272/.340/.478 with five home runs, and that's coming off a breakout 2019 in which he authored an OPS+ of 140 with 64 extra-base hits in 132 games. On top of all that, he's to be praised for his established knack for avoiding double plays. He's got just five GIDPs in 1,563 career at-bats. 

All that sounds good, and it is, but Moncada right now is seeing some alarming 2020 trends when it comes to batted-ball metrics. Consider: 

  • From last season, Moncada's average exit velocity has fallen from 93.1 mph (98th percentile) to 86.1 mph (18th percentile). 
  • His hard hit rate has fallen from 47.9 percent last season (90th percentile) to 31.7 percent (37th percentile). 
  • His expected batting average -- i.e., what his average should be based on how often he's making solid contact -- has slipped from .285 last year to .219 in 2020. 
  • His expected slugging percentage has plummeted from .523 to .455.  

This isn't necessarily cause for panic. The sample size is small, and it's possible that the complete loss of normal routines during 2020 is playing a role, as well. Maybe Moncada isn't 100 percent physically this season, which could certainly have something to do with the numbers just above. He's still young, he's long been regarded as a top talent, and he's proved he can thrive at the highest level. All that said, at some point you'd like to see Moncada start driving the ball with customary authority. The overall production has been good, but the weak underpinnings of that production raise some concerns. For now, they're not necessarily strong concerns.

Eloy Jimenez
CHW • LF • #74
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Jimenez, 23, can hit for power, and -- lo and also behold -- he's hitting for power. In 23 games this season, he's hit seven home runs with a line of .253/.275/.517. For his career, he's racked up 38 home runs in just 145 games. While hitting a home run is the best thing a hitter can do, it's about all Jimenez can do at this stage of his career. That's not ideal. You'll note the basement-level OBP he's got in 2020, and in related matters he's got just three unintentional walks against 23 strikeouts. As well, relative to last year Jimenez's swing rate at pitches outside the strike zone has gone up as has his whiff rate. He's got work to do when it comes to plate discipline, and fortunately for Jimenez that sort of thing can improve with experience. To repeat, he's just 145 games into his big league career. 

Like his fellow outfielder Mr. Robert, Jimenez is also putting thunder on the baseball this season. His 2020 average exit velocity of 92.4 mph is in the top 8.0 percent of the league, and his hard hit rate of 55.7 percent is in the top 3.0 percent of the league. As impressive as his power numbers have been, he's actually been a bit unlucky. 

Take, for instance, weighted on-base average, or wOBA, which assigns proper value to every possible offensive event that happens while a batter is at the plate. For simplicity, wOBA is scaled to look like OBP, which means that, say, .400 is elite and .290 is pretty poor. Right now, Jimenez in 2020 has a wOBA of .328. If, however, you look at his expected wOBA, which is what his wOBA should be based on quality of contact, it's a much higher .376. Expected wOBA better predicts future performance at the plate than plain ol' wOBA does, and it suggests that better days are ahead for Jimenez. 

As for the matter of Jimenez's defense, well ... 

Yes, something like that. Jimenez is a pronounced defensive liability in the outfield, and that's probably always going to be the case. As such, he's a DH in waiting, and once Edwin Encarnacion is no longer a Sock, Jimenez will likely assume that role for good. It was always the bat that was going to carry him, and indications are that the bat will indeed do so. 

And what of Tim Anderson? The shortstop reached new heights at the plate in 2019, and thus far in 2020 he's been even better. Not surprisingly, he's also hitting ball harder than ever, which suggests the offensive growth he's flashed since the start of last season is sustainable and genuine. However, because Anderson is 27 and after this year will have more than four full seasons of MLB service time, we're not considering him part of the "young core" for purposes of this discussion. Anderson is immensely valuable to the White Sox, but he's almost two full years older than Moncada. He's very much part of the core, but it says here Anderson has aged out of the young core.