White Sox Decision Time: Keep Toby Hall or Go Fishing

 

Last year,Chicago White Sox General Manager Kenny William’s decisions seemed more clean cut than the changes that will fall into his lap this offseason. He has to decide what pieces might need to be dissolved from the White Sox roster, and what small bit pieces can be added to make this squad a litttle tougher and more versatile than the 2008 Sox 25-man roster.

But there is one big decision that won’t so easy. 
*************

Difficult decision: Toby Hall

Two routes:

  1. Exercise his one-year option for $2.25 million.
  2. Buy him out for $150,000 and look for a new backup catcher.

Why keep Hall?

The last three years have illustrated that getting a competent backup catcher isn’t as easy at it seems.  Back-up catching prospects wander from the inexperienced rookies’ looking for a chance to succeed, to veterans on their last few years of organized ball before looking beyond the game for a job. Putting another year on the trusty backup catcher chart, Hall posted the best OPS for the position since 2005:

Compared to Chris Widger, Gustavo Molina, Sandy Alomar Jr. and one-armed Toby Hall, the two-armed version was a marked improvement, even if still below-average — especially considering he more than held up his end against lefties.

Hall hit southpaws to the tune of .377/.411/509 over 56 at-bats, with more homers (2) than strikeouts (1).  Even while his overall numbers took a nosedive in the second half, he had seven hits in 21 at-bats when the match-up was in his favor.

He also saw significant improvements in his catcher’s ERA (3.68, compared to 6.12 in 2007) and his caught stealing rate (17 percent, up from 10), which isn’t awful.

The Sox don’t really have anybody else, as Cole Armstrong is still a season or so away at the very least.  And even if you don’t like Hall, it’s hard to say he was much of a problem.  The Sox went 22-14 when he started, a near reversal of his 2007 record.  Perhaps they played better because his teammates were hoping for one of his delightful pies.

The case against Hall

A.J. Pierzynski is 31 years old and has a two-year extension ahead of him, and yet his plate appearances keep shooting up.  He set a  personal record for plate appearances while catching more than 130 games for the third consecutive year.  Not surprisingly, he went into a major slump at the end of the year.

Hall isn’t helping lighten Pierzynski’s workload much, mainly because he’s so miserable against righties.  He posted a .431 OPS in such situations, including a .321 OPS after the break (.133/188/.133 in 30 ABs).  God forbid a foul tip ever catch Pierzynski the wrong way, because the Sox would likely receive zero production in his absence.

And one full year after his shoulder injury, he still had trouble generating extra-base power.  Part of it was due to his inside-out swing that is built to dump singles to right field, but he lost out on a handful of doubles because he couldn’t outrun a glacier.  Paul Konerko grows impatient watching him.

He’s part of the reason why the Sox struggle against the turf teams (Minnesota, Toronto, Tampa Bay).  He can’t turn deep gappers into doubles easily, and he can’t throw runners out unless he gets a lot of help from the pitcher.

So what to do?

There’s actually an OK crop of backup catchers’ out there, with a few interesting buy-low candidates like Javier Valentin, Josh Bard and David Ross.  But Bard is an offense-first catcher who stopped hitting (his rate against basestealers is worse than Hall’s, although Padres pitchers are more indifferent to runners than even Sox pitchers),  and Valentin and Ross both lost their jobs on a bad Cincinnati ballclub.

Below them are guys like, well, Paul Phillips.  That wouldn’t help, either.

Everybody else would cost more than Hall’s $2.25 million salary (especially adding the $150,000 it’d take to buy out Hall in the first place).  So I see the Sox picking up his option, citing the way he handles the pitching staff and his antics as clown prince of the dugout.

Perhaps one more year off his shoulder injury coinciding with a contract year will show Sox fans they haven’t seen the best of him yet.  Chances are he’ll make Pierzynski the most valuable member of the club for a third straight year, so hold your breath that he survives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers

%d bloggers like this: