Three up, Three Down: April 22, 2021

Who's hot, and who's not on the White Sox

Editor’s note: This story is a part of White Sox Daily’s subscriber content, but is unlocked and free for everyone through the end of April.

It's April 22, and while most of the data we have on players this season can be considered small sample sizes, we're almost a month into the season at this point, and we're starting to see tangible trends.

In this first edition, we will look at performances dating back to Opening Day and recent versions, and moving forward; we will focus on bi-weekly trends in this story.

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Three Up

Yermin Mercedes

The Yerminator hijacked the headlines of the first week of the season across baseball. He flirted with history, dazzled the fans, gained national headlines, and even has a burger named after him at iconic 'Freddies' on 31st & Union in Bridgeport.

Quite simply, Yermin Mercedes has been the toast of the town in the early days of the 2021 season.

Through 16 games, Mercedes is slashing .390/.429/.661 with four home runs, 12 RBI, and a 209 wRC+. While Mercedes has pitched this season and played first base (neither of them well), it's his bat that has guaranteed him an everyday job with the White Sox for the time being.

Until Mercedes proves that he can't hit, he will be the everyday DH in Tony La Russa's lineup.

Luis Robert

Photo: Paul Sancya/Associated Press

While Robert started the season slowly, he's been red-hot as of late, racking up 12 hits in 28 plate appearances this past week. The 23-year-old center fielder has pushed his season slash line up to .310/.351/.493 and has a home run, eight doubles, a triple, and seven runs to boot in his first 73 plate appearances.

The biggest key to Robert's early success? He sees the ball better than he ever has.

Robert's strikeout rate (23.4%) is down nearly nine points from his rookie season in 2021, in which he struck out 32 percent of the time.

The Statcast metrics are robust for Robert early with career-bests in exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit percentage, and his line-drive rate (35.2%) is up 15.4 percent from last season.

For whatever reason, opposing pitchers are giving Robert slightly more looks at pitches in the strike zone (52.5%) than they did last season (45.6%), and he's not missing on many of them.

Carlos Rodon

Carlos Rodon has gone from non-tendered to a rotational strength in a matter of months. The 28-year-old southpaw has a 3-0 record with a 0.47 ERA in his first three starts. And oh yeah, one of the three starts was a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.

Rodon looks like a different pitcher this season. He's throwing his fastball with more velocity than he has in years. His slider and changeup have been excellent complimentary pitches, and he's striking out opposing hitters at a 32.4 percent clip right now.

Will it last?

Who knows. Rodon's 2.98 FIP is much higher than his 0.47 ERA, and he's still walking a concerning number of hitters (3.79 BB/9), but I'm just going to choose to enjoy the show that he has put on in the first three weeks of the season until he proves otherwise.

Just missed it…

Tim Anderson

Sure, Tim Anderson has the smallest sample size in this group, but he's looked damn good since returning from his IL stint.

In his last five games, Anderson is slugging .739 with two home runs, a double, and a sizzling 235 wRC+. He's also scored six runs in those five games and is slashing .342/.342/.605 with a 168 wRC+ through nine games this season.

As we know, Timmy is the straw that stirs the drink around here, so a healthy and productive Tim Anderson will do wonders for this offense.

Three Down

Leury Garcia

A severed thumb ligament suffered sliding into second base was the end of what was shaping up to be Leury Garcia's best major league season yet to open the 2020 season.

The switch-hitting super-utility man played in 16 of the first 19 games of the season in place of the injured Tim Anderson and was slashing .271/.317/.441 with three home runs and a 108 wRC+ when he went down with the thumb injury.

2021 has not been so kind to Garcia. While the playing time has been there (13 games in the team's first 18), Garcia has struggled mightily. Through his first 45 plate appearances, Garcia owns a .163/.182/.209 slash line and is striking out nearly 29 percent of the time.

Garcia owns a career 85 percent contact rate on swings at pitches in the strike zone, but this season he's sitting eight percent lower in that department. He's just not making as much contact as he usually does, and when he does, it's weak contact (.047 ISO).

Garcia's only real value is in his flexibility both offensively and defensively. He's played on the South Side for parts of nine seasons because the trio of managers he's played under have been able to deploy him just about anywhere whenever they needed it.

Suppose Garcia can't hit his weight, can't do fundamental things like lay down a bunt, and isn't great defensively anywhere on the field (negative career UZR at every position but right field). In that case, there's no reason for Garcia to be on the active roster.

Yoán Moncada

Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images

Nothing hurts my White Sox soul more than a struggling Yoan Moncada, especially after the rough go of it he has in 2020 dealing with the after-effects of COVID-19.

But 2021 has been tough to the 25-year-old third baseman thus far. Through the first 16 games, Moncada is slashing .200/.310/.283 with just one home run and an ugly 31 percent strikeout rate.

The only thing keeping Moncada in the green when it comes to fWAR (0.1) is his defense. Offensively he's a -2.4 player according to FanGraphs right now, but he's accumulated 1.3 defensively at third base, which pretty much jives with the eye test of Moncada this month.

Moncada has looked good with the glove and lost at the dish. Tony La Russa flipped him and Abreu in the lineup recently to wake the pair up from their offensive slumbers, and it worked for Abreu, but not quite yet for Moncada.

With Eloy Jiménez gone for the bulk of this season — if not all — Moncada has to be better than this in the middle of the White Sox lineup.

Evan Marshall

In each of the last two seasons, Evan Marshall has been a rock for the White Sox in the back-end of the bullpen, and he looked otherworldly in Spring Training this season, but he's stumbled out of the gates in April.

Marshall checks in today with a 4.82 ERA (in nine relief appearances this month. He opened the season as the eighth inning guy behind closer Liam Hendriks but has seen himself coming in earlier after some early scuffles.

Last season Marshall struck out nearly 13 hitters per nine, but he's currently sitting at just 6.5 K/9.

He's looked better of late, and I'm not worried about him at this point, but the bullpen has been asked to do a lot early on with the rotation struggling to get deep into games and the offense being wildly inconsistent, and Evan Marshall is a crucial cog in the 'pen.

Nearing a Breakout?

Yasmani Grandal

Someone said on Twitter the other day, "but be honest, do we miss James McCann?"

No. I don't miss James McCann, who has a .601 OPS with the Mets this season. However, I miss the version of Yasmani Grandal that the White Sox gave a $73 million contract to in November of 2019. That guy has been missing in action, and the version we have now is, uh, not great.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Grandal scuffled out of the gates in his first season with the White Sox in 2020, blamed it on adjusting to a new league and division and the loss of in-game video, but eventually picked it up and finished the season with a 116 wRC+.

Alright, fine.

But, year two has looked much like the early part of year one, and Grandal can't use either of the excuses that he used last season for the slow start. Through 12 games, Grandal is slashing .150/.306/.350 with a 95 wRC+.

So, why is he primed to bust out of his slow start?

The walk rate (18.4%) is up from his career norm, and the strikeout rate (16.3%) is down from the same, so that's encouraging. Also encouraging, Grandal is hitting the ball hard this season, averaging 92.4 mph exit velocity on batted balls, 2.4 mph higher than his career mark.

While he's only slugging .350 right now, Statcast has his expected slugging percentage at .511. He's making plenty of loud contact right now; it's just not falling for him (.133 BABIP).

Grandal needs to clean up the sloppy defense (three catcher's interference calls and a pair of passed balls already this season), but at the dish, it seems that Grandal is on track to start putting up those $73 million numbers that we expect out of him.

Featured Photo: White Sox Daily File Photo

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