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The White Sox’s Defensive Decline

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The White Sox were the toast of the AL in the first few weeks of the season. Not only did their 16-7 start to the season earn them a three-game lead over the World Series champion Royals in the Central on April 28, it gave them the best record in the league. Only the record-setting Cubs had a faster start to the season.

Since that quick start, the White Sox have slowly faded to their current record of 33-33 and fourth place in a competitive AL Central. There have been several reasons for the team’s reversal, but none stand out as much as their decline in defensive performance. Back on April 28, White Sox’s defenders combined for 13 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), tied for the fourth best total in baseball and the third best in the AL.

Team DRS Standings, April 28
Team DRS
Cubs 18
Astros 18
Rangers 17
White Sox 13
Cardinals 13
Blue Jays 13

Adam Eaton was clearly the defensive star. His nine Runs Saved both led the team and led all players in baseball. However, the White Sox were getting a few other solid performances, notably from newcomer Todd Frazier (3 DRS) and Melky Cabrera (2 DRS). Meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins (-3), Dioner Navarro (-3) and Austin Jackson (-2) were the only three players who cost the team more than one run with their defense over those first few weeks.

In the close to two months since April 28, the White Sox have fallen to their current total of -14 Runs Saved. That decline of 27 runs is the third most over that time frame, and the other teams with significant drop-offs had already shown themselves to be average or below-average defensively over the first several weeks.

Biggest Team DRS Declines, April 28 - June 17
Team Starting DRS Current DRS Change in DRS
Athletics -11 -57 -46
Twins -10 -38 -28
White Sox 13 -14 -27
Tigers -10 -32 -22
Phillies 1 -15 -16

Eaton has barely slowed his pace, saving the team seven more runs since April 28. However, Frazier and Cabrera have combined for -16 DRS after their start of 5 DRS. For Frazier, this decline is a major surprise. He has been a positive contributor at third base in each of the first five years of his career but now stands at -5 DRS for the season thus far. Unlike Frazier, Cabrera has a track record of below-average defensive play and has now cost the White Sox six runs defensively. Brett Lawrie (-8 DRS for the season), Navarro (-7), and Jackson (-5) have also contributed to the decline.

In all, it can be estimated using the 10-run rule (10 runs = 1 win) that three of the White Sox 26 losses since April 28 are attributable to their poor defensive performance. With just average defense, they might still have a very respectable 36-30 record.

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