Eloy Jiménez Wraps Up Year One

Two years ago, 22-year-old Yoán Moncada, the White Sox’s much-heralded return for Chris Sale, put up a 105 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR in his debut season in Chicago. Eloy Jiménez, this year’s 22-year-old Southside rookie, has about a month left on the first year of his six year, $43 million contract. But his first year has looked familiar: His .259/.309/.489 line with 27 home runs translates to a 108 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. Recurring hip injuries have limited his production, but it’s still been a mostly successful debut. A key part of Chicago’s future, Jiménez has played particularly well over the last month, and he just captured the AL Player of the Week award.

Long-time Jiménez watchers will recall that, as a prospect, he combined tremendous natural strength with unusually high contact rates, particularly during his years in the Cubs system. This year, he’s hit for plenty of power but his contact rate is just 70%, which is in the league’s 10th percentile among players with more than 450 plate appearances. It’s certainly possible to succeed with a low contact rate — Bryce Harper and Nelson Cruz each make less contact and have a wRC+ above 120 — but you either to need to walk a lot or hit for big power to pull it off; Harper walks 15% of the time, while Cruz has an ISO of .323. Jiménez, meanwhile has a .231 ISO and a 6.1% walk rate. He’s still a good hitter, if not yet a great one.

Fortunately, with his size and natural pop, he doesn’t have to sell out for power. Instead, he can focus on keeping his hands behind the ball and try to hit line drives. This more compact approach is an adjustment from his time in the Cubs’ minor-league system, where he used to hold his hands at helmet height and then need to torque his body violently around his upper half in order to reach pitches low away; typically, he’d either miss entirely or foul the ball off. Since coming to the South Side, Jiménez says he’s lowered his hands in an effort to make better contact on inside fastballs, and to get to pitches down and away from lefties.

“I’m just trying to hit those ones with the barrel, like I’m hitting line drives to second base. Having the hands lower has helped me a lot, staying with those pitches. When I do that, if they come in with the pitch, instead of down and away, then I have a chance to hit it over the third baseman’s head, or over the shortstop.”

You can see the results in Jiménez’s contact rate plot against lefties (below). As you’d expect, he’s driving pitches that brush the center of the zone, but he’s also making contact on pitches down and away that he feels were never accessible to him before.

Four times this season, Jiménez has homered to right-center field on a low pitch from a lefty. In Jiménez’s mind, that’s the highest form of success as a hitter. He’s already made good progress toward split-neutrality this year, posting a .314 wOBA against southpaws and .340 mark against righties, but he wants to go further in his sophomore season. He’d also like to improve against off-speed pitches (he’s struggled in particular with changeups), which in his case is the other side of the same coin, as he tends to get those pitches late in counts and away from his powerful hands.

Jiménez has shown no signs of resting on his laurels. People around the White Sox rave about his work ethic and attitude, particularly in the face of the injuries that have dogged him since making his pro debut five years ago. Those injuries, and the hoopla surrounding his late-spring contract extension and subsequent debut, could easily have distracted him.

“Everything has been new this year,” he told me this week. “Everything. It’s been a totally new life for me. I signed that big contract in spring training, and since then it’s been new fields, new stadiums, new computers and things around for me to get ready with. I’ve just tried to be focused on each game and not worry too much.”

That’s been difficult in a season where he hasn’t had much chance to build up a rhythm at the plate. Jiménez started slowly, hitting just .241/.294/.380 over his first 85 big-league plate appearances, before landing on the IL with an ankle injury at the end of April. After returning in late May, Jiménez had a strong June, posting a 143 wRC+, before heading back to the training room with an ulnar nerve contusion in mid-July. That kept him out until the end of the month, and he looked rusty upon his return to the lineup. His September to date has been excellent, with five home runs and a 179 wRC+, but he hasn’t yet managed to produce big numbers in consecutive months.

At some point soon, the White Sox could be pretty good. Tim Anderson is swiftly becoming a star, albeit one with a 2.5% walk rate. Moncada is currently putting the finishing touches on what should end up as a five-win season. José Abreu has 33 home runs and a 119 wRC+. If the Southsiders actually go out and get some pitching to support Lucas Giolito, they could threaten the Cleveland-Minnesota chokehold on the division that’s played out since the Royals made their last run to October four years ago. Right there in the middle of will be Eloy Jiménez, the young man who came into adulthood believing he’d one day be playing playoff baseball in Chicago. If things go right next year for him and his club, he absolutely will be — just a few miles south of where he expected.

We hoped you liked reading Eloy Jiménez Wraps Up Year One by Rian Watt!

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Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

He needs to get the ball in the air a little more, but its amazing how easy his oppo power is. He rarely pulls a homer, and the oppo bombs he hits are not of the cheap variety. Him hitting 50+ multiple times seems extremely possible if he just gets the ball in the air a little more often.

He has been susceptible to the high fastball and low and away slider more than the change in my opinion, but he can improve in those areas and had already shown signs of attacking his pitch more often.

MikeS
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MikeS

The reason he hits so many of his HR to right field is because that’s where they pitch him. That contact heat map is pretty much the same as where pitchers throw the ball. If they get it up over the plate, he hits it 450′ to center. Last night Romo hung a slider over the inner half and he absolutely crushed it to left, but he hasn’t gotten many of those pitches so he hasn’t pulled a lot of fly balls.

His power is so effortless he can take an easy swing on the low and away pitches and they just sail out to right. If he gets just a little better (and hits just a few more fly balls, like you said), he’s going to present a real problem for opposing pitchers.

His defense is going to present a problem for his own pitchers though. The ulnar nerve contusion was him running into the center fielder on a ball that wasn’t his. His future may be DH or 1B.

As far as the White Sox adding pitching to Giolito, I think they hope Cease and Kopech are a lot of that answer. Maybe the second half version of Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon? Rodon probably won’t be a real option till at least the second half of 2020. Geritt Cole would look very good in that rotation next year too. They would have to pay for his mid-30’s. Not sure if the White Sox will do that, but I wouldn’t discard it out of hand. They only have about $17M committed to next year and only 7 arb eligible players. Of those, only Rodon, Sanchez, Garcia, Colome, and McCann are A3. Garcia and Sanchez are bench guys soon to be replaced in the every day lineup by Robert and Madrigal so even if they get raises above the combined $8.625M they made this year, it’s only for one year. Rodon is coming off TJ. Colome is a reliever who’s K% and strand rate are down, BB% is up, and has been very lucky with a .199 BABIP against. Only McCann is in line for significant money. They have a lot of payroll flexibility if they want to use it.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

Agree; I find it more likely they sign a Wheeler type with another arm that has a nice ceiling but risk (like an Alex Wood, although I don’t think him), than a Cole. Rodon is likely better suited for the Bpen at this point but not sure they move him there. Cease, Gio, Kopech, Reylo, Wheeler and maybe even Nova again as a #5 could be the rotation next year in the second half. Strasberg and Cole seem like longer shots but possible.

Lopez needs to figure out why his fastball is unhittable some starts and generates next to zero swings and misses in the next start. He needs to find that fastball more frequently and desperately needs to find some consistency with his slider. I think he should try a splitter with his arm action but its possible his hands arent big enough.

CC AFC
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Member
CC AFC

Yep, if they were trying to lowball Manny Machado, I can’t believe they’re suddenly going to break the bank to end up as the high bidder on Cole.

MikeS
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MikeS

The market and price tag are likely to be smaller for a 29 year old pitcher than a 26 year old third baseman.

Patrick Corbin got 6/$140M last year, Darvish got 6/$126M in 2018. Those are the only 9 figure contracts signed by FA pitchers in the last three years. There were 4 in 2016 and 2 in 2015. Cole is better than Corbin or Darvish and the ages are similar, but it isn’t going to take $300M to sign him. Probably 6 – 7 years at an AAV of around $25M. Maybe with voidable years on his side, which the White Sox might actually like if they think he might opt out after 2 or 3 years which gives Cease and Kopech time to develop and/or heal.

Baller McCheese
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Baller McCheese

I can’t remember the last time the White Sox paid big money for a FA pitcher. Not saying it can’t happen, but it’s not their MO as an organization.

CC AFC
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Member
CC AFC

Why are we still on the idea that player opt outs are things that teams want? Player opt outs are always bad for the team, every single time.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

They may or may not “want” them, but they can often be good for the team.

Condition 1: When the player plays well enough that the agent tells the player to opt-out. If this condition is not satisfied, the opt-out is irrelevant to the following conditions, and the team has gained something simply by including the opt-out instead of including something else of value (usually money).
Condition 2: When the team is smart enough to not pay stupid money for a team’s decline years. If you decide to pay huge money to a guy entering the decline years because he opted out of his contract, the opt-out is bad for the team,. But you shouldn’t be doing that anyway. 99% of the “bad” scenarios for the team involve the team doing this.

If those two conditions are satisfied, the opt-out is beneficial for the team if the player enters a decline so that he is no longer worth his contract, and a hindrance for the team if the player does not decline. But since players are almost always between age 32-35 when an opt-out clause hits, and players almost always decline after that point, the former scenario happens way more often than the latter one.

The reason why people conclude the opt-out is always bad for the team is because they compare the scenario where a player plays badly and doesn’t opt out, compared to the scenario where the player does well and opts out. This comparison does not make sense. If a player doesn’t play well enough to opt-out, then the counterfactual of not giving the opt-out means you got stuck paying them more money going forward.

Shalesh
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Shalesh

The “opt-out” or “player option” is only beneficial to the team if the player values it more than the additional guaranteed money he would have gotten if he signed. (It’s not that difficult to value the option using an option-tree, so this shouldn’t happen anyway.) Most of these options expire worthless since the player can’t get a better deal at an advanced age than the original deal with the option. In a few cases, ARod’s most famously and JDM’s this year, it’s a net-negative for the team since even if the team’s position on the win-curve no longer justifies said player’s salary, they can always trade the player as the DBacks did with Greinke recently.

The scenarios in which the player makes a delusional decision aren’t really worthy of putting on the positive side for a “player option” for a team.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Oh, it can be win-win for the player, just as long as some other team is dumb enough to sign them!

For real though, the bigger issue is whether you think that your guy is going to decline enough so that the contract is underwater. And if you think the back end of any of these deals are going to be worth it on the back end, good luck to you. Greinke and Scherzer are the exceptions; guys like Pujols are the rule. Literally any chance, however remote, that you can get out of the back-end of the contract is a winning bet for you. Even if the guy kills it the first few years of the contract and he opts out, it is still in your best-case scenario to wish them farewell.

And in the most likely case where a player realizes this is his best contract and he won’t opt out, you’ve just given your guy something he can’t use in exchange for something you can use elsewhere (money).

Shalesh
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Shalesh

Not sure why you want to spend so many words on something you admit is a remote possibility:. Dude signs giant contract, plays amazing for several years, opts out, immediately starts massive decline and team who gave him even more massive contract is screwed. Pujols had no opt-out, so when has this ever happened?

Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd

They can END UP good for the team, in retrospect, if a player collapses suddenly and unpredictably. But at the time the opt out is given, there is no benefit at all to the team. If a player has surplus value at the time of the opt-out, even if the team thinks they will decline in a year or tow, they would be better off trading the player and getting value back than if the player opted out.

Sooted72
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Sooted72

this is the correct answer. im not sure why so many people constantly argue otherwise in these threads. the opt out is ALWAYS a benefit for the player, regardless of how it turns out. its very theoretically simple: if a player is worth more on the open market than he will make on his deal, he’ll take the opt out. if not, he wont.

if i have two job offers that are exactly the same, except that one offers 2 weeks of paid vacation, that second offer is more valuable. this is true even if im a workaholic who never takes vacation or i use the vacation to go skydiving and i die when my parachute doesnt open.

(my post ignored when opt outs are traded for something, such as a lower AAV. that would obviously be a different discussion.)

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Assuming competent representation, it is always a benefit to the player, but that does not necessarily mean it doesn’t pay dividends to the team as well. If JD Martinez opts out this year, if the Red Sox let him walk then they’ll win that about 70% of the time. If he doesn’t opt-out, the Red Sox still win (to a far lesser extent) because they gave him something he didn’t use and they can spend that money they saved from that somewhere else.

Your analogy doesn’t hold water because unless you’re a tenured professor or have a great union behind you, your boss can fire you and pay you nothing. Also, it is unlikely that you will have a sudden downturn in performance starting in your early 30s. And also you can usually cash out vacation time.

MikeS
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MikeS

They usually are not, but in this case I can see where the White Sox would consider it less risky to them. They have a lot of young pitching but much of it has been hurt or is still developing. They are depending on Kopech to recover and develop, Cease to get better, and Giolito to really be this good. All have shown signs they could be really good, but maybe not in 2020 or even 2021. They also have Lopez, who may not be no better than a back end of the rotation guy, and Rodon who needs to recover from Tommy John and then will hit the FA market with a big injury history, but great stuff.

So maybe if you gave them a lie detector test they would say what they really want is 2 or 3 years of Cole because they think that with Madrigal, Robert, and Vaughn coming soon, in the next year or two they think they can be competitive. For all the reasons I put in the first paragraph they aren’t sure about the rotation over that time but they think it will work itself out by then and two or three guys will emerge to form a core, but until then it would be nice to have a guy they can rely on. You can’t get Cole for 3/$75M, but maybe for 6/$150M with some player options? Then if he pitches well in 2 of the first three years and opts for free agency again you miss out on his age 33 – 35 seasons, which you were anxious about anyway. Maybe he turns into Sherzer or Verlander and you miss out on something good, or maybe you become the textbook example of how it is better to part ways with a guy one year too early than one year too late. Or maybe he becomes Jake Arrieta and you are stuck with the last three years. There is going to be risk either way with pitchers.

Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd

Under normal circumstances, it would be smaller. But I don’t think there’s any way it will be smaller than what Machado’s market turned out to be. The stars aligned for them to make that signing — all the big spenders were out for various reasons, Bryce Harper split the remaining market, etc. It’s not going to be another situation where all they have to do is outbid the Padres.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

This argument has never made sense to me. If Machado was worth more, a big spender would have spent and accepted the tax. The fact is, Manny was worth 300 million because that’s what he signed for. If the Yankees or Dodgers were involved he wouldn’t have suddenly signed for 350 million.

Eminor3rd
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Member
Eminor3rd

I don’t know how to respond to that. It contradicts basic economic theory. Yes, in 2019’s market, which included only two buyers with middling budget, that is what Machado was worth. In an average market, where there would be several MORE buyers with deeper pockets, he would very likely be worth more.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

I’m not sure how the second biggest offer was lowballing.

Scarington
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Member
Scarington

Especially when their 24 year old 3rd baseman is having a better year at the plate than the guy they offered $300m.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I really don’t see the point in adding a pitcher unless you think you’re going to make a run that next season. The nice thing about adding a 26 year old position player is that not only will be he good now, he’ll be good in 3 years when your core is all up and ready to go. The White Sox have a BaseRuns record 4 wins worse than their actual record, and they’re only projected to win 70 games this season. Adding Cole means he’s got a good chance of being an albatross when some set of Vaughn, Robert, Madrigal, and others are actually good. They’d be far better off trying to buy out Moncada’s arbitration and a few FA years (although given how much money he already has, that might be tough), re-signing Abreu, and seeing if they can find someone to upgrade right field.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

The Sox have negative 4 WAR between RF and DH. If they just had competent MLB players there this year they’re a 78-80 win team.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I don’t see how that changes things, unless you’re suggesting that
-BaseRuns doesn’t matter
-The team should spend on a RF, DH, and an expensive big-ticket free agent all at one time (in addition to re-signing Abreu)
-And that getting to 80-82 wins is actually a good goal (82-84 if Luis Robert is a cromulent CFer, which I sort of believe).

Lots of ifs, there.

Anthony Princeton
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Anthony Princeton

Are you forgetting the White Sox play in the AL Central? The Twins have 1 SP under contract next year with a team option on Perez. The Indians have budgetary restraints and the Royals and Tigers will be terrible.

Shalesh
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Shalesh

I think fans overrate the “but our division sucks” and “if we could just not have terrible players” ideas. I agree with sadtrombone that you need to have an 85-win projection before you add FA’s, but also think it’s worthwhile to land a Cole or Rendon (while moving Moncada to RF) now. The White Sox need to take a swing at great players even if it’s a year early since it’s difficult to predict which are going to accept a competitive offer in any given year.

Even if they were to land Cole or Rendon and a few less prominent FA’s, I don’t think contention in 2020 is in the cards. But Cole or Rendon should still be good 2021 – 2024.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

The mid-80s projection is definitely a sweet spot for adding players. Free agency is a bad game; you’re generally better off not playing unless you’re already close. They’d be better off opening up the bank for a guy closer to their window of contention. Is it worth it to spend $200M on Rendon or Cole now, accepting the risk of decline/injury between now and then? No, I don’t think so. I’d rather wait until 2022 and spend twice as much money on whichever group of Lindor, Correa, Baez, or Seager makes it to free agency. I’d rather extend Moncada. I’d rather extend Lopez or Giolito. I’d even rather extend them if I was paying a higher price than I’d want to.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

Why can’t they extend them and sign free agents? 2022 isnt the window and it’s just wrong to argue it is. Moncada and Giolito would be 1 year from FA.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

If the White Sox added Cole and Rendon, and a couple other pieces, how would they not compete. RF alone would be a 7 WAR swing. The rotation replacement would be a 7 WAR swing. We’re talking nearly an 18 WAR swing with “other smaller pieces” added to that. That’s to a team that won 70ish games and is adding Robert and Madrigal who are both in house upgrades at their position.

CC AFC
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Member
CC AFC

Jose abreu’s $60m-something deal is the biggest ever signed by the white Sox. What makes you think they would sign two guys who are likely to get triple that amount in one offseason? Plus a “couple other pieces?” How in the world does this scenario mesh with all the evidence we’ve ever seen about that team behaves? Eventually, I’m sure they’ll sign a bigger contract than abreu’s just due to sheer fucking inflation, but to suggest they’ll go ham on two mvp candidates in one offseason plus other pieces is insanity

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

I’m not sure what you’re asking.

With only adding competent 2 WAR MLB players (which would cost about 30 million total) to those positions, this team as currently constructed was a 78-80 win team. Picture Calhoun as one example. Calhoun will sign for like 2 years 15 million.

That isn’t accounting for the continued growth of Moncada, Eloy, Cease and maybe even Giolito next year – which alone is likely worth 1-2 win. Now this team is close to a .500 team with the only change being adding 2 2-WAR players at very little cost.

The White Sox payroll would be like 70 million with those additions. If they signed a TOR starter like Cole, the would be replacing another huge albatross (their 5th starter spot) with a negative WAR with 4-6 WAR. Now they’re projected to win 82-85 games. Add in Robert replacing the abortion that has been CF, Madrigal replacing a bad Yolmer Sanchez, in a weak division, and you have a team competing.

If the Sox went out and spent 300-400 million this off-season, they could very easily turn themselves into a contender in the AL Central.

While RF and DH are an epic embarrassment for the team this year (arguably the worst in baseball history at both positions), it also gives hope for the team because even an average player is a vast improvement.

MikeS
Member
MikeS

I think they do think they can make a run next season or at least in 2021. I don’t know if they are right, but I think they feel they are close. They may see it the same as the Cubs did with Jon Lester. Many people argued then that they may have been signing a FA Pitcher a year too early.

Madrigal and Robert will probably be in the majors early, especially since the White Sox have a history of promoting players aggressively. They aren’t going to leave both in AAA all year. They are replacing Leury Garcia and Yolmer Sanchez who are going to be worth about 2 WAR combined this year and really shouldn’t be getting 1200 PA between them. If Collins can hit (not yet remotely proven) then they have a DH to replace the – 3.2 WAR the other guys have generated from that position.

This also assumes Moncada is this good, Jimenez improves, and Anderson doesn’t regress much. Then the only real hole is in RF, as opposed to this year when they gave over 1000 PA to guys who don’t belong in the major leagues. I’m not even counting Garcia and Sanchez in that since I think they are potentially useful bench guys. But that’s still 4 or 5 spots every night that are just plain not good at hitting. It was really ugly whenever Moncada, Anderson, or Jimenez was on the IL because then they had way too many automatic outs in the lineup. They just didn’t have the depth to be any good at all if they didn’t have all those guys in the lineup.

Not everything is going to work out, but I think every last one of those things are more likely than the previous strategy of “maybe a bunch of mid-level FA’s will have good years and then Sale and Quintana shut everybody down in the playoffs.”

It is a lot of “ifs,” but that’s what rebuilds are based on.

Eminor3rd
Member
Member
Eminor3rd

The idea is that the players get better next year, being in their early 20’s with top prospect pedigree an all.

Also, sometimes you gotta buy a guy when he’s there, even if it isn’t perfect timing. If they want Cole, he’s only available this offseason.