There has been no power shortage on the South Side this season. The White Sox’ 174 home runs through Sunday rank 19th in team history, with plenty of opportunity to move up.
Yet the way baseball is played today, the Sox seem almost like a spray-hitting bunch. They’re one of three teams with 400 or more runs scored on balls in play, generating action on the bases.
Major-league teams have averaged 183 homers so far. That leaves the Sox nine below average. First baseman Jose Abreu (30th in the majors with 29 homers) and catcher Yasmani Grandal (22 in 325 plate appearances) have been consistent power sources, but the Sox have been less homer-reliant than most teams.
The American League Central-leading Sox’ 738 runs include 411 on balls in play, trailing only the AL West-leading Astros (444) and AL-East leading Rays (419). Combined with their 327 runs on balls not in play, the Sox rank sixth in the majors in runs, nicely balancing a pitching staff that ranks fourth in fewest runs allowed at 593.
But homers remain king, even though the three AL division leaders also are strong in scoring on balls in play. Major-league teams this season have scored 46.8% of their runs on balls not in play — primarily homers, but also including runs on wild pitches and passed balls and those forced in by bases-loaded walks and hit batsmen.
Of the 10 teams currently in playoff positions, six exceed the major-league average for runs on balls not in play, showing more reliance on homers than average teams.
The National League West-leading Giants (54.7%), NL East-leading Braves (54.02%) and AL wild-card-contending Blue Jays (51.21%) score more than half their runs on balls not in play.
They’re followed by the NL wild-card-contending Dodgers (48.1%), the Rays (47.4%, despite their production on balls in play) and the NL Central-leading Brewers (47.11%).
The wild-card-contending Cardinals in the NL (46.4%) and Red Sox in the AL (46.1%) are nearly at the major-league average, leaving only the Astros (44.3%) and Sox (44.2%) as playoff teams significantly below the major-league average in home-run reliance.
On balls not in play, the Sox have struck out 1,284 times, a tiny bit below the major-league average of 1.298. They’ve drawn 540 walks, a big step up from the major-league average of 486. Their .335 on-base percentage ranks second to the Astros’ .341. There have been runners to drive in.
Contrast that with the Cubs, whose 1,488 strikeouts lead the majors. With 200 homers, the Cubs have scored 51.69% of their 650 runs on balls not in play.
With an average of 1.17 homers per game, the Sox are poised to move up their own list. Averaging 1.17 in their last 13 games would give them another 15. That would take them to 189, 14th in team history and one behind the 2007 team.
That’s a powerful team in the context of Sox history. But in a 2021 major-league context, it’s a Sox team that’s getting the job done in ways other than homers.