What happens when role players forego their roles?
The White Sox have two postseason wins since 2008.
In 2020, one came on the back of a stellar outing by Lucas Giolito in Oakland. The other, last year, a three-run homer off the legendary bat of the longest-tenured of all the White Sox.
Since being acquired from Texas in 2013 as a player to be named later, García has been the Swiss Army knife for three separate managers.
He has played every position outside of catcher and first base in his Sox career — which isn’t to say he couldn’t handle those, as well, because his value has always been in his ability to be a guy to step up and fill a role, wherever and whenever needed.
From 2017 to 2021, Leury played in at least 80 games four out of five years, and accumulated a very respectable 5.7 fWAR over that stretch.
Meanwhile, the midway point of the 2022 season finds Leury slashing an utterly anemic .205/.232/.262, all by far lows since the player really seemed to find his role back in 2017.
Outside of threatening the Mendoza Line even with on-base or slugging, Leury ranks among the bottom in just about every value metric you can imagine. Out of 249 players in the league with at least 200 PAs in 2022, The Legend ranks as follows:
- 245th in fWAR (-1.0)!
- 245th in BB/K% (.13)!!
- 246th in wRC+ (39)!!!
All this ineptitude the proverbial cherry on the cash sundae Rick Hahn and the organization presented him in the form of a three year, $16.5 million contract before the 2022 season.
So, what happened — how did a guy so talented at being pretty good at everything get so bad at literally everything?
Breaking into the data, we certainly find a player swinging more, at pitches both in (Z-Swing%) and out (O-Swing%) of the zone, with the biggest jump around 4% out of the Zone.
Along with the increase in Swing rate AND chase rate, we also see a tick up in contact on pitches out of the zone (O-Contact%).
Already, with just these small bits of information, it’s not surprising to see the disparate relationship in hard and soft contact — with the latter on the rise.
Possibly the most telling statistic is that while we see what should be a beneficial increase in fly balls (FB%) and decrease in ground balls (GB%) this season, the majority of these new fly balls are eaten up as infield pop-ups (IFFB%).
What this seems to point to is a guy that still has that earth-shattering ALDS Game 3 home run still fresh in his mind.
We certainly see a player choosing to be both more aggressive than in the past, as well as tending to attempting to get underneath, and lift the ball. While neither of these tendencies are necessarily “bad” in their own right (they certainly work for guys like Tim Anderson and Luis Robert), they really seem to work against who Leury has been as a player, and frankly, who he needs to be moving forward.
This lapse approach is made crystal-clear in his dropping from walking 8.6% of the time in 2021 to just 2.9% in 2022.
Leury’s role and value will always be defined by first and foremost being a one-size-fits-all defensive solution, as well as a competent offensive player who is able to keep the lineup moving back to the heavy hitters at the top.
Leury’s No. 1 job in this offense is to get on base however he can, and secondly maybe chip in some timely hits where possible.
That is the player we saw in 2021.
In 2022, Leury García is simply a guy who is trying too hard.
Overall, we are seeing the retelling of one of the oldest stories in sports: A player rewarded with a big contract pressing to find a way to “live up” to it, desperate to reward the organization, and a manager who believed in him.
For his part, there have been times that Leury was certainly put in some questionable positions this season that may have signaled to him as expectations beyond his station — or at least exacerbated already-instilled feelings (batting third, anyone?).
In may ways, García is a microcosm of the 2022 White Sox so far as a whole, a team that came into the season with unprecedented expectations and have taken any and every chance to nosedive beneath them.
The case of 2022 Leury García is just another symptom of an overall malady affecting just about every member of this team.
Do they have what it takes to cure what ails them?
I don’t know. I certainly hope so.
But what we do know is that with a team that struggles with injuries like this one does, and seemingly will continue to do, the “roles” for the role players keep only getting bigger.
If this White Sox team wants to make an earnest run this year, they are going to need someone to step in and to step up big.
The good news for them is that they actually have a healthy player they signed to do just that. Will he? Again, who knows. But if he does?
It would be pretty “legendary.”