Earlier this spring, La Russa said he liked having a switch-hitter at first, and he thought Moncada would be a good fit in the White Sox’s four-field line because he has the ability to step up, and that’s what you look for in the middle of the line.
I hadn’t thought about how a change up might affect the decision-making of opposing managers in the first place, but I think it’s an interesting aspect to consider, especially when you consider that another change up in Yasmany Grandal will likely succeed Moncada in the lineup due to Jimenez’s injury. With Moncada, reigning MVP Jose Abreu, and the aforementioned Grandal absent, managers of opponents will be forced to choose their poison, so to speak, in high average late game scenarios.
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The idea of using Moncada as a free agent didn’t appeal to most White Sox fans until now, as they thought his combination of power and patience would fit perfectly into the two holes in the lineup. At times, we’ve seen Moncada take a passive stance at the plate, which doesn’t seem like a good fit for the role of goalie, given that the position requires him to produce runs. We saw it again in 2020, but I’m convinced it was a function of a young Cuban not having full confidence in himself and his body as he dealt with the effects of COVID-19.
Still, the concept of Moncada hitting between Abreu and Grandal is an interesting trick. I think Moncada will be able to do serious damage with runners on base in 2021, as Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, and even Adam Eaton (despite what some people think, he’s not a functional baseball player) will be on base for him.
The one thing I’ll be watching for is Moncada’s approach in these situations. If he lets a 2-0, 3-1 count walk and is careful with the baseball, I think he will flourish. He’s proven he has enough pitch-recognition skills to get into those counts, and if he does, he could be a force. If he shows selective aggression and makes sure he plays the ball with authority when he’s in that position, I think La Russa will once again prove why he’s truly a baseball Hall of Fame man. On the other hand, if we see a passive Moncada who just wants to work, count, and put himself at the mercy of the home plate umpires, it could be a very frustrating experience.
Moncada has shown us that he has everything it takes to become a cornerstone of the franchise, a superstar type of player. Maybe this move to the clean spot with a new goal can breathe new life into the young third baseman. During his career as a manager, La Russa has challenged several players, and that seems to be the challenge he’s posing to Yoan Moncada. We all know he has what it takes, and if he does, the offense will be very fun to watch, even without Eloy Jimenez.
Midfielder Abrau-Moncada Grandal could be a nightmare for American League managers in 2021. In late-inning situations where bullpen control comes into play, White Sox opponents will struggle with hand decisions and the infamous three-at-bat minimum rule. Navigating against this trio of hitters will prove to be a daunting task, especially if Moncada performs at a level close to the one he did in 2019. When you have backup singers at the four and five positions, you are open to a lot of questionable speculation from opponents and fans.
Will managers pick the right-hander to neutralize Jose Abreu? Abreu has a career high wRC+ 129 against RHPs, but that number has dropped to a still respectable wRC+ 115 since the start of the 2018 season. There were a lot of tweets about Abreu falling to the right last year (including yours), so what did Abreu do? He just put up his best numbers of his career against right-handed pitchers with a wRC+ of 175, backed by an SLG% of .633. Does he really have a representative cast around him, and will that continue in 2020? That’s certainly a strong argument.
If managers decide to use right-handers to attack the middle of the order, they expose themselves to injuries from Moncada, who has a 119 wRC+ in his career and has shown much more power from the left side of the plate. He is followed by Grandal, who has a 118 wRC+ against right-handers.
If the opponent tries to attack the middle of the lineup with lefties, they may find themselves in a world of hurt again. Yes, Moncada has been worse against LHPs (.247/.318/.384) throughout his career. However, he has a 118 wRC+ listed on the right side since the start of the 2019 season. That figure was raised in 2020 because of his 19.6% BB rate in a limited sample, but his increased selectivity on this side could historically swing the hammer for Grandal. Grandal has been pretty consistent in his career regardless of delivery type (118 wRC+ vs RHP vs 115 wRC+ vs LHP). But since the start of the 2018 season, the switch-hitting receiver has actually done more damage to the southpaws. Since then, he has a 127 wRC+ against lefties with increased power, versus a 120 wRC+ against righties.
Finally, Tony La Russa’s decision to use Moncada as a backup might be a stroke of genius. The matchup problems created by Moncada’s presence there – flanked by the reigning MVP and another substitute player – are enough to make your head spin. If he is fully functional and displays the selective aggressiveness I personally expect from him, Moncada could be in for a 2021 season. Opponents and managers will have a hard time navigating that part of the lineup. If Moncada is consistent among hitters and doesn’t seem to be bothered by balls, the White Sox could somewhat mitigate the loss of Eloy Jimenez.
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