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White Sox need help on defense

Updated: August 25, 2014 11:17PM

When the White Sox traded Gordon Beckham to the Angels last week, many noted that while he was contributing little at the plate, he was a plus in the field.

That’s true on both counts. His 2.8 runs created per game — meaning a lineup of nine Beckhams would average fewer than three runs a game — didn’t fuel any pennant dreams. On defense, he was at plus-1 under Baseball Info Solutions’ runs-saved stat, where zero signifies major-league average.

One run saved doesn’t indicate a defensive whiz, but it does indicate a competent defender. The Sox could have used more of that this season, though not at the cost of carrying as weak a bat as Beckham’s has been.

The Sox are at minus-37 runs saved this season. They’ve been above average at only two positions — shortstop, where Alexei Ramirez is plus-1 and the team is plus-2, and center field, where Adam Eaton and the
team are plus-8. Beckham was plus-1 at second, but the team is at zero overall.

At some positions, the Sox are close enough to zero that you can say they’ve been getting average defense. The team is at minus-1 at catcher, though it’s plus-3 when Tyler Flowers is behind the plate. Sox pitchers are a collective minus-3. And the team is at minus-4 in left field, though Alejandro De Aza is at plus-2.

That leaves three positions in double figures on the minus side. The weakest has been right field, where Dayan Viciedo is at minus-9. When he slides over to left or sits out, the other right fielders have added to the deficit, bringing the position to minus-16 overall. Viciedo also is minus-6 in left, more than offsetting De Aza’s contribution.

The Sox are at minus-12 at first base, with the most frequent first baseman, Jose Abreu, at minus-7. Adam Dunn has tacked on the other minus-5.

And at third base, Conor Gillaspie and the team are at minus-11.

The minus-37 overall puts the Sox in a serious hole relative to the best defensive teams in the American League. The East-leading Orioles top the AL at plus-47, followed by the Central-leading Royals (plus-33), Red Sox (plus-27) and Athletics (plus-26).

The Sox have scored 548 runs and allowed 620 on their way to a 59-71 record. If they had an average defender at every position and had allowed 37 fewer runs to cut the total to 583, their Pythagorean record would be 61-69. They’ve lost about two extra games because of defense.

By no means would they want to give up Abreu’s bat for the sake of average defense at first. His cost-benefit ratio tilts far to the benefit side. But shoring up right field, along with another defensive upgrade or two at other spots, wouldn’t hurt.

When contending times come for the Sox, they won’t want to be giving away a couple of games because of defense while opponents such as the Royals are gaining a couple in the field.

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