Tuesday, September 27, 2022

How Gavin Sheets Turned His Season Around

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On June 11th Gavin Sheets was sent down to Triple-A Charlotte. In 134 plate appearances, he had 34 strikeouts and a .204 batting average. To add insult to injury, he was unusable against left-handed pitchers. In 15 at-bats, he was only 1-for-14 (.071).



He looked lost at the plate and needed to regain the stroke he had during the 2021 campaign, in which he averaged a home run every 14.55 at-bats and an RBI every 4.71 at-bats, both good enough for second on the team.The beginning of the 2022 season was a different story. After logging 11 home runs in just three months the previous year, he had five in 51 games.

Flash forward three months, and Sheets has turned into one of the most productive hitters in the White Sox lineup.

The narrative surrounding the White Sox season is that the offense is struggling. August was an encapsulation of these struggles. The White Sox ranked 11th in the MLB in OPS, 20th in runs scored,21st in slugging percentage, 22nd in RBIs, and 25th in home runs.

Someone forgot to tell Gavin Sheets. He batted .359 (second on the team) and launched four home runs (tied for first). He also led the White Sox with a .641 slugging percentage, a 1.018 OPS, and 20 RBIs.

In Sheets’ last 30 games, he is batting .301 with four home runs, 20 RBIs, and a .530 slugging percentage. He recorded a four-hit game against Houston, three multi-hit games in Baltimore, and blasted two home runs in the same game against Kansas City.

He is making an impact even when he doesn’t get a hit. On Wednesday, he went 0-for-3 against the Seattle Mariners but drove in the go-ahead run twice with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning and an RBI ground out in the eighth. Even more impressive was his approach at the plate.

During his at-bat in the eighth inning, he worked a 2-2 count. He knew he needed to put the ball in play with a runner on third and one out. Striking out wasn’t an option. He got a piece of the ball and slapped it to the infield’s left side.

So what has changed from June to September?

“Way more confident. I’m taking aggressive swings and swinging earlier in the count,” Sheets told Chuck Garfein during an appearance on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

“I’m getting deep into counts still, but I’m not taking as many pitches. I’m in there with an offensive mindset. I think at the beginning of the year, I came out struggling, had a little bit of doubt, tried to work long at-bats, and it just wasn’t taking aggressive swings. Now it’s aggressive swings; it’s confidence. I’m in there to do damage now.”

While he was in Charlotte he made a slight mechanical adjustment that has allowed him to utilize the entire field.  Twenty-four percent of his contact is going to the opposite field. Thirty-nine of his 77 hits have either been his to left field or up the middle.

“It’s definitely something that, when I’m swinging the bat well, is something that I do,” Sheets said.  “I just felt like when I came back, I made a small mechanical adjustment, but it opened up the whole field again. That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m hitting the ball to all parts of the field.”

Sheets also benefitted from teams shifting him.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a guy that I wouldn’t shift against. But when teams do, especially this past month, I’ve worn it out over there, especially with two strikes,” Sheets explained. Until I get to two strikes, I’m looking to do damage, but once I get to two strikes, it becomes a team at-bat. Find a way to get on base. I’m going to let the ball get deeper, and if I hit it that way and it goes through the whole, then great.”

Teams using the shift against Sheets has helped, and playing in Guaranteed Rate Field has also made an impact. For whatever reason, Sheets loves hitting at his home ballpark. He is hitting .282 at home as opposed to his .216 mark on the road, with the bulk of his hits coming in his home state when the White Sox played Baltimore.

All 12 of his home runs have come in the Southside. The 26-year-old is the first player since Mel Ott in 1943 to hit at least 12 home runs at home with none on the road.

These splits will have to improve if Sheets wants to be a successful major leaguer long term. However, Sheets has proven to be a legitimate left-handed power bat in two seasons, something the White Sox desperately needs.

However, the White Sox could also sell high and trade Sheets for some other assets. Sheets is a poor defensive outfielder, and his natural position of first base will be locked down by Jose Abreu or Andrew Vaughn next season. Sheets is better served as a full-time designated hitter. But White Sox already have Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn, who can be full-time designated hitters.

Those are all questions that will be answered during the offseason. For the time being, Gavin Sheets’ new approach is helping the team win ball games. That’s something every fan can embrace.

 

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