Ramon Castro's season-ending injury will give Tyler Flowers a chance to prove his worth to the White Sox — at least, in a backup role. But his recent struggles against left-handers could be a red flag for an offense already lagging against them.
As Pierzynski's backup, Castro's job was to play against about 90 percent of the left-handed starters the White Sox faced. It was the perfect role for Blastro, as he crushed lefties to the tune of a .928 OPS in 45 plate appearances before getting hurt.
With Blastro ready to dispose of left-handers with authority, Pierzynski has faced a southpaw just 44 times (seven starts) this season. In those 44 plate appearances, he owns a .244/.295/.415 slash line — small sample, I know, but hardly encouraging for a guy who has had poor numbers against lefties in the last three seasons.
The Blastro-Pierzynski tandem worked about as well as possible given Pierzynski's glaring lack of power. Pierzynski's .090 ISO is lower than that of Ronny Cedeno and Emilio Bonifacio, but he hasn't been the offensive liability he was in 2010 (.299 wOBA, which is awful). While his .317 wOBA, when adjusted for league and park, is below average, it's manageable.
Add in Blastro's penchant for demolition of baseballs thrown by left hands and the offense coming from behind the plate was hardly bad.
Enter Flowers, who owns a fine .258/.387/.498 line with 15 home runs for Charlotte. That should be encouraging, but a look into his lefty-righty splits instead yields discouragement.
Now, before we all freak out, Flowers has only had 59 at-bats against lefties in 2011. But in those 59 at-bats, Flowers has a .202/.356/.339 line (.695 OPS) with two home runs, 10 walks and 21 strikeouts. We're getting into extremely volatile territory with what follows after the comma, but that translates into a .173/.268/.280 line with the White Sox.
The good news is that Flowers hasn't been *that* bad against lefties in his minor league career. In 2010, he held a .236/.352/.449 slash line, and in years before that his OPS against lefties never fell below 1.000. So these 59 at-bats may be due to some bad luck in a small sample size.
The bad news, though, is that Flowers hasn't been tested against major-league left-handers. He has all of 13 MLB plate appearances against lefties, hardly enough to tell us — or him — anything.
A handful more plate appearances against lefties in Charlotte maybe could've pulled Flowers out of southpaw struggles, but he won't get that chance. Instead of facing prospects and journeyman quadruple-A pitchers (the famed "replacement-level player"), Flowers will have to try to fix his struggles (or pray for a regression) against major-league lefties.
The other option is to play Pierzynski against left-handers and insert Flowers against right-handers — those that Ozzie Guillen determines his young catcher can handle. This may be the best option, as it'll give Flowers an opportunity to maximize his offensive potential while protecting against his left-handed struggles in case they weren't just due to a small sample.
I would have to guess Flowers will face more righties than Castro (three starts vs. LH) did, but somebody has to start at catcher against lefties. If it's Pierzynski, that's another hole in an offense that already owns a .674 OPS against lefties this season. But if it's Flowers, there exists a strong possibility it still is a hole.
Unfortunately, somebody has to start at catcher against left-handers for the White Sox. And it can no longer be Ramon Castro.
In other news: Be sure to check out Chuck Garfien's interview with Mark Buehrle this evening on CSN. He's posted some of the quotes from Inside Look at Sox Drawer, with this being just one sample:
The rumor circulating around Buehrle’s hometown of St. Charles, Missouri all these years is that there was a technical snafu. He and his friend Mark Bauer both tried out for the team, both of their names were apparently listed as “Mark B” on the tryout sheet, and both years the coaches mixed them up, putting the wrong Mark B. on the team.
“I was pretty much going to give up baseball,” Buehrle said in an interview for Inside Look: Mark Buehrle, which debuts Sunday at 9:30pm on CSN. “Mom and Dad said to me, ‘We didn’t raise a quitter, we want you to go out for one more year.’ I told them I didn’t make it my freshman and sophomore years, which are the easier teams, I’m not going to make varsity. But I went out there junior year, I made the team and here I am.”