Admit it. You didn’t see this coming. When the Chicago White Sox acquired third baseman Conor Gillaspie from the San Francisco Giants early in spring training, you may have thought it was a good deal, or that Gillaspie had the potential to be a nice piece for the Sox.
You probably didn’t predict that by May he’d be perhaps the White Sox’s most valuable player.
Either way, he is.
It’s hard to imagine where the White Sox would be in 2013 without Gillaspie, who by all accounts is the best positional player on the team thus far.
Perhaps most importantly, Gillaspie has been a great asset in the clutch (as he was in yesterday’s victory over the Texas Rangers) en route to an impressive 0.44 Win Probability Added (WPA).
While some of the value numbers (fWAR and bWAR) are relatively meager in comparison to league contemporaries—Gillaspie ranks around 70th in league fWAR—his contribution to an otherwise disappointing White Sox team has kept them alive in a still wide-open American League Central.
How is this happening? How did waiver-wire fodder turn into the team’s most valuable player?
One might argue that all Gillaspie needed was a chance. While he seemingly came out of nowhere, Gillaspie was in the majors as far back as 2008, the year he was drafted. Of course, if you’re familiar with his career, you’ll know that Gillaspie only made it in 2008 as September call-up, an agreed-upon arrangement when he signed his first contract.
Still, though, Gillaspie had every right over the last few years to make a full-time roster. His career .287/.358/.420 minor league batting line speaks to someone who definitely had the credentials to be an everyday player.
The San Francisco Giants have been notoriously slow and uneasy on placing younger players on their everyday roster—and even worse for Gillaspie, he was blocked by the Giants’ most potent hitter, “The Big Panda” Pablo Sandoval.
One team’s trash is another team’s treasure, though, and Gillaspie has definitely been that.
There are a few red flags, though. Gillaspie’s out-of-this-world .400 BABIP suggests some regression could occur in the next few months. That’s a completely unsustainable number—especially given his career .306 BABIP.
Likewise, Gillaspie has done most of his damage against fastballs this year. Not that it’s something out of the ordinary, but you wonder if teams will recognize his penchant for fastballs and start throwing him more off-speed stuff. Currently, Gillaspie stands at 4.1wFB (Fastball runs above average—via Fangraphs.com).
That is far and away the best versus-fastball number on the White Sox. Strangely enough, the player second in White Sox wFB is fellow surprise contributor Tyler Greene (3.1).
All in all, Gillaspie has been a great asset. Not only has he shown great ability at the plate, but he’s also been a plus defender all year for the Pale Hose. His 1.8 UZR and 17.2 UZR/150 suggest the White Sox have themselves one of the more valuable defensive third basemen in the league thus far.
Even without the stats, Gillaspie has been flashing some great leather, making both the easy and difficult plays look routine.
Can he keep it up? Time will tell. Even if he regresses a bit, Gillaspie has made his mark on the White Sox through the first month of the season and has undoubtedly put his career back on track.