The Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox find themselves in equally surprising and precarious situations heading into the 2023 trade deadline. The former is an upstart contender in a weak NL Central. The latter is one of the most disappointing teams in baseball despite being strapped with former All-Stars and promising young talent. This drastic change in fortunes positions the Reds as potential buyers ahead of the July 31 deadline.
Reports have been circulating that indicate Cincinnati is open to parting with their starting second baseman in order to upgrade their young and inconsistent rotation with controllable veterans who can edge this team closer to a division title down the stretch. Conversely, the White Sox are indicating a willingness to sell pieces of their roster that have yet to click on the South Side in return for prospects and fringe major league talent that can help them compete in the near future.
With an obvious and substantial void at second base in Chicago, Jonathan India appears to be a natural fit. A dive into his advanced statistics, however, tells a completely different story.
India’s approach at the plate is, in a word, passive. A casual observer would see India’s 91st percentile chase rate and above-average Whiff % and conclude that he is a patient hitter, but that is not the case. While the most patient hitters in baseball do show less inclination to chase outside the zone, they are proficient in two skills that India is merely average in: Drawing walks and squaring up pitches that are in the zone when pitchers are inevitably forced to challenge them.
An example of a quintessentially patient hitter is 2022 Carlos Santana. For comparison, here are Santana’s numbers during that campaign.
As we can see, Santana paired his 87th percentile chase rate with an exceptional 97th percentile walk rate, 88th percentile expected weighted on base average, and an 81st percentile average exit velocity figure. Additionally, Santana swung at pitches inside the zone at a rate of 64% and hacked at the first pitch nearly 26% of the time in this sample. In lay terms, Santana proved to be an incredibly patient hitter who still knew to pull the trigger when pitchers challenged him inside the strike zone.
By comparison, India chases less outside the zone, yet walks significantly fewer times while producing much softer contact on average. Expounding upon that data, his zone swing rate and first-pitch swing rate are 58% (a career high) and 16.1% respectively, indicating that India takes hittable pitches far too often and is, for the most part, less likely to even swing in the first place.
In practical terms, without a bevvy of fancy graphs and numbers, a patient approach like Santana’s has value to a free-swinging team like the White Sox. A passive approach like India’s simply prolongs the game and has fans screaming, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SWING AT THAT?” at their televisions more often. India swings less, walks less, and produces weaker contact than the majority of hitters at the major-league level, leading to depressed value and little in the way of meaningful offensive contribution.
India’s award-winning rookie season that saw him post figures more closely resembling a productive hitter seems to be an outlier at this point. Since his freshman year, India has posted a 95 OPS+ in 875 trips to the plate through one-and-a-half seasons. This indicates that his detrimentally passive approach is also evident in his traditional baseball statistics, and has a real negative impact in-game.
On the subject of negative impacts, we’d be remiss not to mention India’s consistently lackluster defensive performance. Even in his Rookie of the Year campaign, India scored in the bottom 5% of the league in terms of Outs Above Average (OAA) on defense. In 2023, he’s shown a bit of improvement but still finds himself significantly below average — in the bottom-20th percentile in the league. The White Sox are 20th in the majors in OAA to this point in 2023, and fans will tell you that this team’s fielding execution certainly hasn’t passed the eye test this year, further reinforcing the need for a solid defensive contributor at the keystone.
So, then, should the White Sox seriously consider trading controllable pitching talent to secure a passive hitter with consistently below-average outcomes and a disastrous defensive skill set? The answer is a resounding and unequivocal no. The possibility of him returning to his ROY form with an OPS north of 800 is certainly attractive, but India will need to make some significant strides in multiple areas of his game to provide anything of value to this oft-maligned White Sox team that has yet to show a talent for molding players with big potential into bona fide stars.