White Sox’s Jake Burger is making the most of his opportunities. Should he get more?

During spring training, Jake Burger had big plans to improve his swinging strike rate in the zone. To swing in less bad positions and to think in the beginning is the work of the season. Ensuring your swing is aligned to make the most of your good decisions is mechanical and the subject of Burger’s off-season work. He saw it as connected to reducing his groundball rate.

“When I landed, I came out of my legs a little more and so obviously hit the top half of the ball,” Burger said of his efforts to stay in the base of his legs longer this spring. “On the other hand, if I stay and stay down throughout my swing and my head doesn’t come up, it creates a kind of natural backspin for all parts of the court. That’s the other thing: When I fold, my club isn’t in the zone as long, so I swing and miss a little more, foul balls, and get two strike counts and non-advantage counts. So it definitely helps with that too.”

When Burger stays low, as you can see here staying in his crouch to scoop and obliterate a changeup a few inches below his knees, you’ll notice. Because he is tall, broad and strong; his effort not to sit up is visible; and his contributions have been expertly timed to get noticed. He has batted .600 since being recalled by Triple A on May 24. an extra-inning walk-off RBI single on May 29 (after a three-hit game the night before); a two-barrel pinch-hit go-ahead homer to shock the Rays on Saturday; and hitting two doubles in Sunday’s early attack. And if Saturday didn’t feel like the only time Burger has single-handedly beat the Rays this season, it’s because he’s back on May 15.

Burger struggled long before being sent down when Yoán Moncada returned from injury in early May, and Moncada has struggled very hard ever since (.135/.169/.230 in 77 plate appearances). But if your feeling that Burger has outperformed Moncada in their time together extends beyond looking at Burger’s power-heavy, slightly above-average season line (.245/.289/.434, 108 wRC+ in 115 plate appearances), for some, the indescribable feeling that “Burger’s had a lot of big hits,” there’s something to that. Burger has focused an absurd amount of production on at-bats, defined by Baseball-Reference as “high leverage” because of the game situation and winning probability, hitting .409/.440/.727 on those spots.

That’s fitting, as the 26-year-old claims the main benefit of his two weeks at Charlotte was being able to calm down or catch his breath and stay in his approach at big points. That’s what you can focus on mid-season when you have confidence in the work being done on your swing during the off-season.

“I would say the two weeks that I went to Charlotte definitely helped in that sense,” Burger said last weekend. “Control the game, control my energy and not try to do too much, not chase results and just do what I do in the box. Everything took care of itself.”

A former 11th pick, Burger represents probably the most intriguing exit to an ongoing conflict in the struggling White Sox lineup – as Tim Anderson’s current injury provides an obvious answer to why Danny Mendick is suddenly hitting .318/.362/. .455 in 48 plate appearances while crushing Triple A. Reaching Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, AJ Pollock and, to a lesser extent, Gavin Sheets producing up to their 2021 level of play shows how this year’s White Sox best access their once-envied offensive ceiling. In other words, the best version of this team includes the best players. So if this team wants to go further than last year, they have to get these players right again. In some form, that will likely involve giving them a lot more bats.

At first glance, the task of keeping the White Sox afloat — especially without Anderson — seems very urgent, and this team certainly won’t get any further than they did last year unless they start playing much better soon. With that in mind, it seems tempting to siphon off playing time for better-playing substitutes, especially when their potential pedigree suggests they have the potential to become regulars. The question is whether they are crying out for a bigger role or succeeding in the way they are currently being deployed.

Burger has certainly made the strongest argument that a left-hander should have much to do with him and perhaps, after setting fire to the Rays’ Jalen Beeks on Saturday, an overly strong argument that he should be used as a threatening pinch. Hit Threat when an opposing manager considers using their best left-handed reliever. After tormenting Ryan Yarbrough on Sunday, Burger is hitting a very ridiculous .360/.414/.760 against lefties and .278/.357/.556 for his career this season. His plush power is evident, his efforts to reduce his groundball rate have been successful (41.1 percent is much lower than his potential days and below the league average) and an extra split second of pitch detection versus opposing pitching causes Burger to pulverize more Mistake.

On the other hand, Burger is hitting .241/.281/.407 against righties for his career, .210/.247/.333 this season, and .154/.241/.269 since he was recalled — although that last number comes with pretty good strikeout- to-walk numbers (20.7 percent to 10.3 percent) and just terrible BABIP luck in a tiny sample. Whether it’s concerns about hand strain, a big forward lunge in his swing that puts him too front footed to respond to off-speed pitches in time, or just his track record, league scouts are skeptical of major improvement against it Right-handed pitching comes with regular play. While a part-time assignment on a matchup basis (he was particularly good against groundball pitchers) would allow him to use his intelligence to raid heaters — or, as was the case in Tampa this weekend, changeups. He’s identified as a good bencher by opposing team scouts, and the best benchers always look like they deserve better. Burger seems to be making the most of his opportunities, and after all, he’s been waiting for her for too long.

As a third-base counterweight to Moncada, who has been going from bad to worse against left-handers, Burger seems really great. As a DH candidate against lefties, Burger maintains his claim despite Grandal’s historic dominance from the right or the potential for Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jiménez to compete for opportunities there. To compensate for the team’s weaknesses against right-handed pitching, its opportunities to improve on the job are weighed against the opportunities for veterans who have previously been successful. This is a more crowded street. It reminds me of the swing and miss rate in the Zone.

The concept is simple enough, but following it is sometimes difficult. When opposing teams know a batsman will swing through a large number of pitches in the zone, first-pitch strikes, fastballs to get back on the count, and every element of pitching are easier for them to achieve. Teams often use internal measures for zone swinging strike rate that look different than what FanGraphs plot for zone contact rate, even though they’re basically the same concept but minor league swinging strike rate in the zone is usually not public. All in all, Burger’s contact rate in the zone hasn’t improved early in the season and doesn’t appear to have changed dramatically over the year, moving from 81.6 percent to 82.7 percent. The major league average this season is 85.1 percent.

For two weeks in Charlotte, what scans have been dramatically improved. Big league hitters are better than triple-A pitchers. But the gains have carried over to the majors. Burger had contact with 79.8 percent of the slots in the zone before he was demoted and with 88.4 percent since his recall. And when your momentum is ready to make the most of good decisions, it’s easier to focus on the decisions.

(Photo: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

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