Strikeouts down, power up for Sox's Viciedo

Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko are grabbing most of the headlines as the Chicago White Sox continue their red hot play. However, it’s left fielder Dayan Viciedo who is becoming the player to watch as he turns into Chicago’s next star.

Dayan Viciedo

ViciedoViciedo defected from Cuba in 2008 at age 18, and signed with the White Sox that December. Going into 2009, Baseball America ranked Viciedo as the team’s No. 2 prospect. With a 240-pound frame and a nickname of "Tank", Viciedo’s power potential was never in question -- he launched 52 home runs over 1,408 minor-league plate appearances before turning 23.

The concern for Viciedo was his plate discipline. He doesn’t walk much and this season he began striking out at a very high rate.

After May 13, Viciedo looked like a player just waiting to be sent to the minors. His .226 OBP ranked fourth-lowest in the American League among 100 players with 100 plate appearances. No outfielder in the A.L. posted an OPS as low as Viciedo’s .530, and only teammate Brent Morel had fewer RBI (4) than his five. The White Sox were 16-19, but just two and-a-half games out of first place in the A.L. Central.

A lot of Viciedo’s struggles could be attributed to a high strikeout rate. He struck out essentially two times in every seven plate appearances (29 percent) which ranked fourth-worst in the A.L. Usually these types of strikeout rates are reserved for sluggers, but at the time Vicideo had just three HR.

Dayan Viciedo This Season

On May 14, something clicked for Viciedo, who began a hot stretch to finish out the month.

Over his last 17 games, Viciedo hit .418 with a 1.232 OPS. His eight home runs, 10 multi-hit games and 23 RBI in the span either lead or are tied for the league. Viciedo has raised his average and OPS from .196/.530 to a much more respectable .284/.808.

The strikeout problem has all but disappeared. Viciedo was striking out in more than 29 percent of his plate appearances to start the season, but he has just six strikeouts over his last 68 plate appearances.

Viciedo is not practicing more patience. His swing rate at pitches out of the zone has stayed consistently high, around 36 percent. (The league average is just over 28 percent.)

The difference is that Viciedo is making solid contact more often. He’s hitting weak grounders at a much lower rate (42 percent to 52 percent), and he’s punishing pitches that are left over the middle of the plate. Five of his last eight home runs have come on off-speed pitches roughly belt high over the middle/inside two thirds of the plate.

The White Sox have been rewarded for their confidence in him. Viciedo helped Chicago win 14 of 17 games and move them into first place in the division.