Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Chicago White Sox Community!

Andrew Vaughn: The White Sox hitter so clutch, he’s worth bunting for

Vinnie Duber Avatar
August 14, 2022

I know, I know. You hate bunting.

There are few more en vogue baseball Twitter opinions than losing one’s mind every time a manager dares to employ the sacrifice bunt. And sure, as tired as the reaction is, there’s a point underneath the social-media rage: Why give up an out when you can, you know, just get a hit? Plenty of folks have pored over the percentages and the metrics, and the numbers are oftentimes on their side.

And yet bunting still exists. Sacrifice an out, move a runner into scoring position and hope the guy with the bigger bat comes through.

Old-school? Maybe. But sometimes, you can set up a really good hitter with a chance to win the game in a situation he excels in.

That hitter is Andrew Vaughn.

In Friday’s game against the Tigers, the White Sox were in a nothing-nothing tie in the fifth inning, led off by Josh Harrison, the eighth-place hitter. Harrison lined out, but Tony La Russa had a different plan had Harrison reached safely.

“If the eighth-place hitter had gotten on base, I was going to bunt,” La Russa said Sunday morning, “because you knew you had (AJ) Pollock and Andrew. … So that’s confidence.

“You get a guy in scoring position, … Andrew, his ability to use the whole field, handle different pitches and make adjustments, from one at-bat (to another), within the at-bat, is very impressive.”

Vaughn didn’t drive in a run in the fifth inning, but he proved his manager was onto something with that thinking, coming through with a two-out, two-run base hit that snapped the scoreless tie in the seventh inning and delivered a 2-0 victory.

It was the first of three straight tie-breaking, game-winning hits in as many days as the White Sox completed their first sweep since Fourth of July weekend and moved three games above .500 for the first time since mid April. After delivering the big knock Friday, Vaughn plated the winning run with a seventh-inning single Saturday, when the White Sox grabbed a 6-4 win.

He nearly grounded into an inning-ending double play after the South Siders battled back for the tie in the fifth inning Sunday, but a dropped throw to first base allowed the go-ahead run to score on a fielder’s choice. Vaughn got the RBI. And before Sunday’s game, a 5-3 win, was over, he added some insurance with a ninth-inning homer, his 13th of the year to move one away from the team lead in that category.

Agree or disagree that a manager should ever consider bunting, you can’t help but agree with La Russa on this point: Vaughn is damn clutch.

“What happens between his ears is amazing,” La Russa said. “He’s been one of our best hitters with men in scoring position since he got his feet on the ground.

“He’ll take a tough pitch and put it in play. … I think it’s very impressive. Normally, experience is a great equalizer. Until you get it, you’re playing at a disadvantage. He doesn’t look like he’s at a disadvantage.”

Vaughn has been one of the White Sox’ best hitters, period, in a disappointing offensive season that sees them among the league leaders in batting average and hits but in the middle of the pack in runs scored and toward the bottom in home runs. While the power numbers are equally mystifying for Vaughn, too, he’s up there with José Abreu as one of the most productive hitters the White Sox have. Coming into Sunday’s game, his .469 slugging percentage led the team, and his OPS-plus of 131 ranked second behind Abreu’s mark of 136.

Coming through in the clutch seems to be another thing Vaughn shares with Abreu, who popped up with one giant hit after another during his MVP season in 2020. Since arriving as a rookie last year, Vaughn has staged similar heroics. The game-tying homer he hit off Aroldis Chapman last May at Yankee Stadium stuck with La Russa, who brought it up again when discussing Vaughn’s clutch ability Sunday. But in general, Vaughn struggled with runners in scoring position in 2021, batting .196.

“Last year I struggled, struggled with guys on base,” Vaughn said after Sunday’s game, “which hurt me and hurt the team. This year I came in, simplified and stuck to my approach in those situations.”

The four runs Vaughn drove in to break ties this weekend jacked his RBI total in tie games up to 28 on his young career. He’s hit seven tie-breaking homers and entered Sunday’s game with an .809 OPS in such situations. Fifteen of his 28 career home runs, more than half, have come in one-run games and 17 of them in two-run games.

Vaughn came into Sunday hitting a remarkable .373 with runners in scoring position this season, leading the White Sox and ranking fifth in baseball. The only other player on the team batting over .300 in such situations was Luis Robert. For as terrific an offensive season as Abreu is having, he was batting just .227 with runners in scoring position before Sunday’s game.

So what’s the secret? How did Vaughn get so clutch? What’s he trying to do in those situations with the game on the line?

“Just being simple,” he said. “Try not to get too big in the moment and just staying simple and do your job.”

That’s an extremely unsurprising response from Vaughn, whose matter-of-fact, do-your-job nature has been noticeable in every media session he’s had since reaching the major leagues at the start of last season. The White Sox have long raved about his hitting ability and his mindset, describing him as someone who approaches every at-bat the exact same way.

La Russa said that’s a mighty fine way to thrive in clutch situations.

“I think he’s been coached very well, and I think he’s smart enough to pay attention and want to improve,” La Russa said. “The biggest distraction in trying to coach is … (a player goes) up with two outs and men on second and third. ‘Out you lose, base hit you win.’ That’s a distraction. Distractions create pressure and mess with your productivity.

“(The player) should be 100-percent thinking about the process of what you have to do and how you are going to do it.”

That’s what Vaughn does.

La Russa has obviously seen it before in his lengthy managerial career, and he’s quick to offer comps from his previous stops to illustrate the talent of his current White Sox players. This time he went with a five-time All Star and a two-time World Series champ.

“I remember with the Cardinals when we acquired (Edgar) Renteria,” La Russa said. “I called Jim Leyland (who managed Renteria with the Marlins), and he said, ‘Edgar has a knack for getting big hits against good pitchers.’ And obviously he won a World Series (with the Marlins). We were together (from) 1999 to 2004. He showed with the Giants, when he was the MVP (of the 2010 World Series).”

A wacky coincidence to tie this all together: Renteria led the majors with 19 sacrifice bunts in 1997, the year he won the World Series for the Marlins.

“(Vaughn has) got the same kind of ability,” La Russa said of the clutchness his young slugger displayed this weekend. “It’s a real skill.”

A skill Vaughn possesses in such a quantity that you could even describe him as a player worth bunting for.

You wouldn’t, I know, because you hate bunting. But maybe someone would.

Get Our Best Sox Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago White Sox fan with Vinnie Duber's Sox Newsletter!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?