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Pedro Grifol’s new style for 2024 White Sox: What it means to 'play F.A.S.T.'

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 26, 2024
Pedro Grifol

The wins aren’t expected to come in bunches for the White Sox in 2024, not after a 101-loss campaign last season and an offseason featuring more big-name departures than big-name arrivals.

But the White Sox are expecting things to look a lot different.

Pedro Grifol, who seems a lot more comfortable in his second year as the South Side skipper, has been talking up his vision for how he wants his team to play for months. He gave it a name early on in spring training, instructing his players to “play F.A.S.T.”

For Grifol, it’s an acronym that stands for fearless, aggressive, selfless and technically sound. And it’s come up time and time again as he’s answered questions about the upcoming season during the spring.

Of course, no theme coming from the manager was likely to resonate with a frustrated fan base that wants wins now rather than a slow-moving organizational makeover, the opening stages of which are focusing on cultural change and fundamental improvement, as opposed to high priced free-agent signings.

But Grifol is hopeful that his new mantra will end up winning over those same fans, hopeful that a White Sox team that plays cleaner and more aggressively will deliver on the promises that revved folks up during his introductory press conference in November of 2022.

“It’s always been in my mind. I’ve never articulated it this way,” Grifol said in an interview with CHGO during the opening weeks of spring camp. “I can get really corny with this stuff, because I go back to when I was in college, sitting there with Eduardo Pérez and we’re waiting for a game the night before and we’d play, back in the day it was Nintendo or some shit like that, right? My team was always the Cardinals. I loved the Cardinals. It was just a fast style of play. I loved it.

“I know what that brings to the table as far as the pressure, constant pressure. It creates tension. It creates mistakes. Good teams put that pressure on consistently.”

Now, there’s a difference between “fast” and “F.A.S.T.,” which Grifol is quick to point out if you’re talking to him about his new style. Yes, he acknowledges that the White Sox hope to be more aggressive and more successful on the base paths this season after they played, as he put it, too conservatively in 2023. Hustle doubles, going first to third, creating a general sense of havoc that makes life tough for opposing pitchers and opposing teams? It’s all part of it.

But no one is expecting guys like Eloy Jiménez, Andrew Vaughn or Martín Maldonado to start racking up big stolen-base totals.

“I get it, if 1 through 9 are guys that cannot play fast, I understand it. That’s why there’s more to it than just speed,” Grifol said. “Pressure’s not just speed. Pressure is playing fearless, playing really, really, really aggressive, whether it’s at the plate, whether it’s on the mound, attacking the strike zone. We’re attacking, getting guys out on less than three pitches. We’re attacking at the plate, but we’re relentless with the strike zone. … Part of F.A.S.T. is technically sound, it’s detailed, it’s putting together great at-bats. … That’s pressure.

“This is not just about how fast we are and how many bases we steal. That’s not what this is about. There’s a lot of things that play into this. However, we describe all these things with one word: We’ve just got to play F.A.S.T.”

Grifol’s been hammering that message into his players’ heads for weeks now.

Have they gotten the message?

“The one specific word I heard the other day was ‘aggressive.’ Aggressive baseball. And I love that,” relief pitcher John Brebbia said in an interview with CHGO. “As a baseball player, I like that because to me, that means high effort, that means making calculated decisions that will hopefully lead to the best result. As a fan, that’s fun. I love that.

“When you play aggressive baseball, sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. There’s 162 games, a lot of stuff’s not going to go your way a lot of the time. … But when you play smart, aggressive baseball, the wins outweigh the losses, the positives outweigh the negatives so often. And it’s just exciting to watch.”

Brebbia played for the Giants last season, going up against a division-rival Diamondbacks team that used an aggressive style of play to march all the way to the World Series. The White Sox, with former D-backs farm director Josh Barfield among Chris Getz’s new front-office hires as assistant general manager, are intentionally eyeing a similar style of play. And according to Brebbia, that can be a nightmare for opponents.

“You’d play them, and you’re exhausted. You’re mentally exhausted and physically exhausted. You’re like, ‘What? What happened? Why do I feel this way? Why am I getting such a good night’s sleep after playing them?’ And you slowly come to realize it’s because they can do anything,” Brebbia said of the D-backs. “Every facet of the game is something that they’re attempting to do aggressively, to bring up one of Pedro’s adjectives. When you start to see that every guy’s a stolen-base threat, all of a sudden I’m standing on the mound like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay attention to him stealing, great, which means I’ve got to remember our pickoff plays.’ And they bunt a lot. ‘I’m doing (pitcher fielding practice) this often? This is crazy.’

“Even when we won games against them, it was exhausting. … It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s something that this (White Sox) team, I think, has so much potential for. It’s like an unbeatable brand of baseball.”

We’ll see if the White Sox’ talent allows them to come anywhere close to unbeatable. A step in the right direction will be simply cutting down on mistakes and doing little things that could make the difference in close games. Getz’s focus on improving the defense this offseason – at times, at the expense of improving the offense – figures to make things a lot better on that front.

Of course, aggressive base-running – which, again, is just one part of what Grifol hopes to see – can only happen if these guys get on base, and on the eve of the season, it remains difficult to see where the scoring will come from for a team that was one of baseball’s least productive a year ago.

But even if those runs and those wins don’t come in an amount that will make fans happy, the White Sox hope to make progress in some important areas this summer. Fundamental improvement is a big one, and it’s such a big part of what Grifol is preaching. Another is culture, and while there’s a whole season to find out whether players have bought into “playing F.A.S.T.” or not, it sounds as if they’ve heard the message and they’re excited by it.

“It’s more just a mentality thing of how to play the game the right way, respect the game, leading others, being a good example to the other guys,” second baseman Nicky Lopez told CHGO. “The game works. That game does work. You see it all around the league, guys knowing their roles. Obviously, my game’s a little different than what Luis Robert’s is. But if I can stay myself, get on base for him, have him drive me in, that’s going to work. It’s just having that mentality.

“You’ll see more of it when we’re on the base paths, pushing the envelope, stretching a single into a double, stuff like that. So any opportunity you can to kind of ‘play F.A.S.T.,’ you’ll see it.”

Plenty of fans are justifiably skeptical after back-to-back seasons of massive disappointment that have spun the White Sox to the start of another rebuilding cycle. But after watching poor defense and poor offense the last two years, those fans might finally see something more akin to the type of baseball they’ve hoped for.

Winning might be another story. But something more entertaining? It’s a possibility, if Grifol’s vision becomes reality.

“A lot of people don’t think baseball’s exciting, I just happen to,” Brebbia said. “I think that makes it even more fun when you’re swiping bags and you’re doing this and you’re doing that, when you’re trying to take an extra base, trying to score on someone. I love that. That’s the point. If you get hosed sometimes, you get hosed. That’s fine. Someone else is happy with their team’s highlight. But I think it’s really cool, and I think you see a lot of benefits from it.”

“(The players) know it already, they know what it means. They know it’s aggressive, they know it’s detailed, it’s fearless,” Grifol said. “We want to play fearless and eliminate mistakes. You’ve got to get to a level where you’re really, really confident and enjoying this thing to be able to do that on both ends.”

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