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White Sox, A's, AL Central, and my baseball blasphemy
2005-04-10 15:34
by Scott Long

When you are someone who believes in the sabermetrical approach to baseball, but are a White Sox fan, you are put in a difficult position. You see, most of my favorite writers in the SABR world have a negative view of the Sox. GM Kenny Williams has been portrayed as one of the 2 or 3 dumbest people in his job, which the book "Moneyball" highlighted. In the past, I've discussed my thoughts on Williams, which I would describe as mixed. Just having a mixed view on him is something most who check in here feel is pure stupidity, as Williams is Public Enemy No. 1 on their list.

I've been a big fan of how Billy Beane has run the Oakland A's, but I feel there has been a lack of critical analysis in looking at this year's team, while the biases these same experts share about the White Sox have created poor expectations for their season. Now I know this statement is something the baseball blogging community sees akin to blasphemy, so let me demonstrate why like Peter Frampton, I feel like I do.

To begin with, both teams have much in common on the surface, as they play second fiddle to more popular teams in the same market (Giants and Cubs). The cause and effect of this situation being they have salary restraints that are more akin to smaller markets. There is no doubt that the A's have done a spectacular job in being one of the top 5 teams in baseball over the past few years, despite these financial issues. My focus though, is on 2005. ""

The biggest move that has been slammed by critics of Williams is his decision to trade Carlos Lee for Scott Posednik and Luis Vizcaino. On the surface, this looks like a bad trade, but Williams made the trade to give him some money to play with in the free agent market. With this money, he was able to sign a starting pitcher, Orlando Hernandez and a starting catcher, A.J. Pierzynski. If you throw these 2 players in the deal, it's a great trade for the White Sox.

I would argue that Hernandez might have been the best signing of any pitcher, this off-season, as only injury kept him from being a 8 million a year guy. Pierzynski is the best catcher the White Sox have had since Carlton Fisk and he should be a fan favorite to all the masses of Chicagoans with ski's at the end of their name. Throw in the pick-up of Tadahito Iguchi, who was priced at a discount because of the failure of Kazuo Matsui in 2004, and the White Sox seriously upgraded their team at three key spots.

Now look at the contract of Jason Kendall, who makes more than all 3 of these players and I question Billy Beane's decision on getting him. I'm not opposed to Beane's trades of Muldar and Hudson, as he picked up some young arms, which financially are the key to his system. I just would question how they can win more than 85 games with a staff that features one top-notch starter (Harden), one pitcher (Zito), who seems to be a decent number 3 at this point, one young gun (Haren), who has great potential, a couple of question marks in the back of the rotation, and decent bullpen without a proven closer. Despite this, most at Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Toaster have chosen them division winners. I would agree that the AL West is the weakest it's been in quite awhile, but 2006 looks like a better fit for the A's winning the division.

The flavor of the past month in baseball has been the Cleveland Indians. I feel like I know this team, as it has some great offensive power and questionable pitching and defense. (See the White Sox of the past 10 years) I've heard some claim that the Tribe's pitching is the best in the division. This is insane in the membrane, considering that outside of Jake Westbrook, the rotation had obscene ERA's in 2004 and it's bullpen has a well past his prime Bob Wickman just waiting to implode at the end of games. Add to this most of the offense in 2004 had seasons which were on the career year scale and I just don't see where this is much better than a .500 team.

The Detroit Tigers also were picked to finish ahead of the White Sox, even though, outside of Jeremy Bonderman, they don't have a guy I would consider better than a 4th starter. Their two biggest acquisitions in the off-season were Troy Percival and Magglio Ordonez, who just might be the two most overpaid players at their positions for 2005. (Especially considering their health risks.) I like their offense, but I just don't how they win more than 75 games this year.

The Minnesota Twins are the most complete team in the AL Central and deserve to go in as the favorite. Any staff that has Johan Santana at the front and Joe Nathan in the back, looks pretty imposing. It's after you get past Radke that I see the problems. Carlos Silva's peripherals are very shaky and who knows what Kyle Loshe and Joe Mays will give them. The offense is solid, but not spectacular and I would argue that Ron Gardenhire is as good of a manager that is in the AL, so I like them to win the division, but the experts saying they will play in the series seem to be a little light-headed.

On the subject of the White Sox, let's clear up a few things. They have been trying to trade Carlos Lee for the past couple of seasons and there just hasn't been much of a market for him. Lee puts up nice numbers, but is very streaky and is one of the reasons the team rarely meets its Pythagorean winning percentage. Sure the team would be better having him in left versus Posednik, but as mentioned above, the team is better without him, if you add what they purchased with his salary.

Another thing to discuss is this idea that Kenny Williams could have traded Joe Borchard instead of Jeremy Reed in the Freddy Garcia deal. The Mariners had targeted Reed, so I don't know where this notion came from. As I mentioned in a past post, I believe Reed will be a solid player, but not a superstar and is better suited for the dimensions of Safeco, instead of US Cellular Field. The Sox also have an excellent OF prospect, Brian Anderson, who I suspect will be starting for them in 2006, so Reed's value to them was somewhat muted.

I know it appears like there is some "homerism" going on, considering my passion for the White Sox, but I've been very critical of Kenny Williams in the past, so my opinion of his off-season is something new. In the past 18 months, besides the good moves I have outlined already, he has signed closer Takatsu for little money, traded for a solid shortstop in Uribe, and has made good decisions in not giving big money contracts to Bartolo Colon and Ordonez, when other organizations have.

A starting staff of Beuhrle, Garica, Hernandez, Contreas, and Garland is as good as any team in the AL outside of New York and Boston. When you add in if one of the 5 falters from injury or production, the Sox can go to the Triple A and bring up quite possibly the best starter in the minors in Brandon McCarthy, well things look rosy. A bullpen with 5 guys who have saved at least 7 career games (Takatsu, Marte, Hermanson, Politte, and Vizcaino) further demonstrate the depth of pitching the White Sox have.

So this is why I think the White Sox will finish second in the AL Central. If Frank Thomas comes back at his 2004 numbers, this team will battle the Twins right down to the wire. Without him, I still think they are a second place club in the AL Central. In regards to the A's, I just think there is too many questions with it's pitching to win more than 85 games and I see them as more of a .500 ballclub in 2005.

2005-04-10 15:50:27
1.   Sky
I agree with you about the Sox and most of the other ideas concerning the AL Central. There's no team that will win 90 games, and I like the Sox and Twins to battle it out all year.

Cleveland had a storybook run last year, but that was with a bunch of guys overachieving. Yes, they have a lot of nice young talent, but teams that take a giant step forward don't tend to take another one the next year.

Minnesota? They still have a bunch of offensive holes, Radke's 2004 was a peak, not the norm, and the rest of the starting staff is ugly. Are they really counting on Joe Mays?

2005-04-10 16:49:57
2.   graciebarn
"Any staff that has Johann Santana at the front and Joe Nathan in the back, look pretty imposing."

Indeed. Unfortunately for Minnesota, their Cy Young winner is Johan, not Johann, and if the staff look pretty imposing, instead of "staff looks"...let's just say the Twins can be the champions of the Grammarians' League, if nothing else.

2005-04-10 18:39:52
3.   Charlie Hustler
I think the ESPN "gurus" hype Minnesota because once you pick them to win the division, their starters match up well in a short series, much as they did last year, when they had a very real opportunity to dethrone the Yankees prior to the ALCS. Truthfully, they could have picked the ChiSox for the same reason.

Given the age of the Red Sox and Yankees rotations, it's not a bad prognostication, as far as those things go...

2005-04-10 20:18:52
4.   Scott Long
Thanks for the grammatical tips. I wish I had an editor to fix the minor flubs. Fortunately, my writing genius survives these mistakes.
2005-04-10 21:09:51
5.   Smed
I just don't think they'll score runs - Ozzie will give away outs like they were Smarties at Halloween.
2005-04-10 22:25:51
6.   The Cheat
Smed, I was worried about the same thing.

But we're 6 games into the season, and I saw my first sacrifice bunt tonight(actually there was one that wasn't fielded cleanly in game 2 I'm not sure how that was scored, but it was clearly the right play at the time, and resulted in the Winning run being driven in on a sac-fly on the next pitch).

As far as I'm concerned it was a good plan tonight against Santana, which might have actually worked if not for some keystone-cops-esque defensive issues. The Sox have been in some close games, and have not stupidly gone to the "small ball" just for the sake of looking like they are trying hard. They've won because they can still hit it out of the park with the best of them.

The small ball thing was a marketing ploy -- How else do you sell getting rid of arguably your two top hitters? They added some character assassination for good measure, just to make sure the fans wouldn't turn on the front office. (See Cubs: Sosa, Red Sox: Nomar)

Are they going to run more? yes
Are they going to hit-and-run more? probably
Are they the Go-Go Sox of '59? not even close.

2005-04-11 00:48:17
7.   chris in illinois

A few counter-points:

1) Just because the South Side has been a catching black hole doesn't make Pierzynski good. His .319 2004 OB% and his winning ways with friend and foe alike would make me pause a bit (OK, he's better than Alomar the Taller, but Jorge Posada he isn't).

2) Outside of some reverse Dave Wells karma, why do you expect El Duque to start more than 15 games?? Contreras?? "Starting for the Sox tonight, Neil Cotts...Cotts on the mound....."

3) I'm with Smed and Cheat, the Sox won't score enough runs and Ozzie won't need to give runs away...Uribe, Pierzynski, Podsednik, Crede and Dye will do that on their owm.

4) The bullpen is pretty decent though, if they'd had that group over the last five years, they could have given the Twins a run once in a while.

5) The Sox could be competative IF
-El Duque starts 30 games for the first time in six years.
-Contreras improves upon his 5.50 '04 ERA.
-Konerko hits 40+ homers again.
-Dye has a .350 OB% or a .500 Slg for the first time since 2000.
-The Japanese dude plays well.
-Joe Crede does the same.
-Takatsu repeats his '04.
-Podsednik plays well.

That's a lot of things that have to go right for the Sox to be decent.

Sorry, Scott, but I see a long summer.

2005-04-11 04:37:29
8.   bob gaj
OT for scott: larry the cable guy's album debuted at #7 this week on billboard.

not comedy. ALBUMS. 1 behind will smith at #6.

i am impressed that the bravery debuted at 18; i bought it the first day after d/l'ing all the songs from the british version, and love it.

2005-04-11 07:33:24
9.   studes
Boy, if all those things happen, the Sox will run away with the division! I really think that Hernandez and Contreras, the two guys at the top of your list, are key. If they both meet your criteria, I expect the Sox to stay in the race all year long.

BTW, I wrote a preseason review of the Sox that agrees with Scott's overall assessment. Here's the URL:

Kenny Williams definitely had an underrated offseason, IMO.

2005-04-11 23:55:42
10.   jhelfgott
I agree generally that Kenny Williams takes far too much heat from the analyst community. However, I still think the White Sox will finish no better than 3rd in the division this year. Why?

Ozzie Guillen has got to be the WORST manager in baseball.

Twice this season he has employed the strategy of pinchitting crappy batters for decent batters when trailing in the 9th inning. The first game (4/7), down by 6, he decided it would be a good idea to pinch-hit Timo Perez for Joe Crede, and then to have Willie Harris bat for Juan Uribe. I know 6 runs is a pretty insurmountable lead, but COME ON. If there's any chance at all of a rally, it's killed the moment Guillen makes that decision.

Then, last night, trailing by 3 in the 9th, he gets the leadoff man on base (Pierzinsky singles), then when it's Crede's turn to bat, he puts in Podsednik! Think about this, 1) playing for 1 run won't do anything, so small ball's an ill-advised strategy and even Podsednik believers admit he's got little power, and 2) FIRST BASE IS ALREADY BLOCKED! His speed means nothing in this situation! If taking away one of the small handful of players on the team with legit HR power wasn't enough, after Podsednik flies out, he once again puts Wee Willie Harris in there for Uribe. Wow.

Also, today was the second time in 3 games that Shingo recorded a save by getting only the last out in the 9th inning. If that's Guillen's idea of bullpen usage...that's weird. Either he's your best reliever and you want him in high leverage situations, or you don't.

It's early in the season and these things are correctable, but I don't expect too much from the guy who thinks the ideal way to win a ballgame is to "win 3-2 on a squeeze."

2005-04-12 14:54:20
I'm totally with you Scott. It was really difficult for a sabermetrically inclined White Sox fan to read what a lot of the better writers were writing about the White Sox this year because it seemed that they had unrealistically low expectations set for this team. Now this team may not exactly be a worldbeater, but I cannot fathom how one could see a significant net loss in wins for this team, if any at all. At worst, they'll stagnate once again. At best, well I don't care to speculate on that because their ceiling is extremely high and I don't want to get pounded by some others around here.

This is probably an 85-86 win team that has a better chance than normal to outperform their pythagorean winning percentage due to a better bullpen.

This first go around through the rotation was extremely impressive. It was very exciting to see every starting pitcher throw a quality start or better in their first outing. Some of the outings were a lot better. We've seen two 8 inning performances already, one by Buehrle and the other by Garcia, and both came in one run games. My big question mark was the starting staff and so far they've performed admirably except that one pitch from Buehrle to Torii Hunter (and that whole inning for a matter of fact). If this starting rotation is all it's cracked up to be than the Central might not even be all that close. I'm just not so sure that it is. I expect another close battle at the top of the Central, even though I think the Twins are severly weakened without Silva for the first half.

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