Over the past week, the number 1 parlor game among baseball experts has been, "the White Sox are falling apart in every way." Let's start with ESPN Sportscenter, which last weekend chose Curly Mullet (Jeff Brantley) and Windy City Woody Paige (Jay Mariotti) to breakdown the White Sox playoff chances. Considering that both Brantley and Mariotti have had feuds just this season with the White Sox organization, it didn't seem like a balanced point of view was an issue for ESPN. While Brantley rarely offers up anything worthwhile, it's Mariotti's comment that Kenny Williams failed at the trade deadline that I take the greatest exception to. Who was he supposed to get? Williams tried hard to get Billy Wagner and A. J. Burnett, but both of their teams smartly decided to hold on to them, as today, they still are in the NL Wild Card chase. In regards to Ken Griffey Jr., who Mariotti said the Sox should have obtained, he would have blown up future payrolls, was a large injury risk and most importantly, there is no actual confirmation that Junior would have accepted a trade to Chicago. No other playoff team made a substantial move before the trade deadline, so this notion that Williams failed just doesn't measure up.
Unlike Curly Mullet and Windy City Woody, who I generally pay little attention to, 2 of my 5 favorite baseball writers have been slamming the Sox lately, as well. I would say I get more emails than any other with the subject of "what is the deal with Joe Sheehan and his hatred of the White Sox?" I'm guessing since I discuss the White Sox on a regular basis, plus I appear on a site with Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, it's assumed that I have a pipeline to BP. I don't. I've never met Joe Sheehan or anyone else, besides Will and a brief conversation with Nate Silver, who works for BP. OK, now that I've got the Grand Jury testimony out of the way, I will say that I think there has been a negative tone towards the White Sox this year at my favorite baseball site. Here are a couple of quotes from pieces Sheehan wrote last week.
"87-55 is 87-55, and there's no way I can spin the White Sox except to say that I was wrong about their run prevention capabilities.
With that said, the White Sox have benefited from an insanely easy schedule. Their dominance of the AL Central--40-14--has been noted, and included in there is a 24-6 mark against the Tigers and Royals. But don't ignore their interleague slate: 18 games, none of which came against a team currently above .500. They went 12-6 in those contests.
It's quite possible the the 2005 White Sox are playing the weakest schedule in three-division history, and one of the weakest in the game's history. You have to consider that in evaluating what they've done this year."
The first line of Sheehan's statement "87-55 is 87-55" and "I was wrong" are true, but the next 2 paragraphs sound like a guy desperate to explain why he was off by more than 20 games in his pre-season predicted win total. This easiest schedule argument is questionable considering the Sox played basically the same schedule as the Indians, who Sheehan seems to be struggling to find a loophole to give the AL Central to. "The weakest schedule in 3-division history" statement makes little sense to me, as the Sox play divisional rivals, the Indians, Twins, and a decent Tigers club, besides matching up with the rest of its AL opponents, which make up the far superior league. The NL West teams get the huge bonus of facing its fellow losers, in addition to a National League that outside of St. Louis, looks to be one of the worst collective groups in it's 129 year history.
Last Wednesday, Sheehan added this Sox shot.
"For those of you annoyed that I would list (6 teams fighting it out for 4 spots) the White Sox I don't care. The only thing saving them right now is regular doses of the Royals and Tigers. Since August 1, they're 7-1 against those two teams, 12-19 against everyone else. The Indians--probably the best team in the league right now--get six games against them starting with a three-game series at Jacobs Field next Monday. The White Sox haven't locked up anything yet."
This sounds like a writer who's received lots of angry White Sox fan's emails. I have received quite a few myself, but mine are the venting kind, asking what's the story with the Baseball Prospectus bias against the White Sox? Well, I'm no longer going to respond by saying that there's nothing to these fan's claims, as while I know enough about Baseball Prospectus that the staff doesn't sit as one collective group putting needles in Ozzie Guillen voodoo dolls (though that might explain some of his bizarre behavior), it would appear from the articles on the site that a majority of its writers are strongly rooting for the Sox to fail.
Besides the dislike of Kenny Williams and the manufacturing of runs-style propagated by skipper Guillen, I'm guessing many at BP would point to the White Sox exceeding their Pythagenpat, as a major cause for their negative view of the Sox. Sure the White Sox have been a lucky team, but considering all the years they have underachieved their Pythagorean formula, while the Twins consistently overachieved using the same scale, it's unfair to punish the Sox for this statistical fluke. LET ME STRONGLY STATE THAT I'M NOT CLAIMING I'm anywhere close to being the baseball writer that Joe Sheehan is. I do think, though, Sheehan's latest offerings have been somewhat unfair to the White Sox.
The final writer I want to discuss is Will Carroll. Now, there is no way I can take on Will without coming off as someone who is biting the hand that feeds, as Will was the one gracious enough to allow me to join him on the forums we have collaborated at. Man am I a dickhead. Listening yesterday to Will on a local sports radio station, he came out strongly against White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, stating that he's failed as a skipper down the stretch, worn out his pitching staff, and worst of all, Guillen's personal behavior should have gotten him fired long ago. And oh yeah, put Will on the list of people predicting the White Sox will be left out of the playoffs.
Considering that Under the Knife is my favorite baseball column to read and that my knowledge of pitching has been greatly supplemented by Will, not to mention that Will is my good friend and writing partner at this site, well, I have some anxiety in disagreeing with his points. While I was not a fan of the White Sox hiring Guillen and think his behavior can be inappropriate, I think his use of the pitching staff has been great this year. The White Sox current starting pitchers have an excellent past record of avoiding injury (El Duque is the exception) and Guillen has kept them from racking up Pitcher Abuse Points, by not exceeding 120 pitches, so I don't agree with the idea that he's worn out the staff. Considering he is now having to rely on a rookie with a shaky past, Bobby Jenks, to close games, Guillen's options in the bullpen are pretty challenging.
I know this diatribe against the above mentioned reads like the words of a frustrated fan, but the fact at this point is the White Sox have at least a 3.5 game lead on it's fellow division rivals and wild card challengers. The Baseball Prospectus playoff odds are right on the money. It's time to embrace the idea that the White Sox will be in the playoffs, as flawed as they are. There are 3 other spots up for grabs, so it's time to focus on those AL teams.
FOOTNOTE: I wrote the top of this piece last week and added the part about Will last night. I mention this because today, Joe Sheehan has a great piece in BP about the Sox and Indians and I can't argue with any of it. I recommend you check it out.