Meet Your AL Pennant Champs: Pitching and Coaching Staff
by Scott Long
If you've been reading my stuff at The Juice, the one baseball subject I've been consistent on in 2005 has been that the White Sox pitching staff is underrated.
While I'm not going to claim I even thought they would be as good as they turned out, the 2005 analysis from PECOTA was so dismal for White Sox starters that many usually sane prognosticators I'm guessing were skewed by its data. While US Cellular was still an excellent homerun park in 2005, it wasn't the offensive stadium of past years. Now how much this had to do with the great strides they made on defense, it's difficult to compute, but there was no team with better pitching depth than the White Sox. Let's take a look in more detail at this staff.
Despite this being his 6th major league season, Buehrle is only 26 years of age. Arguably the most consistent pitcher over this time, he has an 85-53 record, with a great history of pitching 6 innings or more, nearly every start. Very similar in style to Tom Glavine, I felt that he might struggle in post-season, his lack of a power pitch might cause him to struggle, but so far in this year's playoff, he has been dynamite. On a personal level, Buehrle is the player on the team that keeps his teammates loose, as he's the biggest practical joker of the Sox players. Grew up and still is a huge Cardinals fan, so it's probably good for his sake that he's facing the Astros. Strange stat is that in 2004 his home/away ERA splits were 5.02/2.63, while in 2005 they were 2.48/3.86.
Did you ever date a woman who became prettier after you stop seeing her? You being the one who recognized her potential, but the chemistry just wasn't right, so you dumped her, only to realize that she was just what you needed. Well, that must be how the Yankees feel right now, as Contreras has been the best pitcher in the AL since the beginning of August. To think that Kenny Williams was able to get the Yankees to trade Jose to them and pick up part of his contract, while only giving up a second-rate version of Esteban Loaiza.
Another 26 year-old pitcher, with a lot of major league experience, Garland finally was able to throw enough strikes to complement his Kevin Brown-like sinker. With this out-pitch; Garland is well suited to take the mound in a homer happy park like the Cell. It will be interesting to see over the next couple of years, what the White Sox decide to do in re-signing their current starting staff, as it will be difficult economically to keep both Buehrle and Garland, as they will be hot commodities on the free agency market. Kudos should be given to the pitching coaches and especially the training staff, led by Herm Schneider, as the Sox have had little problem with arm issues with their pitchers, despite these young pitchers throwing more than 200 innings almost every year of their careers.
Was famously obtained from the Cubs for Matt Karchner. Almost makes up for the Sox giving up Sammy Sosa to the Cubs for George Bell. Almost.
Remember when the experts were slamming the Freddy Garcia deal, as the White Sox giving up Jeremy Reed and Miguel Olivo was too much? Do you think Seattle would like to have a guy who is an innings horse, who is a solid Number 2 starter? Garcia is the pitcher who's hurt most by pitching in US Cellular, as his road ERA is a run better than at home. Guillen, whose niece is married to Garcia is well-aware of this, so he tries to juggle the staff to make sure Freddy pitches on the road, whenever the opportunity arises. Considering that his ERA was the highest of the starters and it still was half a run below the league average, just speaks to how great the Sox staff was in 2005. Garcia's biggest weakness is that he gives up most of his runs early in the game, but he's tough to hit after the second inning.
Orlando Hernandez/Brandon McCarthy- El Duque was a disappointment, but his performance in Game 3 of the ALDS versus Boston gave him a lot of absolution. Hernandez is still a decent pitcher, though he might be best coming out of the bullpen at this point of his career. McCarthy finally replaced El Duque as the fifth starter in August and during the last 2 months of the year; McCarthy had an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00. Amazingly, the White Sox had enough depth to keep the pitcher with the best strikeout ratio on the team off their playoff roster. SI's Tom Verducci, just to give you an idea of his talent, mentions McCarthy in the same breath as Felix Hernandez and Francisco Liriano. In my preview of the Red Sox/White Sox series, I chose the Red Sox to win, as I felt the decision to keep McCarthy off the roster and Vizcaino on it, was going to come back and haunt them. So far, it would seem like my furor over this decision was misguided.
White Sox Bullpen
While the White Sox lack a great closer like Rivera or Lidge, their depth in the bullpen makes this a small issue. The top 4 relievers on staff have batting averages against all below .230. (Cotts .179, Politte .181, Hermanson .222, Jenks .225)
Bobby Jenks has been a revelation, as the mix of his upper 90's fastball and filthy curve is as dangerous a combo as there is in the Majors. In the same Verducci piece linked above, he discusses how the Angels must really be sick about not protecting this unique talent. Prior to Jenks closing games, Dustin Hermanson, another savvy free-agent pick-up by Williams, stepped in for the former closer, Shingo Takatsu and was perfect in save situations, until his back started flaring up. While these two relievers received the most focus because of the saves they registered, Neil Cotts and Cliff Politte were just as valuable to the Sox success. Politte was another on the cheap transaction by the White Sox upper management, while Cotts might have been the best left-handed reliever in the league. Politte is nearly unhittable, as long as you don't use him in a save situation, as he seems to meltdown when that is the case. Cotts is the only player leftover for either team, from the infamous Foulke/Koch deal. While it was during the short-term great for the A's, add a couple more years like 2005 and it could make the trade swing back on the Sox side, Moneyball be damned.
When Ozzie Guillen was originally signed to manage the White Sox, I thought it was the beginning of the end, as Ozzie the player, was one of the worst hitters in team history, doing everything a good sabermetrical disciple would abhor. While he sacrifice bunts too often, his work with the pitching staff is so good, it has genreally made up for his giving away runs strategy. An interesting thing about Guillen's coaches is that Harold Baines, Joey Cora, Greg Walker and Tim Raines all played with him while he was with the White Sox. Jerry Reinsdorf has focused on a family loyalty, as all these coaches, plus GM Williams all spent time with the club. This has fostered a good atmosphere in the clubhouse. The new star from the staff is pitching coach Don Cooper, who can talk almost as much as Ozzie.
It will be interesting to see what role the managers have in what promises to be a tight battle between similar teams. One interesting sidelight on this subject is that Phil Garner, while the skipper of the Brewers, had a running feud with the White Sox, especially with broadcaster Hawk Harrelson. So Hawk-haters, here is another reason for you to root for the Astros. The last thing I want to mention is that it's sad that the year the White Sox make it the World Series, the greatest hitter in club history since Shoeless Joe is unable to join them because of injury. The whole thing with Frank Thomas not being part of the White Sox's ultimate success in 2005, reminds me of how the Yankees finally went to another World Series the year after Don Mattingly retired.