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The Greatest Double Play Duo in Baseball? Nope.
2005-12-08 09:14
by Scott Long
Notes:
Scott Long is now blogging at NSFWsports.com.
Will Carroll can still be found at Baseball Prospectus.

The greatness of Baseball Reference cannot be stated too often. When the White Sox traded for Jim Thome and resigned Paul Konerko the first thing I thought about was forget Tejada and Roberts, the best double play combo would be these 2 big oafs. It seemed a fair statement, considering that Konerko has consistently been one of the leaders in GIDP. I guess my bigoted brain just suspected that Thome being a slow-footed Honky-tonk first sacker like Konerko, he would have similar stats. This is when Baseball Reference wrecked my argument.

Looking at Thome's career GIDP, he has averaged around 8 per year, so that argument has been shot down. Actually, you could point out that unlike past White Sox teams that had Magglio Ordonez (averaged over 20 GIDP's per season), plus Carlos Lee and Frank Thomas (always double figures) jamming up the bases with Konerko, the White Sox were a double play just waiting to happen. Well, I was about to make that argument myself, until those damned statistics got in the way again. The difference in GIDP between the "speedy" 2005 Sox and the "lumbering" teams of the past is negligible. If Guillen is worried about this issue just make sure to have Thome follow Konerko in the batting order.

Ok, now that subject has been solved, I'd like to weigh in on the Thome trade. The two biggest weaknesses the White Sox had coming into the off-season were left-handed bats and poor on base percentage. A healthy Jim Thome solves this problem as well as player in MLB. This was a bold move by GM Kenny Williams, as following a World Championship; he had no pressure to shake things up.

To get Thome the Sox gave up Aaron Rowand, who was the best AL defensive center fielder in 2005. My own personal 2006 PECOTA would state that Rowand's offensive stats will go up about 15%. There has been lots of discussion about how someone can have a career year aided greatly by random stats. This career hitting year will be 2004 for Rowand. What I've never heard discussed is having a career year defensively. Could the ball be hit in the right spots to make a good defensive center fielder appear like Jim Edmonds for one year? Well, if you saw the White Sox series in Yankee stadium during August, you might go along with this theory. While it will be above average, don't expect Rowand's glove to be 2005 magical. Not since Lenny Dykstra has Phillies fans had a center fielder they will love so much, as Rowand will run through a wall.
Prediction: Unfortunately this trait will land him on the disable list enough to cause him to play about the same amount of games as Thome.)

Ultimately the trade will be measured by how good pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez becomes. Since the White Sox have the best pitching depth in the majors, plus a few more quality prospects in the minors, they were able to deal from strength. Dealing from a position of strength is the reason the Phillies could give up Thome because of Ryan Howard. Following the same reasoning, the only everyday position the White Sox have great depth is at center field, with 4 of their Top 10 minor leaguers playing the position, plus Scott Podsednik, so Rowand was expendable.

Ironically, if you look at Baseball Reference for similar batters to Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado comes up first who just happened to be the other player available who fit the White Sox needs. The Marlins weren't interested in picking up a large portion of Delgado's contract, unlike how the Phillies did with Thome. Back to Baseball Reference, if you look up the number 1 on their list for players similar at the age of 34 to Thome, you get Jose Canseco. Considering that Canseco also had back problems and never had a good year after the age of 34, the White Sox are rolling the dice hoping Thome and Canseco aren't listed comparatively at the age of 36.

So I finally offer up some hardball at the Toaster. Like most baseball writers I went into the story with a couple of theories I was planning on proving. Unfortunately, the numbers threw me the opposite direction. Since this story seems to need a bottom line, as a finish, here is mine. The Konerko signing was an overpayment, but the guy was the biggest reason at the plate that the White Sox won their first series since 1917. He's the team leader and the face of the team, so just consider him the Jason Varitek of 2005. The trade was one of those dreaded win-win deals that I hate to acknowledge. Jim Thome will join Konerko as a fan favorite, as he looks like a Southside soft ball player. Combine this with him being from Peoria and the part about him growing up a Cub fan will be forgiven. With the addition of Thome's bat, the White Sox have put themselves with a team that he is familiar with (the Indians), as the team to beat in 2006.

Comments
2005-12-09 10:16:41
1.   das411
Great article Scott.

One question though: Do you think the arrival of Thome will help to neutralize some of the fan discontent that will happen when Frank Thomas signs elsewhere? Sure Thome is a great pickup for the ChiSox, but to some fans you are letting the franchise player who has been with the team for 16 years walk, in exchange for a career Indian who made a name for himself beating up on the White Sox. Do you think this will be a factor in how well-received Thome is with White Sox fans?

2005-12-09 13:54:56
2.   Scott Long
The Big Hurt had an extremely up and down relationship with White Sox fans over the years. The guy was always a me first type, but when you put up numbers like Ted Williams, it's not as big of deal. He had tried to change some of this behavior over the past couple of seasons and when he was healthy this year, the White Sox were a better team, as Carl Everett can't carry his big cleats.

Ultimately, the Sox won the World Series without Frank, so fans don't see Frank as major loss. Thome is playing against 2 players. If Thomas or Rowand have better numbers than him, the fans will come down on Ken Williams. I wouldn't classify White Sox fans as romantic baseball fans, they are about the bottom line. The exception would have been if they wouldn't have signed Konerko, then Thome would have had to compete against the people's former champ.

2005-12-11 20:55:47
3.   Ali Nagib
One problem with evaluating any baseball contract is that not all dollars are created equal. The Astros were willing to break their budget for Roger Clemens because, well, wouldn't you? Konerko's contract is only a burden insofar as it affects their ability to pay other players. If Jerry Reinsdorf decides "Well, we're paying him $60 mil, but I'm going to consider $10 mil of that a bonus and only let the other $50 hit the budget" then it's a $50 million contract. If Jerry wants to give a bunch of extra money to Konerko for no reason, he's rich, he can do that. I'm not saying that this is the case, but just pointing out that in these types of situations, paying a player for what they did in the past isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you hold yourself to that down the road.

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