Well, it's that time of year where PECOTA predictions come out and doom is the forecast for the upcoming White Sox season. Since the start of Ozzie Guillen's managing career, PECOTA has predicted win totals of 79 (2004), 80 (2005), and 82 (2006). The actual season-ending win totals have been 83, 99, and 90, respectively. So in the 3-year managing career of Guillen, PECOTA has been off a total of 31 games. I'm not going to look through every other team during this period, but I've got to guess the White Sox have made the system look worse than any other team.
So is it any wonder that White Sox GM Kenny Williams would respond with the following quote, when asked by the Chicago Tribune's Dave Van Dyck what he thought about the PECOTA prediction of 72 wins in 2007?
That's a good sign for us because usually they're wrong about everything regarding our dealings," general manager Ken Williams said. "What can you do? We put the best team together we can, and we think we're going to end up somewhere in the mid-90s, although there are all kinds of variables off that.
Now, I don't believe that PECOTA's creator (Nate Silver) is some diabolical genius with an axe to grind against the White Sox, but I have questioned his findings in the past, when it comes to the South Siders. 72 wins for this season is the most ridiculous of all of them.
Let's focus on the starting pitching, as this is where PECOTA usually is the farthest off on, when it comes to the White Sox. I strongly disagreed with PECOTA in 2005 and even I couldn't have guessed how far off it would end up being. I'm getting the same feeling about the forecast for 2007.
NAME ERA WHIP
Buehrle 4.90 1.43
Garland 4.83 1.43
Contreras 5.15 1.46
Vazquez 4.45 1.31
While these pitchers are hurt by throwing in park favorable to hitters, the PECOTA findings are staggeringly bad for the top 3 pitchers in their rotation.
Contreras is supposed to go from an ERA of 3.61 (2005) and 4.27 (2006) to one this season well over 5. His WHIP is projected to rise .21 from what he has averaged the past 2 seasons.
The statistical peak age of baseball players is generally considered between 27 and 28, which are the ages of Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle, respectively. Despite having an ERA of .3.50 (2005) and 4.51 (2006), PECOTA says Garland will drop 1.33 from what he did when he was 25. Buehrle, going into his free agent year is expected to finish with an ERA over a run more than his career average. Neither of these pitchers have ever had serious arm issues, but they are both seen by PECOTA to be falling off the cliff.
Few starting staffs were pushed harder than the White Sox of 2005. While these pitchers looked tired during 2006, Guillen has always done a great job of staying away from putting them in PAP situations. No team over the past 5 years has had fewer injuries than the White Sox, which does has some luck behind it, but more importantly speaks to how the organization selects players and how great their training staff is.
My projections for the White Sox pitching staff for 2007 are the following.
NAME ERA WHIP
Buehrle 4.45 1.34
Garland 4.15 1.29
Contreras 4.40 1.35
Vazquez 4.25 1.31
While I do believe that Thome, Konerko, and Dye will be off their torrid hitting of 2006, I still think all of them will exceed their PECOTA projections of 2007. I think Uribe/Cintron at shortstop will be much improved over 2006, while the addition of Toby Hall will add more to the catching department.
The big question mark is the possibility of an Erstad and Podsednik tandem, killing the leadoff spots of the batting order. I fear this as well, but I'm hoping that sanity will take over and Brian Anderson will play most of the games in center. I think Anderson will show the biggest improvement in OPS of any regular from 2006 to 2007, if given the chance. Considering what a weak spot left field was for the Sox last season, Erstad and Podsednik splitting most of their bats in 2007 I think will actually be a slight improvement. A better option would be to put prospect Josh Fields in the mix, but it appears the White Sox don't want to add service time and plan to give him the starting 3b job, when Crede leaves for free-agency after this season.
Where the big improvement in the team for 2007 will be is in the bullpen. After being great in 2005, the pen has been almost completely rebuilt with Cotts, Hemanson, Politte, Marte, and Vizcaino gone and hard-throwing Thornton, MacDougal, Massett, Aardsma, and Sisco bringing a whole new look to the White Sox.. The one bullpen holdover from the championship season, Bobby Jenks, will close out the games again. Jenks is the one player on the team I worry about, but the Sox have plenty of options to replace him, if he physically or mentally implodes.
After beating the Pythagorean odds for the past 2 seasons, I do think the Sox will have a hard time doing it for a third time, but this year's model is not a team which will win only 72 games. The AL Central might not have the 2007 World Series Champ, but its top 4 teams have a good chance of winning at least 82 games.
Unlike their competitors, the White Sox seem to be in the best shape to add a contract or two around the trade deadline, which is a direct benefit in trading Freddy Garcia, who I suspect will have a higher ERA or WHIP than any starter the Sox have on their staff this season. In what I expect will be a very tight race, this could be the thing that pushes the White Sox over the top.
Let me finish by mentioning that I'm not knocking PECOTA overall. I've seen the data and it has done best of all the systems that predict player performance. I have owned every Baseball Prospectus annual since discovering it in 2003, so I'm a big fan of the website. As you might know, one of my best friends just happens to be a major attraction for BP. I've even appeared as a guest on Baseball Prospectus Radio a couple of times.
Having put out these proclamations; let me say that I do think that there is an overall bias against the White Sox by the staff of BP. Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" made Kenny Williams appear to be a dunce to the brilliant machinations of sabermetrican's golden boy, Billy Beane. An underlying subtext not discussed by Lewis was that the White Sox use a mix of stats/scouting. (I don't blame Lewis for framing it this way. He was writing a story and it was a great one.) Like most in the sabermetrical field, BP has to have a rooting interest against the White Sox, as the brash Williams has taken shots at the sabermetrical followers, even though he and his staff consider statistical factors in their decision-making.
At least once a year, I defend Williams for his moves, as I think he is one of the best GM's in baseball. I would think that loyal readers here by now realize that I don't aspire to come off like a homer (I'm a White Sox fan), as I prefer the contrarian path. Having Jerry Reinsdorf as owner, Williams as GM, Guillen as Manager, and Hawk Harrelson as the voice of the team, doesn't exactly come off collectively as a group worried about being media friendly. While Harrelson is an idiot when it comes to his thinking about OBP and other statistical measures, I think the other 3 play-up their Ozzie-ball style, while actually understanding how a sabermetrical approach has its virtues.
During the period between 2000-2006 there have only been 5 teams who have not had a losing season; The Yankees, Red Sox, A's, Cardinals, and White Sox. I don't see where in 2007 it will mark the end of this streak for Chicago.