Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Podsednik out (for 6 weeks), Erstad in

MLB.com is reporting that White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik will be out for six weeks after groin surgery Tuesday, and that the team is also close to a deal with outfielder Darin Erstad.

Right off the bat, it looks like the Sox are looking for Erstad to compete with Brian Anderson in center field and possibly help Ryan Sweeney cover left field in case Podsednik suffers a setback.

Erstad has hardly been the picture of health. When he hasn’t missed considerable time as he has in three of the past four seasons, he’s battled injuries of the nagging variety that compromise his ability to be a useful player.

Since the Sox are only counting on him to be a de facto fourth outfielder, that’s not a big deal. But there’s one glaring problem: Erstad can’t really hit lefties.

Here’s a look at some of the recent work Sox outfielders have done against southpaws:



















*=2006 at Charlotte

I put Erstad’s 2005 season in the table because he had fewer than 100 at-bats in 2006. You can argue that even a full season is too small of a sample size to mean anything, but these numbers are not out of line with what all of these guys have done in their careers, excepting maybe Sweeney:


Career OPS

Career OPS vs. LHP
















As Erstad and Podsednik have aged, their splits have become more pronounced. Anderson and Sweeney may yet come around to hit lefties better as they both approach their peaks. It appears the Sox are counting on it since only Ozuna can hit lefties. And you can hardly describe him as an “outfielder.”

Even if everyone continues to hit this poorly against lefties, it wouldn’t be a disaster, especially when you consider exceptional left-handed pitching in the American League Central is dragging some of these numbers down. Only Podsednik’s splits are very drastic. While the groin surgery might help him get back on track in the stolen base department, I doubt it will help him at the plate against southpaws, against whom he looked lost through all of 2006.

And that’s the rub. Podsednik is slated to be the starting left fielder. If the Sox were going to bring in an outfielder, ideally it would be a lefty-killer to take away those at-bats from Podsednik.

Erstad, who was once the elite defensive center fielder in the AL, gives the Sox the luxury of letting him take all the at-bats from Anderson should he bomb at the plate again this year. But he doesn’t have the offensive skills to either platoon with Podsednik, or to take over left field outright.

So the long story made short is that this is an OK signing, but not a great one. It gives the Sox some more depth, but doesn’t really solve the offensive problems in either left or center field.

Sox sign some scrubs

Wiki Gonzalez gets a non-roster invite to White Sox spring training. So do Kenny Kelly and Ryan Bukvich.
The Sox needed some catching depth, and now they have it in Gonzalez, who I think is an improvement on the recently departed Chris Stewart. Gonzalez has always hit well in the minors (812 career OPS), while not carrying that success at the plate with him to the majors (666 OPS). He’ll start out at Charlotte and probably only surface in Chicago if there’s an injury to either A.J. Pierzynski or Toby Hall.
As a bonus, Gonzalez handles left-handed pitching pretty well. So if it’s Hall that goes down, the Sox won’t really miss a beat. Losing Pierzynski would hurt, but that’s true for any team that loses its starting catcher.
Bukvich is the real highlight here, and he will try to push himself into a crowded bullpen picture. He’s another reclamation project for the Sox. Bukvich comes in with solid minor-league credentials, striking out more than 11 guys per nine innings with a 3.19 ERA outside of the Big Show.
Of course, he’s also walked more than five guys per nine over the same 279 career frames. Last season, coming off Tommy John surgery in the Rangers organization, he gave up 44 hits – eight of which went over the fence – in only 35.1 innings at AAA.
Bukvich has also had problems in his brief time in the American League. With the Royals and Rangers, he’s walked almost a man an inning. He’s registered 41 walks against 39 strikeouts. He posted those numbers in 46 innings before his elbow injury.
Before the TJ surgery Bukvich didn’t have a problem with giving up HRs in the minors or his short stint in the big leagues. The strikeouts are still there, so Bukvich still has some upside left. The odds of him being real good are real small. But then again, nobody thought Matt Thornton would be good when he came over from Seattle (including me).
Tell me if you’ve heard this one: The Sox sign an outfielder who used to be a college quarterback.
Kelly is like Joe Borchard-lite – all the physical tools but without the tantalizing power at the plate. While Borchard owns a .474 career minor-league slugging percentage, Kelly sits at .398. Kelly also has the same problem making contact, striking out in almost a quarter of his at-bats just like Borchard. And I’m not aware of any scouting report that indicates Kelly is better in center field.
Simply put, Borchard is a superior player. And if he wasn’t able to stick as a reserve outfielder with the Sox last season, Kelly won’t do it this season. Look for him to share time in Charlotte.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Evaluating the offseason: Big long update

It’s still a long time before pitchers and catchers report, but if rumors of another big trade just around the corner are true, we might as well get a head start at looking at how White Sox GM Kenny Williams is reshaping his championship roster.

Let’s start with the first and biggest:

Traded Aaron Rowand and two minor league pitchers for Jim Thome:

Knowing that Paul Konerko could be on his way out the door, and that Frank Thomas might not be able to play in 2006, Williams decided it was worth the risk of taking on Thome, who saw his 2005 season abbreviated by injuries.

Some of that risk is mitigated by the fact that Philadelphia is paying almost half of the money owed to the 35-year old slugger. That means he’ll only cost the Sox about $8 million per season just three years after the Phillies gave him a six-year, $75 million contract.

But it’s still a huge risk. Here’s what Thome has done the last few years:





















That’s a pretty disturbing trend. But I’m less alarmed for a couple reasons.

The first is that Thome has had OPS+ seasons of 131, 125, 158, 166, 155, 152, 142, 132, 169, 191, 151, 148 and 83 in seasons going back to 1993. There are only two outliers here. The first is the 191 he put up in 2002, his last year in Cleveland and the season that earned him a $75 million payday. The other is his dismal 2005 where injuries halted his streak of excellence.

So while the table above looks like an aging slugger crashing hard from his peak years put up during his prime, 2003-04 was really just a continuation of what could be a Hall-of-Fame career even without the monster ’02 campaign.

And make no mistake about it, Thome is a devastating hitter. His career on-base percentage of .408 is something the Sox could desperately use in their lineup. And even if Thome’s best days are behind him, consider this: in 2005, the aging Thome posted a .360 OBP despite posting only a .207 batting average. The highest OBP on the Sox last year? Konerko’s career-best .375.

In other words, his secondary skill set is still there. So if he can rebound from his injuries and even play as a shadow of himself in his glory years, Thome is an upgrade to the middle of the lineup, where we’ve fortunately seen the last of Carl Everett (.311 OBP).

Of course, there is also the talent the Sox gave up, and that has to figure into the mix as far as how this trade is evaluated.

Aaron Rowand could be the best defensive outfielder in baseball. But I think it’s time to admit that his great hitting year of 2004 was probably an anomaly.











That the Sox have a carbon copy of Rowand in Brian N. Anderson ready to take over the job in center makes it an easy decision. Rowand probably won’t get any better with the glove, or with the bat. That’s not to say he’s not still a good player. He is, and his defense in center is a big reason the Sox pitching staff was so successful. But by the same token, his value will never be higher than it is right now. The Sox were wise to cash him in. I hope he’s appreciated in Philadelphia, where he’ll be a great fit playing between Pat Burrell and the defensively overrated Bobby Abreu (Gold Glove or no).

Daniel Haigwood and Gio Gonzalez are a pair of good left-handed pitching prospects. But they’re still only prospects in the same way Corwin Malone was a prospect years ago. It’s a dangerous game to flip everyone in your farm system for the here and now, but with a wealth of minor league pitchers, it’s not a bad idea to capture value from some of them before they become casualties to pitching’s war of attrition.

Re-signed Paul Konerko to a 5-year, $60 million contract:

On the surface, this is too many years and too much money. Nobody would have given Konerko this kind of contract going into 2005, and nobody was really interested in trading for him before either of the last two seasons because his price tag of about $8.5 million per annum was deemed excessive for the type of player he is (an aging first baseman of less-than-spectacular hitting prowess).

Now Konerko is going to make $12 per season. That, my friends, is what a big postseason will do for you.

However, I’m not that down on this signing. Yes, it does sting that it effectively ended Frank Thomas’ career in a White Sox uniform. And yes, Konerko’s performance on the field could never merit this kind of cash (he has a career OPS of .837 and OPS+ of 114 with his prime likely behind him). But there are two reasons why it makes sense for the Sox.

The first is that Konerko will provide a guaranteed quality in 2006 that Thomas just can’t, simply because he should be healthy, and should be able to post a .900 OPS in more than 600 plate appearances. That is important if the Sox hope to mount a serious title defense.

The second reason, which also happens to be tied to the first, is that the Sox really have to hit the ground running in ’06 if they want to capitalize on their success in winning a title by expanding their fan base in and around Chicago.

The Cubs have held a stranglehold over the hearts and minds of most Chicago-area baseball fans. In my opinion, the reasons for this are many. But I think one of the more significant factors has been the availability of Cubs baseball via WGN television for more than a generation.

Cable TV, however, is changing this. Now anyone with basic cable through Comcast in the Chicago area can watch every Cubs and Sox game. The market for baseball fans is there for both teams to exploit, and there’s no more crying foul about one team having a built-in media advantage by merit of its shared ownership with a broadcasting behemoth.

Letting the best hitter from your championship team leave, no matter how weak a distinction that may be, is not a way to capture the attention of casual fans who are known for their fickle affections. You just can’t argue with the guy on the street stuff like performance value vs. opportunity cost for bringing back one of a team’s most popular player.

From a marketing standpoint, it then becomes worthwhile to overpay Konerko a bit beyond what you would normally hand over to a player of his ilk. That, combined with his ability to help the team start strong in 2006, could help the team make inroads to a fan base that could support a team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball. That would be worth it, even if the Sox do have to eat the last couple years of the deal.

Traded Damaso Marte for Rob Mackowiak:

This was my favorite move of the offseason, and not just because Mackowiak is an Oak Lawn native.

Let’s start with what the Sox gave up. Marte was pretty much finished with the Sox. He imploded so badly last season that even with his solid overall numbers, even with his history of success dating back to the 2002 season, he was never going to have a role with this Chicago team ever again.

Despite that, Williams was still able to flip the lefty reliever for one of the best utility men in baseball.

Just looking at the numbers, Mackowiak’s .742 career OPS screams that he’s nothing special. But look at how his numbers break down in lefty/righty splits.


vs. LHP

vs. RHP










Mackowiak is stretched when asked to bat 500 times in a season because he has to go up against left-handed pitching, which absolutely kills him. However, he’s a legitimately good hitter against right-handed hurlers.

That’s a good thing, because look at what Sox third baseman Joe Crede has been doing against pitchers the last few years:

vs. LHP

vs. RHP










Outside of 2004, when Crede was just plain terrible against everyone, the 27-year old has been better against left-handed pitching than he has been against righties.

Now, I’m not suggesting a straight platoon. Crede is still the superior hitter with more room for upside, and he and Mackowiak are worlds apart in the fielding department with Crede taking the advantage. But with Crede’s back necessitating more days off in 2006, getting Mackowiak’s left-handed bat in the lineup against a number of right-handed foes makes for a good combination that can maximize both players’ strengths, and minimize their weaknesses.

But here’s another reason to like this trade. Consider the other bench options the Sox carried around last year. These guys all had more than 100 at-bats:





Pablo Ozuna




Timo Perez




Willie Harris




Chris Widger




Geoff Blum




*Totals from White Sox and Padres

That group is just downright putrid. Should Ozuna’s batting average fall from the .276 he posted in 2005, he instantly becomes a Black Hole of Offensive Death. Timo the Terrible lived up to that moniker. I guess I can’t complain too much about Widger because he still has a little pop in his bat, and even though he’s in Brad Ausmus territory, the Sox aren’t throwing 600 plate appearances at him. Harris can get on base and has some speed, so he has his uses off the bench. But World Series heroics aside, why did we trade for Blum?

The Sox’ biggest weakness of a year ago was the awful bench. Bringing in Mackowiak helps solve part of that problem.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Loaiza lands in Oakland

Imagine for a few minutes the career path of a B-list television actor. You struggle early in your career, playing bit roles and tooling around comedy clubs but then get your big break as the lead role in a network sitcom.

The show is good enough to last a few seasons, not long enough to land you big residuals once it goes into syndication, but long enough for you to get typecast. So the next thing you know, you’re sitting around Hollywood basements tossing cards around with guys like Dustin Diamond and Nick Lachey, wondering if you can land a spot on some celebrity poker show.

Then after everyone’s written you off, you land a supporting role on a cable TV show, and all of a sudden, you’re cashing paychecks again as a serious actor.

That’s probably pretty close to how Esteban Loaiza’s baseball career has been. Up through age 30, Loaiza bounced from Pittsburgh to Texas to Toronto. Some years he was decent, some years he was pretty terrible.

Then things changed when he landed on with the White Sox in 2003. He picked up a new gimmick (his cut fastball), parlayed that into a career season (154 ERA+ with 207 K in 226 1/3 innings) and looked like he was going to be set.

But that’s when the Sox pulled the plug on his little sitcom, trading him to the Yankees mid-2004. Loaiza imploded in the Bronx and had to settle for a one-year deal with the Nationals going into 2005.

Instead of falling off the table for good, Loaiza came back and leveraged a nice pitcher’s park into a 3.77 ERA. He was again striking guys out (173). And that yeoman-like effort just earned him a 3-year, $21 million contract from the Oakland A’s this week.

As one of my favorite guys to watch with the Sox in recent years, it’s nice to see Loaiza land on his feet. While some have panned the deal he just inked as an albatross for the small-market A’s, I think it will end up looking like a pretty smart move after the dust settles with the other free-agent pitchers this offseason.

Congratulations Esteban.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sox should move to pick up Cruz

Shingo Takatsu for Jose Cruz Jr.? That’s a deal I’d make if I were Sox GM Kenny Williams.

Today is the last day the Sox can deal Takatsu before he becomes a free agent, so the timing would be perfect. And the team could definitely use an upgrade on its bench. Cruz, and his ability to handle all three outfield positions, would be a good fit.

And take a look at this cast of characters that manager Ozzie Guillen has been shuffling into the lineup:































Of course Carl Everett has been getting the bulk of his at-bats in the DH spot, but you could argue that Cruz would be an upgrade there, too. That’s pretty sad.

As for the rest of these guys, there’s not much to say that the numbers don’t. Ozuna is a utility infielder, so of course he’s not going to be hitting like a monster. And as Harris and Perez sink lower and lower, it’s beginning to be an open question of whether either guy belongs on the roster.

I suggested the Sox pick up Cruz around this time last year, too, because he always seems to hit for around an .800 OPS, plays great defense in the outfield corners, and can handle center field. He’s the ideal fourth outfielder and upgrades an extraordinarily weak White Sox bench.

Just like a year ago, it’s still a good idea for a team in need of an upgrade. And the price will never be lower.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Trade rumors send up red flags

Before anyone gets too excited about the prospect of A.J. Burnett landing with the White Sox, lets look at a couple different pitchers:






Pitcher A






Pitcher B






Pitcher A obviously has a pretty big advantage in strikeout rate, but the difference in walks is almost negligible. The ERAs are obviously different, but here’s a secret: According to ESPN, Pitcher A toils in a ballpark that has a park factor of .898. Pitcher B, meanwhile, plies his craft in a ballpark with a park factor of 1.139.

Despite the better K-rate for pitcher A, with everything else being close to equal, you could probably expect about the same performance from these two guys from now until the end of the season.

If you hadn’t figured it out yet, Pitcher A is Burnett. Pitcher B is our own Jose Contreras.

As of now, Burnett would be a marginal upgrade over Contreras, but if the cost of that modest of an upgrade is Contreras, Damaso Marte and Brandon McCarthy, then it’s probably not worth it.

If the Marlins wanted to trade Burnett straight over for Contreras, that would make a little more sense. Contreras is signed for another season at what almost looks like a bargain-basement price ($7 million, less a million the Yankees are kicking in), and the Marlins are looking for cost certainty going into the future. And they surely won’t be able to afford Burnett next year, who will look to boost his $3.65 million salary into the $10 million per year range.

With Marte getting older and living more dangerously with the walks by the day (his WHIP is 1.65 because he’s walked 21 in just over 29 innings), the Sox could probably live with tossing him into the deal, too. But tossing in McCarthy would be too much.

For starters, McCarthy is hardly fool’s gold when it comes to being a prospect. Despite his 5.17 ERA for Charlotte, he’s still got 94 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings. That’s phenomenal.

He’s not struggling because he’s walking a ton of guys, though that’s what you might expect from a power pitcher. His 1.29 WHIP is also very good. His Achilles’ heel has been his penchant for giving up the gopher ball: he’s yielded 14.

But that’s hardly reason to panic, or to toss him into a trade where the benefits are questionable. His potential isn’t worth just two months of Burnett.


Should third baseman Mike Lowell, and his huge contract, still be a necessary part of a Burnett deal, that would benefit the Sox, right? After all, isn’t Lowell recovering from his slump, posting an .808 OPS in July? And doesn't Joe Crede suck?

Well, don’t look now, but for as disappointing as Crede has been for Sox fans, he’s having as good a month as Lowell. In fact, he’s had two months as good as Lowell:


















Now, the same issue of park factors that applies to Contreras and Burnett applies to Lowell and Crede, so in fairness to Mike, he’s probably having a better July than (Not So) Young (Anymore) Joe.

But again, here the numbers are in Crede’s advantage, and adjusting for the park would only give Lowell a slight edge. Crede is still whipping him on the season tallies.

It should also be pointed out that Lowell’s career-high OPS was .880 in 2003. He came close to that again in 2004 with an .870 mark, but that’s the only time he’s been within 50 points of his peak.

So to assume Lowell would be much of an upgrade on offense, you have to have faith that he’s going to bounce back to where he was at the peak of his powers. Does anyone thing the 31-year-old Lowell will do that? It’s probably just as likely as Crede putting together a nice second half, which he did in both 2002 and 2003.

Then consider the fielding prowess of this pair. They have identical .987 fielding percentages, and Lowell has a slightly better Range Factor (.263-.260), but Crede wins going away in Zone Rating (.807-.756).

Then consider the money Lowell is owed, and you really have to hope the Sox aren’t going to be stuck with a deal like this.

So to recap on both fronts, dealing to get A.J. Burnett probably isn’t that great of an idea.