Monday, April 25, 2005

Back in blogging form: catching up

Since your faithful author was last seen pontificating on matters related to the Pale Hose, the team has done nothing short of turn the rest of the league on its ear by going 10-2, earning itself the best record in baseball.

All I can say is, “Wow.”

The run has included two-game sweeps of Minnesota and Detroit, as well as a three-game sweep of the Royals, who get more pathetic and desperate by the day. The White Sox have now won seven in a row as they square off against Oakland tonight.

Should we be stunned by this turn of events?

Even as a Sox fan, I have to think so. The Sox have thus far been 9-1 in one-run games this year, and are playing above their Pythagorean projection. Not that I think Pythagorean is a perfect measurement, because there are things that can happen every that that skew the numbers. But I think we can be sure that if the Sox don’t improve their team on-base percentage of .298 (which ranks last in MLB), they’ll be in trouble.

The Sox have had plenty of margin for error because of the stellar pitching they’ve gotten over the first part of the schedule. Their team ERA of 3.12 trails only Florida (a phenomenal mark of 2.12) and Atlanta (2.90). Chicago is the only American League team in the top five in team ERA.

Two things I think we can count on going forward:

1) The Sox’ ERA will go up
2) The Sox’ OBP will also go up

I think the second is the more likely of the two to see a significant increase, because most of the players dragging down the Sox team OBP are players you wouldn’t expect to stay mired in a season-long slump. For instance:

Jermaine Dye: The Sox’ new right fielder is batting .177 with a .215 OBP and a .323 slugging average, which adds up to an abysmal .538 OPS. No matter what you think of Dye’s talent level, we know he’s better than this. Even if he puts together a poor season, the Sox can count on more production from his spot.

Aaron Rowand: Even if he’s never going to play as well as he did in his huge 2004 season, he’s better than his current .235/.278/.353 line.

Carl Everett: Everett’s OBP (.254) is lower than his batting average (.258) primarily because he’s drawn only one walk this year. In his career, Carl has averaged 50 free passes per season. Unless he has a radically different approach at the plate, he’ll be able to lift his OBP. His career level is .346, with a .272 batting average. So take .020 off his career average, and that’s still not bad. In fact, it’s a whole lot better.

Other guys that are pretty low are Paul Konerko (.329 this year, as opposed to .344 career) and A.J. Pierzynski (.283 this year compared to .334 in his career).

Add to that mix a healthy Frank Thomas (.434 OBP last year and at .429 over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career), the Sox should be in OK shape. Their lack of on-base ability was truly exposed last year when the Big Hurt went down, but they won’t be as bad off as they were.

Guys who could be playing over their head in the OBP department?

Scott Posednik: His .383 mark is better than his off-the-charts (for him) 2003 in which he posted a .379 OBP. He’s on pace for 60 walks, which is about what he did each of the last two seasons, so he’ll have to keep his batting average up if he’s going to be effective. It remains to be seen if he can do that. But that’s nothing we didn’t already know going into the year.

Joe Crede: Despite taking much criticism from this author, Crede looks like he’s putting together a nice little season. In the last week he’s hit .423/.464/.769 to raise his season marks to .313/.343/.493. That’s pretty far removed from Bad Joe, who posted a .717 OPS in 2004, and more like Good Joe, who posted an .892 OPS in the second half of 2003.

Which Joe Crede are the Sox going to get this season?

The pessimist would say he’s just on a hot streak and will settle into the same holding pattern he’s been in since joining the Sox for good in 2002. The one where he shows flashes, but has a career .743 OPS.

The optimist would say he’s going to turn 27 tomorrow (April 26), is just hitting his peak, and is going to settle in and have a few nice above-average years.

Call me an optimist

As for the rest of the roster and their OBP prospects, I think we’re getting just what we should have expected from Tadahito Iguchi (.328) and Juan Uribe (.318). And even though Willie Harris has a .429 OBP built largely on an unsustainable .369 batting average, I think we can be sure that Pablo Ozuna (.200), Ross Gload (.154) and yes, even Timo Perez (.241) can get on base better than they have.

We’ll take a closer look at the Sox pitching later this week, but for now I’m convinced the OBP situation is bound to improve more than the pitching situation worsens.


1-run sustainability:
Not to rain on the parade, especially since I was leading it just a moment ago, but the Sox won’t be able to keep up their 9-1 record in one-run games. Why not? Because even if there were a measurable way to quantify a positive correlation between a certain roster construction and success in close games, there is still the undeniable element of luck involved. And that luck never evens out with a team winning 90 percent of its one-run games.

Or put it another way. The Sox are off to a 9-1 start in one-run games, but is it really because they’ve emphasized team speed and defense, as well as good pitching? The answer is no.

Last year’s poor-glove, right-handed mashing machine started the season 11-1 in one-run games. The Sox finished the 2004 season with a 28-18 record in one-run games. That means they went .500 the rest of the way.

So because this team is better on defense and has better pitching, they’ll keep winning the close ones where the 2004 Sox didn’t? I don’t think so.

I’m willing to concede that it’s possible there are certain roster configurations that would allow a team to be more successful in one-run games than last year’s version of the Sox. But there has yet to be a team that has found a way to win nine out of every 10 games that way.

Working ahead in the count:
If the Sox win tonight, they’ll have a five-game lead over the Twins in the AL Central race. While it’s true you only have to go back to 2003 when the Royals had a seven-game lead much later in the season, it’s also true that five games is not an insignificant head start.

If the Sox play one game over .500 for the rest of the year, they’ll finish with an 87-75 record. So even with the Twins on pace to win 90 games, the Sox could hang in the race with even a middling performance. And it would probably have to take a pretty serious collapse for them to fall out of it.

What can we expect from the two teams going forward? It’s hard to say, because I haven’t looked at the Twins’ roster from top-to-bottom. The Sox are a game better in the Pythagorean standings despite the offensive woes, but again, that’s not a good measure of success going forward.

But then, that’s the beauty of the baseball season. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

And why not talk about the Tigers or Indians? Because, brother, they both suck.

The Posednik On-base percentage Watch returns from a week and a half off to find Scotty boosting his batting average to .303 and sitting pretty with a .384 OBP. As I mentioned above, he’s on pace for about 60 walks. And he’s also on pace for 77 stolen bases with only nine caught stealing. That’s based on his nine swipes against one caught in 14 games so far this year. That would be pretty phenomenal.

Small Ball? Smart Ball? Money Ball? White Sox fans shouldn’t care as long as Posednik keeps that OBP up and steals bases with that kind of success rate.

He’s still only on pace for 77 runs scored, but I think that’s more a product of the middle of the order behind him slumping badly. It’s not like he’s running himself off the basepaths.

Welcome Back:
The Sox signed former farmhand Greg Norton to a minor league contract and assigned him to Charlotte.

Norton, drafted out of Oklahoma as a shortstop in the second round of the 1993 amateur draft, first joined the big club for cups of coffee in 1996 and 1997. He stuck in 1998 as a utility infielder, and after Robin Ventura left following that season took over the third base job.

His big year was 1999 when as a 26-year old he posted .244/.333/.424 marks with 16 home runs and 26 doubles in just more than 400 at-bats.

The Sox brought in Herb Perry the next year, who had a nice season and helped the 2000 Sox to their surprising division title. Despite Perry’s injury history, the Sox deemed Norton expendable so he was released and signed with Colorado, where he put up OPS marks of .847, .826 and .891 over the next three years.

Norton had a dismal 86 at-bats for Detroit, where he hit .174 (though still with a .274 OBP… pretty good given the rancid BA). He almost as bad at Toledo, where he hit .207/.297/.315.

Now at the beginning of his age-33 season, it’s doubtful he’s got much left in the tank, and if we see him a lot with the Sox this year, it’s because something went horribly wrong. But it’s nice to see the organization bring a guy back and give him a chance. He won’t be blocking a prospect, and if he can still keep his OBP .080-.100 above his batting average, he’s probably a better bet to be able to help a team as a pinch-hitting utility infielder than Wilson Valdez.

So welcome back Greg.

On Deck:
Jon Garland, with his 2.57 ERA, hopes to pitch the Sox past Barry Zito and Oakland. Zito has been torched in his last three games (7.27 ERA), but he is striking out more than a man an inning in that span (19 in 17 frames). This is a game I’m excited to see because like everyone else, I want to know if Garland’s success is for real.

Thanks to everyone who’s still reading this blog. I don’t deserve it after taking off for more than a week without notice. Things have been hectic, but that’s no excuse. I can’t promise I’ll be able to post every day, or won’t have to take time off during the season, but I’ll be sure to give better notice.

No comments: