Saturday, June 11, 2005

Quick Update

It's been a long time since I've been able to find the time to write, and the sporadic entries will probably continue at least through the rest of this month. But I have some time right now, so let's catch up on what's happening on the south side.

I think the best way for me to do that is with a little season review and a look forward, position-by-position.

First Base:
Paul Konerko is still struggling with his batting average (.237 through June 10), but as I've mentioned before, he's still getting on base (.349 OBP). I don't think he'll finish the year with an average below .260. In fact, I think he'll eventually hit closer to .300. Once more hits start falling in for him, Konerko will probably lift his team-leading .838 OPS to around .900. No worries here.

Second Base:
Tadahito Iguchi seems to have found his power. After going all of April with only three extra-base hits (all doubles), Iguchi has now cracked five home runs and has sent 17 hits for extra bases, including a pair of triples. He's making adjustments at the plate, and I believe his .869 OPS in May is closer to his ability to than his .729 OPS from April. Even if we have to settle for something in between, his .778 OPS for the year still ranks him among the 10 best second basemen in baseball right now.

Third Base:
After a putrid month of May (.155 BA, .495 OPS... ughh, I feel sick), Joe Crede has been torching everyone to the tune of 1.248 in the first third of June. So pretty much, what you see is what you get -- a streaky hitter that's probably going to finish with an OPS between .725 and .750. That's pretty much the story of Crede's career, which makes him a good candidate to be replaced at the trade deadline. Though I would be surprised if there were a better option available on the market that won't come at a prohibitive cost. Crede is still a middle-of-the pack hitter among third basemen, and let's not forget that he's putting together a better season that Adrian Beltre, Mike Lowell or Eric Chavez.

There's no way around the fact that Juan Uribe has struggled this year. He's playing average defense at short (middle of the pack in Zone Rating, Range Factor and Fielding Pct.), and his bat has been horrible. He hasn't been the Cristian Guzman (.468 OPS) or even Royce Clayton (.581) kind of bad. But he's been bad (.655 OPS). Can he turn it around?

The answer is I don't know, but if he's going to he's going to have to find his power. So far this season, 67 percent of his hits have been singles. Last year only 58 percent of his hits went for one base. That doesn't sound like much, but you're talking about a dozen extra-base hits. That's huge. Especially for a player like Uribe, who's hitting value is almost exclusively tied to his ability to uncork the regular home run.

This poses an interesting problem for Sox GM Kenny Williams. After a big year last year, he inked Uribe to a 3-year deal and everyone expected the 25-year-old shortstop to be present and future of the position. Now Uribe is easily the worst hitter in the Sox lineup. If you're Williams, what do you do? You could go out and get another shortstop, but what does that do to Uribe -- both his production and his attitude -- over the next two year's of his contract? You could sit and wait for Uribe to find his power stroke again. But if it doesn't happen this year, it could sink the team's title hopes.

After popping 23 homers a year ago, it's safe to say Uribe won't come close to that with only four this year. But if he could recapture some of his form from last year, he could be a boost for the Sox down the stretch. At this point, waiting to see if that happens is probably the best option for now.

A.J. Pierzynski has been as good as advertised. His .800 OPS is second-best on the team, and far, far exceeds the suckitude the Sox got from the position the second half of last year. Pierzynski also has nine home runs -- only two away from his career high, and we're not even to the All Star break. We knew he could hit for average, and some even speculated a power spike in the raw numbers because of the way The Cell played as a hitter's park last year. That seems to be the case as seven of his long balls have come at home. Still, the Sox will take that.

But how about Chris Widger? When the Sox decided to go with him as the backup, I bemoaned what I thought was a mistake. I agreed that Ben Davis belonged in Charlotte, but I thought Jamie Burke should have won the backup job since he was also right-handed.

Well, Widger has only hit for a .877 OPS in his 56 at-bats. Yes, that's a small sample. But it's still better than I could have ever dreamed of from a guy that went about five year's between major league home runs.
And what are Burke and Davis doing? Well, Burke is doing what he's always done, which is get on base well for a catcher (.343 through Friday, which is exactly his career average). And Davis is doing what he's always done, which is suck (.590 OPS). I've long been a booster for Davis, arguing that he could still put a career together. But I think I can put that notion to bed, especially now that he's the Sox' fifth-best option behind the plate after Pierzynski, Widger, Burke and Raul Cassanova (.810 OPS at Charlotte).

So anyway, my apologies to Mr. Widger. Please keep up the good work. And &$%# you Ben Davis.

Center Field:
Aaron Rowand is getting over his rough start. His .620 OPS in April gave way to a .858 mark in May and an .890 pace so far in June. Rowand's current .796 OPS is almost identical to what he did the first two months of last season (.775). I don't think we can count on him mashing to the tune of a .1000+ mark like he did in June, July and August of last year, but with his superb defense, he doesn't have to do that to be valuable for the Sox.

Right Field:
Nobody started the season colder than Jermaine Dye. His .517 OPS in April had Sox fans screaming for him to lose his job. Then something funny happened: he started to really hit. Dye has his OPS up to .786 after a good May (.933) and an even better June so far (1.048). He's even got 10 home runs now.

That doesn't mean Sox fans should be entirely happy. His stats are just beginning to even out to his career levels, which aren't that great. Outside of the .951 mark he posted for the Royals in 2000, Dye has pretty much been around .800 for the rest of his career. That's acceptable, but hardly stellar. The bright side is that Dye hits better against lefties than he does righties, so a decent left-handed bat can spell him against tougher right-handed pitching. So that at least covers some of his weakness.

Left Field:
Scott Posednik has exceeded the wildest expectations of many more analytical observers. Many predicted an on-base percentage close to .300 with his typically paltry slugging. That may come to be the reality as we get into the dog days of summer, but for now Posednik has his OBP above .350 while wreaking havoc on the basepaths. He's already swiped 31 bases against nine caught stealing.

Some would say that his .688 OPS makes all the stolen bags worthless. I'm not one of those people. Posednik has value for two reasons. First, he's not just another right-handed slugger. He gives the Sox another way to score runs. Maybe not as many runs, but still a different way.

The second reason is that I think stolen bases, and the threat of a stolen base, are underrated by the stathead community. Especially when you have a guy like Posednik. Everyone knows he's going for it, including the pitcher. I makes the defense move around, opening holes for more base hits for the batter at the plate when he's on. When a pitcher throws out to the catcher, it puts the hitter into a hitter's count. And it is distracting for the pitcher.

Now, I know none of those things can be quantified, so I won't try to make a case that Posednik is some kind of MVP or something. But he does give the Sox another dimension and he does have value that doesn't show up in OPS, OBP, SLG or those other stats we use as a quick guide to a player's worth. The Posednik experiment is working out OK.

designated Hitter:
Carl Everett has been pretty mediocre (.747 OPS), mostly because his on-base percentage has been lousy (.317). It's encouraging that he has as many walks this year as he had all of last year (16), and that puts him on pace for what he averages in the free-pass department in his good years. However, his good years are also marked by batting averages near or above .300. That means his .263 averages has to improve. And we know we can't count on that.

What we can count on is awesomeness from Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt has crushed the ball in his 14 at-bats since coming off the DL. Microscopic sample size yes, but we know from his track record that this is what Frank Thomas is.

Much has been made of the alleged job controversy between Thomas and Everett, but in my mind there's no question about it: the job belongs to Thomas. Which is fine, because there's another useful role for Everett when we talk about...

The Bench:
I've written in the past about my embarrassing love for Timo Perez, but despite my affections, I am not blinded to the fact that he sucks. I mean really sucks. His .555 is terrible, even with all the built-in excuses about irregular playing time and blah, blah. Add in the fact that he's not real good with the glove, and you have an embarrassingly bad fourth outfielder.

Which is why Carl Everett should be the team's primary fourth outfielder. He should be able to handle center field like he did for the Sox in 2003, and while he wouldn't be a downgrade from Perez with the glove he represents a huge upgrade with the bat. And between resting all three OFs, plus Thomas, he'll get plenty of at-bats still.

Getting Timo off the roster might also let the Sox carry a backup that can play a legitimate first base. I guess that guy would be Ross Gload when he's healthy. His left-handed bat is nice, too. There's no doubt the guy can hit with OPS marks of .853 in the majors last year and 1.042 at Charlotte this year. The only issue is his ability to also play a corner outfield spot with his bum shoulder.

Pablo Ozuna and Willie Harris have both been capable, both showing good on-base ability (.349 for Harris and .377 for Ozuna).

Right now, we can hope Perez gets the ticket to Charlotte once Gload is really to jump back in action. I could happen, specially with Perez making a cool $1 million. Nobody would claim him if the Sox put him on waivers.

The Pitching:
Not much to say other than that it's been great. Sure, every guy has his own issues we could examine, and when I get back into the semblance of a normal routine I'll try to examine all of them. But for right now, almost everyone is throwing well.

I will say one thing right now: Let's not get too excited about Neal Cotts just yet. I like his potential as much as any other Sox fan, which is why I've campaigned for him to go to Charlotte to get more work than he was getting earlier in the year. He's throwing strikes his last few times out, but he's still only tossed 22 innings. We need more evidence than that to see if he's really turned a corner.

That concludes my two cents worth of opinions for now. I'll still be caught up in work and travel until at least July 4, so I hope nobody expect prolific posting from me until after then.

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