Saturday, April 30, 2005

Detroit 3, Chicago 2 (11 inn.)

After overachieving in the one-run game department, the Sox are coming back to earth a bit after dropping a 3-2 game to Detroit on Friday. The Sox have now lost three straight after starting out 16-4.

Jose Contreras held up the pitching end of the bargain, giving up only three hits and three walks in six innings. The Sox also managed to get on base with a season-high 11 walks to go along with seven hits. Where things went south for the South Siders was in leaving 16 men on base.
Aaron Rowand, Willie Harris, Joe Crede and Scott Posednik combined for five walks, but all four also combined to go 0-for-16.

I don't want to bad-mouth walks, because they're the byproduct of a good approach at the plate, but man, a hit or two sure would have been nice.

The outburst of patience that hit the Sox lineup helped lift the team on-base percentage up to .314. That's still only good for 24th among MLB teams, but it's better than being second-to-last like the Sox were recently. It also moves them ahead of Cleveland, Oakland and Los Angeles in the American League.

Amazingly, despite also ranking near the bottom in slugging percentage (23rd), the Sox are still
18th in runs scored. One huge scoring night, or a couple pretty good scoring nights, could put this team in the top 10 in runs among all 30 MLB teams.

Still, that's not sustainable unless the Sox start hitting better, and even manager Ozzie Guillen has come out in the media and said so.

This team really needs Frank Thomas back.


Living up to expectations:
When the Sox signed Tadahito Iguchi, most observers of Japanese baseball thought the second baseman would forfeit a lot of his power, but be able to sustain his average and keep drawing a fair number of walks. So far, those observations have been spot-on.

Iguchi on the season has hit .324 with enough free passes (4) to keep his OBP up at .365. And of his 24 hits, only three have gone for extra bases. All three have been doubles.

My guess is Iguchi drops in average a little, picks up a few more walks and sees a little spike in his power numbers as he gets more comfortable on this side of the Pacific Ocean. I can see his OPS going from .715 (going into Saturday's game against Detroit) to around .775. Nothing super, but nothing for a second baseman to be ashamed about.

"I never hit.":
That's what manager Ozzie Guillen told the media after GM Kenny Williams joked (we hope) about activating the former shortstop to take over his old position while the Sox healed some injuries. I think it's funny because a fair number of commentators cracked that Guillen would want to field a lineup of nine light-hitting shortstops when he took the job after the 2003 season.

So far, that hasn't been the case. Not only has Guillen come out and pointed to his team's offensive deficiencies, but he also hasn't loaded the team up with his batless bretheren. He even had the chance to do it when the Sox had Wilson Valdez around.

For the record, Guillen batted .264 with a .287 OBP and a .338 slugging average in 7,133 at-bats in 16 seasons. He had 28 home runs, and three times reached his career high of four. Here are his top 10 matches in similarity scores.

1. Alfredo Griffin (940)
2. Bill Russell (924)
3. Joe Tinker (923)
4. Billy Jurges (913)
5. Roger Peckinpaugh (901)
6. Phil Rizzuto (891)
7. Roy McMillan (891)
8. Marty Marion (890)
9. Art Fletcher (889)
10. Don Kessinger (887)

All of those guys except Griffin and Rizzuto have managed in the major leagues. So apparently, light-hitting middle infielders make good managerial material the same way backup catchers do.

Posednik is still in the same OBP territory (.347) with his two walks being nullified by his 0-for-4 showing at the plate.

On Deck:
The second of three against Detroit. Orlando Hernandez (2-1, 2.47) will take on Jason Johnson (2-1, 4.35). It would be nice to see the Sox tee-off on the Tigers' Opening Day starter from a year ago.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Sox streak snapped, lose last two in Oakland

While it was sad to see the White Sox’ eight-game streak come to an end, especially on a pair of miffed fly balls late in the last two games against Oakland, it was a pretty nice run.

For now the Sox need to think about what’s going to happen with their roster. After injuries to infielders Pablo Ozuna, Juan Uribe and Tadahito Iguchi, the Sox had to resort to desperate measures in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss.

Joe Crede played his first major league game at shortstop, while Chris Widger played his first professional game ever at third. Then after Crede was given the boot by umpires in the ninth, Jermaine Dye took over at shortstop for the first time since before he was a pro.

With the team with its back against the wall, I have to say I’m impressed with the creativity Sox manager Ozzie Guillen showed by moving his players around the way he did. After all, what would have been the options?

The Sox could have optioned lefty Neal Cotts and brought up an infielder from Charlotte. That probably wasn’t a good idea, since the shortstop options there included 30-year-old Felix Martinez and recently re-signed Greg Norton, who probably can’t handle the position anymore at the tender age of 32.

Angel Gonzalez, who is hitting .333 with a .424 on-base percentage for Birmingham (Class AA) might have been an option, too, but besides the fact his numbers have only been over 48 at-bats, I don’t know that we can even coin his hitting thus far a success. He’s slugging .354 with one extra-base hit this season. He’d get the bat knocked out of his hands in the majors.

So, even ignoring the fact that Cotts is the freshest arm in the Sox pen at the moment, it doesn’t look like the Sox had any internal options, making the first plan ineffective.

That means the other option, putting one of the injured guys on the DL, wouldn’t work out either. The Sox would still be working with the same options.

In addition to that, I’m sure the Sox wouldn’t want to risk losing one of those guys for 15 days if it turns out the injury isn’t very serious. In the case of Osuna (swollen/bruised wrist) and Iguchi (bruised knee), they probably just need a few days to heal. Uribe, with his hamstring injury, might really need a visit to the DL.

So the Sox got by with what they had, and it seemed to work out OK. At least it worked out well enough that nobody should be bemoaning the loss of Wilson Valdez.


Moving to his left:
Joe Crede acquitted himself well at shortstop, or at least as well as you can expect from a guy that hasn’t played the position in almost five years. He didn’t make an error and was involved in a pair of double plays.

This got me thinking about the last time the Sox moved their regular third baseman over to shortstop. It was May 20, 1994, in another game in Oakland. Craig Grebeck had to leave the game, so then-manager Gene Lamont shifted Robin Ventura off the hot corner over to shortstop.

Sure, you could point out other guys like Juan Uribe, Greg Norton, Chris Snopek or any of the other guys the Sox have trotted out to third base and say, “Hey, didn’t those third basemen play some short?” To which I’d respond, “Yes, they did, but they weren’t THE team’s third baseman.”

What makes this so special is that Joe Crede has rarely played the position, and if not for the injuries in Tuesday’s game, would never be asked to. Unlike those other guys that were utility infielder types.

So how did Ventura do? He made his ninth and 10th errors of the season in eight chances, to begin and end his career at shortstop with a .750 fielding percentage.

Ventura went 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI in that game. The Sox won 13-6 and picked up a game on Cleveland, boosting their lead to 1 ½ games in the first year of the AL Central Division. Ah, what might have been that season.

Worth his money:
Freddy Garcia lowered his ERA to 2.83 by tossing seven innings of one-hit ball. His WHIP for the season is now an outstanding 1.00. He walked two and struck out four. His K-rate of 4.89 is still pretty low, so maybe his ERA is in for a jump. We’ll see, but for now he’s earning every penny of his 3-year, $27 million contract.

Keep your eye on the ball:
Dye dropped a ball in ninth inning of Tuesday’s 9-7 loss, with the error leading directly to Marco Scutaro beginning the inning on second base. Without the mistake, Oakland still might have pushed across a run for the win, but we’ll never know. Maybe the Sox could have won their ninth.

Rowand lost one in the sun to give Oakland a similar head start in Wednesday’s ninth inning.

How these guys play defense is important to watch, because beyond the obvious reason, it could help determine who gets their playing time cut the most once Frank Thomas returns.

After going 0-for-4 Wednesday, Dye’s average slid to .177, with his OBP also at .203. As we get ready to wrap up the end of the season’s first month, the Sox need to seriously think about finding more room for Dye on the bench.

Rowand hasn’t been as putrid as Dye, but his .253/.306/.354 line is going to have to improve, or he could be spending more of his time watching Scott Posednik play center field. From the bench.

Benching Dye every other day in favor of Carl Everett seems like a good idea to me, while benching Rowand seems like a hasty move, and probably a bad one. But these guys are going to be fighting for playing time. No matter what Guillen says about Frank having to fight his way back into the lineup, there’s no way any of these other guys are going to beat out the team’s best hitter for playing time.

Posednik went 0-for-4 with no walks to see his OBP slide all the way to .348. No stolen bases.

On Deck:
The Sox don’t play Thursday, and will use the day to see if they can get their middle infielders healthy. Again, my guess is Uribe gets DLed, the other guys maybe need a few more days off. Could lead to some interesting lineups in this weekend’s series against Detroit.

Jose Contreras looks healthy enough to start Friday, while Hernandez will be Saturday’s starter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

White Sox 6, Oakland 0

With help from Chris Widger’s first home run since August 9, 2000, Jon Garland tossed a complete-game four-hitter at Oakland in a 6-0 White Sox win Monday night in Oakland. Garland, who lowered his ERA to 1.80, walked only one batter and struck out three.

After watching the game, I have to admit, Garland is still a puzzle to me. His strikeout rate is way down (3.3 per 9 IP), but his K/BB rate is way up (2.2 vs. 1.34 in his career), largely because he’s given up only five walks in 30 innings.

Garland is on pace to toss 243 innings after going the distance Monday. Surely he won’t get that many, but even if he stayed on target for that workload at his current walk rate, he would only issue 41 free passes. That would be a career low for Garland among his complete big league seasons.

























*projection based on 162 game schedule

A couple weeks ago I compared Garland to Brad Radke, not in the sense that they’re similar, but in the sense that Garland could be a successful pitcher without striking out a ton of guys – a la Radke.

Well, cutting your career BB/9IP rate from near 5 to about 1.50 would represent a quantum leap. Is that sustainable? It just might be.

Long lauded for having a tremendous sinking fastball, Garland has never been able to really establish himself as a ground-ball pitcher. Going into this year his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was only 1.27. He’s also given up his share of titanic home runs.

This year it’s been different. Garland has his G/F ratio up to 2.10. He’s also only given up one jack so far. Again, even if he goes 243 innings as projected, that would be only eight for the year.

Could Garland, now 25, finally be harnessing that sinker and using it to get guys out?

Well, we’ll have to see. He’ll have to continue to keep the ball down, especially in Comiskey Park. And he’ll have to keep guys off base. And watching tonight, he still looks like he likes to nibble at the zone at times.

But in the meantime, it looks like something has flipped the switch, as Garland is pitching like Sox fans imagined he would when he first joined the big league staff in 2000. Fans should enjoy it now, even if it’s only an April mirage.

Widger’s first jack in nearly five years put the Sox up 2-0 in the seventh inning. Ironically, his last bomb came off White Sox pitcher Mike Sirotka in a game the Sox won 19-3. It was a solo shot back then, and the last run scored in the game.

Incidentally, Frank Thomas had two home runs in that game, while M’s pitcher Jamie Moyer was roasted for 11 earned runs. The win kept the Sox eight games in front of Cleveland and gave them an American League best 68-45 record. Chicago finished the year as division champs with an AL-best 95 wins.

Monday, Widger raised his OPS from .481 to .760 with his 2-for-4 night. Talk about a small sample size.

Scott Posednik had the night off. His on-base percentage rests at .384.

Mark Buehrle (3-1, 2.61 ERA), will go against early season dominator Rich Harden (2-0, 0.44 ERA). In addition to the microscopic ERA, Harden is also striking out more than a batter per inning. He’s also walked six men in just over 20 innings.

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.