Saturday, May 07, 2005
I mentioned earlier this week that I secretly root for Timo Perez because he bunted for a base hit in a key bases-loaded situation during an important game against the Twins. Not only did he reach base on one of the best bunt plays I've seen the last few years, but he also drove in the tying run (nevermind that the Sox went on to lose the game 5-4).
But it goes deeper than that.
Like I'm sure other baseball fan's do, I pick and choose teams to root for in league opposite of my favorite team's league. Not the same team every year, but whichever squad I latch onto for some reason or another. In 2000 it was the New York Mets.
At first it had nothing to do with Perez. It had more to do with Robin Ventura, who was one of my favorites when he wore a Sox uniform. But there were a lot of interesting dudes on that team: Mike Piazza, who's always seemed like a swell guy whenever he's not coming across as a homophobe; Mr. Hawaiian Puch Benny Agbayani, the kind of career minor leaguer that's fun to root for; Rick Reed, who I like despite his would-be-union-busting past; Turk "99" Wendell; two guys named Bobby Jones; and Rickey Henderson, still in his prime when it came to referring to himself in the third person.
Even some guys I don't like to root for were having decent seasons, like "Operation Shutdown" Derek Bell (101 OPS+) and the mostly useless Lenny Harris (117 OPS+ in 132 at-bats over 76 games).
So I was rooting for the Mets, and when Perez came up and gave them an .809 OPS in 49 at-bats, it was neat. And then in the postseason, he batted .300 in the NLDS and NLCS combined. Especially in the NLCS against the Cardinals, it seemed like he scored every time he got on base. And I guess with seven hits, one walk and eight runs scored, he did.
Moreover, at the time we all thought he some 23-year old. He was young. He had potential. He had some upside for a Mets outfield that was mostly old and lousy.
If Timo's .643 OPS in 2001 didn't kill his prospectdom, then it was completely done in when he aged two extra years the winter before the 2002 season like a lot of other Latin American players.
So things have really stayed unchanged since then. He still sucks with the bat, and he's no great shakes with the glove either. Witness Friday night in Toronto:
In the second inning with two two Blue Jay runs in, Perez charged in and caught a Russ Adams fly ball for the second out. Rather than regroup and at least threaten a throw home, he flipped the ball to second base in an attempt to double off Alex Rios. Rios was safe and the slow-ass Greg Zaun scored from third. Darrin Jackson, calling the game on TV, said the run was likely to score anyway. But I don't think they send Zaun's not-so-fleet-feet if Perez come's up looking to throw home... even with his soft-tossing arm.
Then in the ninth inning, Adams made Perez his puppet again when he hit a ball to center that Perez charged to catch, but didn't come near enough to catching. The ball went past him for a double. It was a play that probably gets made by either Aaron Rowand or Scott Posednik. That might be an unfair comparison since both of those guys are superb defenders. But by comparison Timo looked bad.
So Perez isn't a good hitter and isn't a great defender. So why root for him?
Because he's the underdog. Because there's no reason root against him. Because I'm sure he'd be a nice enough guy if I ever meet him sometime.
Maybe if Timo were stealing time from some young, up-and-coming outfielder becasue of some manager's fetish for his "veteran presence" or some crap like that. That would be a good reason to hate him, to root for him to fail or wish he were somewhere else.
But Perez is the team's fourth outfielder. Once Frank Thomas comes back and Carl Everett
becomes a part-time DH/fourth outfielder, Perez will pretty much be the team's fifth outfielder. If the Sox had a young outfielder in that role, it would be a crime against that player's career.
Perez is now 30-years-old. His upside is gone, so what's left is a guy can at least handle all three outfield positions, has enough power to hit at least the once-in-a-while home run and can bunt well enough to more the runners and steal the occasional base hit on the play. And that's all you really need from a fifth outfielder.
Up and down:
Sox bullpen on Friday: Seven batters faced, six sat down. Nice work again.
Tadahito Iguchi stayed hot, raising his average to .340 with a 2-for-5 night. After being among the team's underachievers just a couple weeks ago, he's probably playing a bit over his head with that batting average. But his .772 OPS is probably the right neighborhood. In fact, it will probably get a little better as his power comes around.
Paul Konerko broke an 0-for-26 batting slump with an eighth inning hit. He'd come around to score one of the winning runs.
Konerko is one of my favorite guys on the team, and has been one of the team's best players since coming to the Sox for Mike Cameron before the 1999 season. But compared against what he earns, which is $8.75 million this season, he doesn't provide the team with a tremendous amout of value.
For that reason, I was concerned that he might command an even bigger deal from the Sox as a free agent this winter. I don't know how likely he is to get a much bigger deal after this recent slide. I'm sure he'll rebound and have a nice overall season, but his recent streak brings back images of his prolonged slump to begin the 2003 season. It also cements his reputation for being proned to such slumps because of his high-maintenance mechanics at the plate.
After Paulie smacked 41 home runs last year, it was hard to convince some Sox fans that Konerko was overpaid. But with two bad starts in three years, it's a little easier to do that. I imagine it will also be harder for teams to open up their wallets next winter to hand over something like a 4-year, $40-million deal.
Lets just hope this doesn't end up like past free agent situations for the Sox.
In five trips to the plate, Posednik went 1-for-4 and walked once. That lifts his OBP to .376. That's not too shabby. Why didn't he get the nod in center? I know manager Ozzie Guillen has to keep Perez fresh enough at the position to be able to use him there once in a while, but if something were to happen to Rowand, I'd assume it would be Scotty because of his great range and speed. So doesn't he need an occasional start there?
It's already happening. Jon Garland allowed a run, but the Sox have scored six with home runs from Juan Uribe, Iguchi and Konerko. That's where the score stands after two innings.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
The White Sox took home a 4-2 win and became the first team in the majors to reach 20 wins on Wednesday despite their No. 2-through-5 hitters combining to go 1-for-14. Jermaine Dye picked up some of the slack in the six hole with a 2-for-3 night, while A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Crede clouted home runs from the seventh and eighth spots, respectively.
With only six hits and two walks, it’s probably not a game the Sox deserved to win, especially with starter Freddy Garcia walking a tightrope by allowing eight hits and two walks through 6 1/3 innings. But they all count, so they’ll take it.
Maybe the best thing the Royals have going for them is that first baseman Mike Sweeney went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs, lifting his average to .321. He also leads the majors in doubles with 10.
It’s not the kind of “good thing” for the Royals in that they need him to play better to help them win games. It’s the kind of “good thing” where they need him to play better so they can ship him out of town.
Sweeney is owed $11 million this season, as well as each of the next two years. He’s also due a $1.5 million per year raise if he’s dealt anywhere. What looked like a good deal after 2002, when Sweeney signed for five years and $55 million, is now an albatross.
Because Sweeney has played below his .877 career OPS the last two seasons while also missing more than 50 games each year, he’s not considered a good risk for a contending team looking for long-term help. But if the Royals are resigned to paying off a chunk of the contract, how well Sweeney plays will help determine how much they’re on the hook for.
Putting on a Royals hat for a minute, I don’t think it would be a good idea for the Royals to pay a significant amount just to get rid of Sweeney. He wouldn’t bring much in the way of prospects, and given the Royals other 1B/DH options, they’re better off eating the money and leaving the guy that’s been the face of the franchise out there, even if it amounts to little more than a PR move.
But Royals owner David Glass probably doesn’t see it that way. If he could get by with paying half the contract and sticking league-minimum guys out there like Calvin Pickering, he’d rather do that because he’s still saving almost $20 million bucks over three years. And that’s the Wal-Mart way.
The Sox aren’t looking for a first baseman (imagine for a minute how ultra-Christian Sweeney would get along with Ozzie Guillen swearing in his face), so this really only effects them in that they might get to play an even worse Royals team later on this year.
Why are we here again?:
Apparently, the only purpose Neal Cotts had in Wednesday’s win was to come on in the sixth inning and walk Ruben Gotay. After getting nobody out, he was relieved by Cliff Politte.
I haven’t written a word about Cotts in a while, and that’s because nobody has seen him since April 24. Since back-to-back bad outing against Cleveland raised his ERA to 8.10, he’s brought that back down to 3.86, despite a still scary WHIP of 1.71.
Nothing personal against Cotts, but I still don’t know why he’s with the Sox instead of at Charlotte. Is it really in his best interest to only get sporadic mop-up work? He’s on pace for only 42 innings this year.
More importantly for Sox fans, is it important to waste a roster spot on a guy that’s going to come in for a couple games, not pitch very well, and then not see action again for another week or so?
So once again, here’s a call to let Cotts learn his trade very fifth day for the Knights.
Closing the door:
Dustin Hermanson pitched 1 2/3 innings to pick up his fourth save. Nobody is using the expression “closer by committee,” at least not loudly, but that’s how it’s working out for the Sox. Shingo Takatsu has seven saves and Damaso Marte has one.
I could quibble with some of Guillen’s bullpen decisions, especially ones that involve brining a guy in for only one batter before rotating another guy in, but I think he does deserve some credit for being flexible.
GM Kenny Williams also deserves some credit, too, for giving Guillen a lot of good options. Consider:
-- It was back in spring training of 2002 that he picked up Marte from the Pirates for Matt Guerrier. At the time, some Sox fans complained Williams was giving away yet more pitching prospects to the Pirates (that deal came on the heels of what shall be called the Todd Ritchie Fiasco). Marte has since been signed to a cheap, long-term contract.
-- Politte was brought in before 2004 on a one-year deal with an option for this season. He pitched well and despite the fact that the Sox declined his option, Politte came back on another bargain-basement 1-year, $1 million deal.
-- Takatsu is making $2.5 million this year after making peanuts last year. Despite his 7.04 ERA in this young season, he’s still got a 2.83 career ERA and is 26-for-28 in save opportunities since coming Stateside.
-- Dustin Hermanson signed a 2-year, $5.5 million dollar deal that was ridiculed pretty roundly by baseball pundits. He has yet to be scored on in 13 innings this season.
It’s still early, and especially with relievers we’re talking about small samples sizes, but combined, that foursome has struck out 10.33 batters per 9 innings. So we know the ability is there.
Joe Crede has hit a mini-slump, getting only two hits in his last 16 at-bats, but his home run tonight was encouraging. Paul Konerko is now hitless in his last 22 trips to the dish.
Carl Everett cooled off with an 0-for-4 night, but Jermaine Dye teased us with the idea that he might just come out of his season-long slump with his strong night.
Timo Perez has been slumping since 2001. If not for 49 at-bats with an .802 OPS in 2000, we might call this a career-long slump. Or we might say he sucks.
Scott Posednik’s on-base percentage is back up to .359 with a hit and a walk in four trips to the plate. He also stole a base and is now 11-for-12 in that department.
A tangent on that though: The generally accepted break-even point for stealing bases is 80 percent, though I guess you could argue that it’s a few percentage points lower because it gets guys in motion and puts more pressure on the defense.
The Sox are now 30-for-40 in stolen bases on the season after three successful attempts on Wednesday, which means at 75 percent, they’re not quite to the point of being effective. But at least they’re not giving away runs.
Have the Yankees really given up 28 runs in three games to the Devil Rays? We knew the pitching was going to be so-so with Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina getting old, plus the high-dollar additions of one-year wonders Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright… but his is just getting ugly. UGLY. Even the fifth-best offense in baseball isn’t bailing that staff out. … The Brewers, once again my pick for surprise team of 2005, bounced the Cubs again tonight. The Cubs have lost four straight and are now looking up at the Brew Crew in the standings. … Barry Bonds out at least two more months. With the Giants playing only .500 ball without him, they’re probably screwed.
Jose Contreras goes against Zach Greinke. This will be fun to watch if for no other reason than the pitcher.
Tadahito Iguchi hit his first home run of his major league career and Carl Everett drove home the tying and winning runs in the Sox’ 5-4 win against the Royals on Tuesday.
First of all, is there a worse team in baseball than the Royals?
If not for Pittsburgh and Colorado, it would be a pretty clear case.
But, these are the games the Sox have to win. Much noise has been made about how the Sox have to beat the Twins if they’re going to win the AL Central. But how about beating the Tigers and Royals?
Lets go back to 2003, when the Sox finished four games behind the Twins:
Now, the Royals were having a surprising season, winning 83 games when most people thought they’d lose 90 going into the year. And the Twins did out-do the Sox by a game.
But only a .579 winning percentage against the Tigers? The 119-loss Tigers that had two in five of their last six to avoid baseball history’s top spot for modern futility?
The Tigers had a .421 winning percentage against the White Sox …. And a .245 winning percentage against everyone else. That’s three games the Sox gave back. Those wins could have made their last series with the Royals that season meaningful.
The larger point is, you have to beat the best teams in the league to prove you can play with them in the post season. But you don’t get to the postseason unless you can clean up against the lousy teams. Which the Sox didn’t do that year.
What hot start?:
Paul Konerko went 0-for-3 and is in danger of his batting average slipping below .200. With his prolific homer output early this season, it’s not like he’s having a stretch as bad as his first half in 2003. But maybe we’re getting to the point where we can think about it.
Konerko’s a good player, but the Sox should be leery of signing him to a big-money, long-term deal.
Can still hit:
While most groaned at the acquisition of Carl Everett when Sox GM Kenny Williams picked him up for the second straight year, it hasn’t worked out badly for the team.
Everett’s .819 OPS is second on the team behind Iguchi’s .833 mark. That’s not great, but think about where the Sox would be without his bat. He’s also shown signs of heating up, with five of his seven walks on the season coming in just the last week. That mean’s he’s not slipping into any hacktasticaly bad habits.
My opinion is that the Sox still overpaid for him by giving up two pitching prospect (though marginal ones) and still taking on all of his salary. But not only has he helped them out so far this year, but his ability to play the outfield will give the Sox some flexibility when Frank Thomas comes back.
Scott Posednik’s on-base percentage dipped back to .352 after a 1-for-4 evening without any walks. The hit loomed large, however, as he scored the tying run. Not that that’s an excuse for his .619 OPS.
Freddy Garcia (2-1, 2,83) against Runelvys Hernandez (1-3, 5.06) and the Royals. Here’s to winning ugly against the bad teams.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Jon Garland just keeps winning after pitching is second straight shutout Sunday against Detroit. Garland gave up only four hits, struck out six and walked only one.
I don’t know that there’s anything else to say about it. After Sunday’s game, his ERA is a ridiculously low 1.38. His WHIP is a meager 0.79. His batting average against is a crazy-silly .133.
Now, even the most optimistic of Sox fans knows this won’t continue. But we’re all still curious as to whether this is just a hot start for Garland, or if he’s really turned the corner. I think we’ll just have to wait and see.
For what it’s worth, Garland’s season so far reminds me of the season Derek Lowe had with Boston in 2002. There are some parallels between the two, such as both being sinker balers, but beyond that their histories diverge a bit.
Lowe was 29 when he had his monster season, and before that he was primarily a reliever. In fact, he saved 42 games for the Red Sox in 2000. Meanwhile, Garland has been a mainstay in the Sox rotation since moving to that role full-time during the 2001 season.
Here’s a look at what Lowe did in April, and what Garland has done so far.
Both players benefited from insanely low BAAs. Lowe had an edge in striking guys out, but Garland is better in the walks department. But neither guys picked up a ton of punchouts.
This may not be very instructive, but it’s a fun comparison. There’s not really any way to glean what Garland will do based on what Lowe did (though he did finish the season with a 2.58 ERA with a .211 BAA).
Looking at Lowe, however, gives us an obvious example of how flaky batting average can be. When he was hit for .272 in 2003, his ERA jumped to 4.47. When his went all the way up to .299 last season, he was hammered to the tune of a 5.42 ERA.
Garland has been pretty similar in his career, though more consistent with the BAA.
The only year that defies the correlation between BAA and ERA is 2001, but the difference there is that Garland came out of the bullpen in 19 of his 35 games.
So, pretty much all we know so far is that if Garland can keep from giving up hits, he’ll keep dominating. Big surprise, huh? But not likely. The BAA will go up, so will the ERA. But at least we can dream about a season like Derek Lowe had in '02.
Garland was the first Sox pitcher to throw back-to-back shutouts since Jack McDowell did it in 1991.
Sox fans all know McDowell was a good pitcher, and that he was an innings horse. Starting in 1990, Black Jack had inning totals of 205, 253.7, 260.7, 256.7, 181.7*, 217.7 and 192.0. From 1991 to 1993 he had complete game totals of 15, 13 and 10. He led the league in complete games three times in his career.
He pitched pretty badly for Cleveland that last season in the run of IP listed above, and after that he was pretty much washed up, never pitching more than 76 innings in his next three seasons with ERAs north of 5.00 each year. He was done by 30.
So are the Sox going to burn Jon Garland out? I don’t think they will, not like McDowell was.
I don’t have pitch count totals for McDowell, but what can you say about Garlands? In his five starts, he’s averaged fewer than 100 pitchers (98 to be exact). He had 116 pitches in his first shutout, but he needed only 107 to finish off the Tigers on Sunday. And that was with his six strikeouts.
That’s not to say it won’t happen, though. McDowell was the picture of pitching health, and who though he would break down at 29 after five seasons of taking the ball every fifth day.
Looks like another wait-and-see issue.
Timing is everything:
Timo Perez has only five hits, but has driven in eight runs. For a guy that would have a hard time hitting water if he fell out of a boat (.216 BA/.634 OPS through Monday), that’s pretty good.
Perez drove in three on a pair of hits Sunday, including his second home run.
I would give Perez credit for doing what he can with sporadic playing time, but he’s never hit outside of a half season with Norfolk (AAA Mets) in 2000 (and still only a .906 OPS).
He is what he is, though, and I can sort of understand the fascination with him after that bunt for a base hit he put down against Minnesota last year. You hardcore Sox fans know the one.
Scott Posednik went 1-for-4 with a walk to again modestly lift his OBP from .354 to .357. Now that he’s got 71 at-bats in the pipe, it’s probably a matter of streaks and slumps that raise and lower him significantly from here. Lets hope general suckitude doesn’t drag him back to last year’s level. That would be bad for the Sox.
Mark Buehrle (3-1, 3.89) will go against Brian Anderson (1-2, 7.54) and the Royals in a battle of left-handers. My mouth is watering thinking about the Sox facing Anderson, so imagine how the Pale Hose hitters feel.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
After Aaron Rowand led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch, A.J. Pierzyinski and Joe Crede followed with singles, the later scoring Rowand from second and making the score 3-2. Still with no outs, Ozzie Guillen instructed Willie Harris to bunt. Harris was able to execute and moved noted non-speedsters Pierzynski and Crede to second and third. Pierzynski would score on a groundout by Scott Posednik and Tadahito Iguchi singled to center to score Crede. The Sox left the inning with a 4-3 lead.
Let me explain first that I'm all for the big inning. I'm a big proponent of Earl Weaver baseball. But lets face it, Harris wasn't going to hit a three-run home run. Outs are scarce, but here's why I think having Harris bunt was the right call:
Having Harris swing away meant the most likely outcome would have been:
1) A groundout that probably would have turned into a double play, creating two outs.
2) A soft fly ball that gets caught, and if it advances any runners, it's probably Pierzynski to third, leaving the double play in order
C) Harris strikes out.
One of those three things probably happens two out of three times.
And after that the Sox are counting on Posednik to drive in whoever is left on base? Please.
Guillen decided to give up one out to get two guys in scoring position. That gave the Sox two chances to drive in guys with a base hit, and at least one chance to drive a guy in on a groundout or a flyout to tie the game. And that's what happened. The Sox got a run despite Posednik's weak grounder, and then Iguchi picked up Crede on third with a base hit.
If the situation is different, say the score were 7-2 with Detroit in front earlier in the game, then you would probably want Harris to work the count, try to slap a hit or draw a walk. That would be dangerous too, because you'd still have a man on first base, and the ball Posednik followed with would have probably been double-play material, thus getting you only one run anyway. But that's a 1-in-3 chance you have to take when you need a bundle of runs.
In the seventh inning of Saturday's game, however, the Sox only needed one run to tie and another to take the lead. And it still let them get to the heart of their order... Carl Everett and Paul Konerko both got to bat in the inning.
In fact, it was the big ball hitters that were disapointing for the Sox in the seventh. Everett got on base, but then Konerko hit into a fielder's choice. Had there been only one out, it would have been a double play.
But the point here isn't that letting the big guys swing away is a bad idea. It's a good idea, and if it had been Everett or Konerko putting down the bunt, it would have been a ridiculous play. You need those guys to do what they're good at, which is draw walks and hit home runs. But even Barry Bonds, the most successful hitter in baseball and maybe the best hitter ever, is only "successful" half the time, and less than that when you account for the situation. Most good hitters are only sucessful one out of three times. And the best hitters in the game can still kill a rally by grounding into a double play.
The guys the Sox had coming up in the lineup -- Harris and Posednik -- have by no measure Bondsian prowess. They're not even "good" hitters. So Guillen was absolutely right to cash in the runs he knew he could get. I would agree that is really "smart ball."
Take your base:
After being hit by 10 pitches last year, Crede was hit by his third of 2005 in the fifth inning. That doesn't count the incident in Oakland where he was hit but didn't get his base. I don't think Crede's penchant to attract baseballs with his ribs is the product of him leaning in with the express purpose of drawing the base -- a la Craig Biggio -- but rather a pruduct of his stiff batting posture.
Intentions aside, for a guy like Crede that only walks about 35 times a year, getting plunked by 10-15 pitches is a nice way for him to boost his value.
Getting men on:
After six hits, four walks and two hit-by-pitches, the Sox' team on-base percentage creeped upward to ..316. Still not that great, but it's on the rise.
Orlando Hernandez provided another high-wire act Saturday, allowing eight hits and walking a pair. His WHIP for the season is now a scarry 1.63 and he's allowed 36 hits in 30 innings pitched so far in 2005. The Cuban righty of undetermined age is on target to give up more hits than innings pitched for the first time in his major league career.
How damaging is it to give up a ton of hits? Lets look at who gave up the most hits in 2004:
1. Sidney Ponson 265
2. Mark Buehrle 257
3. Carlos Silva 255
4. Kenny Rogers 248
5. Mike Maroth 244
6. Jason Jennings 241
7. Kyle Lohse 240
8. Darrell May 234
9. Livan Hernendez 234
10. Roy Oswalt 233
Well, it looks like the Good, the Bad and the just plain Ugly. Of course, Buehrle, El Duque's little brother and Oswalt are good, while Kenny Rogers is underrated. I think Silva pitched over his head last year, but he had a good season. Jennings, Maroth and Lohse are bad. And after both had good seasons in 2003, it seem like Ponson and May went to the mound covered in gasoline while AL hitters took turns putting matches to them.
The next 10 on the list is the same mixed bag, with guys that were good (Mark Mulder, Brad Radke), guys that were average (hello, Jon Garland) and guys that sucked (Shawn Estes).
So what is the difference? Well, some of the really good guys like Hernandez and Oswalt still had more innings than hits allowed. Among the rest of the guys there were good, Buehrle and Radke didn't walk very many guys. Other guys that were in between, like Silva and Rogers, sort of live on the edge. The guys that were good also had a tendency to keep the ball in the ballpark, except for Buehrle, who was hurt a lot by playing at New Comiskey.
So how will El Duque survive? Well, he's on pace to walk 88 guys this season, so that will have to improve. He's only allowed one home run this year, so he's doing good there.
Or he could just give up fewer hits, right?
Posednik went 0-for-2 with a pair of walk, lifting his OBP to .354. He also stole a base and drove in a run with a soft grounder in the seventh. His flurry of 5 walks last week also almost doubled his season total and put him on pace for 129. Way to go Scotty. I'd like to think think that could last.
Jon Garland (4-0, 1.80) against Wil Ledezma (1-1, 5.82). For his career, Ledezma has always been a better first-half pitcher (3.12 ERA before the All-Star break, 6.54 after).