Category Archives: White Sox

White Sox Trade Deadline Targets

With the White Sox out of contention and the trade deadline rapidly approaching, Rick Hahn (left) and Kenny Williams (right) have a number of big decisions to make.

The White Sox have lost a lot of baseball games this season. They rank in the bottom half of the league in every facet of the game: offense (29th in MLB), defense (22nd), and starting pitching (18th). While this year has been largely unwatchable sans every Chris Sale start, the most exciting part of the season is approaching: the trade deadline.

Recently, the Sox shipped out Matt Thornton to Boston in return for Brandon Jacobs. Thornton, who had been one of the premier set-up men over the past few seasons, has regressed into nothing more than a lefty specialist these days. Jacobs, who is described by many as “toolsy,” has seen his production fall off the past couple seasons in the minors (here is a more in-depth write-up for those interested). Jacobs has potential and is essentially a boom-or-bust type of prospect that the White Sox can afford to take a risk on.

Despite being almost 20 games under .500, the Sox still have numerous pieces that contending teams will be looking to get. New General Manager Rick Hahn recently discussed his satisfaction with the team’s pitching, but noted the team has a lack of run-producers. Years of ignoring the development of a minor league system in hopes of contending has really begun to rear its ugly head. The White Sox are devoid of any top-notch talent to the point that they were one of only two teams to not register a top 50 prospect on Baseball America’s mid-season report.

While Hahn may be hesitant to deal some of the pitching, there’s no glaring reason why he shouldn’t at least listen to trade offers for every player on the team, with the exception of Chris Sale – although an argument can be made for him as well. Contending teams are always searching for pitching, and the Sox should take advantage of their one “strength” by trying to re-tool the farm with higher-end talent.

ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox have been scouting Arizona Diamondbacks games recently. The Diamondbacks have numerous young pitching prospects such as Randall Delgado, Tyler Skaggs, and Archie Bradley. Skaggs and Bradley are likely off-limits, but if the Sox are able to send Peavy and net Delgado in return, the Sox would get a young pitcher with a lot of potential and someone Don Cooper would love to work with.

Beyond Matt Garza, who appears to be the premier starting pitcher on the market, Jake Peavy is the next best option. The Sox will likely activate Peavy from the DL after the All-Star break, and teams like the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, or the San Francisco Giants, who might end up balking at the steep price of Garza, will probably turn around and place a call to Hahn about Peavy.

The other major trade chip the White Sox have is Alex Rios. Rios is making $12.5 million this season, and will make $12.5 next season, with a club option for $13.5 million the following year that comes with a $1 million buyout option. In return, Olney reports the Sox are looking for “major-league ready or near-ready prospects.”

The Texas Rangers have had internal discussions regarding Rios, and possess one of the deepest minor league systems in the league. A few prospects that make sense in a Rios trade would be third baseman Mike Olt. He is one of the more advanced bats in the minor leagues, but with Adrian Beltre firmly entrenched in Texas, he could be a great solution at a position the Sox have struggled to fill since Joe Crede’s departure. The Rangers also have another third base prospect, Joey Gallo, who has one of the strongest power tools in the minors, grading out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Beyond these two hitters, the Rangers have numerous other prospects that could intrigue the Sox.

Beyond the Rangers, the Pirates finally look like a team that can sustain their winning ways and will likely go all-in this season to try to contend. Rios would be a perfect fit in left field, as the current platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider has hit a paltry five home runs and holds a combined slash line of .259/.324/.381. If the Sox were to package Rios and Gordon Beckham to upgrade another hole at second base, they could potentially net a top-level prospect like outfielder Gregory Polanco, or two mid-level guys like shortstop Alen Hanson, right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, or outfielder Josh Bell.

As October nears, a bullpen’s struggles and successes begin to magnify significantly. Contending teams looking for bullpen help will likely target Jesse Crain and, to a lesser extent, Matt Lindstrom. While Crain is currently on the DL, he is having the best year of his career, and was named to his first All-Star team. The Detroit Tigers could desperately use bullpen help, but it’s doubtful that Hahn will trade anyone within the division. The Diamondbacks, mentioned above, have one of the worst bullpens in the league, having blown 19 saves this season, and they will likely be one of the most aggressive teams in the bullpen market. Other teams in search of bullpen help are the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The White Sox are in a great position to improve their minor league system, to an extent, over the next couple of weeks. With a bevy of motivated trading partners stocked with deep minor league systems, the Sox should jump at this golden opportunity to get both younger and deeper.

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Midseason Evaluation of White Sox Hitters

The White Sox lineup is one of the best in all of baseball.

We are now halfway through the MLB regular season, and the Chicago White Sox are still holding their own and sitting in first place in the AL Central with a three game lead. Amazing. Whether or not the Detroit Tigers will finally start playing up to their potential remains to be seen, but it’s hard to see this White Sox team slowing down anytime soon. They rank fifth in the AL in runs scored (409) and sixth in team ERA (3.91). Since the addition of Kevin Youkilis, the Sox are 10-4, including series wins against the Rangers (sweep) and Blue Jays, and are averaging an incredible 6.14 runs per game.

If you can recall from a couple of months back, I wrote a post titled “By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters,” in which I used Bill James’ Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). Simply put, if a team consisted of nine of the same player, such as nine Paul Konerkos, approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score for their team per game? Instead of using sabermetric measurements that most casual fans don’t understand, such as wins above replacement (WAR), the runs created formula gives us the ability to evaluate the true value that each hitter has brought to his respective lineup thus far this season. Like last time, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created and game outs used for each hitter using:

Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases))  ÷   (AB + BB + HBP)

Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS

Remember, according to Mathletics, “approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).” Hence why we must take .982 of every at-bat instead of 1. Game outs used must then be divided by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game) in order to determine the number of games’ worth of outs used by each hitter. That, ultimately, leaves the most important equation as the final step:

Runs created per game =  runs created  ÷  games’ worth of outs

Obviously, runs created per game tells you more about a hitter’s value than total runs created because the latter does not differentiate between bad hitters with a lot of plate appearances and great hitters with less plate appearances. That being said, take a look at the numbers below:

Youk’s numbers are clearly inflated due to how great he’s been in a White Sox uniform in only 49 at-bats, so the 10.05 runs created per game is bound to go down. However, it’s important to point out that, between 2008-2010, Youkilis managed to create 8.39, 8.61 and 8.92 runs respectively. Although he only averaged 427 at-bats the last two seasons of that span due to a variety of injuries, those numbers are still pretty unbelievable. If there’s anything to take away from the chart, it’s this: Brent Morel is bad. Like really bad. Sox fans should be kissing Kenny Williams’ and Rick Hahn’s asses every single day for the rest of the season for trading a couple of crackerjacks for Youkilis. That should end up going down as the best trade of the year for any one team.

If you move on down the line, everything seems to make sense. Paul Konerko continues to do what Paul Konerko does, taunting opposing pitchers to the tune of a .329 batting average and .904 OPS. The dude just doesn’t seem to let up and remains one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball. He has been the most valuable hitter in the Sox lineup all season long, but at this point in his career, no baseball fan needs statistics to help him/her figure that out.

The biggest surprise this season has to be Alex Rios. He’s quietly having a monstrous turnaround season, ranking fifth in the AL in hits with 101 and 11th in total bases with 166. He’s also second on the team with a .318 average and leads the team in extra-base hits with 36 (tied with Dunn). To put into perspective how truly great he has been this season, take a look at last year’s numbers:

Rios has already created more runs midway through this season than he did all of last season. Quite frankly, he was atrocious last year, and Sox fans had all but given up on him. But, as Rios has proven, it’s never too late to turn things around. Somewhere, Adam Dunn is nodding aggressively.

Alexei Ramirez has certainly gotten better since we last calculated these numbers (was creating 1.75 runs per game seven weeks into the season), but he still remains dead last among every day Sox hitters in runs created per game. He barely ever walks (his on-base percentage is a measly .287) and only has 17 extra-base hits, also good for last on the team. It seems as if Ramirez will continue to shit on White Sox brass as he rakes in his $8 million per year, but as I just pointed out, there’s always room for improvement.

The 2012 season is moving fast and the dog days of summer are rapidly approaching. With only 77 games left, the White Sox are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The second half of the season is going to be a grind, but if the Sox can maintain these hot bats, they should have no problem getting to October.

South Side Snubs from the Midsummer Classic

A.J. Pierzynski and Jake Peavy are two of the biggest snubs from this year’s All-Star game.

It happens every single year. Players who deserve to make the All-Star team don’t, and players who don’t necessarily deserve to make it  do. Part of it has to do with stupid or biased fans, part of it has to do with the Player Ballot — a vote of the players, managers and coaches — voting just because they have to, and part of it has to do with the manager being forced to fill a roster with at least one player from every team. As unfair as it may be, all-star voting in sports will probably never change. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t still bitch about players like A.J. Pierznyski and Jake Peavy being left off the team. With the All-Star game actually having meaning (the winner gives its league champion home-field advantage in the playoffs), you’d think that Ron Washington’s formerly coked-out mind and the players’ around the American League would want two of the best players at their respective positions to be a part of their roster. Guess they don’t care as much as we’d like.

As I said a couple of weeks ago in my “White Sox Candidates for the 2012 All-Star Game”  post, I knew it would be difficult for Pierzynski to break his six-year all-starless streak, because Rangers fans are all over Mike Napoli’s nuts and made sure he’d (undeservedly) start behind the plate for the American League. Unfortunately, it was the players, and not the fans, who voted for Matt Wieters over Pierzynski to back up Napoli instead. How dumb are they, you ask? Well, Pierzynski has Wieters beat in batting average by 36 points (.287 to .251), slugging percentage by almost 100 points (.524 to .431), hits, home runs, RBIs and runs. It’s not like the second-place Orioles had no one else to send to the game; Adam Jones is a legitimate candidate for AL MVP, and Jim Johnson has been one of the best, if not the best, closers in baseball with an ML-leading 25 saves thus far this season. There’s been a lot of talk about AL manager Ron Washington screwing up by picking Joe Mauer, but I can’t blame him. The Twins needed someone, and if it wasn’t going to be Josh Willingham, then Mauer and his .327 batting average would have to do. Regardless, A.J. was upset with Washington anyways and gave him a good ‘ol “eff you” on Tuesday night with a three-run bomb in the fifth inning of a 19-2 beat down of the Rangers. He should’ve made the team. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

As for Jake Peavy, let’s just say it’s a travesty that he didn’t make the All-Star team this year. Forget the Final Vote – it’s not the fans’ fault that Peavy didn’t make it. Yu Darvish had the entire continent of Asia voting for him. No one else on the final ballot stood even a puncher’s chance. We can blame Washington for whiffing on this one. I don’t mean to take away from the great season that Rangers’ starting pitcher Matt Harrison is having, but this couldn’t have been a more biased pick. Peavy has a better ERA (2.96 to 3.10), WHIP (0.99 to 1.24), strikeouts (101 to 70), K/9 (8.07 to 5.06) and opponents’ batting average (.215 to .263). Pretty much every single pitching category, besides record (Harrison is 11-4 and Peavy is 6-5), belongs to Peavy, so the decision to leave him off the roster is just stupid. Not to mention, the great Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has Peavy as runner-up to Justin Verlander for AL Cy Young midway through the season. That’s gotta count for something.

After battling injury after injury and almost calling it quits before having experimental shoulder surgery performed on him a few years back, it would have been one hell of a story to see a suited-up Peavy in Kansas City for his third all-star appearance. Instead, like Pierzynski, he’ll be watching the game from his couch like me and you. The difference is they wipe their asses with $1 bills; I wipe my ass with toilet paper and the occasional baby wipe. Pierzynski and Peavy will get over their snubbings if they haven’t already. It just seems ridiculous that the best catcher (statistically) in the AL and a potential AL Cy Young candidate will not be making an appearance at Kauffman Stadium this year.

The Impact of Kevin Youkilis Switching Sox

As Kevin Youkilis kisses goodbye to Boston, White Sox fans should be excited about the monstrous hole that he will fill at third base.

A .174 batting average, one home run, 16 RBIs, 16 walks and eight extra-base hits in 201 at-bats — that’s the kind of production that the Chicago White Sox have gotten from their so-called third basemen this season. Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson have been nothing short of nauseating at the hot corner thus far, which seems to have been a pattern since Joe Crede left town. Since 2007, the Sox have had by far the lowest WAR (wins above replacement) – and the only negative WAR for that matter – for third basemen (-3.1). Basically, my left nut could have provided three more wins over that span than Josh Fields, Omar Vizquel, Mark Teahen, Morel, Hudson and any other player that contributed next to nothing as a platoon third baseman. Five years later, Kenny Williams decided he’d had enough.

On Sunday afternoon, the White Sox traded utility man Brent Lillibridge and the under-performing right-handed pitcher, Zach Stewart, to the Red Sox for three-time All-Star and two-time World Series winner Kevin Youkilis. As unexcited as some Sox fans are because of Youkilis’ injury history and recent offensive decline, there’s no way in hell that Chicago is not a better team with him. They didn’t give up much to get him, as Lillibridge is very replaceable as a bench player at best and, although he was pretty highly touted out of Texas Tech and is still young at the age of 25, Zach Stewart’s 6.00 ERA and 3.00 (yes, 3.00) home runs given up per nine innings just weren’t going to help this team win a championship this season. As far as Youkilis’ injury history is concerned, Fangraphs’ Chris Cwik explained why exactly Sox fans shouldn’t have to worry as much as they have been:

While Youkilis does have a lengthy injury history — the last time he had 600 plate appearances was in 2008 — he’s joining a team with one of the best medical staffs in baseball. Led by Herm Schneider, the White Sox have been able to keep injury-prone players on the field. Schneider managed to keep Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin relatively healthy in the mid-to-late-2000s, and has properly managed Jake Peavy and Chris Sale this season. Outside of John Danks‘ injury this season, the White Sox’s three main starters for quite some time — Danks, Mark Buerhle and Gavin Floyd — rarely missed starts. Schneider also worked wonders with Jim Thome. The White Sox’s training staff does exceptional work, and Youkilis should benefit from working with them.

Of course, Kevin Youkilis is different from those guys, and nothing is guaranteed, but Schneider’s track record of keeping injury-plagued players on the field should count for something. Yes, his numbers are down, and he’s having the worst statistical season of his career (.233/.315/.377 splits), but I’d like to think that a change of scenery (Youkilis hates Bobby Valentine – shocker, right?), his incredibly hard-working mentality and a new training staff will only help the Greek God of Walks get back to old form. Even if he doesn’t get fully back there (which he probably won’t because he’s now 33 years old), whatever production he provides in the lineup for the rest of this season, and hopefully beyond (Chicago has a $13 million team option for him next season or can buy him out for $1 million), should be infinitely better than the buffoonery that is the Morel/Hudson platoon. Even if it isn’t working out early on, the acquisition gives the White Sox until the July 31 trade deadline to decide if another upgrade is necessary. But, given the hitter friendliness of U.S. Cellular Field, a vast improvement from Youkilis is more than possible. Take a look at last season’s right-handed home run park factors, provided by Fangraphs:

After playing 8.5 seasons in a park that represses right-handed home run power (Fenway Park), Youk’ will be playing in the friendliest home run park in the league for right-handed hitters on the Southside. That’s huge news for a guy currently struggling to find his swing, so let’s hope it all starts coming to fruition soon.

With the ever-gaping hole at third base now filled up, Jose Quintana pitching like the second coming of Tom Glavine, and John Danks set to return at the end of July or early August, the time is now for the White Sox to make their move as they enter the second half of the season. Kenny Williams has a month to figure out whether or not this is the ideal roster built for October. Nonetheless, the addition of Kevin Youkilis will bring another veteran leader to the clubhouse and may very well turn the already solid White Sox offense into a legitimate juggernaut.

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White Sox Candidates for the 2012 All-Star Game

After a successful first half of the season, the White Sox are primed to send multiple players to the Midsummer Classic.

If you had told me last winter that the Chicago White Sox would essentially be in first place in the AL Central (only a half game back) and 2.5 games ahead of the pre-season overwhelming favorite Detroit Tigers by late June, I would have considered hosting an intervention for you in which the possibility of sending you to an insane asylum would have been discussed. To think that the Sox would be this good halfway through the season was unfathomable, and I’d bet that most Sox fans would agree. Players who were seeing the baseball as a golf ball last year are seeing it as a beach ball this year. The runs are up, the bullpen ERA is down, and there’s many guys worthy of making the All-Star team. It’s an exciting time to be a Sox fan, and there’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months and beyond. That being said, let’s take a look at who those worthy players are:

Chris Sale, Starting Pitcher

Given the way he has pitched this season, one would have to think that Chris Sale has been pitching at the major league level for years. His path to stardom is well ahead of schedule, as he has looked nothing short of magnificent thus far this season. Sale ranks second in the American League in wins (tied at 8), third in ERA (2.47), fourth in WHIP (1.00), third in opponent’s batting average (.197) and fifth in K/9 (9.19, ranking him ahead of C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander AND Felix Hernandez). He has, without question, been one of the two or three best pitchers in the American League , and I don’t see him slowing down. Don’t be surprised if he not only makes the All-Star team but also starts for the AL come July 10. Clearly, most baseball fans would like to see Justin Verlander take the mound, but if he ends up making a start for Detroit less than five days before the game (or just decides he doesn’t want to pitch), Jim Leyland would have no problem telling him off. That would leave Sale, who deserves the starting nod as much as anyone.

Jake Peavy, Starting Pitcher

You can’t mention Chris Sale without mentioning Jake Peavy these days. The other half of this dynamic duo is in the middle of a coming of age season as he attempts to win the second Cy Young Award of his, what many would consider a very unlucky, and somewhat disappointing, career. After a number of shoulder injuries and a nearly career-ending experimental surgery in which the surgeon had to reattach a key tendon to the rear of his right shoulder, Peavy is finally back to old form. At 6-3, he ranks fourth in the American League in innings pitched (98.2), sixth in ERA (2.74), second in WHIP (0.97), fourth in opponent’s batting average (.198) and ninth in both strikeouts (83) and BB/9 (2.10). Of his 14 starts, 12 (repeat: 12) of them have been considered quality. Coincidentally, those other two are the only two starts in which he has given up more than three earned runs all season long. Amazing.

Peavy’s miracle season has been one of the best stories in baseball this year. After all he has been through over the past few years, making the All-Star team would really be something special.

A.J. Pierzynski, Catcher

I can’t remember the last time A.J. Pierzynski had a bad season in the majors, if ever, but it sure as hell wasn’t while wearing a White Sox uniform. Year after year, the dude just puts up solid offensive numbers across the board and continues to stay vastly underrated. It has been six years since Pierzynski’s made the All-Star team, but this might be the year he finally breaks that streak. He leads all AL catchers in RBIs (41), total bases (110) and runs scored (32 — tied with Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Texas’ Mike Napoli), and he trails only Mauer in hits with 62 and Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia in home runs with 12. Who knew the 35-year-old backstop still had it in him? With Napoli undeservedly leading the way in voting so far, it’s going to be tough for A.J. to beat out two of three great catchers in Mauer, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters and Saltalamacchia, but stranger things have certainly happened.

Paul Konerko, First Baseman

Just another under-the-radar season for Paulie Konerko. Time and time again, Konerko seems to remind all baseball fans that, although he’s getting older, he has no intentions whatsoever of slowing down. If you sat here and told me that he will continue to hit like this until the age of 40, I’d probably agree. But regardless of how good we think he’ll be in four or five years, right now is all that really matters. Through the first half of the season, Konerko is leading the American League with an incredulous .354 batting average and .426 on-base percentage. He also ranks fourth in hits (81) and slugging percentage (.585), which are both good for first among first basemen. Konerko leads all first basemen in home runs with 13 (Adam Dunn and Billy Butler are designated hitters, so they don’t count in my mind) and total bases (134), and he’s fourth in RBIs (39). It never ceases to amaze me how great this guy continues to be. With Prince Fielder likely to get the starting nod at first base, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington will have slow-starting guys like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Teixeira to choose from in addition to Konerko. I’d like to think that the current AL batting leader will be at the very top of his list.

Adam Dunn, Designated Hitter

Everyone knows the Adam Dunn story by now – he batted .159 last season and sucked beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. But, 2011 proved to be a fluke, as Dunn has reverted back to old form, smashing baseballs out of any and every ballpark like it’s no one’s business. He leads the majors with 23 dingers and 55 walks. He’s also third in the AL in RBIs with 53 (first among DH), seventh in slugging percentage at .554 and tenth in total bases at 133 (both rank him third among DH). The only thing really holding Sox fans back from bowing down to this beast is his terrible .225 batting average and 109 strikeouts, which is 26 more than the next player. However, a low average, high strikeout totals and a boatload of home runs has been the story of Dunn’s 12-year career, so it just comes with the territory. He deserves to be considered for the All-Star team, that’s for sure, but there’s a lot of competition at DH this year. I smell a candidate for the Final Vote, but only time will tell.

Who I would pick: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzysnki 

There should not even be a debate about Sale and Peavy — they’ve been two of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball this year, and without them, the White Sox would arguably be a last place team right now. They’ve been that valuable.

If it was up to me, Paul Konerko would be starting at first base for the American League in a few weeks. But, seeing as how there are millions of other fans out there voting, my opinion pretty much means jack. Nevertheless, even when Prince Fielders wins the vote, Konerko should easily make the roster as the second or third first baseman. If he’s not, then Ron Washington is clearly still blowing lines during his free time and is only picking players based on name alone.

The most debatable guy on my list is Pierzynski. His stats alone should make him an All-Star, but because Mike Napoli is projected to win the starting gig, one spot gets taken from a guy who actually deserves to make the team. Both teams usually bring three catchers to the All-Star game though, so Pierzynski should still make it because of how valuable he has been to the Sox lineup.

I’m not picking Dunn because, assuming David Ortiz wins the vote for DH, there are still too many other guys at the position worthy of making the team. You have to remember that every team gets at least one All-Star. Coincidentally, the two best options along with Dunn (Kansas City’s Billy Butler and Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion) have each been the best players for their respective teams this season, so there’s a good chance that one of them makes it instead. Even if Dunn doesn’t make the team, he still has a shot at making Robinson Cano’s Home Run Derby squad and, as I said before, there’s a possibility he makes it to the Final Vote, which would leave his fate in the hands of the fans.

Who will be picked: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski

Dunn won’t make it for the reasons I just stated. If Pierzynski doesn’t make it, it’s for reasons very similar to Dunn — there must be an All-Star from every team. Because of that, Joe Mauer who, as you know, plays for the horrific Minnesota Twins, should be a no-brainer for the American League staff as the backup catcher and lone Twin to make the team. But, assuming the AL goes with three catchers, Pierzynski should easily get selected over Wieters and Saltalamacchia. If he doesn’t, it’ll just go to show you how truly under-appreciated he is around the league.

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Chris Sale: Giving into Wishful Thinking

Chris Sale has dominated Major League hitters this season and has been a major bright spot for the first place White Sox.

Sitting at the ballpark, you are inevitably going to hear a conversation between two 50-something-year-old men who haven’t seen each other in months. Their interaction tends to include sweeping generalizations about the players on the field as well as asinine predictions. If you have happened to watch a game at US Cellular field this year (and if so, kudos to you), you may have heard one of these stadium archetypes about the pitcher Chris Sale. Eventually, the 23-year-old hurler may have even come up in the same sentence as Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez. While a seemingly outrageous comparison at this stage, there are Sox fans that nevertheless want to ask: can Chris Sale be the next Johnson or Martinez?

It’s obvious why any White Sox fan would covet such a comparison. How often do we get to see truly dominant starting pitchers on the south side? Every fan base likes to get over-zealous about their new, young arms, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that has lacked such a pitcher as long as we have. Mark Buehrle was probably the best we’ve had in the past 15 or so years, and “dominant” isn’t quite the word most would use to describe him. Any other young pitcher we have been excited about either busted or was traded.

There are primarily two reasons why the Sox’ pool of strikeout-aces has come up barren. First, White Sox culture has shied away from developing power arms all the way to the majors. Just ask Gio Gonzalez and Dan Hudson.

Second, and probably more important, the team resides in U.S. Cellular Field, which has an obscene record of destroying pitching statistics. The last time a White Sox full-time starter had a sub-3.00 ERA was Esteban Loaiza’s short-lived success in his magical season of 2003 with a 2.90. To find another, you’d have to travel back to the 1993 season when Wilson Alvarez threw his way to a 2.95 ERA. And that’s it. In the 21 years since The Cell’s inception in 1991, those are the only 2 full starting campaigns to see an ERA under 3. Right now Chris Sale sits at 2.05.

Needless to say, neither of the previous pitchers went for a repeat performance. If Chris Sale is to indeed encounter the success that some think he can have, not only this year but for years to come, he’s going to have to do it where no one else has done it before. He will have to defy the odds and the breezy summer days on Chicago’s south side.

It’s old news that the American league is a hitter’s league. Pitchers have worse stats in the AL, period. Sure, there are those that have encountered prolonged elite success like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver. But even these guys pale in comparison to some of the things that Pedro and Randy did in their heyday. Both of these future Hall of Famers came up as relievers, and neither had near to the success Chris Sale has had in their first rotation stints. They also went on to have periods of sheer dominance in their careers that may never be seen from any pitcher again.

Yes, Sale has an illustrious pedigree in addition to being impressive in the bigs, but if we are so eager to compare the kid to the Big Unit, why not compare him to Tim Lincecum? Another dominating pitcher who came up amidst worries about both his build and his mechanics giving way to injuries, Lincecum has proved all those naysayers wrong… for four seasons. This year, the two-time Cy Young award winner is a train wreck, standing at a 6.07 ERA. The Freak still could go back to being that dominant ace again, but there is also a very realistic chance he will never be the same. And we are talking about a guy on the giants, not someone who calls The Cell his home.

Achieving prolonged success in any environment is difficult for a pitcher these days. With the never-ending scrutiny of a pitcher’s velocity, many blow their arms out before they realize their full potential. It almost seems like a right of passage for a young pitcher to have to go through a season ending injury before they can advance in their career, as sad as that is. There is no doubt Sale’s slim frame and motion (especially the stress on his shoulder joint) put him at risk for injury, something the White Sox made undeniably clear in shuffling him between the bullpen and rotation earlier this year.

Despite all of the above barriers, the man is a major reason the Sox are in first place right now. It’s going to be extremely difficult to cap this guy in any way down the stretch when we’re in the midst of a pennant race. The win-now approach has been a Kenny Williams maxim for just about his entire tenure. Yet, there really is no doubt that the Sox will take some precautions with the lefty down the stretch, skipping starts and capping innings when they are able to do so.

On the south side, we are lucky to have the expertise of Herm Schneider, backed by a training staff with an impeccable pedigree as far as injuries are concerned. We also must hope that Ventura doesn’t show any Dusty Baker tendencies and doesn’t push the kid too hard in the stretch run.

The prevention of devastating injuries while, at the same time, allowing the kid to grow even more as a pitcher will be the key to Chris Sale becoming the star it seems he can become. Thus far, he has been able to tame the beast that is US Cellular to the tune of a 2.91 career ERA there (with an immaculate 1.69 this year). Even so, this is in comparison to a  2.12 career ERA on the road! However, it is worth noting that Sale has yet to face a top 13 offense this year. Regardless, if he can continue pitching this way (even with a little higher road ERA) and keep his home ERA consistent, the sky’s the limit for this kid. Inducing groundouts will no doubt be a major key for Sale to maintain that consistency at home.

Even with these considerations in mind, there are plenty of reasons why Sale won’t develop into the monster we think he can be. After all is said and done, five years from now he may very well be a back-end bullpen guy, as many scouts predicted he would be after coming out of college. But the fact is, all of us Sox fans have a gut feeling when watching him that we may never have felt before. “This is going to be our ace,” we think, and we believe it. So until there is something to discourage us from believing in the kid, I’ll be damned if I let anyone else tell me that we don’t, finally, have something really special.

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Welcome to the first ever City of Broad Shoulders podcast. During our debut, Josh Frydman and I broke down the Cubs and Sox top 2012 draft picks and also discussed the transition from high school and college to the pros. As you can see below, the first two links are dedicated to the Cubs, and the final link is dedicated to the White Sox. We will try to do podcasts whenever possible and will continue to improve as time goes on. Feel free to comment or reach out to us with any thoughts, questions, suggestions or additional insight. Enjoy.

MLB Draft Podcast Part 1 (Cubs Draft Breakdown)

MLB Draft Podcast Part 2 (Cubs Draft Breakdown)

MLB Draft Podcast Part 3 (White Sox Draft Breakdown)

April showers brought the White Sox May flowers

The White Sox are the hottest team in baseball right now.

As much as it pains me to say it, most of my friends are White Sox fans. They all enjoy making fun of me for being a Cubs fan to the point that it almost makes me feel worthless in life. I can’t help it, though. I was raised a Cubs fan right out of the womb, so that will never change. This season was supposed to be different for me. The White Sox were supposed to suck just as much as the Cubs, meaning that the Cubs, and Cubs only, would be responsible for my depression this summer. Before the 2012 season started, I didn’t find one White Sox fan that thought they would finish ahead of 4th in the worst division in all of baseball, and all of them even admitted they couldn’t care less about this season. That was great news for me. But boy, were they wrong. For the past two weeks, I was out of the country and had essentially no internet access whatsoever. The White Sox were 17-21 and really struggling to stay consistent and win a series. I come home yesterday and find that they are the hottest team in baseball, going 12-1 since I left. How convenient for me? Life’s about to get rough for yours truly, but I’ll take the heat like a man.

After being so out of the loop, I just assumed that starting pitching has been the reason for the White Sox recent success. False. Over the past month, Sox hitters have been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball, and their middle relief has been electric. Other than Chris Sale (who has been no less than phenomenal), Sox starting pitchers have been miserable to say the least, yet this team is still finding a way to get it done. Take a look at these numbers during the month of May:

Top 5 Hitters:

  1. Dayan Viciedo: .351/.371/.628, 33 H, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 18 R, 59 TB
  2. Paul Konerko: .391/.472/.630, 36 H, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R, 58 TB
  3. Adam Dunn: .237/.385/.608, 23 H, 11 HR, 21 RBI, 19 R, 59 TB
  4. AJ Pierzynski: .293/.343/.467, 27 H, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 18 R, 43 TB
  5. Alejandro De Aza: .312/.385/.376, 34 H, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 17 R, 41 TB

Starting Pitchers:

  1. Chris Sale: 3-1, 25.2 IP, 1.75 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 11.22 K/9
  2. Jake Peavy: 3-0, 32.2 IP, 4.68 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.54 K/9
  3. John Danks: 1-1, 23.1 IP, 5.01 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 2.31 K/9
  4. Phil Humber: 1-1, 32.2 IP, 5.79 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 7.16 K/9
  5. Gavin Floyd: 2-2, 29.1 IP, 7.06 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 7.06 K/9
  6. **Jose Quintana with John Danks on the DL (1-0, 15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 5.28 K/9)

Top 3 Relief Pitchers:

  1. Nate Jones: 17 IP, 1.59 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.06 K/9
  2. Hector Santiago: 11.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.71 K/9
  3. Jesse Crain: 7.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 8.59 K/9

Quite frankly, the starting pitching has been a nightmare. However, it hasn’t seemed to matter much, if at all. Each of the Sox top five hitters over the past month drove in 15+ runs, and three of them slugged over .600. That’s unheard of. In addition, the relievers, most notably Jones, have been fantastic (forget about Addison Reed’s six-run outing). Even after a bad start, the Sox were able to score more than enough runs, and the bullpen gave Robin Ventura the confidence to pull his starters early instead of risk them getting even more shelled.

Sox fans have to be thrilled to see these numbers. If the starting pitching can improve, the bullpen won’t have to be overused and give out by September (think Atlanta Braves last season), which would be huge heading into the playoffs. Plus, pitching wins championships. You have to think that Danks was being affected by his shoulder injury prior to the DL stint, so he should get back to his old form once healthy. Gavin Floyd and Phil Humber have shown flashes of brilliance throughout their careers (Floyd’s no-hitter flirting and Humber’s perfect game), so it’s not outrageous to think they can get on a roll and help this team win more ballgames.

This poses the question that has been hanging over everyone’s head lately: is this the year? Obviously, it is way too early to make any guarantees, but I will say this: as long as the Sox get into the playoffs, anything can happen. That’s the glory of playing in October. Will they actually get into the playoffs, you ask? Lucky for you, I decided to predict the AL Central standings using baseball’s pythagorean theorem (ScoringRatio^2 / ScoringRatio^2 + 1) by estimating the winning percentage of each team. Here are the current standings and the projected standings:

Right now, the White Sox are far and away the best team in the AL Central. It would surprise me if they don’t end up winning the division (the Tigers pitching outside of Verlander is so atrocious that it’s embarrassing, but we still can’t count them out). However, one thing must be stated: people need to stop comparing this team to the 2005 World Series team. The Sox had incredible pitching that season (finished 2nd in the AL that season in both starter ERA and reliever ERA) and subar hitting (finished 12th in the AL in average, 9th in runs scored). This season, they have medicore pitching (7th in the AL in starter ERA, 6th in reliever ERA) and solid hitting (6th in the AL in average, 4th in runs scored). We can’t compare teams from different seasons because the game of baseball is constantly changing. All you can do as a Sox fan is remember that magical season forever and allow the current and future teams to create their own legacies.

By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters

Bryan Lahair has been the most valuable Cubs hitter this season.

Paul Konerko has been the most valuable White Sox hitter this season.

It is almost overwhelming how many statistics there are to evaluate baseball players. Outside of your typical fantasy baseball categories, there are advanced statistics used to evaluate the individual’s, or team’s, hitting, pitching and fielding abilities, as well as sabermetrics used by front office people and baseball junkies to determine the true value of a baseball player (such as wins above replacement).

As we prepare for a long summer of Chicago baseball, I realize there’s probably not much to look forward to in terms of the immediate future of both the Cubs and White Sox. However, considering the Bulls season is now over and the Bears have yet to start training camp, I have to find a way to keep myself (and you guys) entertained. Therefore, instead of assessing crazy baseball statistics, I found a way to evaluate the every day hitters of our baseball teams, thinking that it may at least give us some hope for the future and/or make us want to pull our hair out.

In 1979, Bill James (the inventor of sabermetrics and a statistical god within the baseball community) developed a Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). In other words, if a team consisted of nine of the same player (nine Paul Konerkos, nine Starlin Castros, etc.), approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score per game? In order to figure this out, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created for each hitter using:

Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases))  ÷   (AB + BB + HBP)

This metric alone, however, doesn’t necessarily give us an idea of how truly valuable a player is to his team. The problem with any runs created metric is that a bad hitter with a lot of plate appearances might create more runs than a great player with less plate appearances. In order to fix this problem, we must factor in outs. According to Mathletics, “Approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).”  Therefore, “game outs used” can be calculated with this equation:

Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS

By dividing that number by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game), I was able to determine the number of games’ worth of outs that have been used by each batter.  That leaves this equation as the final step:

Runs created per game =  runs created  ÷  games’ worth of outs

Below are the numbers for each Cubs and Sox every day hitter:

As you can see, the numbers don’t lie. Anyone who follows and watches the Cubs and/or Sox knows that their two most valuable hitters thus far have been Bryan Lahair and Starlin Castro, and Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, respectively. Ironically, I already wrote posts about Lahair, Dunn, and Konerko and the amazing success they’ve had this season (or in Konerko’s case, his career).  Castro is only 22 years old, but he’s already one of the best pure hitters in baseball. He has an incredible knack for making contact, even on balls out of the strike zone (think Vladamir Guerrero). The reason his runs created per game number is not as high as you would think is because of his inability to walk and lack of power. But again, he’s only 22 years old. The kid will continue to improve and get stronger as he gets older. The walk and home run numbers will only go up. He has an extremely bright future.

Although that’s all great to look at, I can’t help but focus on the two names at the bottom of the Cubs list: Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto. To put into perspective how disappointing these two players have been (and disappointing is a severe understatement), look at their numbers during their best seasons as Cubs players:

We can all agree, even before seeing this, that Soriano is an absolute joke. I can sit here and shred him to pieces if I really want to, but after all these years of extreme frustration, it’s not even worth my time anymore. He’s an atrocious baseball player, and to think that he was a 40/40 player (40 homers/40 stolen bases) only 6 years ago when we signed him nearly makes my head explode. In his first season as a Cub (consequently his best), Soriano created over 4 runs per game more than he does now. Amazing. And you know what else is amazing? Bryan Lahair creates 3.77 runs per game more than Soriano this season. What are their salaries, you ask? Lahair is currently getting paid $482,500 in his first season as a 29-year-old. Soriano, who is only five years older, is making $18,000,000. This means that Soriano is being paid 37 times as much as Lahair, yet Lahair is rated as being 8.26 runs better per game than Soriano. That truly upsets me. But, as we all know, athletes get paid for past performances. Every contract in baseball is guaranteed. Some Cub fans seem to think he will eventually get his act together over the next few years. And for whoever does think that, let me take away whatever it is you’re smoking and tell you this: no he won’t. He will never even be a third of the player he used to be. End of story. Too bad the next two and a half years can’t come any sooner.

You think I’m going to let Geovany Soto off the hook? C’mon man. There’s one word to describe how pathetic he’s been the past couple of years: EW. What in the world happened to this guy? Not only was Soto an All-Star in 2008, but he also won NL Rookie of the Year AND finished 13th in NL MVP voting. I don’t have an answer for his shocking lack of production since that great season, but I wish I did. The fact that he’s creating a team worst 2.24 runs per game (only factors in every day players) compared to 6.73 in 2008 speaks for itself.

As for the White sox, Paul Konerko has obviously had a great season, as he continues to be the most valuable hitter in their lineup year in and year out. Alejandro De Aza has been a pleasant surprise. He certainly didn’t have the highest of expectations coming into this season, but he has proved to be worthy of an everyday starter in center field – something the Marlins didn’t give him a fair chance to do. And after signing a fat 4-year, $32.5 million extension last winter, Alexei Ramirez is continuing to disappoint. For the number of at bats he’s had (leads the team), he has been arguably the worst hitter at his position this season – just horrendous.

I know I already praised Adam Dunn the other day for how great he has been this season, so I’m not going to get into it again here. Comparing this season’s numbers to last season, though, is really incredible. You can look at his 2011 numbers below:

Dunn’s creating 5.94 more runs per game in 2012, and he has created almost as many runs in seven weeks this season as he did ALL of last season. What a turnaround. Good for him.

As I said earlier, there are so many ways to measure the value of Major League players. Using runs created is a little more unique than most and has proven to be very accurate. This metric shows us how truly valuable players like Bryan Lahair and Alejandro de Aza have been, and hopefully will continue to be, this season. It also shows us how disappointing every day players like Geovany Soto and Alexei Ramirez have been thus far. But regardless, there are nearly 130 games left to play. There’s more than enough time for improvement – or not. We can only hope for the best.

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The Curious Case of Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko is the Benjamin Button of baseball. Will he eventually sneak into the Hall of Fame because of it?

What if I were to tell you that, by the end of his career, Paul Konerko will deserve to be in the Hall of Fame some day? You’d think I was crazy, wouldn’t you? Paul Konerko in the Hall of Fame? No way in hell. But would you have anything against my claim? I bet your only argument would be that he’s just not good enough. Unfortunately, that argument won’t cut it. I urge you to find a more underrated player in Major League Baseball over the last decade than Paul Konerko. You can’t do it. At the age of 36, Paulie has only gotten better with age. There are few players as respected within the baseball circle as Konerko. Even as a diehard Cubs fan, I have always respected him as a player and person. He’s been with the White Sox since 1999 and owns a World Series ring. But even after all my sentimental BS, you want facts. First, let me enlighten you with the reality that this man has actually gotten better with age:

I know, there’s a lot of numbers to look at, so I don’t expect you to go through them all. But if you want one major takeaway, it’s this: Konerko’s statistics between the ages of 34 and 35 (past two seasons) compared to what should be considered his “peak years” (ages 28-31) are clearly better. Although he’s averaging five fewer games and 17 fewer at bats per season these past two years, he’s still to managed to average more hits and much higher average/OBP/SLG splits. The home runs and RBI’s are nearly identical. The two seasons in between (2008-09) are somewhat of an enigma – Konerko was battling some injuries in 2008 and for some reason, he just wasn’t the same player. He’s found his groove over the last couple of seasons, and it’s carried into the 2012 season, where he’s sporting a line of .345/.426/.584 thus far. After that, though, it’s hard to say exactly how Konerko’s career would end up (injuries, bad lineup protection, etc. all play factors).

The good thing is this: many baseball fans, like myself, tend to project hypothetical statistics in order to determine how a player’s career will end. Forget the crazy math that goes into calculating projections for fantasy sports and stuff – no one knows where those projections really come from anyways (at least I don’t). Everything is about hypotheticals with baseball. “If A-Rod averages X amount of homers over the next X amount of years, he will shatter Hank Aaron’s home run record.” Things of that nature. Nothing is ever set in stone.

That’s why I would like to randomly project how Konerko’s career numbers will end up IF he continues at a rate similar to that over the past two seasons AND retires at the age of 39 (keep in mind that he may very well play until he’s 42 or so, so these numbers can be spread over a few extra years instead of just three). For the rest of the 2012 season, let’s assume, based on his history alone, that Konerko will play about 148 games and will end up with 540 at bats. In order to make our lives easier, let’s also assume he will come back down to earth this summer and have the same exact same splits that he has averaged the past two years. I will base home runs, RBIs, and runs on this season’s current pace and then add it up for “projected” totals.

Based on this process, here is what his 2012 numbers will look like: .306/.391/.551 with 165 hits, 29 HRs, 86 RBIs, and 76 runs. In order to address the main purpose of this post, I asked myself, “If Konerko were to go against all odds by continuing to not slow down with age, what would his career numbers look like if he averaged 30-100-75 with .306/.391/.551 splits for the next three seasons, and where would they rank up against the all-time great first basemen?” Before I answer that hypothetical question, here are the career numbers for every Hall of Fame First Baseman and how Konerko currently matches up with them:

At only 36 years young,  Konerko would be one of just six hall of fame first basemen in the 400 Home Run Club. Regardless of his home run numbers, though, these stats probably would not cut it for the Hall of Fame. Everyone knows that baseball players have always been judged, and will always be judged, strictly based on their numbers. So, let us go back to the question I just asked and look at what Konerko’s career could potentially end up looking like (I reiterate potentially because, again, these numbers are merely based on his positive trajectory over the past two seasons and a lot of good fortune):

Attaining these numbers is by no means out of the question. How Konerko has gotten better with age is a mystery of its own, but it just proves that there’s no reason to think he can’t keep it up for a few more years, especially after how well he’s been hitting the ball so far this season. You can see that if Konerko does somehow achieve, or even surpass these numbers, he will finish with more hits, RBIs, runs and a higher slugging percentage than over half the first basemen in the Hall of Fame. He will also become one of only 25 (possibly more by then) major league baseball players ever to join the 500 Home Run Club (all of whom either made the HOF, are not yet eligible for the HOF, or whose numbers are tainted by the Steroid Era). If that’s not Hall of Fame worthy, it would be a damn shame.

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