Williams' White Sox are built in his image

Baseball America has updated its draft database with signings, and for those keeping track, the White Sox have agreed to terms with four of its top 10 selections thus far:

  • Jacob Petricka (2nd), $540,000
  • Addison Reed (3rd), $358,200
  • Thomas Royse (3rd), $263,500
  • Rangel Ravelo (6th), $125,000

BA also graded team drafts throughout the decade, and under that system, the Sox ranked 28th out of 30 clubs. The year-by-year grades look like this:

Year ’00 ’01 ’02 ’03 ’04 ’05 ’06 ’07 ’08 ’09
Grade F D C C D C+ D C A C

But while the Sox finished with the third-worst decade of drafting, they had the ninth-best winning percentage over the last 10 years.
Back before my site died last June, I wrote about something Bill James covered in his 1984 abstract.  Advance apologies to those who remember the post from over a year ago, but bear with me.
Writing about the 1983 Winning Ugly team, James noted that most of the team wasn’t homegrown:

The Chicago White Sox in 1983 had the best record of any team in baseball, 99-63. But where does their farm team rank? Twenty-sixth out of 28 teams, with only 95 units of Approximate Value produced. They produced barely over a fourth of their own talent — Baines, Kittle and Barojas are teh only prominent members of their own system, and Barojas comes with a big asterisk. Nor have they littered the rest of the league with talent; Goose Gossage is the only star of any magnitude that the White Sox have contributed to any other team.

And after noting that those White Sox aren’t alone as a successful team with very little of its own talent with a litany of examples:

It is a common assertion that the farm system represents the “backbone” of an organization. Well perhaps, indeed, that is an apt figure of speech. Because when you think about it, there is an awful lot that goes into having good health other than having a good backbone […] So what is the key to good health? No one thing. To bring together a core of people who want to win and who are willing to pay the price for that; that, I continue to believe, is terrifically important, the heart of a team. If I had to choose between a good heart and a good backbone, I’d choose the heart. Talent judgment, making good decisions about the people who you have and those who are available to you – that is terrifically important, more so than producing talent. A sense of direction and purpose in making those decisions; that is something you will not go anywhere without. And a good backbone is nice to have. But it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.

I’d say this past decade tells the same story, and when reading that line of grades, it made me realize that the White Sox of recent vintage are a reflection of its architect.
It’s just not in the way Williams has intended.  He may preach about Chicago toughness and prioritizing grittygrindygamerguts, but Greg Walker’s recent quotes imply that half the team isn’t allowed to use real scissors.
No, the real calling card for Williams’ recent teams is that whether they’re awful or good, they struggle to make baseball look easy.
And you could say the same about Williams and the GM game.
A productive system makes a GM’s job look simple.  Former Minnesota GM Terry Ryan is a great example, and a great contrast to Williams.  He made hay on the drafting and development side (Minnesota was the fifth-best drafting team according to BA), and while that’s an incredibly difficult task, that’s the less visible part of the job.  Outwardly, Ryan didn’t have to do much of anything to put a team together.  The Twins would just crank out talent, and when they got too expensive, he’d grow a replacement.  They did most of their heavy lifting in constructing the 40-man roster; putting the 25-man roster together was a matter of plugging gaps.  And for those non-Twin fans only paying attention to the ebbs and flows of the active roster, it looks effortless.
Williams could have worked with a 30-man roster in the first half of the decade without noticing a difference.  That D+ average in his early years probably instilled a mindset, that he had to hustle and scrape to put together teams.  He had to sell high whenever he could on farm talent to acquire sure contributors, and shore up the roster with guys seeking redemption.  He had to churn through a lot of washed-up vets and AAAA talent in order to find some gems that could get him through a half-season.
Running a team the Williams way is like making a baseball career the Juan Pierre way.  Pierre has to play great defense, steal bases at a high rate, chop and slap and bunt and run like hell at all times and needing help from opponents’ slip-ups — just to remain a viable major-leaguer.  The high effort level is rewarding as all get-out when it works, like the way Pierre forced four errors in a single inning with his speed on Wednesday night.  When it doesn’t work (like Pierre in April), the flaws are obvious and the GM’s an idiot for overlooking it.
The only difference is that Pierre will never gain power; Williams can always improve his farm system.  In fact, he had a real Top 10 Prospects list for one glorious year — and he promptly dismantled it for Jake Peavy and Tony Pena.
(Hell, Pena’s another great example of how much exertion it takes Williams to assemble a team.  Pena’s services cost an intriguing first baseman in Brandon Allen, and right now, it looks like Pena will provide far more major-league value over the next six years.  Still, that’s a lot of angst over a middle reliever, isn’t it?)
For all their differences and the right and wrong ways to build an organization, the White Sox had the ninth-best winning percentage of the decade.  And while the Twins are two spots ahead on that list, a World Series ring makes up that difference.
Williams’ method is hard to hang with, because he fights hard for his successes and his whiffs dredge up truckloads of doubt.  Somehow, things have never been as bad they appear, and with the Sox having won six of seven, maybe his team is taking a cue from its boss and taking the scenic, agonizing route to respectability.
But here’s a wrench. I’m not sure how Jake Peavy could have allowed his shoulder to be tired, but evidently, it’s a problem.  Originally slated to start against Pittsburgh tonight, Peavy now won’t pitch until maybe Saturday.

“I got some fluid in there,” Peavy said Wednesday night after the White Sox announced that Peavy wouldn’t start Thursday night at Pittsburgh because of an achy shoulder. “Obviously it’s getting treated hard, and we’ve been doing all we can do. The shoulder doesn’t want to push it out. It’s been getting progressively worse. (But) I feel good about getting out there this weekend.” […] Peavy, meanwhile, said his shoulder has been bothering him “for a while.” He first spoke of a lifeless arm after a loss at Cleveland on May 25 but said he has tried to pitch through the discomfort.  The Sox and Peavy believe that extra rest could cure these woes.

This certainly doesn’t help his trade value.
Minor league roundup:

  • Birmingham 11, Jacksonville 5
    • C.J. Retherford went 2-for-5 with a double, RBI and a strikeout.
    • Christian Marrero doubled and drew two walks over five trips to the plate.
  • Winston-Salem 13, Frederick 7
    • Jon Gilmore went 3-for-5 with a double, walk, and three RBI.
    • Brandon Short walked three times to go along with a single on a 1-for-3 day.
    • Justin Greene tripled, walked and drove in a pair of runs.
    • Eduardo Escobar went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a strikeout.
    • Kyle Bellamy threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out two.
  • Delmarva 8, Kannapolis 6
    • Brady Shoemaker went 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBI.
    • Nick Ciolli singled, doubled and struck out over four ABs.  He was caught stealing.
    • Kyle Colligan went 0-for-4 with two K’s.
    • Joe Serafin was abandoned by his defense: 5 1/3 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.
    • Jimmy Ballinger allowed a hit and a walk over a scoreless inning, striking out one.


  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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funny you write this. the other day i was looking through the sox draft records at espn.com since the year 2000 and not counting 2008 or 2009, because it’s still early for most them (outside of Gordon Beckham), there isn’t another MLB worthy player that they have drafted. Brian Anderson, Josh Fields, Lance Broadway, Brandon McCarthys all litter the sox draft record for over 8 years. that’s sad. especially when your division rival can churn out mauer, morneau, garza, bartlett, liriano, santana amongst others.


Liriano was signed by san francisco, bartlett was drafted by san diego, santana was picked up during the rule 5. However you can go ahead and add span and kubel to that listen in addition to the fact that their development program consists of more than getting their draft some reps in the minors. Also drafting highly regarded talent later in the draft like span and garza also helps boost a success rate as opposed to predictable busts like broadway and mccolloch.
Anyways at least the last few drafts finally show were steering the ships towards respectability, and the likely trio of hudson, mitchell and sale isn’t the worst way to top your prospect list, however even though I drool over mitchells potential his contact issues gives him a huge bust rate especially in this system.


Talent judgment, making good decisions about the people who you have and those who are available to you – that is terrifically important, more so than producing talent.”
BJ sorta glosses over the fact that drafting well falls into this category.
I wonder if a sore pitching shoulder makes Jerk Pervy want to barf, too. Or if it gives him other flu-like symptoms, like fever or chills.


Juan Pierres speed makes Ryan Doumit have a puss arm and neil walker kick a baseball…. or is it just that the pirates are absolutely awful and this is a nightly occurance for a team thats dead last in a division I think we could win 95 games in.


The Pirates are terrible, especially when their best player (McCutchen) can’t hit the cutoff man and misplays balls in center. If the White Sox sweep the Pirates, I hope everybody doesn’t start thinking the White Sox are making a run.


Very interesting analysis. I don’t get how so many position players who seemed to have all the tools have flamed out – seems like it’s got to be more than just “they suck.” Maybe with guys like Beckham, Mitchell, and Allen, there’s been improvement or figuring out the past mistakes…


Might a lot the drafting in recent years have to do with how much money you have or want to spend? I love to spot trends and it seems to me that in recent years, more talented guys are going later in the draft (to more capitalized, larger market teams)because the poorer teams fear they do not have the resources to sign the better amateur players. Why else would Rick Porcello fall to the Tigers who went to the WS the previous year?


Yes. Boston does this a lot and has reaped the rewards by grabbing overslot guys with fat checks.


Was the Shaffer’s fault, or was he merely towing the company line? Heck, if you are going to gamble $45 million on an oft-injured starting pitcher, and overpay for guys like him,as well as Linebrink, Pierre, Teahen, etc, why not instead take some chances on younger guys and throw that money into player development?


On a (vaguely) Juan Pierre-related note, Ely gave up seven earned runs today, pushing his ERA up to 4.15. I was slightly annoyed at the overreaction to his first few Dodgers starts, so while I don’t wish him ill, it’s slightly gratifying to see him return to earth.


I hear you. The same folks that overreact to Rios or Peavy pointed to Ely after a mere 7-8 starts. I don’t wish bad for the young man but I lose zero sleep over a prospect like that.