The 2019 season was already going to be alien enough without Hawk Harrelson in the booth at any point for the first time since the 1980s.
Now it’s going to be weird when somebody besides Herm Schneider ambles out of the White Sox dugout to check on a limping player.
The White Sox announced Schneider’s retirement on Monday after 40 years on the job. Being that it’s the White Sox, they didn’t frame it as retirement, but instead a shift to a new role: head athletic trainer emeritus.
Then again, Schneider’s career is a testament to the benefits of Jerry Reinsdorf’s loyalty.
Schneider had been with the Sox before Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn bought the team, working his first season in 1979 after spending two years with the Yankees. Forty years later, he’s turning over the position to somebody new:
“I’ve seen how things are changing a little bit and I felt like it was just the right time to not step back, but step aside a little bit and work alongside some other people and let them have their way in doing things the way they would like to do them,” said Schneider, who said he began contemplating stepping aside at the All-Star break. “I waited until after the season to see if my feelings were just about whether I was a little tired or maybe a little worn down from the season. My feelings didn’t change. When my contract was up, I never really said much of anything to anybody. When I went in to see Kenny (Williams) and Rick (Hahn), my feelings were there. I just kind of told them how I’d like to proceed with my career.”
Predating Reinsdorf is one of the ways we know Schneider has been around for the long time. The fact that fans can list off his biggest triumphs without reading the press release — Robin Ventura, Ozzie Guillen, Bo Jackson, Greg Walker, Jake Peavy, Danny Farquhar — is another.
(One specific to my childhood: When I was little, my dad would call himself “Herb Schlemlock” whenever he had to check on a sports injury. That was three decades ago.)
Schneider’s body of work showed he deserved to stay, but he could’ve easily been the victim of a change for change’s sake or a front office overhaul at some point over four decades. The Sox kept him firmly entrenched and have benefited immensely.
The timing is right in one regard. While the Sox have long held the title for fewest days lost to the DL since the 2002 season, they’ve slipped to the middle of the pack over the last several years. Coming into 2018, they set franchise highs in days missed in four of the last five seasons, although they returned to top 10 territory in 2018.
The uptick in days missed isn’t necessarily the fault of the training staff. Average is to be expected when it comes to health, and that’s more or less where they are now. You can’t take away from the Sox how long they outran bad luck, and it provided a tremendous amount of value.
However it happened, it’s fair to say the Sox can’t count on avoiding injury better than anybody else, which is one of the things they relied on to beat ho-hum projections before. They kinda used the training room as a crutch, but now they’re working harder at accumulating depth, which is a healthier approach in the big picture.
Schneider turning over the operations to somebody else underscores the need for reinforcements. If there’s a benefit to the Sox’ recent mortality, it won’t be impossible to fill his shoes. It’ll just be very, very, very, very dificult.
He’ll still be around in some capacity for trainer’s wheels. The White Sox described his role thusly:
In his new role, Schneider will remain actively engaged with the baseball operations department as an advisor on medical issues relating to free agency, the amateur draft and player acquisition, while continuing to be a resource throughout the training department at the major and minor league levels.
But he also stressed that if he spent much time in the locker room or dugout, it would soon turn awkward for the new hierarchy. Besides, he wants to have a summer weekend off for the first time in 40 years, and the guy deserves a break.
I once tried to calculate Herm’s value to the White Sox by estimating the amount of extra wins the Sox got by playing starters (average WAR = 2) vs replacement level players (obv average WAR = 0), relative to other teams, based on total days lost to injury per year for some time period. It’s a cludgy formula and doesn’t map exactly, but I came to the conclusion that Herm had the equivalent value of a Hall of Famer.
To put some numbers to it, per this Hardball Times article (https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/2016-disabled-list-information-and-the-future-of-injury-analysis/) from the 2002 to 2016 seasons the White Sox lost an average of 506 man-days per season to the DL. The median team, the Cardinals, lost 895. So the White Sox lost 389 fewer man-days per year than the median team. Obviously not every DL day is a missed game, but let’s say 90% are, so let’s say 346 games per year. At the same time, an average player doesn’t play in 162 games per year, so lets set 145 games as an average full season year for a frontline MLB starter. That gives a value of 2.4 seasons per year.
Valuing those seasons requires assumptions, so let’s assume. First, we’ll say that the average player replacing a player going on the DL is replacement level (0.0 WAR/year). That’s easy. Getting the value of the guy being replaced is tougher, but I think the stats community generally lands on about 2 WAR per year for an “average” starting player. Obviously not every starter is average and not every replacement player is replacement level, but on the average I think that works? So given a WAR differential of 2 for a season between a starter and a replacement level player, multiplied by 2.4 seasons, that gives us 4.8 WAR per year. Then we multiple that 4.8 per year by the 15 year time period, and during that time the Sox have gained 72 WAR over an average team. For perspective, that would make Herm the second most valuable asset in MLB for the 2002-2016, behind Pujols and barely ahead of Adrian Beltre. When you factor in his salary, which is basically Eternal Rookie, he was easily more valuable than any player in baseball, and it’s not particularly close. Obviously this analysis applies all of the Sox injury prevention to Herm, and I think some of that should go to Coop, some should go to the different ways teams use the DL, and some should go to luck, but for the sake of fun, let’s give it all to him.
Also, just for kicks, assuming the values above are close, and that the 15 year period is representative of Herm’s 40 year career, he’s been worth almost 200 WAR, well ahead of Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds etc. 😀
But Ruth would have hit 1400 homers if he had played 40 years.
Yeah there is no real comp for a player putting up 4 WAR for 40 years, more like a hidden structural advantage that the White Sox steadfastly refused to capitalize on.
On issue, this assumes injured players are starters. You’d want to use WAR/game for the average MLBer, not the average starter. Maybe a little higher because you assume starters play more therefore get hurt more often.
The final 2-3 years of Bill Veeck’s ownership is interesting. Upon his return, he retained Roland Hemond and brought in some old guard folk (Paul Richards, Bob Lemon, Larry Doby) to run the team. Toward the end, he brought in new blood who would help shape the next era of baseball: Tony LaRussa once was the poster boy for analytics-based managing. (Back when he did hairspray ads.) Dave Dombrowski was Hemond’s protege and now has World Series rings from leading the Marlins and Red Sox. And a young assistant trainer from the Yankees would serve forty years as one of the most effective trainers in the game.
The Sox of 1979-80 may not have won many games, but they have had an influence on the game.
Well, we won’t have to worry about how the Sox will keep Patrick Corbin healthy in the wake of Herm Schneider’s retirement. He’s taken the Max Scherzer train from Arizona to Washington with a first-class ticket.
Max Scherzer had a years-long layover in Detroit on his own train line? Damn.
Detroit is best experienced temporarily.
and from a distance. Say Ann Arbor.