White Sox notes from The Bill James Handbook 2022

With the White Sox’s 2022 ZiPS projections fresh in our head, we may as well tackle another offseason tradition by going through the latest edition of The Bill James Handbook for the most granular of facts.

PERTINENT: White Sox 2022 ZiPS projections reinforce notions about needs

Rick Hahn beat me to the punch a little bit, because he referenced Baseball Info Solutions’ defensive data when talking about the White Sox’s effectiveness when shifting during his end-of-year media conference.

Indeed, the White Sox were dead last in shifts employed with 1,138, and it wasn’t even close (the Yankees were 29th at 1,357). They also suffered the biggest year-to-year drop in shifts from extrapolating the 2020 season over 162 games. They saw a decrease of 968 shifts, with the Orioles securely in second-to-last place some 230 shifts away.

Hahn was also correct in saying the White Sox finished in the top 10 in terms of net hits saved. They only saved 95 hits because of shifting, and true to the order of total shifts, the Yankees were 29th. But while there was a difference of more than 200 shifts, it only resulted in a difference of four hits saved.

Meanwhile, the White Sox yielded the fewest hits due to holes in the shift with 61, with Cleveland a distant second (84). So that’s how the White Sox finished with a net gain of 34 hits saved, tied with the San Diego and Cleveland for eighth place despite far fewer shifts than anybody involved.

The only problem with leaning on that stat too heavily is that it can reward inaction. Kinda like a third base coach is probably too passive if none of his sends result in an out of at the plate, or a rangeless shortstop can lead the league in fewest errors, a team that sees the fewest shift-foiling hits against it probably isn’t shifting enough by default. That team is protecting its percentage more than maxing out the number of opportunities.

Hahn made a valid point, in that you can build a totem pole at first base out of Danny Mendick, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada and José Abreu against a right-handed hitter and it’d count as a shift. Still, there’s a lot of room between what the White Sox currently do and reductio ad absurdum.

This conversation takes a bite out of the defense section, but the other facts remain intact. For more amusing perusing, you can purchase the book below (bookshop.org link; Sox Machine and independent bookstores receive a portion of the proceeds).

OFFENSE

*José Abreu led the White Sox by finishing 21st in the Handbook’s first attempt at hitter rankings, which is the equivalent of the pitcher rankings Bill James established to determine the top arm in baseball, akin to the top tennis player in the world.

*Tim Anderson led all baserunners in scoring from second on a single, going 19-for-23, or 5.4 bases better than average. He was also the White Sox’s best baserunner in terms of bases gained (+15).

*The White Sox finished with the sixth-worst performance on the basepaths (-2), almost entirely due to Yasmani Grandal (-23)., who only scored four times from second in 13 chances.

*Grandal led the White Sox in hard-hit rate at 42.4 percent, and led all American League hitters in pitches taken (68.1 percent, well ahead of Brett Gardner’s 62.5).

*Grandal destroyed sliders (fourth in OPS at 1.104), Abreu changeups (third, 1.096) and Yoán Moncada curveballs (third, 1.093).

*Leury García finished with the eighth-highest road batting average in the AL (.296).

*Luis Robert’s projections, just like in ZiPS, surpassed all White Sox hitters except for Grandal. Robert’s pegged for an even more bullish line of .284/.341/.513 here.

PITCHING

*Lucas Giolito is all about finishing 11th. After doing so in the American League Cy Young race, he also placed 11th in the starting pitcher rankings.

*Liam Hendriks not only led the league in saves, but he also led the league in wins resulting from blown saves with four (appropriately shortened to BS Wins).

*Hendriks also led all pitchers in the lowest OPS allowed against lefties by a righty (.433). Among AL relievers, he had the best strand rate on inherited runners (90 percent), and the lowest average (.174) and OBP (.199) allowed.

*Tony La Russa led the American League in long outings for starters with eight, and Joe Maddon was the only other manager with six.

*Carlos Rodón led all pitchers who threw at least 120 innings in lowest batting average allowed (.189) and fewest baserunners per nine innings (9.16). He also yielded the lowest OPS on his fastball (.536), with Lance Lynn fourth at .596.

DEFENSE

*Even with Dallas Keuchel winning the Fielding Bible Award and Gold Glove at pitcher, the White Sox had the league’s worst defensive performances at pitcher (-12 runs). Their catchers also had the worst showing of any position for any team (-21), along with the second-worst defense from second base (-14).

*Dylan Cease negated a lot of Keuchel’s value by finishing at the bottom of the list for pitcher fielding (-7). Zack Collins provided the least defensive value of all catchers (-18), and it wasn’t close (Kurt Suzuki finished behind him at -12).

MISCELLANEOUS

*The White Sox stood with the Astros, Giants and Dodgers as the only teams with winning records in every single month of the season.

*Leury García finished behind only Chris Taylor when it came to positional value and versatility score.

*Guaranteed Rate Field was the second-best home run park in the AL behind Camden Yards, but it also had the second-highest index for infield errors. Maybe it’s finally time to put Roger Bossard on blast.

*The White Sox tied the Brewers for the fewest challenges in baseball (27). another case where a smaller denominator boosted percentages to suboptimal results. The Sox went 15-for-27, while opponents went 20-for-39. This field, the long starts and the shifts are were La Russa stood out from the pack in his return.

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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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Wayne

 Maybe it’s finally time to put Roger Bossard on blast.

hitlesswonder

I’m actually pretty happy with Hahn’s answer – it showed awareness of the issue and some analytical thought. I agree that if we interpret his response as “If we shifted more we’d do it poorly and let through more hits” that’s uninspiring…but we can hope that knowing it’s an issue means they might work on it even though he feels he has to defend the team’s prior performance publicly.

To Err is Herrmann

BS Wins is a term that deserves to make it into the common lexicon of American slang to describe a lot of things, including most legislation victories claimed by politicians. Someone needs to tell Rick Hahn that you are only supposed to say “long story short” once. If you have to say it twice, you are not doing it right.

Willardmarshall

I miss long outings for starters….

dwjm3

Well now the Rays have given out a 100 plus million deal before us. Total disgrace

Trooper Galactus

The Rays gave out a 100+ million contract five years ago.

burning-phoneix

Indeed, the White Sox were dead last in shifts employed with 1,138, and it wasn’t even close (the Yankees were 29th at 1,357)

That’s strange. Baseball Savant has the White Sox at 27th with 1180 shifts and the Yankees at 18th with 1612 shifts.
What’s the Bill James’ definition of a shift?

Trooper Galactus

James uses a manual, Baseball Savant uses a CVT.

Last edited 7 months ago by Trooper Galactus
burning-phoneix

So Bill James witnessed every shift in the 2021 season???

Trooper Galactus

I’ll admit it wasn’t a good joke, but I didn’t expect you to miss it completely.

burning-phoneix

Actually now that I reread it. It’s actually got a chuckle out of me. Well done.

a-t

A little unsettled by the total lack of White Sox FA rumors. Admittedly, they usually play things pretty close to the chest— the Grandal signing I remember as coming out of the blue— but usually there’s something drifting in the wind that a player agent put out. Nightingale said they planned to have an aggressive offseason, which is rather alarming given his incredible talent for predicting the precise opposite of what actually happens.

Drdoctor
jorgefabregas

Wow. I sure hope they have a Kimbrel deal locked up. Will be nervous if they don’t have it done before the lockout. With pretty much any substantial signing there should be a disclaimer saying I don’t mind if it means Jerry is going to be aggressive and pay a lot in general, but I think we’re all worried about allocation of resources if the resources allotted are modest.

mikeschach

is cornering the market on expensive closers somehow exploiting the new market inefficiency?

HallofFrank

I’m sure Sox fans will overreact to this signing, but it’s just a better solution to the righty we all agree the Sox bullpen needed, since Kimbrel is as good as gone. This is a better idea, for example, than guaranteeing Tepera multiple years at $4-8m AAV.

This *will* become frustrating if—and when—the Sox halfheartedly solve 2B or RF.

dansomeone

Now that Graveman is off the market, Kimbrel becomes that much more valuable to other teams!

Augusto Barojas

Halfheartedly solving 2b and/or RF is the pattern they need to break out of. I think they will, even if hoping for that feels almost like putting faith in the Devil.

burning-phoneix

It actually might be. Elite relievers cost less proportionally than elite starters because of the variability and inconsistency inherent to the position. Perhaps the White Sox feel they can project RP results better and purchase accordingly.

Trooper Galactus

If the White Sox actually believe they can project relief results with any degree of reliability, they’re delusional.

burning-phoneix

Maybe they are. I’m just too scared to bet against algorithms. These nerds are number crunching to scary degrees.

Trooper Galactus

I mean, all pitching contracts are a risk. There’s no algorithm that can tell you whether or not a guy’s UCL is about to blow or a shoulder capsule is set to burst. Signing or trading for a great pitcher and not getting what you expected due to injury or decline is a lot more palatable to me than signing a middling one and getting the results you expected.

soxygen

After whiffing on Kimbrel? I would hope that the Sox are more humble about their ability to project volatile reliever performance right after getting it spectacularly wrong.

burning-phoneix

No projection is fullproof of course. The Sox fashioned a very strong bullpen out of bits and bobs they picked out of the garbage bin (Evan Marshall, Jose Ruiz, Jimmy Cordero, Aaron Bummer…etc) and knew when to cut a pitcher loose (Re: Calls to bring back Colome). Despite some stinkers, they usually get it right.

Trooper Galactus

I wouldn’t lump Bummer, a player they drafted and actually developed in an orderly fashion, in with the rest of those guys.

burning-phoneix

Ok…aaaaah….Juan Minaya? He was pretty good for the Twins this year and we got him off waivers. That’s a bits and bob player right there.

Trooper Galactus

Works.

mikeschach

Please tell me that there was a handshake deal in place for Kimbrel. Otherwise we are seriously painting ourselves into a corner – unless Jerry told Rick to get anyone Tony asks for.

vanillablue

What on earth do we need Kendall Graveman for? $24M for a guy who’s had half a good season in his career? Does Hahn have any idea how to construct a team?

Drdoctor

Per Steve Adams, “Graveman started dominating the moment the Mariners put him in the bullpen in Sept. 2020. He has a 2.05 ERA and 3.17 FIP with a 25.5 K%, 8.9 BB% and 55.9 GB% in his past 66 innings. Teams don’t really care so much about what you’ve done anymore — they care more about whether they’re comfortable projecting you to continue at a certain level of performance.

So, yeah, I think he probably does have an idea on how to construct a team

HallofFrank

Almost all of our off-season plans included signing a right-handed reliever because… the Sox need one. Would you rather Hahn have signed a worse one? Graveman was among the best options available.

Last edited 7 months ago by HallofFrank
vanillablue

RH reliever is the easiest hole to fill on a team. It should not take a 3-year commitment to get a decent one. Yes, more bullpen depth is always helpful, but no way this is one of the top priorities for this team – our bullpen was really good last year!

Hahn’s problem is that many of his moves superficially make sense but don’t actually address the team’s biggest problems. Sure, hopefully Graveman will be good next year, but the $8M being committed to him is money that won’t be spent on 2B or RF.

Hulksmash

I sure hope they sign a first basemen next.

texag10

So you’re just being pessimistic to be pessimistic at this point. Neat.

vanillablue

I am comfortable projecting Hahn to continue at a certain level of performance, yes.

Hulksmash

I’m not sure it’s pessimism as much as it’s an acknowledgment of a repeated behavior pattern. This is what Hahn and co. do. It’s what they’ve done for years. They spend the little money to fill needs they don’t have so they don’t have to spend the big money addressing needs that actually exist.

Maybe that changes this offseason. I highly doubt it, but maybe. But let’s not act like a cynical response to this isn’t warranted.

Augusto Barojas

I agree. This was a good move, but until they do something out of character relative to the past that involves some big dollars, this doesn’t mean all that much. Especially if Tepera is gone.

I hope they make a big move prior to next week and the potential lockout.

HallofFrank

We’ll see how the off-season plays out. As I said above, this could become a problem move if Hahn is too budget restricted to adequately solve 2B or RF. But, there are lots of ways the off-season could unfold where this move works. If they sign Semien, for example, or something like Escobar and Conforto—those are all good offseasons.

The bullpen was good last year, but it’s easy to see it being a problem. Kimbrel, Tepera, Kopech, and Marshall are gone, for starters. Crochet could be, too, if they decide to start his track towards starting. And I’m not counting on repeat performances from Ruiz or Burr. That leaves Hendriks and Bummer—a good start, but far from the lockdown pen we became accustomed to.

Trooper Galactus

My worry is that Kimbrel will be traded for an equally expensive and entirely mediocre solution at a position of need.

Right Size Wrong Shape

At some positions (RF), I’d be thrilled with mediocre at this point. I don’t care if it’s expensive, it’s not my money.

Sorry, I’d be pretty pissed if the whole strategy to pick up Kimbrel’s option was to overpay a mediocre right fielder when quite a few actually good ones are available for that sort of money this offseason.

670WMAQtheElder

He replaces Kopech who’s going to start. Next we need to sign Tepera or replace him. Kimbrel is going to get traded. To what team and for whom is the big question. What team thinks they are a closer away from contending? Any thoughts?

HallofFrank

Hahn’s reductio is only meant to show that the point of shifting isn’t to shift, but to turn hits into outs. So, saying, “the White Sox are last in shifting” is a true statement, but not an evaluative one.

If they are in the top 10 in terms of net hits saved—the whole point of shifting—then they are in good shape with defensive alignment. The last place in shifting “criticism” isn’t a real criticism unless it’s costing the White Sox hits, runs, etc. Which is why the 3rd base coach analogy doesn’t work: if a conservative 3rd base coach nets more runs than a more aggressive one, the response shouldn’t be to be more aggressive. I’m sure there’s room for improvement for the Sox — and maybe that involves more shifting — but as of now this seems like much ado about nothing.

dongutteridge

I applaud the Sox for the signing of Graveman. He’s a good pitcher that can start, close or fill-in any spot.

I hope that they sign another similar veteran reliever – Tepera, Melancon, McHugh, etc.

MattVerplaetse

Not to nitpick, but Graveman’s starting days are behind him. His longest outing was 2 innings last year, and it only happened once on April 3. In 2020, he started two games and both went poorly, as did all seven of his starts in 2018. You can make a case that the signing is a good one, but “versatility” isn’t an asset here. He’s a one inning setup guy or emergency closer at this point.

Last edited 7 months ago by MattVerplaetse
Augusto Barojas

Unless they plan to re-sign Tepera as well, Graveman really just replaces him, maybe slight upgrade. Has a really good arm but a bad resume prior to 2021.

Not a bad move but until they get a legit 2b and/or RF, this is business as usual. I’ll get excited when they sign someone with a salary significantly higher than 8M that can play 2b or RF at a high level.

670WMAQtheElder

Other saber metrics sources have called out the Sox defense, too, especially at C. A really good defensive catcher is a must to compliment Grandal. I am less inclined to worry about infield defense because I think it is a function of TA’s belief in his own athleticism (sometimes right and sometimes he’s wrong) and Moncada’s aggressiveness. Plus the lights at GR are really bright for popups. And, pitchers like Cease who fall off the mound can’t field their position. But if he K’s them, who cares?