White Sox reach .500 … now what?

The Chicago White Sox entered June with big aspirations and a big homestand, only to lose two of three series, including yet another one to the lowly Cleveland Indians.  Kenny Williams then declared that his team was open for business.
Perhaps that was a wakeup call. Or maybe it was a bit of luck and a lot of bad opponents.  Either way, the Sox dusted themselves off and rattled off 10 wins over their next 12 games, currently riding a six-game winning streak that has launched them back to .500.
It’s a run of baseball that’s as exhilarating as it is confusing.  There’s something for everybody, whether pessimist or optimist.
Glass half empty: The Tigers, Cubs, Nationals and Pirates aren’t exactly a gauntlet.
The Sox’s sweep of the Pirates is a mere drop in their bucket, which is mostly filled with tears.  The Pirates had lost nine straight before the Sox even showed up.  Likewise, the Sox only doubled the Nationals’ recent woes, turning a three-game losing streak into a sixer.
Glass half full: The Sox hadn’t exactly punished the weak.
Two of the three worst teams in the American League reside in the AL Central.  The Sox are 3-3 against Kansas City and have lost eight of 12 games to the Indians.
Glass half empty: The Sox haven’t hit a homer in seven games.
The Cheat already looked it up — you have to go back to the second half of the 1980s to find longer droughts, and that wasn’t exactly a high time in White Sox history.  Their team slugging percentage has dipped below .400.  Recent history suggests that when the Sox aren’t homering, they aren’t winning.  The odds say this 6-1 stretch is an aberration.
Glass half full: The Sox aren’t beating themselves.
Just like winning ballgames with a slap-and-tickle offense, a lack of errors, official or otherwise, is also a recent development.  Anybody who doubts Alexei Ramirez’s capabilities at short after the display he put on in Washington can leave the room right now.  Right field is the only real trouble spot; Paul Konerko may be almost rangeless, but his scooping and throwing abilities have come in handy this year.
Glass half empty: Speaking of right field, Carlos Quentin is a zero, and so is Gordon Beckham.
In terms of WAR, Quentin and Beckham are the least- and third-least-valuable position players in the American League.  Fittingly enough, you called these guys the most- and third-most-important position players of the 2010 season.  The Sox are ill-equipped to suffer a stinkbomb from one of these guys, much less both of them.
Glass half full: The pitching is ready to carry some dead weight.
Updating the spreadsheet from last week, here’s what Sox starts have done over the past two weeks:

(Brief aside: It’s kind of annoying when people use win totals to call Freddy Garcia the best pitcher on the staff, but it’s far more annoying when people cite FIP and xFIP, thinking they’ve won the argument somehow.  Wins aren’t scintillating, but the people asserting themselves as the superior position-holders aren’t even having the same conversation.  The Sox are 9-4 when Garcia starts, and there’s no extra credit for xFIP when only looking backwards.)
Glass half empty: Williams might be reluctant to trade now.
With the Sox lacking firepower, the bullpen basically needs all hands on deck if they’re going to contend. J.J. Putz, Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks could each get something interesting back in a trade, but Williams would probably have to keep them in order to keep dreams of contention alive.  And that’s still an uphill climb.
Glass half full: Sustaining fan interest might outweigh those returns.
Jerry Reinsdorf said that he could add salary if the situation demands it.  With the Twins raising the revenue bar in the Central, cementing a decline in attendance with a fire sale (even minor) might negate any advantages of trading away a mildly valuable chit.
Add it all up, and I’d say to not get carried away with this current version of the White Sox.  Baseball Prospectus puts their playoff odds at 6 percent, and that sounds about right for the hole they’re trying to escape.
At the same time, enjoy it.  Garcia isn’t a good bet going forward, neither is Omar “.847 June OPS” Vizquel nor Ramon “7-for-12” Castro, but it sure beats talking about fan-murdering and how much so-and-so sucks.  Regardless of the quality of competition, paying fans deserve to see sustained periods of enjoyable baseball, and Sox fans are getting it now.
Let’s just hope the Sox bring some of that road mojo home with them.  Winning on the road is all well and good, but the 25,000 at U.S. Cellular Field don’t have the option of changing the channel.
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Rookie ball season begins this week, as you’ll see below.  Some interesting names on the first drafts of the Great Falls and Bristol rosters:
Great Falls

Bristol

Further bulletins as events warrant.
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Minor league roundup:

  • Charlotte 6, Syracuse 1
    • Tyler Flowers went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer and four RBI. He struck out once.
    • Carlos Torres struck out seven over seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and a walk.
    • Jordan Danks went 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout.
    • Brent Morel went 0-for-4 with two K’s.
  • Billings 11, Great Falls 3
    • Juan Silverio doubled and homered over four at-bats.
    • Ryan Hamme went 2-for-4 with a solo shot.
  • Birmingham OFF
  • Winston-Salem OFF
  • Kannapolis OFF
  • Bristol OFF
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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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colintj

I’m confused by this:
“Brief aside: It’s kind of annoying when people use win totals to call Freddy Garcia the best pitcher on the staff, but it’s far more annoying when people cite FIP and xFIP, thinking they’ve won the argument somehow. Wins aren’t scintillating, but the people asserting themselves as the superior position-holders aren’t even having the same conversation. The Sox are 9-4 when Garcia starts, and there’s no extra credit for xFIP when only looking backwards.”
If it makes more sense to cite FIP or xFIP when talking about the best pitcher on the staff, why is it more annoying and part of a different conversation?

bigfun

xFIP doesn’t like Freddy because he’s a mediocre-velocity righty who gets very few strikeouts. He gets the least ground balls on the staff and gives up the most flyballs. But… he also is getting the most in-field flys. xFIP will usually treat that as luck and assume Freddy doesn’t deserve it and thus regress it out of his numbers. But if he’s doing something to induce a lot of weak contact and get those pop-ups, then he deserves some of that credit. Someday there will be a better stat that captures that too (probably once they have a system that incorporates literally every vector and speed for every pitched and batted ball in every game).
Pitcher wins and win-loss records on a given pitcher’s starts are still not particularly useful. Jim, if you want a stat to give Freddy his credit, how about Win Probability Added? He’s right in the middle of the staff, which seems about right to me.

colintj

By ignoring BABIP they apply one of the fundamental lessons so far for sabermetrics: there’s a very small spread in talent when it comes to weak contact, one that doesn’t play itself significantly over the course of a pitcher’s season.

colintj

Ah, yeah, I get that. But I will say that anyone can throw a number of good starts provided he’s got some luck and defense. So what I object to in the whole “those starts are in the bank” line of thought is that Freddy’s not responsible, e.g., for angling the groundballs he does get toward Alexei rather than Teahen. What we know about BABIP says that there’s a really small talent spread between pitchers, one that isn’t going to have much impact on a handful of games.
So if he’s thrown a disproportionate number of winnable games despite a meh ERA, FIP, xFIP, etc. I don’t see why we have to say he’s responsible for it. ERA, FIP and xFIP all say he’s been a 4/5 starter in quality. If that doesn’t cover the fact that the Sox have been in more of those games than expected, why is that FIP’s fault and why is that a necessary part of the story?

bigfun

Doesn’t that implicitly justify the flipside as well, though? The “Zack Greinke didn’t deserve the Cy Young because he didn’t know how to win” thinking? He didn’t get the tangible results? Unless I’m misunderstanding your argument.
I think there’s room to argue that Freddy has been better or more valuable than his peripherals. My first thought was a context-sensitive stat like WPA, as I suggested above, but maybe someone can think of something better. So I can understand how some people might be overly critical of him. I just don’t think win-loss arguments help Freddy’s cause much.

colintj

But there’s no ERA vs. FIP issue. He actually gave up the bunch of runs he was supposed to. His ERA and FIP are all a tick under 5. That’s not great pitching.
But the other half of wins/losses is offensive support. And the Sox have averaged 5.2 runs per game for Freddy’s starts, but just 4.3 overall. And Freddy has allowed 4.8 per game, which yields an expected 7-6 record if you punch that into pythag. So of course he’s kept the Sox in games. He’s pitched alright and the Sox have torn the cover off the ball while he’s pitched. Put the two together and you’d expect more wins than losses. With just 13 games played, you get some variance.
The studies done so far indicate runs scored varies far more on a per game basis than stuff, even controlled for opponent talent. So if the average fan were shown pitches without the results, they wouldn’t be able to tell which got jacked, which stayed in the park and which ended in whiffs, even if they knew the batter. To that end, all we can do is look at velocity, movement and command and decide if they have changed significantly. And by what measure does Freddy beat the big four in those categories?
On the other hand, are you really going to call it coincidence that the one guy to get a run per game more from the offense is the one everyone’s talking about? People are biased, they love underdogs, they have no skin in the game so there’s nothing to lose for arguing for Freddy. It seems petty to argue against him because it’s a low-cost/low-ben argument; it’s petty to begin with.

knoxfire30

Im still in the this is a glass half empty situation, however the sox have atleast bought themselves the month leading up to the deadline and thats reason for excitement. Its annoying not to have a clear path as buyer or seller at this point but this is the whitesox this is typically exactly what they do, always trying to get halfway pregnant. Either way by mid to late July I would be very surprised if they are still undecided as buyer as seller and they should then act accordingly.
I think going up against Atlanta and specifically Hudson and Hanson will be a good initial test to this next stretch of games.

eddystankysghost

I agree re: Atlanta. Might have a different opinion by the end of the week, but I think it’s a good time to face Bobby Cox & Co.

Shinons

Five games in which the starter gives up 4 or fewer hits in the last two weeks?
Not bad…

rhythm

Any idea why Upchurch is in Rookie ball, having been drafted in 2008?
As a Sox fan in a far away land, I’m happy to see them put up some wins, even if it is with a smoke and mirrors offense. It certainly has made keeping track of the team easier.

ricksch

Sox should be buyers and execute a trade ASAP. Here’s my three-way glass:
1) Pick up a cheap rental like Luke Scott to get some left-handed pop. He’s on a one-year deal with the O’s. How much can they demand for him? Carlos Torres? Done! Scott’s one option but a better one would be to get someone who can hit from the left side AND play 2nd, 3rd or RF.
2) Make a trade that helps us long term to get the team out of salary-ceiling hell. That means trading someone like Buerhle or Konerko but getting something back of equal value. I would love to dump Buerhle’s contract. He hasn’t been earning it for a long time. We have Hudson to slot into the rotation — though that leaves us exposed to injury, precariously so, when one of your starters is Freddy Garcia. Konerko I would keep IF the plan is to dump Quentin — who is a flat out liability if he’s not hitting. Sure as hell looks like ’08 was an abberation Carlos, which you capped off beautifully by injuring yourself and making sure we got pasted by the Rays in the playoffs. (Can I hang all that on Quentin? Sure, why not?)
3) Stand pat, lose lots of one-run games and wait for Kotsay, Beckham and Quentin to get hot. Did someone mention “fan-murdering”?

knoxfire30

The whitesox are rediculously thin on starting pitching after Hudson, so if they somehow manage to move Buerhle or Peavys contract that puts every single egg in the basket that freddy garcia stays healthy and effective and danks and floyd continue their solid health. Its pretty risky in my opinion to move starting pitching.

bigfun

So you’re saying the sixth-most valuable pitcher in franchise history, who is one of the most consistent and injury-proof starters in baseball, hasn’t been earning it in a long time? He’s shown no real change in his numbers this year and is pretty much the same guy he has always been.
They should certainly listen to offers, but I don’t think they’re going to move him. He has a clause in his contract that escalates his price and tacks on an extra year at $15 million if they move him. That’s nearly $40 million for two and a half years. I think he’s worth his contract to the Sox but probably not worth the escalated contract any other team would take on.

ricksch

No change in his numbers this year? His ERA is at 4.71, almost a full run over his career number. Since ’06, his aggregate ERA is around 4.03. That’s not worth $15m or what you hope to get from a No. 1 starter.
On the flipside, Buerhle’s resiliency has been amazing and it would make the Sox awfully thin to deal him. I’m just thinking realistically the Sox are not going to add payroll without subtracting.
The extra year vesting to another team in a trade does seem to make him especially difficult, if not impossible to move given his current year stats — making it a moot point at any rate.

bigfun

Well, I think it’s a bit misleading to include his career-worst year but exclude his career-best year.
Just looking at his current contract, he has a 4.4 ERA. Not great, but his Fielding Independent Pitching (more accurate than ERA) is a bit lower than that, and even his FIP fails to recognize that he’s one of the two or three best defensive pitchers, both in terms of pickoffs and fielding his position.
Combined with his durability I think he will probably be worth his contract (assuming that he doesn’t drop off badly for the rest of 2010 and 2011, which yes, is possible, but given his history is less likely than for other pitchers, I think).
But yeah, I think it is a moot point because he’s not very tradeable. To me contending teams that need bullpen help are the most interesting because that’s where we have the most obvious strength to deal. Teams like the Phillies, Reds, Angels, and Mets are the team’s best bets for trading partners.

eddystankysghost

Glass half full: The defense gave up no unearned runs and committed four errors (two by the departed Nix) in that June 8 – June 20 period.

eddystankysghost

I should add as a point of interest, the other two errors were on Beckham throws.

Andrew Reilly

Forget New York, Boston, and all the rest of those losers; everyone knows the the road to October runs straight through the I-70/I-270 interchange. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a playoff beard to start growing.
Team of Destiny!

tdogg

Excellent piece Jim.
I brought this up on SS about Garcia last week
“Garcia is the perfect argument for those a little more reserved about things like WAR and its ability to measure all worth. Because of the diaster starts, his WAR is only (.5) which really seems ridicuous. Who the hell would argue that Buerhle (1.3), Floyd (1.5) or Peavy (1.1) have been more valuable this season?
Someone did mention it shows up in “clutch” but who the hell looks there. This is why you see national writers making goofy comments like Hudson show replace a largely ineffective Garcia who is bound to regress blah blah blah…”
I know its WAR but not that far off the FIP, xFIP argument. Maybe BP’s SNLVAR is better for the quick worth comparision.

bigfun

I don’t think that’s because of his disaster starts… more because WAR comes from FIP, and Garcia has a mediocre one. I definitely think Garcia has been lucky and Floyd (among the ten worst BABIPs in baseball) has been unlucky. I don’t have a hard time believing the latter has done more to help the team win.
I saw the clutch score too. Would be interesting to dig into the contextual stuff and see if Garcia is better than average pitching from the stretch, inducing double plays, preventing guys from taking big leads, etc.

Shinons

Nuts. Just saw the lineup. I was really hoping to see if Viciedo could manage batting against Hanson without embarrassing himself. Hudson’s not going to be any easier tomorrow for a guy who can’t hit righties – why call him up if he’s only going to play once a week…?

bigfun

I think it’s been touched on here, but Freddy’s pitch choice is pretty interesting. He’s been throwing his fastball 33% of the time, third-least among pitchers with 50+ innings on the year (only Bannister and Wakefield throw it less, and the latter is obviously a special case). Freddy must really be pushing the limits of how rarely a pitcher can throw a fastball without letting hitters just sit on offspeed stuff.
I haven’t been able to see Freddy pitch much this year, but I know on the radio in his last start Ed Farmer was marveling at a batter taking an easy “fast”ball straight down the middle for a strike. He really has been impressively guileful, especially considering that he isn’t getting guys to swing and miss outside the strike zone like he did last year.

bigfun

Braden Dallas has helped bring attention to this too. I definitely agree that there are dangers in applying FIP/xFIP in a vacuum or treating them as the bible.

colintj

Hmm, the thread locked out? Anyway:
“His ERA was the league-worst for a reason – awful curveballs, not awful luck.”
I appreciate that you identified what you thought was wrong with Gavin. I don’t like referring to things as “luck,” good or bad, but it’s hard to pick out causation in small sample size. If something about his repertoire is significantly different, it should bear it out in batted balls somewhere.
But I don’t think the stats bear that out. You’re talking about hung curves, right? His HR/9 is lower than his career numbers and, while I’m skeptical of the value of saying this, his LD% is lower than career too. And his walk rate is right in line with career averages. So if he was throwing a lot of awful curves, where did they go? They didn’t turn into HR at a damaging rate, nor did they lead to walks.
The other possibility I can come up with is that they turned into doubles and triples. His ISO allowed so far this season and last is about the same, but the HR in that tally is way lower this season. So obviously there have been more hard hit balls, but he’s gotten luckier in that they haven’t gone out. Except xFIP should take that into account by adjusting his low HR total upward. And even if you added half a run per nine worth of doubles, you still don’t get close to his actual terrible ERA.
The best conclusion, I would guess, is that his timing has been bad. Bunching hits together can be a killer, but there’s no suggestion that’s anything his pitches can resolve. And I still don’t think there’s anything there to conclude that Floyd was a different pitcher than last season and deserved to be debited for bad pitching.