2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Chicago White Sox

Well, the next stop (#25) on the tour will be a short trip, although I never really get down to the South Side.  If you ever want to know how deep that Sox/Cubs/South Side/North Side divide goes in Chicago, allow me to tell the following story.  In 2005, right after the White Sox won the World Series (first time I’d ever been in a city that had won a major championship), there were news reports that the South Side was just one giant party.  On the North Side, you probably would have gotten the same reaction if you had said “Hey, the Texas Rangers just won the World Series.” 
Record: 72-90, 4th in AL Central 
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  66.41 wins (693 runs scored, 839 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
The Bard’s Room (huh?)
More White Sox Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: That Pythagorean record is astounding.  The White Sox managed to look respectable by pulling out a few close games, but deep down, they were a 66 win team. 
What went right: Jim Thome is still going strong.  As an Indians fan still holding on to the glory of the mid-90s that’s good to see.  Still strikes out 30% of the time, and still a good bet to hit 35-40 HR.  Thome’s a good case study in why the magic 500 HR mark for admission into the Hall of Fame is going to lead to some weird cases.  I’m not much into the whole Hall of Fame debates.  I think it is and should stay a museum and a cultural shrine more than anything, so usually, I don’t lose sleep over who gets in, but… Thome?  In Thome’s defense, he has a career OPS of .974, and statistically, I could probably make a halfway decent case with the rest of his numbers.  Maybe I’m just reaching the point in my life where where I can’t believe that a guy might soon be in the Hall of Fame and I was at one of his first games in the Majors.  Sorry, I’m having a mid-life crisis when I should be re-capping everything that went right for the White Sox last year.  Fortunately, nothing went right for the White Sox last year.
What went wrong: Where to begin?  Juan Uribe?  It’s not that he actually even regressed to anything.  His stat line looks like it has for the last few years.  Juan Uribe is another one of those guys who looks better because fantasy players like him because he’s a shortstop who hits home runs.  He also has a OBP (also called the not-making-an-out percentage) of .284, rarely walks, strikes out a lot, and he somehow went 1-for-10 in stolen base attempts last year.  Maybe someone needs to have a talk with Ozzie Guillen about… well, a lot of things.  But, a conversation about this in particular would do some good.
Didn’t Jose Contreras used to be good?  His luck was a little off in 2007 (BABIP in the .340s), but the trend line is definitely pointing downward.  Even granting him the very generous “he’s really 36,” it’s not like there are a lot of 36 year olds who suddenly put everything back together.
Then there’s the little issue of the White Sox minor league system, ranked by Baseball Prospectus as last in the majors.  Part of it is because some of their prospects “graduated”, but that means that someone is asleep at the wheel in the White Sox front office that they have no one left.
Yeah, that about sums it up: A list of White Sox hitters with a VORP over 10: Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye (12.2)  A list of White Sox hitters with a VORP below zero (min 200 PA): Jerry Owens, Danny Richar, Scott Podsednik, Darin Erstad, Juan Uribe, and Angel Gonzalez.  Alex Cintron and Joe Crede were also below replacement level, but just missed my 200 PA cutoff.  I just didn’t want to make the White Sox feel too bad.
A trade here, a trade there: I covered the Orlando Cabrera-for-Jon Garland trade in my piece on the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim near Los Angeles.  Summary: Orlando Cabrera is over-rated.  So is Jon Garland.  Carlos Quentin has the nice habit of putting up .900+ OPS numbers in AAA, but of course, needs to repeat that in the majors. Nick Swisher, all Moneyball references aside, is a good player to have on a team because he gets on base a lot.  All they had to give up was a lefty starter who absolutely lit up AA last year, a righty starter who absolutely lit up A ball last year, and a marginal 23 year old outfielder.  So, they got a good guy who will help them get up to .500 this year for two pitching prospects whose stats made me drool out of a very dry farm system otherwise.  And a throw-in outfielder.  Then, there’s Scott Linebrink who signed to help out in the bullpen for 4 years and $19 million.  That’s at once a bargain and an amazingly bad contract.  Linebrink has pitched just as well as many closers (such as Coco Cordero, who’s going to make something like $10 million this year), but didn’t do it in the ninth inning.  No saves, no money.  But, then the Orioles tried this type of strategy — throw a lot of money at some middle relievers – and it didn’t exactly work out well for them.  Four years for a guy who looked great in 2004 and 2005, when his BABIP was below league average, and in 2005 especially when his HR/FB was below league average…  Yeah, the White Sox are doing just dandy, aren’t they.
Is there something Bobby Jenks isn’t telling us?: Sneak a peek at Bobby’s fangraphs pitch breakdown page.  His average fastball has gone from 97 mph in 2005 to 95.8 in 2006 to 93.9 in 2007.  His strikeout rate also dropped a lot this year.  Not much else changed, and he’s still going to be a rough pitcher to have to deal with, but is there a reason for the declining velocity?
Ozzie Guillen and crazy ball: So, Ozzie likes to do the “bunt, run, and swear at your team in the presser afterward” strategy.  Hey, at least he’s entertaining.  BUT, it worked in 2005, didn’t it?  In 2005, the White Sox were third in the league in stolen bases.  They also led the league in times being caught stealing.  In fact, they checked in with 137 steals in 204 attempts, for a success rate around 67%.  That’s below the usually accepted cut off point of 70%.  So, the White Sox won in spite of their baserunning madness.  Then, there’s bunting.  Bunting is a good strategy when the player who’s doing the bunting is an awful hitter.  I now present the OBPs of the White Sox starting nine for 2005 (the guys who logged the most time at each defensive position — and DH).  .308, .375, .342, .303, .301, .351, .329, .333, .311.  Anyone notice any obscenely low numbers in there?  Yeah, bunting a little more often might be a good idea then.  The White Sox scored 741 runs in 2005, good for ninth in the league.  For a winning offensive strategy… that’s not a really effective strategy. 
Swearing at the team in the presser afterwards, however, makes living in Chicago a little bit more entertaining.  Thanks Ozzie.
Outlook: No farm system.  Players who were good last year are aging and there weren’t that many to begin with.  Odd trades.  Well… at least they’ve won a World Series in the last century, which is more than their neighbors to the north can say.

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2 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Chicago White Sox

  1. Doug says:

    Your disdain for Thome as a hall of fame candidate is surprising. After the depart of Albert Belle he really was the centerpiece of those Indians teams in the latter end of the decade. His OBP is fantastic and his OPS+ is better than any eligible player not in the hall outside of Dick Allen. Thome’s the type of player that the media under appreciates and as a result causes us to under appreciate as well. Throw in the fact that he did this in a juiced era with zero suspicion around him, and I think his accomplishments are even more impressive. I’m not saying that you should anoint Big Jim as an inner-circle hall of famer, but I hardly think his is a candidacy worth dismissal.

  2. Pizza Cutter says:

    I wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand. The second half of that paragraph is more why I have my reservations. I remember Thome as a rookie… I can’t be old enough that I’m making a HOF case for a guy who I watched play for years.

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