Saturday, June 07, 2008

(34-26) Today is different

What's wrong with Sox fans?

OK, who had the White Sox in first place by *more* than 3 1/2 games on June 7? Hmmm? Who had Jose Contreras snapping back to top form, at 6-3, 2.76? Who had the staff ERA at 3.37, the LOWEST in baseball after 61 games? Who had the offense fifth in the AL after 61 games?

What? Nobody? NOBODY? Everybody thought (a) the team would be much worse and (b) the Indians and (most people) the Tigers would be much better.

So what is 34-26? A 92-win pace.

Consider these numbers:

.252/.329/.415 100 and 3.37/129

Now consider these numbers:

.262/.322/.425 95 and 3.61/124

Guess what. This team is, so far, fundamentally just about as good as the 2005 Chicago White Sox.

You wouldn't think so from the bitching. The team can't score, although they are fifth in the league. Their pitching is suspect, although it's been dominant.

Oh, shut up! The team can't score against top pitchers. Duh, neither does anyone else. They play mediocre baseball on long grinding road trips against good teams. Duh, so does everyone else.

What they have been doing is win two-thirds of their games on grass. They are 31-16 on grass, 17-9 at home and 14-7 on the road. They have 7 games left on turf (in Twinkie-Land) and 95 left on grass.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's a Volcano

Joe Crede's continued stuggles, Jerry Owens' injuries, and Brian Anderson's statement-spring are combining to make matters really, really difficult for the White Sox.

Crede needs to be traded by the roster cut-down, as the White Sox can't carry both him and Josh Fields. Fields is, at this point, by far the more valuable of the two, but the availability of options may compel them to take Crede North when the time comes and consign Fields to Charlotte until Crede plays his way into somebody else's plans.

The White Sox clearly drew up the outfield in the offseason as Swisher-Owens-Dye+Quentin, but the play of Anderson and Owens' injuries may require a realignment. Anderson has played well enough to stick, but the Groupthink need to carry too many pitchers means there aren't enough bench spots left for two backup outfielders.

The season may hinge on how they resolve this game of musical chairs.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Idiot, slow down, slow down

Dugout central doesn't like Swisher.

That clinches it. I do.

Love the one you're with

A couple of days ago, Mike Downey made the argument for Harold Baines for Cooperstown. Fire Joe Morgan ripped the column to shreds.

I was a huge Baines fan, but seriously, any chance Baines had to be a Hall of Fame player ended when his knee injury forced him out of right field for good in 1987. His only chance rested with the 3000 hit technicality, and he didn't get that.

I don't have any problem with DHs as hall of fame players. And Baines was a good player. He wasn't a great player, though. He was one of the legion of second-banana ballplayers who can definitely contribute to a ballclub but not a true star. With the White Sox he was always the second or third best player on the team, never the first, that was always Fisk. His numbers were solid, but not immortal. Torturing them to make a piecemeal case doesn't make him a Fame-ous player.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I can make it longer if you like the style

A while back I ran the White Sox numbers through the wonderful timesaver that is Cyril Myrong et al's Lineup Analyzer to check some wild crowing about the Cabrera trade. I suppose it's time to feed the Nick Swisher acquisition through the cruncher, so I did. Using the assumptions from the Bill James handbook (available here), and not bothering to park-adjust Nick Swisher, we get 5.54 runs per game. Adjustng Swisher to USCF gets us to 5.6 or so. Exerting some slight pressure on the scales with the thumb (but not going hog-wild) we can get to 5.8. Of course the usual cautions apply -- this doesn't estimate real offense, it estimates a baseline in an ideal world, where benches don't have to get used. It's still a good place to start as you can compare that 5.6 or so to other teams idealized numbers...

I'm trapped in this body and can't get out

Many analyses of the White Sox off-season focus on how the optimum strategy for the White Sox is not to collect veterans at the expense of the farm system. This may be true.

But let's realize that the alternative strategy of dump-and-rebuild isn't feasible due to special circumstances. It may never be. Simply put, the White Sox are not allowed to surrender a season in Chicago for rebuilding, as the financial impact would be devastating. The Mariotti types have spent the last thirty years carefully building the canard that Jerry Reinsdorf is a Scrooge who steals fans' money with a second-rate product, and they would go on the warpath about cheap ownership. Rebuilding would throw raw meat to the dog pack. The attendance would drop to 12th or 13th in the league because the average (that is, non-hard-core) paying Chicago customer seems pre-disposed to believe baloney.

Now, Oakland can get away with this because they are moving into a new park in a few years and the counter-buzz from the Fremont move will restore the financial situation, and because the Giants are hardly an alternative fan draw any more. Houston could get away with it because their fans are willing to pay for anything. But the White Sox are trapped. They have to appear to be contending (or desperately trying) in April or May or the balance sheet turns bright red. Trading the expensive players to recoup doesn't work because with the White Sox fan base it takes YEARS of competitive baseball to recover the finances from a "management betrayal".

I think they have to sink naturally, fighting to survive, to keep up appearances.

One of the few bad consequences of the influx of Ivy Leaguers into the baseball analysis world is the loss of the basic truth that MLB is a commercialized amusement, and rebuilding is, well, not amusing. Florida is among the most successful franchises of the last 11 years by the championship metric, but nobody really wants to be them... MLB isn't a classroom game theory exercise. You have to get people to pay to watch teams not called the Red Sox and Yankees and Cubs and Dodgers. Each franchise has its own row to hoe.

And let's talk about the last two times the White Sox went into dump-and-rebuild mode, 1988 and 1997. The first time they had a new stadium -- and four straight jackpot draft choices -- to recover. The second time (the White Flag) they didn't financially recover for almost a decade for a trade that worked out. Dump-and-collect is not viable for the White Sox until the world stops whitewashing every sleazy, greedy trick the Cubs financial wizards do while pretending that the White Sox are run by diabolical misers.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Hello Goodbye

I think Nick Swisher is a DAMNED good ballplayer, 27 years old, smart, disciplined, durable, and adaptable. In the Cell he'll probably hit like a switch-hitting Jermaine Dye with a lot more walks. He can play centerfield but he's only average there -- he simply doesn't make mistakes, but he won't run down screamers in the gaps, either. He can play first base and any corner position well. Swisher is exactly the right kind of ballplayer to go get as far as I am concerned, especially if his approach rubs off on Josh Fields. I am well-aware of the Mackowiak experience, but Swisher is considerably better than Mack, about as good a CF as Darin Erstad (now) and he hits about twice as well. I like him a hell of a lot better than a middle-aged Coco Crisp, or a middle-aged Aaron Rowand, or a middle-aged Torii Hunter, at least over the next five freaking years.

What made him expensive in terms of trade value is he's cost controlled -- he's completely signed until 2012. The White Sox will owe him about $35 million over those five years, which is about half market value. This isn't a rental player, this is an investment-grade talent... or, just maybe, there's something coming here... like flipping him to Boston (DAMN he's their kind of player!) for multiple position player prospects? What if he gets flipped for Jed Lowrie and Ellsbury? The main reason I don't see this as an option is Oakland wouldn't have needed the White Sox and they'd love those guys...

On to the out-box:

Sad to say, I think Sweeney's waiver-wire bait, so I think the trade comes down to what happens to Gio Gonzalez and de los Santos. As much hope as I have (had) for Ryan Sweeney, I'm afraid he's going to bust. He didn't show significant power in Charlotte in 800+ at bats, which just doesn't bode well. If he were a second baseman, I'd be more upset. As a corner outfielder he can't play major league baseball at all.

Now, I don't like parting with Gio at all. The only two cautions I see with him are he's short for a pitcher and you can't read pitchers based on how they did in Birmingham, Alabama, because every pitcher looks good in that ballpark. The five or so inches he's missing in height show up as stress on the ulnar collateral ligament, and his 93mph is like Zumaya's 99. In wonkese, his phenotype is a cause for concern. That said, he gets people out, and he's got enough innings to assume his arm won't fall apart tomorrow.

De los Santos has faced a total of 483 hitters in professional baseball, which means he's thrown something like 1500 pitches in his career, and at 21 years of age he's just getting started. He's struck out almost 1/3 of the hitters who've faced him, which is phenomenal, but I don't personally know what kind of stuff he's got, and nobody knows if his UCL can make it to the majors. He's a wild card.

I think how you feel about this comes down to how you feel about minor league "prospects" and whether you "overvalue" pitching. If you're John Sickels or Baseball Prospectus, and you make a living telling people you can predict minor league player futures, you hate this trade. If you think pitching is more important that hitting, (a) you're wrong (grin), and (b) you'll hate this trade.

So... Swisher's probability of being a major league regular and above average player for the next 5 years is probably as close to a lock as exists in MLB. Sweeney's probability is near 0. If Gonzalez makes the jump as a frontline starter AND de los Santos makes the jump as a frontline starter or closer, this trade will look awful. If they both make it as "just" back-end starters or middle relievers, this trade will look awesome.

How's that for equivocating?

I wonder if this means a back-of-the-rotation veteran is about to get signed or acquired for Crede?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rocking Horse People Eat Marshmallow Pies

The Astros signed Darin Erstad to a $1M contract as a lefthanded bat off the bench.

The Transaction Oracle is too kind.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Oh, Havana, I've been searching for you everywhere

The White Sox signed Cuban exile Alexei Ramirez, who adds entertainment value to spring training by not having a pre-defined defensive position. A star in Cuban professional baseball, Ramirez supposedly can play second, short, and the outfield. Nobody really knows whether he can hit in the majors; Baseball Prospectus thinks the top Cuban league is akin to short-season A ball (that is, the Sally League). Given that Ramirez is 26 and has only faced serious competition in international tournaments, it's tough to expect anything from him except an option to AA.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We Never Really Knew Each Other Anyway

Call it sour grapes if you want, but I'm kind of relieved the White Sox failed to land Torii Hunter, Aaron Rowand, Miguel Cabrera, and to a lesser extent, Kosuke Fukudome.

Hunter and Rowand don't project to be worth the money they're being paid. Rowand in particular raised polite oh-dear-god remarks from analysts. Considering that his projected ZIPs numbers aren't really any better than Brian Anderson's projected statistics from PECOTA last year (before the Grinderstad spring training incident and the injury), paying him a guaranteed $60M would have been nuts. I don't know which of Goldilocks, or Jerry Owens, or Ryan Sweeney will outhit Rowand over the next five years, but I bet one of them will, and they all might. I'm comfortable with giving them a chance.

Paying Hunter 50% more than that would have been even more nuts. Torii Hunter is a good center fielder, but dear God that is a lot of Arte Moreno's dinero for a team that already has one overpaid centerfielder with years left on his contract...

And God knows the price for Cabrera was too much to pay, as the Tigers will find out when AARP calls for their lineup in a couple of years.

Fukudome is a tougher call, but we don't actually know if he was even capable of playing a major league center field; a lot of the White Sox buzz tacitly assumed he could step in and play a solid center, and maybe his selection of the Cubs was partly his way of saying, "No, I can't."

Friday, December 07, 2007

So put another record on...

A lot of people love the Tiger deal.

One Tiger fan ran the numbers using Cyril Morong et al's lineup analyzer, which is a fun (if tedious) toy. They got a "tasty" 5.831 runs per game number.

5.831 runs per game is good, almost 950 runs. It's wrong, of course, because of the unstated fallacy that Cabrera (or anyone's) National League numbers translate to the AL. Put in the NL-to-AL translations for Miguel Cabrera and Jacque Jones (per Nate Silver), and you get a sharp drop from 5.831 to a still-good 5.658:

I ran the same numbers using the same source projections (Bill James) for current White Sox hitters (Note: These load real slow!) and got 5.300 runs per game. (Brian Anderson gives about the same result.) I'd be thrilled with this at this point, that's about 850 runs. (It doesn't matter a lot who plays center field. So let's say you put in Fukudome at .375/.500. The mill grinds away and says 5.554 runs per game, an increase of about 40 runs a season. You put BA or RS in center and you get about the same as with Owens.)

The problem is the estimator is, of course, sensitive to your guesses for OBA and SLG. I tweak the numbers a little without making them seem at all "fake" and I get the offense up to 5.580 runs per game:

As for the Tigers, put in some accelerated age-related decline for their geezers and you can get to 5.528.

Yeah, that's right, I said geezers. Their average lineup age is going to be about 32 years old. Gary Sheffield is going to be 39. Granderson and Cabrera are their youth, at least until they make a trade.

So if I put my thumb on the scale ONLY SLIGHTLY I get comparable offenses. (The ballparks aren't really comparable, of course, but never mind that).