Saturday, May 07, 2005

22-7, the air of unreality, and the bodyguard of lies

Nobody wants to believe this is happening.

Twenty-nine games into the season, the White Sox have won more than three-fourths of their games. Of their seven losses, the White Sox could conceivably have won most of them. The pitching has been dominant beyond anybody's wildest dreams, and the offense, while slumping, has been effective enough to consistently generate enough runs to (as everybody now knows) seize a lead in every single game this year.

Everybody -- White Sox fans included -- is looking for the catch.

Of course there's a catch. No team is this good. No team plays .759 ball for an entire season. Sooner or later the White Sox will come down to Earth.

But where is Earth? Before the season started, it would have been assumed to be below .500. Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus, basing his prediction on either a hunch or an irrational hatred of Ozzie Guillen (or both), projected a 90 loss season. Most "analysts", ignoring Bill James' Plexiglas Principle, treated the Indians' shocking improvement last year as only the beginning and picked the Indians to challenge the Twins, relegating the White Sox to third or fourth. Some even suggested the White Sox were as bad as the Royals.

They were all smoking baseball crack. Nobody in their right mind would have forecast the White Sox where they are now, but the team's structure really wasn't worse that the 2004 team that won 83 games and there was a clear upside to the starting pitching and the bullpen. There was no objective reason to believe the White Sox -- barring a string of horrible bad luck, of course -- would fall 20 games of more below .500. There was every reason to believe that 83 to 86 wins would be the reasonable expectation.

The principal reason, I believe, that these analysts made their predictions was they liked what Mark Shapiro said and disliked what Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen said. The possibility that what they were saying was PR and not an exposition of strategy didn't seem to occur to anybody. They didn't like the Carlos Lee trade, but then again, they didn't watch Carlos play every day, and they failed to understand the idea of "buy low, sell high". If Scott Podsednik flops (which could still happen), the Sox replace him with Brian Anderson and are out a few bucks. If Carlos flops (which is happening), the Brewers are out eight megabucks and can't realistically do anything at all.

I don't know where 'Earth' is. I don't know what record the White Sox will end up with. I do know that bad teams don't win 22 of 29 even against mediocre competition.

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