I saw a couple of people remark that they picked up the latest Bill James Handbook, and realized I hadn’t yet. It is just wonderful to download the book the minute one feels like looking at the book. After looking at the White Sox team statistics, maybe I could have foregone the Handbook this year.
Of course I couldn’t skip the Handbook. It is such a fun part of the off-season, looking back but also looking forward. The sections on predictions are some of the best sports writing you will find each year. Most of the time, Bill James himself writes the essays leading into the actual statistical charts. He isn’t boastful when he and the team at Baseball Info Solutions get things right (and they do quite often) and he is very self-deprecating and humorous when the team gets things wrong. Those folks who like to gripe about people who make statistical projections never admit their mistakes need to pick up the Handbook and see that the biggest name in the business is the first to admit his flaws.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll talk more about the projection sections of the book when we get closer to the start of the season. Now is a time to look at the evidence, to pick over the corpse of the 2013 season and see what we can learn from the autopsy. The remains of 2013 tell us a great deal about the White Sox, none of it good. Yes, anybody watching knew this team was bad. Looking at the final numbers, though, it is still kind of shocking how bad they eventually ended up.
One of the most telling stats is derived from the basic statistics of wins and losses. The White Sox last day in first place during the 2013 season was April 8th, or the first week of the season. It did look semi-promising after May; heading into the “great” city rivalry versus the Cubs, the White Sox were at .500, a disappointing but not insurmountable 4 games back. A sweep at the hands of the Cubs started an eight game losing streak, part of an 8-19 June and by July 1st the Sox were safely in last place and 10.5 games out. The season was over.
So the White Sox were bad, but how bad? Simply put, they were really bad in every aspect of the game, save starting pitching, and that was only mediocre, but compared to the aspects of the team, it looked great. A seven in a room full of threes, as it were. As a team they scored the fewest runs in the American League, drew the fewest walks, and only two teams hit fewer home runs.
On the other side of the equation, defense especially, the White Sox were equally bad. In traditional statistics, the Sox were 14 out of 15 AL in team defense, with 121 errors, 80 unearned runs and a team fielding percentage of .980. Breaking things out a little more, when looking at the Defensive Runs Saved, only one position on the White Sox had a positive outcome, shortstop. Every other position for 2013 had a negative impact for the Sox defense.
As mentioned, the pitching was the best part of the team last year. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t that great. The team ERA puts them ninth in the league and while the staff did have a decent amount of strikeouts, this was offset in part anyway, but the considerable amount of walks issued. The pitching staff also gave up 723 runs, good enough for tenth in the league. An improved defense would surely help the pitching staff, but the idea that the pitching staff is something to build around, good enough to challenge for a division title or a wildcard with help from the offense needs to be examined. If Chris Sale wasn’t on this staff, the overall statistics would be much grimmer.
I could pour over some of the individual statistics, but I’ll save that fun news for the pre-season. Just to reinforce the point however, a few nuggets; only two players broke the top 100 (TOP 100!) in On-Base Percentage; the highest WAR for an offensive player was 2.6, which according to Baseball-Reference is good enough to be a starter in the big leagues. Sale again is the saving grace of a horrible season, posting a 6.9 WAR. Two other pitchers range relatively high, at least among their teammates and it is good news that they are also starters. After those two though, the next highest WAR for a starter is .9.
What makes this even more depressing is that I don’t get the sense that much will be happening this off-season. The purchase of another Cuban is interesting, no doubt, but the White Sox are 1 for 2 in the Cuban department, so it isn’t a sure thing. After that there hasn’t been much news. I don’t necessarily need the team to be in the headlines every day, but being the sleepier of the two baseball teams in Chicago isn’t exactly a way to sell tickets either. An uneventful off-season might doom 2014 before it even starts.