The White Sox lost again Sunday afternoon in a game that essentially ended in the 2nd inning due to a disastrous start by Gavin Floyd. In a sense this game at least went against type for the season given that the pitching really was to blame rather than the offense. Even with the bullpen performing heroically in holding the Indians, it was hard to expect our anemic offense to rally against Fausto Carmona. Now that the Sox have lost their fourth in a row, dropped to 4-9, and are in sole occupation of the distinction of being the third-worst team in baseball, this might be the time for some in the Sox community to douse themselves in gasoline, strike a match, and sacrificially burn themselves while screaming for repentance from the Lord above.
But then you'd miss my early season assessment! Obviously a lot of things are going wrong, let's take some time to discern which elements of the team are just off to a bad start, and which elements of our team are Juan Pierre.
So very, very, very little has gone right. The Sox are hitting .222 on the year, which is good enough for second-last in the AL (Thank you, Baltimore Orioles). They have scored 53 runs in 13 games, which is good enough for a middling 8th in the AL and slightly over four runs a game. However, when you factor out the three outlying scores of 11, 8, and 6, the Sox have scored 2.8 runs in their other ten games where they've gone 1-10 (Alright, that's a pretty deceptive and manipulative stat. Of course the average spirals way down when you take out high scoring games). To some degree, it was never really expected that this team would be in the top five in runs scored this season. We were supposed to rely on dominant pitching and improved defense, and both of those have been middle of the road. Currently the Sox are 8th in the AL in ERA at 3.89, and doing such maddeningly quirky things like having the least home runs allowed in the league, having the most strikeouts, but also the most walks. Defensively the Sox are middle of the road in terms of simple statistics like fielding percentage, but are below average according to more complicated formulas like Defensive Efficiency Rating. It can best be said that the South Siders are nothing special in the field, but that's not the reason they're losing.
Because I'm not a statistician, but a snarky blogger, I'm going to seek my explanations elsewhere. The Sox were not built to overwhelm teams on talent, but pitch well, and be situationally effective with a lineup that doesn't strike fear but also has no true holes. You know, like '05. It's often forgotten that the '05 team hit 200 HRs and played some truly transcendant defense. This year's team is on pace for 199 HRs, and we haven't even hit the warm summer months where even Juan Pierre will be able to go out to dead center, but has been absolutely awful in key situations with the exception of the 11-inning epic in Toronto. Teahen and Ramirez have arguably blown two games single-handedly with back-breaking errors that extended big innings for opposing teams. Rios was deplorably incompetent in the way he played a Grady Sizemore drive off the wall on Saturday, which allowed him to reach third, and the Sox have been forced to try to compensate for Pierre's arm whenever he has played the outfield.
The situational hitting has obviously been even worse. In addition to already having a dirt-low on-base percentage, the Sox strand runners, frequently diffuse their own big innings with double plays, commit base-running gaffes, and rather than be an offense with average pop and no holes, they've had plenty of power but dead spots all over the lineup. And none of these holes are even named Mark Teahen!
However forboding of a season in the 75-win range things have been, we're not through April yet, and a lot of what is going on could simply be a slow start, or some poorly timed slumps, and some of it could legitimately be the end of the damn world.
So let's go over what parts of the team are going well, what parts are going about as could be expected, what parts of the team are bad but too early to freak out about, and what needs to be hacked off now like a malignant super-cancerous tumor in our kidneys.
What's Going Well
(Yes, of course there are actually things in this category!)
Most of the Bullpen:
Tony was brought over from Arizona last year in a scrutinized trade where a top 1B prospect was dealt for a guy with good stuff but control problems on the much-used notion that we can turn around any talented pitcher once we put him with Don Cooper. Tony still is walking guys, but his stuff has been filthy so far as he's struck out 8 and allowed only 2 hits in 8.2 IP. Let's put this trade in the "not dumb" category.
Still being treated as an unknown quantity by Ozzie because he still very raw, but he's struck out 8 in only five innings, and has allowed only a single walk and run each. Though, come to think of it, how many high stress situations where the Sox need to hold a late lead have any of these guys been in?
He absolutely blew what should have been John Danks' 1st win of the season, but has been strangely effective since then, even overpowering. The sparseness of my description here is indicative here of my pure, unadulterated shock. I accept you, Scott. I. Accept. You.
Yeah, he got touched in a key situation, but when you're brought in for EVERY key situation, that's bound to happen. This man needs to do something truly awful for me to turn on him at this point, and he's going to need to do it at least twice.
Not exactly a lights out ERA at the moment (3.38), but he's hitting upper 90s on the gun, striking out two guys per inning, and doing the most important thing for any closer to do; NOT WALK ANYBODY!!!! Start picking out a cool song to run out to in the 9th and for the love of God shave off that soul patch, J.J. It's pumpkin-orange, bears too much resemblance to a pipe cleaner, and gives every Sox-fan a case of the Billy Koch heebie-jeebies. This is very important.
The should-be best pitcher on the staff has been just that so far. He's allowed only 10 hits in 13 innings and has struck out twelve, moving himself into other 'should-be' categories. Like he should-be 2-0, he should-be considered for a contract extension, and he should-be invited to my birthday party.
A little lifeless early on, but came on like a house of fire after his game-winning RBI against Minnesota and in the Toronto series. He's going to wax and wane depending on who is dumb enough to pitch him inside, and he's going to strike out a lot, but we knew this. What we didn't know is whether we'd get the Andruw Jones who can actually punish mistakes, or the guy from the past two years who looked like he was pounding margaritas in the on-deck circle.
The 27-year old career minor-leaguer is 3-for-6 on the season with a home run in his limited time filling in for Ramon Castro as the backup catcher. I can't wait till Ramon is healthy again, so he can flirt with the Mendoza-line, run like he's being towed by a tractor driving the opposite direction, and struggle just as much as A.J. to throw out baserunners. Get this hot-hitting, inexpensive guy who plays hard the hell out of here.
Going About As Well As You Could Expect
This category was essentially made for Mark. Anyone who saw his dominant shutout performance on opening day and said "Typical Buehrle" either doesn't understand this guy's career, is an idiot, or is Chuck Garfien. More typical of Mark have been the past two starts, where he's battled through not having his best stuff and kept his team in the game with pure veteran craftiness. Some dominant performances will be there, some rough nights will be there, evenings of 3 to 4 earned runs allowed will be plentiful.
Given that his OPS currently stands above .900, one could argue that Teahen belongs in the top category, but he has buckled on defense in some of the most key moments, and was hitless his first four games of the season. What's more frustrating is that even though he's been picking up a lot of walks, Ozzie's been yanking around his plate appearances and he's had about 10 less times in the batter's box than most of the regulars. All in all, it's hard to not be happy with Mark, and there's no telling how much being out of Kansas City will motivate him throughout the year. I will probably not curse at him at the game on Wednesday. Probably.
One start he was brilliant, the other he was terrible. Fifth starters are typically youngsters who need to learn the ropes or temporary stopgaps....guess which category Freddy falls into. He's already going to miss his next start in an attempt to give him some more rest, and it's not a stretch to think that every off night will be seen as an opportunity to hide Freddy throughout the year. If he can provide just 10-15 starts where he can throw his curveball for a strike, we should be more than happy. Plus, maybe when the weather heats up Freddy's flopsweat will give his pitches some more break. Maybe.
Ozzie has strangely decided to spot start Omar rather than just use him as a defensive replacement. I would describe that decision as "strange", where as Ozzie using the soon to be 43-year old as a pinch-runner over Jayson Nix is a decision I would describe with other words.
Dumb, Baffling, Perplexing, Vexing, Nonplussing, Super-Stupid, Illogical, Confounding, It-Make-A-No-Sense
God only knows what Nix did to Ozzie Guillen to get him fired from the only real purpose he has on the team.
At .265, Alex is leading the team in batting.
However, while Alex has not been tearing it up, he has shown a great deal of life in his bat at times, some truly great range in center, and a decent arm. There's absolutely nothing to suggest that he's an elite talent, but there's no reason he shouldn't put up Joe Crede-like numbers (At the plate, not in the field...nor at the bar).
Someone once said that the key to happiness is to lower your expectations. Hopefully this man also took the time to talk to Konerko's wife when the big man started to develop that prominent bald spot a few years ago. Paulie's only batting .214, but is also on a 49 home run pace. Expect those numbers to meet in the middle. Konerko is as sure-handed as they come at first-base, and while he doesn't have much range, Gordon Beckham is so good at going to his left at 2B that it does not really matter.
Well...what did you expect?
Too Soon to Panic. I Swear It Is!
He's taken great to 2B, just great. Gordon is fabulous at dashing at grounders to his left, has a good arm, and a real knack for fixing broken plays. Also, he seems to have come to grips with the notion that cleaning up Alexei's mistakes will be one of his foremost duties. He's not hitting consistently though...at all. While Beckham has drawn a decent share of walks and has hit a few of those arcing, beautiful doubles to the gap that we've come to know him for, he's also drawn the collar a few games, is striking out waaaaay too much and his slugging percentage is just not good at all. He's got too much pop in his bat to not be a decent power hitter in our dinky, dubiously designed, fatally flawed ballpark. The fact that his strikeout spike from the end of last season has carried over though, is really troubling.
It is too soon to panic, and he did have a 6-RBI game earlier this week. But go through Carlos' career statistics
2006 57 Games, 166 At-bats, 23 Runs, 42 Hits, 13 Doubles, 9 HRs, 32 RBI, .342 OBP, .530 SLG, .253 BA
2007 81 G, 229 AB, 29 R, 49 H, 16 2B, 5 HR, 31 RBI, .298 OBP, .349 SLG, .214 BA
2008 130 G, 480 AB, 96 R, 138 H, 26 2B, 36 HR, 100 RBI, .394 OBP, .571 SLG, .288 BA
2009 99 G, 351 AB, 47 R, 83 H, 14 2B, 21 HR, 56 RBI, .323 OBP, .456 SLG, .236 BA
2010 13 G, 45 AB, 9 R, 9 H, 3 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, .327 OBP, .400 SLG, .200 BA
Obviously Carlos has been hurt throughout his career, and some have argued that he was only at full-strength during '08, but there is NO consistency there. There is no typical Carlos Quentin season to expect whatsoever. Do you have reasonable explanation why his power was nonexistent in '07 but prodigious in '08? (Don't just say steroids). Is there any reason to think he can consistently hit for average when he's only done it for a single stretch in career? No, no, no.
Put together a fairly solid start this weekend at Cleveland, but has seemed to be unduly labored in everything he's done too far. He's not striking people out, he's not getting ahead of hitters. He's been too good for too long, and he's too young for there to be some sort of sudden disappearance of his talent. Uh....maybe's he's cold. Speaking of which...
He's made a number of snazzy plays, including an incredible diving stab on a sinking liner on Saturday, since my somewhat personal attack on him the other day. I'd still rather drive a Mack truck onto the ice on Lake Michigan in April than trust Alexei to turn a crucial double play, but I really want to address the concern over his slow start
HE'S COLD! HE'S COLD! HE'S ABSOLUTELY FREEZING! HE'S FROM CUBA AND HE'S SKIN AND BONES! HE'S DONE THIS THE PAST TWO YEARS IN A ROW!
Wait till mid-May
I won't pretend that he hasn't been awful. He's been very awful. As bad as anyone on the staff. The only thing worse than all the walks he's been issuing is the 20 hits in 13 innings. He's had no control, he's left everything up, and done little to justify starting his next game. However, just as Gavin Floyd was not quite as good as the 17 wins he recorded in 2008, he's not as bad as this. His stuff is still lively, as evidenced by the fact that he's still striking out more than a batter an inning. All Gavin needs to do is relax, take some time to reflect, maybe have a cry, and not listen to a shred of advice that Freddy Garcia offers.
A.J. is having one of those seasons where you click on his profile and check his age about twice a week. He's 33 this year, and has been playing full-time at the most brutal position in the game for the last 9 years. It would seem unfair to bring up age to such a feisty competitor who has battled so hard for the past few seasons, but A.J. has looked kinda...uh...dead this season. In addition to quitting shaving and losing the ability to hit the ball out of the infield,
A.J. has recently shown a decided disinterest in running to first base. More often than not, after weakly dribbling a ball to second, A.J. slogs to first with the intensity of 5th grader heading to the salad bar, and tends to stop midway through to trudge back to the dugout and mope. Pierzynski has been so bad that he may not even be the most hated person on the face the planet anymore. For shame.
Oh! So the guy who hasn't played full-time for four years and hasn't had a good season in five didn't have a career renaissance at age 34?!?! You're kidding!
As a left-handed bat who can sub in the outfield and at first base, Kotsay is still valuable to have on the roster as a spot starter or pinch hitter.
Alright, so nothing has really happened yet. He's converted both his save opportunities, the ERA is under 2, and his strike out rate is solid. But Bobby still likes to walk his way into an exciting save even when the situation doesn't call for it. A closer who repeatedly gets himself into trouble with his control problems, and appears to have completely lost the big overhand curveball that made him an effective closer after his 100 mph fastball disappeared is a bit of a disaster waiting to happen.
Hey! We've reached the "Worst Pitcher on the Staff" portion of the article! Randy is a walking expose on how unreliable ERA is as a statistic, having posted a low-low 1.42 over 6.1 innings despite giving up 6 hits and 8 walks. 8!
Make no mistake, this is not a case of a "strangely effective" pitcher, Williams has been coming in to put out fires despite not having a shred of control. Randy has dumped so many inherited runs onto the starters he's come in for that Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd might not actually be having bad seasons. They are, but you get the point.
Was Jesse Orosco not available? Have there been no other left-handers who have gotten into pitching since 2000? Why Randy Williams?
He made his major league debut in 2004 when he was 29 (not exactly indicative of a prodigy). He pitched less than five innings, walked too many people, and was traded. The next season, he pitched less than five innings, walked too many people, posted an ERA over 12, and was traded. The next season, he pitched 22 innings, got the walks down but the hits skyrocketed, and he was sent down to the minors.
FOR THREE YEARS.
Last season, the Sox threw a lifeline to Williams, he allowed 25 baserunners in 17.2 innings (he walked too many people), but managed to post an ERA under 5, which apparently earned him some sort of prize. After a scoreless spring training, Williams has earned the role of being the first guy out of the bullpen, and has responded to it by walking too many people. When he is called into the game, I try to see if I can pull out my molars.
Whaaaaat a crappy player.
So there's a lot of things to say. Juan has no power, none. He has a slugging percentage of .208 for the year, which is abysmally awful in every way. But even the benchmark for a half-decent slugging percentage (.400) is something Juan has attained only twice in ten years, and not since 2004. He had two hits today to raise his average to .208, but has NO EXTRA BASE HITS. He makes up for that somewhat by stealing bases, but has never drawn walks effectively throughout his career. His abysmal throwing arm puts the Sox in the position of dealing with an incredible defensive liability, or DH-ing a man with far too many limitations offensively to justify using the DH on.
But that's not what's troubling.
Juan Pierre has lost a step. He's 32, is still fast, but no longer game-changing fast. In the middle of the decade Pierre made a living off turning slow rollers, groundballs to the hole, and bunts into basehits with his blazing speed. Now, Pierre gets thrown out by a half a step. Almost every time. Against Cleveland on Friday Juan laid down probably as good of a bunt as possible down the third base line, and was gunned out by a good throw from Jhonny Peralta. Later in the game, Pierre hit a roller in the gap between the pitcher and the right side of the infield, and still was gunned out by a half-step. Without any pop in his bat, and not enough speed to get his garbage hits, Pierre will struggle to hit .250 this season at the top of the order. However, speedy left-handed leadoff men with a knack for getting on base are hard to come by, it's not like they're just falling into....our...