I've been somewhat heavy on the Alex Rios gushing so far this season, which seems a little short-sighted seeing as Paul Konerko has a higher OPS and is doing it during a renaissance season at age 34, whereas Alex is still in a physical prime year of 29. However, it's my earnest belief that it's been a very long time since the White Sox have had a player like Rios. The past two decades has witnessed a slew of big, monstrous power hitters like Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and hell, even George Bell. The Sox have also had great defensive players who also provided good, if not great offense like Robin Ventura, Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand (less great with the offense), and Mike Cameron. The White Sox have even had a collection of speedsters like Juan Pierre, Lance Johnson, Kenny Lofton, Tim Raines, and Scott Podsednik, but now in Rios, they have all three.
The term five-tool player is thrown around a lot by scouts and analysts, but not in reference to any player on the South Side. The White Sox have long been a team of skilled specialists, or failing that, decent all-around players.
The concept of a five-tool player--a player skilled in hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing, and fielding--has taken some hits of recent from the Sabermetrics movement. Five-tool players have been proven to be somewhat overvalued as many low-budget teams have found success putting together winning teams of undervalued players with limited, but specialized skill sets. Alex is making $10.2 million this season, so at best he's properly valued, but for a team that struggles to get on base, struggles to knock runners in, struggles to field, struggles to get strong throws out of the outfield, having someone who can do all four suddenly becomes a lot more valuable. The fact that Alex is on pace to steal 50 bases is just a bonus.
A big bonus. Presently with 13 home runs and 19 stolen bases, Alex is on pace to be the first White Sox player with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season EVER. Versatility has never been a compliment bestowed on a lot of White Sox players, but its unreal to think that Rios may be the best athlete to ever put on a Chicago uniform.
Yet is he even the best player on the 2010 roster? If you play fantasy baseball, then the answer is probably yes. Alex's 19 stolen bases put him at 7th in all of baseball, where as Paulie is not only not a base-stealing threat, but is slow to the point of being a detriment. It's hard to quantify how many more times Rios is capable of scoring from 2nd on a single than Paul, but it can be pointed out that Konerko has grounded into 6 double plays compared to Rios' 2. Also while Konerko is a very competent fielder, his physical limitations range-wise are obvious whereas Rios is vacuum in center field. Paulie's OPS (.990) is .039 higher than Alex's (.951), but his athletic intangibles more than compensate.
Last season, the White Sox had no players with an OPS over .900 (it was a deceptively dreadful season), this was also the case for a few other recent years. In fact the only seasons of the 2000s (If we delve into the 90's, we have to address whether Alex's all-around game is better than the decade that Frank Thomas was impossible to get out), where a Sox player had a higher OPS than Rios are these:
2000 - Frank Thomas' "F-the haters, I can still do this season", 1.061 OPS, .328 BA, 43 HR, 143 RBI, 112 BB, 44 2B
2002 - Magglio Ordonez's best year with the team, .978 OPS, .320 BA, 38 HR, 135 RBI, 47 2B
2003 - Frank Thomas' I'm just going to hit HRs season, .952 OPS, .267 BA, 42 HR, 105 RBI, 100 BB, 35 2B
In 2004, Frank Thomas put up a .997 OPS but only played 74 games
2006 - Jermaine Dye's bid at MVP, 1.006 OPS, .315 BA, 44 HR, 120 RBI
2006 - Jim Thome's best year with the team, 1.014 OPS, .288 BA, 42 HR, 109 RBI, 107 BB
2007 - Jim Thome is the best hitter on a terrible team, .973 OPS, .275 BA, 36 HR, 96 RBI, 95 BB
2008 - Carlos Quentin carries the Sox up until he breaks his hand, .965 OPS, .288 BA, 36 HR, 100 RBI in only 130 games
That seems like a lot more than I said it was going to be, but currently Rios is on pace for this:
.951 OPS, .317 BA, 35 HR, 84 RBI, 40 2B, 51 SB
First, let's throw out Thomas' '03 season because his OPS is only one point better, he played no defense, and ran like he was powering a Flintstones car all by himself. Dye, Quentin, and Ordonez are the players on this list who contributed defensively at all, and none played a position as important and dramatic in its effect on the game as centerfield. Moreover, while Rios is on pace for 51 stolen bases, no one on this list finished with more than 7. The extra bases has positively effected Rios' total runs scored, putting him on pace for 113, which is a higher total than everyone except for Magglio Ordonez in '02. The final bit for the value of Rios' speed; he's only grounded into 2 double plays this year, putting him on pace for 5. This has just as much to do with Rios' fly ball rate, which has been excellent, but Quentin hit into 16, '07 Thome hit into 10, '06 Thome hit into 4, Dye hit into 15, '03 Thomas hit into 11, Ordonez hit into 21, and '00 Thomas hit into 13.
'08 Quentin was only slightly better offensively, had no speed, and committed 7 errors in Left Field: Edge Rios
'07 Thome walked more, but hit for similar levels or power, clogged the bases, and played no D: Edge Rios
'06 Thome walked a LOT more, hit for more power, but still clogged the bases (but was slightly swifter than he was a year later), and played no D : Edge Rios (Thome was an absolute monster this year, but the speed difference is so drastic)
'06 Dye: Carried the team down the stretch, hit for more power and average and was as clutch as they come, played a surprisingly good Right Field as well : Edge Dye
'03 Thomas: Didn't hit for average, couldn't run, and didn't play defense, but walked more with more power: Edge Rios (I love Frank, but he was an unabashed one-dimensional player this year)
'02 Ordonez, Hit for better average, hit an insane 86 extra-base hits, played good defense and threw well, but only stole seven bases and PILED up double plays: Edge Maggs (50 more RBI has to count for something)
'00 Thomas: No D, no speed, but his OPS is .100 points higher: Edge Thomas (he was essentially the MVP this season, he finished 2nd to admitted 'roider Giambi)
So there you have it, Rios is having the 4th best White Sox season of the past decade, only this article is around 1,200 words of hard-core jinxing of everything Alex has done this season. Good luck ducking the anvil that comes careening at your head the moment you step outside your door tomorrow, Alex!