White Sox Season Preview 2011 - The Defense

White Sox Season Preview 2011 - The Defense
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So...hard...to...remain...objective...guh // Jake Roth, US PRESSWIRE

It's a World Series defense.

I mean that as a joke, and also because the make-up is eerily similar.  Both the 2011 and 2005 White Sox hide their lumbering sluggers on the right field foul line, both have pretty fantastic defenders on the left side of the infield, a small, speedy weak-armed left-fielder, a rangy, ground-covering centerfielder, a league average 2nd basemen, and A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate.

Ok...so that's not perfect.  Konerko is a lot older and slower than he was 6 years ago, Iguchi was better and more experienced than Beckham is at 2nd, and while Alex Rios and Brent Morel are good defenders, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand had fantastic seasons in the field in 2005, and JD's glove hadn't fallen off a cliff yet in right.  Still, kinda sorta similar.  Whatever, introduction over.

Catcher - A.J. Pierzynski is pretty bad at throwing out baserunners.  His 26% caught-stealing rate in 2010 was actually a tick better than his career mark, and only Jason Kendall and Victor Martinez allowed more bags to be nabbed on their watch.  So that's a negative.  Ramon Castro hasn't been markedly better (28%), and is a noticeable step down or two in athleticism from A.J., who isn't exactly Spider-man back there blocking pitches.  I don't know if "calling a good game" or "managing the pitchers" is something a player can really be given credit for, but A.J. certainly isn't thought to be bad at these things.  Tyler Flowers is below-average, but improving....WHAT?  I can dream...he's on the 40-man, and anything can happen.

1st Base - UZR doesn't account for picking low throws out of the dirt, or handling line drives ripped right at you, and that's a shame, because those are Paul Konerko's primary strengths.  Side-to-side has never been the motion of Paulie's ocean, but he's been sure-handed enough, and decently-rated enough, to believe that at least part of last season's -13.4 UZR clunker was anomaly, and not just all aging.  Adam Dunn is mostly what you want from a backup 1st sacker built like a bread truck; he doesn't kill you out there.

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Athleticism! // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

2nd Base - If things shake out a certain way--which is kinda like saying "If I decide the sky will be brown tomorrow"--Beckham could wind up being the 2nd best hitter on the team (this involves a fair amount of regression for other guys; so not an ideal scenario), so the fact that he's even holding down a somewhat-premium defensive position at 2nd base is pretty nice.  He collected -0.8 UZR at 2nd last season, which is perfectly adequate.  At his age and familiarity with the position, he could grow into being fervently adequate.  Brent Lillibridge is floating around as a backup, and has had some disconcerting throwing errors--ah who am I kidding, this will be Vizquel.

Shortstop - Alexei Ramirez was always a player with a fascinating set of tools, almost to the degree where it seemed for a while that it wasn't clear how he should be used.  He played at 4 positions in 2008, and even now, lest we forget, his contact skills have national baseball writers so infatuated with him as to suggest a guy with a .321 lifetime OBP should lead off.  With all that craziness, seeing Alexei settle in at short, and become one of the best in the world at the position was a real joy.  There's a confidence and a comfort visible in his play, and reflected in his 10.8 UZR, and everyone who was patient with him (Ozzie) deserves credit, and everyone who knee-jerked at his growing pains (me) deserves jeers and oh my God he's just so good.  Omar Vizquel sacrifices range for reliability as his backup.

Third Base - Brent Morel is said to be good at 3rd base, he looks good at 3rd base, and he was scouted throughout the minors as being good at 3rd base.  So he's probably pretty darn good at 3rd base.  There just aren't numbers yet saying "He's good at playing 3rd base in the major leagues."  There was a time when I wouldn't let this bother me, and I should probably just go back to that.  Mark Teahen lost the spot to Morel despite being a superior hitter...maybe even a significantly superior hitter...so read between the lines on that one.

Left Field - Length, leaping ability, arm strength, spatial reasoning.  These are all useful tools for an outfielder, but the crucial element is foot-speed.  It covers mistakes, it stretches range, and Juan has it in spades.  He doesn't have that much of the other elements, but a daily spot in left field led to a return to his double-digit run-saving days.  Can't expect that number to stay that high as he enters his mid-30's, but he's most certainly a plus-outfielder.  He plays too much to really discuss backups for him.

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Athleticism! // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

Center Field - Part of Alex Rios being declared a five-tool player at the outset of his career was that he had plus range at a premium position and a exceptional throwing arm.  This was certainly on display in 2010 plenty, as Rios locked down a position that tormented the team for years and looked good while doing it.  Yet, his 4.0 UZR was still a notch below his previous career-marks.  He's 30 now, so maybe he'll never compete for a Fielding Bible award again, but it seems like if he could cut down on the number of painfully memorable gaffes in 2011...even that would be a noticeable difference.  Lillibridge has the speed to be the backup in center, but has logged all of 101.2 innings there in his major league career.

Right Field - Carlos is the hole, which is truly a shame.  When we think of our defensive albatrosses, we like to think of Mo Vaughn, or Manny Ramirez, or someone whose ineptitude in the field seems like divine comeuppance for a failure/refusal to commit themselves properly for conditioning and preparation.  Also, we prefer them to be on other teams.  Carlos fits none of these, as he was a fine outfielder before he became plagued with injuries, and plummeted in quality after his plantar fasciitis difficulties in 2009 (-37.4 the last two seasons).  He's young yet, so the possibility of recovery with a healthy season is there, but optimism about his ability to record such a campaign is dwindling.  Lastings Milledge is scouting well as a backup defender in Spring, but has stats against him.  Mark Teahen is uninspiring, but certainly better than a wounded CQ.

For a defense with only two real holes, the Sox rated pretty poorly last season.  They were 30 runs below average in both UZR and DRS, 5th worst in baseball.  It's not any kind of stretch to say that the ratings of Teahen (-10), Konerko (-13.4), and Quentin (-22.9) were the reasons for this poor score.  Teahen's been purged for the potentially above-average Morel, and Konerko's figure last season is way too much of a spike from his previous years to not improve.  So while there's always a good chance that Alexei Ramirez continues to move forward (though asking anyone to save more than 11 runs a season is a bit much), the key to the defense will be Carlos Quentin.  Could a healthy season repair his range?  Can he have a healthy season?  Just cutting down from 8 errors in 2010 might be enough to drag this team closer to league average.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Jim has a wrap-up of the Brooks Boyer conference too, as does JJ, and Mike, and Cheryl.  Each is different, like a snowflake...like the snowflakes that may be in Cleveland this weekend.
J.J. continues his out-pitches series with Edwin Jackson and Jake Peavy.
Future Sox breaks down the system's starting pitchers.

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  • "It's a World Series defense."

    It's Always Sunny reference?

  • In reply to JJStankevitz:

    More an invitation to be trolled.

    If it's a reference, it's a subconscious one. I've been spotty on my viewership since Season 4...or 5...I'm not sure. Whichever season was kinda mediocre. I've been told it picked backed up and should tune back in.

    I just thought it would roll better as an opening line than "There were three prominent holes last season and we plugged one of them."

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