When your Opening Day starters aren't good...

When your Opening Day starters aren't good...
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This image is so absurd, I could see it in a slapstick 1960's French comedy // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

...you look at the calendar and realize it's only May, and decide to calm the hell down.

Cut!  Print!  Roll credits!  Post over!

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That's the wise man's response.  But the Sox are out of the division lead by 9 games.  If there's a kneejerk tweak to be made that would produce at least some initial positive change, most Sox fans could probably hop on board.  Sowing the seeds of our own demise be damned!


Adam Dunn gets a pass from the following rundown of deadweight
positional starters because A) He's been MUCH better of late (1.119 OPS
this month) B) He lost an organ for his troubles (an organ!) and C) He's
getting paid $12MM and would have to slump into August to get his PA's
reduced.

Juan Pierre

The Problem: Pierre carved out
a decent season in 2010 with excellent defense in left and by racking
up a career-high in stolen bases under Ozzie's "Run wheneverzzz"
baserunning policy.  This year, Pierre's steal rate is under 50% with
additional pickoffs, and his perplexing rash of outfield gaffes has put a
focus on his light hitting that used to be softer.  -1.1 WAR in 36
games is pretty horrifying, no?

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Screw UZR, I measure Juan's defense in total number of humiliating pictures // Kim Klement, US PRESSWIRE

A solution?: Well, a small measure of faith can be taken in that Pierre is a historical 2nd half player,
and theoretically, even if his defensive range is withering into
nothingness, he still should be able to shed the habit of dropping balls
for no reason.

On the other hand, while all the evidence is
circumstantial independently, a bad steal rate, combined with pickoffs,
and a declining FanGraphs speed score all hint that a guy is losing the
skill that was keeping him in the league all these years.  He was bound
to be on the decline at age 33, and the hope was that he could grit out
one more quality year before his contract expired, but it's not
unfathomable that he may come up short of that.

Outfield is the
one place where the Sox have a prospect close to the pros in Dayan
Viciedo.  After a slow start, Dayan's rode a 1.186 May OPS back to
respectability, but you'd just as soon give more time to a guy whose
Triple-A stats were below average two weeks ago.  The wait on him should
be just long enough to see if Juan can snap into shape.

BUT,
with the simultaneous devotion the organization has to both Pierre,
base-stealing, and a "traditional" leadoff man, it's a real wonder what
the breaking point would be on him.  Frankly, I'll just be happy if they
don't re-sign him for 2012.  Forget it, I'll be happy if the White Sox
just stop short of promising Pierre a starting slot next season.  Their
devotion to speed players is insane.

Alex Rios

The problem:
Unlike his counterpart, Alex has overcome the dropsies. 
Unfortunatley,' Alex Rios the All-Star' has been absent since May of
2010.  His slowly enveloping funk came to a head at the beginning of
this season, and he's spent most of 2011 battling with the Mendoza
line.  A lingering toe injury hasn't helped matters, and every time it
seems like he's busting out of slump, he goes hitless for a couple games
and stops spraying to all fields.

A solution?: If you're curious as to why Rios slumped through all
of April with an injury and scarcely missed a game, then simply take a
gander at other players in the organization capable of playing the CF
position.  There's Brent Lillibridge; blessed with more raw speed than
actual positional experience, and Jordan Danks of Triple-A, who's only
starting to generate optimism that he'll make it to The Show at all, let
alone be ready soon.

There's plenty of buzz around Lillibridge, who's a fun guy to bring off
the bench because he has a lot of power for a speed player and punishes
pitchers that disregard him and groove fastballs.  However, he's has
contact issues that get exposed with regularly plate appearances, and
despite his .403 wOBA on the year, those issues haven't gone away (34.4%
K-rate).

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Alex Rios, after a walk-off HR last season...OH WHAT? DID YOU FORGET?!?! // Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Rios hasn't just been suitable in his career, but has been an above
average hitter 4 out of the last 5 years.  He's a safe bet to outhit The
Bridge from here on out, especially if the league gets a load of
Brent's plate discipline.

A.J. Pierzynski

The problem: No one was under the illusion that A.J. was going to
walk into the clubhouse this season, hit .320 (the average he has to hit
to have a good OBP), and throw out 50% of baserunners...well...maybe
A.J was.  But a precipitous decline in each?  Even after going 4 for 6
on Wednesday night, Pierzynski is stuck at 60 wRC+.  If Ozzie didn't
insist on batting him 6th, that wouldn't even garner notice.  Especially
seeing as he's thrown out 11% out baserunners and is less sure-handed
behind the plate than ever.  A.J. still calls a great game, but is a
liability in almost all other areas.

A solution?: It's not like the Sox wanted to re-sign Pierzynski.  Tyler Flowers bombed out in Triple-A in 2010, and the best catcher available in free agency
already isn't playing catcher anymore.  Ramon Castro seems to offer
more power, but hasn't produced as of yet and doesn't profile as an
every day player.  Other than place Castro in a more strict platoon with
Pierzynski, there's not much tweaking to be done until Flowers shows
some sustained success in Triple-A.

Take heart, most catchers are bad, and at least A.J. isn't Gerald Laird.

Brent Morel

The problem: You're not supposed be noticing Brent Morel.  He's
supposed to be meekly adjusting to the league while the rest of the
lineup is powering the Sox to a bustling 25-15 start or so, and we were
all supposed to be grateful that he wasn't Mark Teahen.  Instead, the
White Sox are desperate for any hitting they can get, Morel's
simultaneous lack of plate discipline (0 walks in 92 PAs) and power
(.056 ISO) has inspired panic while Mark Teahen's been half-decent. 
Anyone who watches Morel knows he has skill as a fielder, but 6 errors
(each more random than the last) are killing his rep as a defensive wiz.

A solution?: The solution was in place up until Wednesday night,
when Mark Teahen strained an oblique muscle.  He doesn't figure to go
onto the DL, but when he returns he can continue to insulate Morel from
prolonged slumps by grabbing starts against right-handed pitching and
playing decent defense.

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Morel, staying back on a grounder without screwing it up...OH WHAT, DID YOU FORGET HOW HARD THAT IS?!? // Gary A. Vazquez, US PRESSWIRE

Teahen is a perfect backup provided his defense holds up; he can be an
average offensive player to fill the gaps while Morel slumps, but
doesn't figure to improve, and thus justifies the rookie's existence,
and place in the Mediocre 3rd Basemen Hierarchy.

Unlike centerfield and catcher, corner infield spots are generally a
place where you can find a significant offensive upgrade via trade or
free agency  (Troy Glaus want a job!  No? No? Ok.).  However (and here's
where I explain why I only debated internal roster options the whole
time), the Sox aren't really in a great trading position.  It's doubtful
they want to ship out a spare rotational starter with Peavy's health
yet unproven, their most intriguing minor league prospect (Viciedo) is
just as well used being promoted, and ditching a positional starter is
just creating another hole.

Another way "All In" manifests itself is the level of organizational
commitment to this major league roster.  Someone like Alex Rios, with
his salary and remaining years, is truly rooted in his position until
every opportunity is exhausted, while Morel and Pierzynski can only be
rotated further with the strong backups they were paired with initially.

Juan Pierre is the test-case.  He's the worst-player in the majors by
WAR, on an expiring deal, with an obvious replacement burning on his
heels.  If he can't get yanked, it's hard to see any veteran getting
moved around until the White Sox are out of the race.  And maybe that
won't even happen.

Let Phil Humber know how much you appreciate him, Juan.

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Comments

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  • Really like this article. I've never been a "fire Ozzie" guy, but his love for Juan Pierre is going to cost him his job...and it should. JP is the worst player on the team (I didn't know he was the worst player in baseball,m but I suspected it) and to give him more at bats than anybody else is really kind of insane. I truly don't see how replacing JP with ANYONE would not be an upgrade. Also, don't the Sox have Milledge in the minors? Wouldn't he be at least slightly better over Juan.

  • In reply to PawsOut:

    Thanks a lot.

    I think that's definitely was Milledge was envisioned as being around for--someone who be plugged as a starter in a moment's notice--but he's been just awful in Triple-A since being sent down (.534 OPS), and De Aza isn't much better (.676 OPS). Because of that, it's been easier for the Sox to justify their commitment to Pierre.

    I'm not very optimistic about it. Juan hasn't been moved out of the leadoff slot or given any days off, so there doesn't seem to be any tangible acknowledgement by Guillen that he's struggling. Viciedo setting Triple-A on fire to where he can't be ignored seems like the only thing that could cause a shakeup.

    Even with another year on his deal and an owner not known for paying people to not work, Ozzie's pretty much under the gun if this season is a flop. You'd think his desperation would take the wheel at some point.

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