Monday, September 18, 2006

Requiem for a Season

The White Sox season is over. I'm not prepared to allow some irrational hope that the Sox might sweep the Tigers and the Twins obscure the reality of the situation here. According to Baseball Prospectus, the White Sox now have a 1 in 20 chance of reaching the post-season. Given the Sox' history, especially pre-2005, it's fitting that the season ended in Oakland. And, I suppose there is something fitting about Frank Thomas effectively putting the final nail in the coffin.

Actually, I've heard a lot of talk recently about this Sox team resembling those pre-2005 squads "led" by Thomas. There seems to be a growing conventional wisdom that the Sox offense this year, while higher scoring overall than last year's team, was less consistent because it relied too heavily on the long ball. The answer, then, would be to bring in more guys who do the "little things" well. This strikes me as the kind of conventional wisdom that makes up for what it lacks in wisdom by being extra conventional.

Before I condemn this thinking, I need to ask an obvious question: is there any truth to the argument? The Sox' break-even point this year is 4 runs a game. They're 13-11 this year when scoring 4 runs in a game. Score more than 4 runs and the Sox win almost all the time. Score less than 4 runs and the Sox lose almost all the time. So, have the Sox been held under 4 runs more often this year, even as the offense has been more productive overall? They've scored less than 4 runs 45 times this year. That's 30% of their games in which they have virtually no chance. They're 6-39 in those games. Last year the Sox were held to fewer than 4 runs 60 times. That's 37% of their games. The Sox offense was far more likely to go dormant last year than this. It seems relying on the long ball has produced a more consistent flow of runs than the World Series champs featured last season.

So what is the problem? (And, can I ask another rhetorical question? I hate rhetorical questions, but I'm feeling lazy this morning). In those 60 games when the 2005 Sox were held under 4 runs, they went 22-38. That's a .367 winning percentage, as compared to a .133 winning percentage for the 2006 Sox when the offense grinds to a halt. Last year's pitching was so good, that the team managed to win 1 out of 3 games in which the offense was shut down. In fact, the break even point for the 2005 Sox was 3. The team was 7-4 when scoring 3 runs. Heck, the 2005 team won more than 40% of the time when held to only 2 runs. This year's team was 1-11 when held to 2 runs.

So, rather than worrying about acquiring more guys who can bunt, run, and do other "little things" right, Sox' GM Kenny Williams should spend the off-season upgrading the pitching staff. The staff's failings this year put too much pressure on the offense. When the offense wasn't clicking, as rare as that was, the pitching staff almost never gave the team a chance to steal a win. I'd love to see Josh Fields replace Scott Podsednik in left, and I'd love to see an upgrade at short, but mostly I want to see a significant improvement on the mound.

In any event, the Sox have been reduced to playing spoiler in the AL Central. The division winner will likely be favored over the Oakland A's in the first round, while the wild card is headed for the juggernaut New York Yankees. There is still much at stake for the Twins and Tigers, and each team plays the Sox three more times. As for Chicago, well, at least we have the Bears.


Blogger Fornelli said...

Go Bears!!

You're right, if...and that's a big if...we sweep the Tigers then we have a chance.

Of course then we have to play Seattle, Cleveland, and finish in Minnesota while the Tigers will get to feast on KC, whom I think they're 12-1 against this season or something like that.

Do you think Kenny does something huge and gets a Barry Zito or Mike Mussina?

12:42 PM  
Blogger Criminal Appeal said...

I'd love to add Zito. But when guys like Kris Benson are making 7 million a year, guys like Zito become incredibly overpriced too. I've seen rummbling that the Sox may be willing to part with Joe Crede in exchange for a package headed by Chone Figgins. If they're willing to part with Crede at all, I'd rather see a stud pitcher head the package than a guy with a .330 on base percentage. And, I think that might be the best chance to add a major starter.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Bouj said...

Oswalt just set the market value ($14.5M) Zito is going to get $14-$15M per, minimum. That's seems like a bit much for someone who disappears for stretches at a time (like the previous 2 seasons).

But the Top Shelf pitching this offseason is Zito/Schmidt. Anything else is going to have to be acquired via trade. And there aren't a lot of teams looking to move their #1/2's

2:08 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

You've got it exactly right: good pitching makes up for weak offense 7 times out of 10. Look at 2005, when the White Sox rolled over the Red Sox in 3 games (or indeed, what the Angels did to the Yankees) - both teams were there because brute power had gotten them the AL East and Wild Card spots, but brute power doesn't win 3 of 5 or 4 of 7.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bears will also lose to a team from Minnesota next weekend.

2:35 PM  

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