Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Turn Out the Lights at Comiscular

It's official. The White Sox' defense of their 2005 World Series championship is over. It's too bad. This was a really talented team, probably more so than the 2005 edition. But people also shouldn't overreact to the team's elimination.

Of course, when there is ignorant overreacting to be done, Jay Mariotti will be there. And he is today, being, as usual, a complete ignoramus. He blames arrogance for the Sox' downfall, and calls their demise "embarrassing." Everything about this statement is wrong.

Let's start with the assertion that the Sox were embarrassing this season. The White Sox currently have a .554 winning percentage. But a team's actual winning percentage only tells part of the story about it played. The White Sox' expected winning percentage -- based on hits, walks, homeruns, etc., both given up and allowed, and then adjusted for strength of opposition -- is .546. In other words, the White Sox won more games than they had a "right" to given how they hit and pitched this season.

Compare this to last year, when the White Sox had a .611 winning percentage. Clearly a much better year than this. But last year's squad only "played" .537 baseball, applying the same metrics discussed above. Obviously, all that matters in retrospect is that the Sox won 99 games, made the post-season, and won the World Series. But looking at it objectively and analytically, rather than through the lens of Mariotti's ass (where his head, and thus eyes, are firmly planted), one sees that this year's team played better ball than last year's. It just didn't get as lucky. Unless one is embarrassed by the fortunate nature of last year's club, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. You can curse the luck, or a lack thereof, of this year's club, but the Sox have won about as many games this year as they deserved to win. You can't expect to outperform your metrics by 12 games every year. And if luck were truly eliminated, the Sox would sit in fourth right now behind the unluckiest team in baseball: the Cleveland Indians.

Which brings us to point two: it wasn't arrogance that kept the Sox from making the post-season this year. It was pitching. Mariotti says GM Ken Williams fell in love with the team he put together, and killed that team's chances when he failed to deal Brandon McCarthy for Alfonso Soriano. Soriano had a great year, putting up a WARP3 of 9.6. In other words, adjusting for difficulty of opposition, Soriano contributed 9.6 more wins over the course of the season than a replacement player would have. But the Sox wouldn't have had Soriano all year. They would have had him for 60 games at the most. In that time, Soriano could be expected to contribute about 3.5 wins. Probably not enough to put the team over the hump, but not bad. But Scott Podsednik, who presumably would have been replaced by Soriano, also contributed more than a replacement player (although not by much). Reasonably, Pods contributed about a win himself in this period. So, Soriano would have been worth 2.5 wins for the Sox had they acquired him at the break. They'd still be on the outside looking in. Is that worth giving up your top pitching prospect for? It wasn't arrogance that prevented Williams from making the deal, but rather a realistic understanding of the impact made by deadline acquisitions.

No, the Sox problem, plain and simple, is that their pitching wasn't quite as good as last year. Last year, the Sox pitchers allowed 3.93 runs per game. The team's defense-adjusted ERA (league average is always 4.50 for DERA) was 3.97. This year, Sox pitching gave up 4.95 runs per game. Their DERA was 4.52. In other words, Sox pitching was more than a half run better than the league average last year, and a little worse than league average this year. Overall, the team gave up a run more per game than a year ago. The offense was so much better in 2006 that it hid this reality for much of the season, but in the end, the team's below average pitching did them in.

So, how do they fix this very real problem? That's a post for another day. For now, how 'bout Da Bears?


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