Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Chicago White Sox

Chicago White Sox:

2009 Record: 79-83

General Manager: Ken Williams

Manager: Ozzie Guillen

Organizational Philosophy: In a recent interview, GM Ken Williams briefly broke down his philosophy as "you grow pitchers and you buy bats."  To me it's this simplicity along with his utter refusal to gain the respect of SABR mavens and other statheads that gives Williams a bad name among active GM's.  Under the current management, the White Sox seem to have this win now attitude and with current manager Ozzie Guillen favoring veterans and Williams showing an occasional fetish for discarded bullpen fireballers (some of which not suited for the "confines" of U.S. Cellular Field) it's easy to dismiss this organization.  However, looking at their current roster and the youngsters in the pipeline it would be foolish not to give Williams credit for being (at times) a shrewd talent evaluator.

Now, the recent additions of Alex Rios, Mark Teahen and Juan Pierre can be seen as money wasted (roughly, $90 million dollar commitments) but players like Bobby Jenks, Carlos Quentin, Matt Thornton, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks were acquired on the cheap as minor leaguers.  Traditionally, the White Sox love to draft college arms and bats and it's this conservative approach that has kept their prospects and organizational depth to be somewhat boring (although moving Gordon Beckham to 2B along with the hope that Tyler Flowers can stick at catcher gives this team two bonafide stars at scarce positions) but their active presence in the international free agant market has stocked this team with some intriguing high-upside athletic players they hope to have ready in the next few seasons.

Much like the Astros, this team plays in a weaker division that allows them to easily contend each season but for every bargain basement acquisition like Thornton and Jenks we also get some head scratchers like Rios and Pierre hopping on board.  Williams does have a history of giving veterans another chance (A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Thome and Jose Contreras are a few examples) for better or worse but these acquisitions are expensive and gives Ken Williams, et al. the reputation of someone who likes to save a dime and spend a dollar.

2010 Commitments:

Starting Rotation:

Jake Peavy ($15M)
Mark Buehrle ($14M)
Gavin Floyd ($2.75M)
John Danks ($3.45M)
Freddy Garcia ($1M)

Last season, Jake Peavy got a lot of White Sox fans all hot and bothered due to his three awesome starts.  Of course, moving from Petco to the less spacious Cellular Field will require him to watch his flyball rates (he has consistently stayed just below the 40% mark but anything higher could spell trouble).  Peavy does come with a lot of positives: he'll be 28 next season and despite fears of heavy usage he has still maintained an elite K rate and is still very dominant vs. right-handed hitters (.182/.242/.272 over the past three seasons).  He also is under contract for the next three seasons and next season will prove if he is a bargain or not.

Mark Buehrle will likely soft-toss his way to his usual above-average number of quality starts.  It's all about his excellent control (1.90 BB/9 last season), his ERA has been on a slight three year rise (3.63/3.79/3.84 last season) and his tendency to induce groundballs and standard BABIP rates (.282 in '09) does suggest that 2010 may push his ERA closer to 2009's FIP of 4.46.

Gavin Floyd quietly built upon his 2008 minor breakout by excelling in his K and BB rates last season (7.60 K/9; 2.75 BB/9).  He has also developed into an excellent innings eater and has shown improvements over the past three seasons in the groundball department.  He did get burned by the long ball during the second half in '09 (11 HR's in 77 IP) but the HR/FB rate was high at 14%.  Floyd is due for a primary statistical bounceback (media favorite stats such as wins and ERA) since his '09 ERA of 4.06 was a bit high next to his 3.77 FIP and 3.64 expectedERA.  He should surprise a lot of people next season.

John Danks will be 24 next season and will be expected to improve upon his 13-11 3.77 ERA '09 season.  Last season he did benefit from a low BABIP (.273) but his groundball rates have been steadily improving since he debuted in 2007 (from 34.8% to 44.2%).  However, I would lean on the side of caution when it comes to Dank's 2010 season.  So far, he has thrown a lot of innings in his young career (395.1 IP in two seasons) and his reduction in his K rate along with his rise in BB's leads me to speculate on the health of his left arm; especially with his complete drop-off in last season's second half (5.5 K/9 3.3 BB/9 in 112 IP).  It's probably worth it to the White Sox to be careful with him next season.

Freddy Garcia will take another crack at trying to put together his first full season since 2006.  After receiving surgery on his torn labrum in 2007, Garcia has shown flashes of excellent command but with his fastball nowhere near the velocity it once was (barely cracked 88 mph last season) he'll have to rely on his secondary offerings from now on.

Dan Hudson had a breakout season in '09 blowing through five levels before tossing 18 so-so MLB innings.  He projects as a solid top of the rotation candidate (more of a #2 or 3 than a true #1) and has a quality fastball and an excellent slider.  He still needs to work on his changeup and a start in AAA would be the best option for this 23 year old.


Bobby Jenks ($7.5M)
Matt Thornton ($2.25M)
J.J. Putz ($3M)
Scott Linebrink ($5M)
Randy Williams ($400K)
Tony Pena ($1.2M)
Jhonny Nunez ($400K)

The debate between Bobby Jenks and Matt Thornton on who should be the team's closer should be settled before camp begins.  After his incredible debut in 2005, Jenks decling velocity and shrinking K rate was a source of concern before last season.  In 2009, Jenks worked to get his velocity back up to an average of 94.8 mph.  He also brought his K rate back up to 8.27 (up from a miserable 5.55 in '08), these factors will probably have team officials leaning on the idea of keeping Jenks as the closer; however, Thorton's excellent K rates (10.29 in '08; 10.82 in '09), good command (2.49 BB/9) and ability to keep the ball on the ground (53% in '08; 47% in '09) makes the choice very easy, doesn't it?

After two "minor" surgeries to his throwing elbow, the Mets had no choice but to decline J.J. Putz's option during the offseason.  The White Sox signed him hoping they could extract some value but his atrocious command says don't expect much... but at least he leans on the groundball side of things.

Scott Linebrink's heavy price tag will keep his highish HR tendencies on the mound.  I'm sure with his spotty command (3.70 BB/9 last season) the team is hoping he won't be appearing in too many high leverage situations; although I'm not sure who they can replace him with (forget about Randy Williams, he's just a garbage time lefty).

On paper, Tony Pena has an excellent fastball (averages between 95-97 mph) but to many MLB hitters it comes a little too straight at times.  Pena does have an above average slider that he tends to get righties out with; however, he is clueless when it comes to opposing left-handed batters (.291/.354/.502).

On the field:

C: A.J. Pierzynski ($6.25M)
C: Ramon Castro ($800K)
1B: Paul Konerko ($12M)
2B: Gordon Beckham ($400K)
SS: Alexei Ramirez ($1.2M)
SS: Omar Vizquel ($1.3M)
3B: Mark Teahen ($3.75M)
3B: Dayan Viciedo ($2.2M)
LF: Carlos Quentin ($3.2M)
CF: Juan Pierre ($10M)
RF: Alex Rios ($10.2M)
OF: Mark Kotsay ($1.5M)
OF: Andruw Jones ($500K)

The White Sox will probably wait it out for one more season as A.J. Pierzynski finishes out his contract as 2010 is his final year.  In the meantime, top prospect Tyler Flowers will turn 24 and will probably open next season in AAA as he continues to make considerable strides defensively.  Flowers will probably be the starting catcher in 2011.

Fan favorite Paul Konerko also has one more season left on his contract.  At 34 don't expect much more than the .265/.340/.460 line many have him projected to do next season.

After Alexi Ramirez is penciled in at SS, the rest of the infield is open to speculation.  Gordon Beckham provides solid offensive production and if he can stay at 2B, his value will rise considerably.

Mark Teahen was just signed this offseason to be the primary 3B but he hits far too many groundballs (averages 50.2% over the span of his career) to hit for any effective power and his middling batting average seems to be BABIP driven (lifeti
me .269 batting average; lifetime .327 BABIP average).  Teahen will be 29 next season and his speed has shown signs of naturally aging; if those groundballs start losing their eyes, Teahen could be looking at a season where he hits .220/.280/.390, not good.

For the good of the White Sox, fans in the Southside along with our esteemed President better be rooting for a little Cuban assistance.  If Dayan Viciedo shows up to camp in shape (his official stat last season listed him at 5'11" 240 lbs!!) he could impress Guillen to make the right move and shift Teahen over as an expensive backup. Viciedo does have a lot of work to do, last season in AA he did grade poor in his ability to draw walks (4.3% in 504 AB's) and his power wasn't quite as advertised (many scouts predicted he has 40 HR potential but his ISO was very low at .111).

Carlos Quentin has shown trouble in trying to stay healthy during the past three seasons (dating back to his shoulder injury as a member of the Diamondbacks in '07).  Earlier this month, Quentin underwent successful surgery to remove a pin in his wrist.  He still shows a lot of power despite a curiously low linedrive rate (averaged 15.9% in 1226 MLB at bats).  In 2009 he did hit more flyballs which should help the HR department but his health is a drawback and will require the team to focus on OF depth.

Earlier this offseason, GM Kenny Williams showed mercy on the financially strapped Dodgers and agreed to take the expensive Juan Pierre off their hands for a couple of pitching prospects.  Pierre provides this team with a leadoff hitter after Scott Podsednik was deemed as, I don't know... too expensive.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending Podsednik but the contract he signed with the Royals (1 year @ $1.75M with club option) is significantly smaller than the two years at $8M owed to Pierre (his orginal contract has 2 years at $18.5M remaining but the Dodgers have agreed to pay $10.5M).

I understand that Podsednik battled injuries in '07 and '08 and that he will be 34 next season but Pierre battled knee issues in 2008 and he'll be 33 in August.  Looking over their stats side by side, both are incredibly similar 2009 seasons in terms of batting lines (Pierre: .308/.365/.392; Pod: .304/.353/.412), both had similar walk rates (Pierre: 6.4%; Pod: 6.6%) and both depend on speed being a big part of their game (both had exactly 30 SB's last season while Pod was caught stealing13 times and Pierre was caught 12).  They also have high career BABIP totals (Pierre: .317; Pod: .319) and in terms of defense, Pierre scores slighty higher with an OF career UZR/150 score of 5.6 while Pod has a -1.8.  In terms of Wins Above Average or WAR (for short), Pierre was 2 win player last season while Podsednik was worth 1.7 wins above replacement level in '09.  Doing the math, anyone can see that Pierre is grossly overvalued and gives the White Sox the same value as Podsednik would at double the cost in 2010.

Another controversial move involved the White Sox picking Alex Rios off waivers last August and agreeing to pay his remaining $60 or so M until 2014.  Rios is a polarizing player some believe his 2007 season could be a foundation (.297/.354/.498) and at age 29 he still has time to put together a few good seasons.  Those that defend Rios say that 2009 (.247/.296/.395) was an anomaly and a low BABIP (.273) and low line drive rate (16.4% compared to his lifetime rate of 19.8%) contributed to his low numbers.  Even Rios' defensive numbers were out of the ordinary, usually considered an excellent defensive option, Rios scored very low according to UZR.  In 2008 Rios had a total OF score of 25.6 but last season it fell all the way to -5.8.

To think Rios can improve upon his 2007 "foundation", I think, is a stretch.  I do believe that last season is an anomaly in terms of both offense and defense being down but to think he can consistently hit .300 and slug .500 for the remainder of his contract is wishful thinking, at best.  Since '07, Rios has seen a three year decline in ISO, BB%, an increase in K%, an increase in groundballs hit, and a decrease in contact percentage.  This is clearly a player in decline.  Rios does have the speed to possibly see a slight increase in his BABIP which should keep his batting average respectable.  I do expect a bounceback in terms of defense and if Rios can hit between 15-18 HRs he should be a 4 win player therefore making his current contract fairly priced... just don't expect superstar production.

Next Season's Forecast: if Freddy Garcia can pitch 130+ innings, this rotation should be okay but expected dropoffs from John Danks and Mark Buehrle I don't expect the White Sox to dominate the AL Central.

In terms of offense this team could benefit from possibly making Carlos Quentin a part-time DH since his career UZR in LF has been -14 (but in terms of RF UZR defense, Quentin rates very highly).  Of course, roster spots made for Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones will make things difficult if Jordan Danks has an excellent spring (Danks would be a great fit on this team but I still think he's a year away from consideration).  Kotsay does hit left-handed but he hasn't played the OF with any regularity since 2008.  Jones is just a garbage pickup who, I'm guessing, the White Sox are hoping he hits left-handers in 2010 (his line is .214/.341/.406 vs. LHP over the past three seasons).  Before his epic collapse, Jones used to be a quality defensive OFer but, like Kotsay, hasn't played any real significant time since '08.

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