Chicago White Sox
What They Did: 79-83, 3rd Place AL Central
Actual Runs: Scored 654 runs, Allowed 706.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 75.3 (3.7 below actual)
Restated: Scored 668 runs, Allowed 681.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 79.7 (0.7 above actual)
If you compare yesterday’s preview of the Detroit Tigers with the box above, you’ll notice that on a restated basis, both the White Sox and Tigers gave up an identical amount of runs, 681, in 2011. Restated runs is an attempt to remove the effects of a team’s random sequencing of events on both offense and defense, or as I label it in my book, “cluster luck.” Removing the effects of cluster luck adjusts a team’s actual results and shows how many runs it should expect to score and allow if it gave up exactly the same amount and the same type of hits in a season. (In future previews of the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll dig deeper into the numbers but for now, please bear with the premise.)
The White Sox finished 16 games behind Detroit in the final standings but on a restated basis the Tigers were only 12 ½ games better. That’s still a lot of games and, using a basic sabermetric property which states that a little less than 10 runs equals a win (also more fully explained in later previews) the White Sox need to improve its run differential by something approaching 120 runs relative to the Tigers to catch Detroit in 2012. So where can Chicago look to make up that difference?
Using run prevention as a starting point, the White Sox and Tigers ended 2011 on even footing – both allowed 681 restated runs. That’s not to say the quality of their defense was equal however. While Detroit turned batted balls into outs at a rate just better than league average, the White Sox were well below average. Here’s a look at the difference:
Batted Balls Put Outs,
(Excludes HRs) Balls in Play
Detroit 4,301 3,206
Chicago W Sox 4,346 3,169
That’s a big difference in defensive efficiency. Despite the fact that there were 45 more balls hit into the field of play when Chicago was in the field compared to when Detroit played defense, the White Sox recorded 37 less outs. All that adds up to a difference of 30 runs allowed, or more than three wins, attributable to Detroit’s better defense. That difference should disappear this year, and, in a best case scenario for the White Sox fans, could reverse. A reversal would be worth 60 runs or one-half of the 2011 deficit Chicago needs to make up versus Detroit. No doubt, that’s the optimistic scenario, but it’s not a remote fantasy.
In the Tigers’ preview, I detailed why I think Detroit’s defense will be materially worse this year due to the addition of Prince Fielder and the subsequent move of Miguel Cabrera to third base. In Chicago’s case, it’s the subtraction of personnel which will make a difference. Based on the rate at which every team turned batted balls into outs in 2011, the White Sox gave up about 50 more hits than the average American League team would have, given the same amount of balls in play. Looking at the fielding data of each player, it’s possible to assign the deficiency (or surplus) of outs by position. In Chicago’s case its corner outfielders were 60 outs-recorded below league average (-27 in LF and -33 in RF). During the off-season, Chicago traded its 2011 RF, Carlos Quentin, and allowed LF Juan Pierre to depart via free-agency. As such, look for the White Sox to perform at level much closer to league average on defense in 2012, and possibly somewhat better.
Jake Peavy is only 30 years old. I thought that even before Mark Buehrle, who gave the White Sox 2,400+ innings of starting pitching over the last 12 seasons, took his talents to South Beach via free-agency, Jake Peavy was the oldest starting pitcher on the White Sox staff but that’s not the case. The former NL Cy Young Award winner is two years younger than Buehrle, even though it seems to me he started pitching for the Padres a long time ago. As a result he is the oldest member of the White Sox starters this year, but it also means the rest of the staff is all under 30. Despite the loss of their perennial Opening Day pitcher, the White Sox didn’t lose their ace with the departure of Buehrle. Last year he was more or less interchangeable with his rotation mates Philip Humber, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd. His departure opens the door for 23-year old Chris Sale to demonstrate if his electric stuff out of the bullpen (2.58 ERA and 10.6 Ks per 9 innings in about 100 innings the last two years) translates as well as a starter. A consistent innings eater like Buehrle provides the type of value that ensures a team will never fall much below .500 but, at this stage of his career, it’s not the type of value that can lead a team to a 90+ win season. Chris Sale has more upside in 2012 and the White Sox were correct in making sure a spot in the rotation exists for him this year. In conjunction with their defense, the White Sox project to have better starting pitching to the tune of about 40 less runs allowed over the year than in 2011. If they can get a full year out of Jake Peavy – who pitched much better in the 2nd half of last season after years of injuries – there might be even more upside.
Even with better defense and an improved pitching from a very solid looking starting rotation that still wouldn’t be enough to get ahead of the Tigers. So can the White Sox score more runs than 668 runs in 2012 having traded away Carlos Quentin and his 24 home runs and 77 RBI, both second best on the team behind Paul Konerko? Since they should have no difficulty replacing the “production” of Juan Pierre – Pierre actually had a slugging percentage below his on-base percentage (.327 vs. 329) in 2011 – it’s not an impossible task. In fact if there is any sort of regression-to-the-mean performance by Adam Dunn this year, he alone could plug the gap.
Dunn came to Chicago last year and signed a 4 year/$56 million contract. Having averaged more than 40 home runs and 100 RBI for the prior seven years, Dunn’s decline in 2011 was truly stunning. How bad was it? Here are the Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage slash lines for two high-profile free-agents which signed big multi-year contracts before the 2011 season:
Player A: .200/.208/.307
Player B: .159/.292/.277
Player B is Adam Dunn. Who is Player A, the other high-profile 2010 free-agent who finished 2011 with the higher batting average and slugging percentage? It’s Cliff Lee. The pitcher. There has never been a collapse like Adam Dunn experienced last year. If he can just get back to 70% of his prior performance level, that alone will provide the White Sox with more than enough offense to overcome the loss of Quentin.
Including division games, the White Sox have the easiest schedule in the division(*) which means if they can do a better job of playing the Tigers head-to-head (they went 5-13 last year) they have a chance to make a run at the division title. Chicago will know this quickly because they play the Tigers eight times before the season is six weeks old. If they win five of those games and if the raw speed Alejandro De Aza exhibited last year turns into 50 stolen bases and stellar defense, and if Alex Rios stays healthy and plays well in an even numbered year as he always seems to, the White Sox could ride good health and a bounce-back year from Adam Dunn to a legitimate pennant race with Detroit.
(*) Yesterday I wrote in the Tigers preview that, of all the AL Central teams, the Royals played the easiest slate of games outside the division. Once you factor in division games and the fact that the Royals don’t get to play themselves, overall the White Sox’s schedule is easiest.
Oddsmakers expectations: Early markets give the White Sox no more than a 9% chance to win their division and a total win over/under of 77 ½. I’m still picking the Tigers to win the division because their offense should be enough to carry the division, but I think the market on the White Sox is way too pessimistic.
82-80 – Second in AL Central
658 Runs Scored 654 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to Trading Bases, A Story about Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) February, 2013 release.
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