Warm-Up Tosses: Tonight, Tuesday March 12, at 7:00 pm, for those who still live near my hometown of West Chester, PA, I’ll be appearing at Barnes and Noble in Exton, PA for a reading/book signing. http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/79541
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Chicago White Sox
What They Did: 85-77, 2nd Place AL Central.
Actual Runs: Scored 748 runs, Allowed 676.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 88.5 (3.5 above actual)
Restated: Scored 724 runs, Allowed 694.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 84.2 (0.8 below actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the White Sox, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 84 games.)
I know it’s disappointing if your favorite baseball team spends 126 calendar days in first place and doesn’t make the playoffs, but fans of the Chicago White Sox should be pleased with the 2012 effort of the South Siders. Thanks to excellent defense, (see the archives for Detroit’s preview which compared the Tigers and White Sox defense head-to-head) the spectacularly successful conversion of Chris Sale from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and a bevy of home runs which offset an otherwise pedestrian offense, the White Sox managed to spend the last four months of the season in the thick of the AL Central race. To contend with the Tigers, the White Sox needed a lot to go right last year and that’s exactly what happened, but thanks to changes to both teams – as well as a vastly improved Cleveland Indians squad – there is little chance of that happening in 2013.
One of the chief reasons Chicago hit 211 home runs, 3rd most in the majors, is that A.J. Pierzynski hit 27 home runs in 520 plate appearances. How unlikely was that? In his previous 1,538 plate appearances, over the prior three seasons, Pierzynski hit a total of 30 home runs. He was also 35 years old last year, not the age new, sustainable power skills typically emerge. Given that there was no way he would repeat that production in 2013, the White Sox shift to the 27-year old Tyler Flowers as its catcher is a preferable move. He has a history of patience and power in the minors and during sporadic starts for Chicago and while no one is projecting a repeat of Pierzynski’s performance last year, Flowers could minimize the drop-off from A.J.’s career year.
Other than Jeff Keppinger taking over for seven different players who started at third base in 2012, there are no other changes to the starting line up. Keppinger, at age 32, had his best year as a pro last year in Tampa and signed with Chicago in the off-season. His 2012 performance was aided by an abnormally high batting average on balls in play. If that sounds familiar it’s exactly the combination of events that led Cleveland to sign Casey Kotchman last year. The same Casey Kotchman who was MLB’s worst everyday player in 2012. The good news for White Sox fans is that offensively, third base was the worst hitting position on the team in 2012. Keppinger won’t likely change that but on the margin, he probably won’t hurt the White Sox on a year-over-year basis.
The stability of the White Sox roster also extends to the pitching staff. Philip Humber, who made 16 starts last year departed via free-agency, but his replacement in the rotation is familiar to Chicago’s fans. John Danks started nine games in 2012 before a shoulder injury ended his year. The stability actually helps with forecasting as last year the White Sox starting pitchers had an ERA of 4.15, 7th in the league, with peripheral skill-set readings of about the same magnitude. They were aided by well-above average defense, but they get hurt by the home-run friendly confines of their home ball park. There is no reason to suspect a material difference in performance this year.
The bullpen was also 7th in the league in ERA, had results roughly equivalent to its members’ skill sets, and have most of the bullpen returning.
So here’s the summary of the South Siders from 2012 to 2013: They should expect at least a small decline in health (eight players had more than 500 plate appearances, tied with the Angels for highest in baseball) which will take a small toll on production. 2012 saw career-high (in some cases, exceptionally high) HR/FB rates for a number of hitters (notably Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo) that is unlikely to be repeated. As the White Sox are so dependent on home runs to score, any drop will take its toll. No one thinks Tyler Flowers can match A.J. Pierzynski’s career year and the defense projects to regress a little bit from last year’s superb levels. Those are all small nicks but taken together, it adds up to a 30 run drop in production. The fact that the White Sox employed some cluster luck to score 24 more runs than expected will come back to roost as well. Put it all together and the White Sox project to score 54 less runs, and look unlikely to post a .500 level performance in an improved division.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: There’s nothing sexy or particularly eye-opening in this outlook. The White Sox will face improved teams throughout the entire division and look to be subject to small regression issues in a number of different categories. A lot went right for Chicago last year and this year, despite having a nearly identical roster, it’s expected that natural variance will replace that good fortune, not necessarily with misfortune, but with a more realistic record. Vegas opened the White Sox at 80 ½ wins. I wouldn’t necessarily be an under player but I can foresee a finish ten games below that level a lot more easily than a finish even seven games above it.
77-85 – Third in AL Central
694 Runs Scored 730 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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