"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Chicago White Sox

Chicago White Sox

2007 Record: 72-90 (.444)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 66-96 (.406)

Manager: Ozzie Guillen
General Manager: Ken Williams

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): U.S. Cellular Field (104/105)

Who’s Replacing Whom:

Orlando Cabrera replaces Tadahito Iguchi and Danny Richar (DL)
Joe Crede returns from the DL to replace Josh Fields (minors)
Nick Swisher replaces Scott Podsednik and Darin Erstad
Carlos Quentin replaces Jerry Owens (minors) and Luis Terrero
Alexei Ramirez replaces Rob Mackowiak
Brian Anderson replaces Andy Gonzalez and Alex Cintron
Gavin Floyd inherits most of Jon Garland’s starts (John Danks inherits the rest)
Scott Linebrink replaces David Aardsma, Ehren Wassermann (minors) and others
Octavio Dotel replaces Ryan Bukvich, Andrew Sisco (minors), Mike Myers and others

25-man Roster:

1B – Paul Konerko (R)
2B – Juan Uribe (R)
SS – Orlando Cabrera (R)
3B – Joe Crede (R)
C – A.J. Pierzynski (L)
RF – Jermaine Dye (R)
CF – Nick Swisher (S)
LF – Carlos Quentin (R)
DH – Jim Thome (L)

Bench:

R – Alexei Ramirez (UT)
R – Pablo Ozuna (UT)
R – Brian Anderson (OF)
R – Toby Hall (C)

Rotation:

R – Javier Vazquez
L – Mark Buehrle
L – John Danks
R – Jose Contreras
R – Gavin Floyd

Bullpen:

R – Bobby Jenks
R – Octavio Dotel
R – Scott Linebrink
L – Matt Thornton
R – Mike MacDougal
L – Boone Logan
R – Nick Masset

15-day DL: L – Danny Richar (IF)

Typical Lineup:

S – Nick Swisher (CF)
R – Orlando Cabrera (SS)
L – Jim Thome (DH)
R – Paul Konerko (1B)
R – Jermaine Dye (RF)
L – A.J. Pierzynski (C)
R – Carlos Quentin (LF)
R – Joe Crede (3B)
R – Juan Uribe (SS)

In 2005, the White Sox emerged from a quartet of middling finishes to win 99 games and the franchise’s first world championship since before the Black Sox threw the World Series. That winter they added Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez to their championship roster, but were passed by the Twins and the surprising Tigers, winning nine fewer games and finishing third. Last spring, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA raised eyebrows by predicting the largely unchanged Sox to win just 72 games. Amazingly, PECOTA nailed it, as the Sox reversed their record from the previous year by going 72-90.

I still can’t figure out how PECOTA saw it coming, but the White Sox, who had the third-best offense in baseball in 2006, had the third worst last year as everyone stopped hitting all at once. Only Jim Thome and Paul Konerko were meaningfully above league average and even Konerko had a worse year than any of his previous three. Jermaine Dye, who was an MVP candidate in 2006, lost 61 points of batting average and an additional 75 points of slugging. A.J. Pierzynski and Tadahito Iguchi, who were just a tick below league average in 2006, lost about 30 points of average each. Perhaps the biggest disaster, however, was the performance of the bench. In 2006, the White Sox reserves hit .284/.327/.396 (.246 GPA) in 1082 at-bats. Last year, in more than 50 percent more at-bats (1681), the Sox’s bench hit a dismal .230/.291/.330 (.213 GPA).

That’s not to say that the pitching was without blame, but the White Sox run prevention had already regressed after their championship season, going from the third-best ERA in the majors to the 21st. Last year they dropped a few more spots, but the difference was negligible compared to the huge drop in offense.

Given that their greatest need was on offense, the White Sox’s first few moves this past winter made little sense. Second baseman Tad Iguchi was dealt to Philadelphia at the end of last year to help the Phillies cope with the brief loss of Chase Utley as they jumpstarted their comeback in August. After the season ended, GM Ken Williams quickly re-signed incumbent shortstop Juan Uribe, then pushed him over to second by dealing starter Jon Garland to the Angels for shorstop Orlando Cabrera. The net result was an improved defense up the middle, but at the cost of some offense.

Williams’ next move was to deal low-minors first base prospect Chris Carter to the Diamondbacks in return for young outfielder Carlos Quentin. Quentin was a first-round pick in 2003 and hit .348/.413/.527 in parts of four seasons in the minors, but in what was supposed to be a breakout year for him last year, he was slowed by injuries and hit a dismal .214/.298/.349. The Sox bought low on the 25-year-old as the D’Backs had installed the younger Justin Upton in right field in Quentin’s place. So far, so good, as Quentin is hitting .241/.379/.519 as the Sox’s regular left fielder. His four home runs this April are one shy of the number of dingers departed left fielder Scott Podsednik hit in his entire three-year White Sox career. Podsednik, incidentally, was released less than a week before the trade for Quentin.

Williams biggest move came just after New Years as he took advantage of the A’s rebuilding to land Nick Swisher in exchange for a pair of pitching prospects and bubbling-under outfielder Ryan Sweeney. The two pitchers Williams surrendered (lefty Gio Gonzalez and righty Fautino De Los Santos) could well come back to haunt him, but Swisher was exactly what his team needed. A young, reliable, established, high-on-base bat that can be used at any of the three outfield positions or at first base. With Jermaine Dye resurgent in right field in the early going (.344/.403/.563) and Quentin fulfilling his promise in left, Swisher has slotted into center thus giving the Sox a tremendous upgrade over 2007′s duo of Darin Erstad (.248/.310/.335) and Jerry Owens (.267/.324/.312). As Cabrera is the only Chisock likely to steal a base, Swisher has been slotted in as an unconventional leadoff man and currently leads the AL in walks, posting a .421 OBP despite the fact that his bat has yet to heat up.

Add to that a resurgent Joe Crede, who is back from a year largely lost back surgery and leading the team in homers (tied with Thome), slugging, and RBIs and the White Sox, at least at this early stage, have the best offense in the league, though the largely overlooked bench is likely to undermine the starting nine as the season progresses.

The Sox also have the makings of an impressive bullpen, and have gotten strong performances thus far from young starters John Danks, Gavin Floyd (who starts tomorrow), and emergent ace Javier Vazquez, who will face Phil Hughes on Thursday. After three years in the wilderness, Vazquez rediscovered his old Expos form last year and seems to have picked up where he left off in the early going this year by striking out 27 in 25 2/3 innings against a mere 6 walks and no home runs allowed after four starts.

Thinking about Vazquez got me to contemplating the mess of pitchers the Yankees employed in the wake of the 2003 World Series. Certainly the story of the Yankees of this decade starts with the departures of Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells after the team’s World Series loss to the Marlins and follows the course the team has plotted in its attempts to replace those pitchers, first through a series of blockbuster trades (for Vazquez, Kevin Brown, and Randy Johnson), then through ill-advised free agent signings (Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright), and finally through growing their own (Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, etc.). Of all the moves they made prior to coming to their senses, the deal that sent the fragile Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and marginal LOOGY Randy Choate to Montreal for Vazquez now looks like the best. If only they had the organizational sense or coaching skill at the time to focus on Vazquez’s strong first-half performance in 2004 (3.56 ERA, 95 K, 32 BB, 118 2/3 IP, 10-5) rather than panic after his dismal second half (6.92 ERA) and flip him to Arizona for an aging Randy Johnson. Of course, we’ve been over this a million times on this blog before, but for all the abuse “Homer Javy” took in New York, he now looks like the one that got away, though perhaps that’s just by comparison to the rest:

Pitcher Runs Saved Against Average 2005-2007
Chien-Ming Wang 44
Javier Vazquez 20
Mike Mussina 11
Jose Contreras 11
Randy Johnson 8
Jon Lieber 2
Carl Pavano -3
Orlando Hernandez -5
Brad Halsey -7
Esteban Loaiza -11
Jaret Wright -16
Kevin Brown -17
Jeff Weaver -59

Tonight the Yankees send Chien-Ming Wang to the hill to face ex-Yank Jose Contreras, who was terrible last year, but is coming off a dominant outing against the Orioles.

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