Sunday, June 13, 2004

More Remembrance of Things Past - the 1983 White Sox

One of the things that I've wanted to do is to go back and try to figure out why the White Sox were good when they were good - in other words, pick out a common theme to White Sox success. During the course of this, I want to look at the great Sox teams of the past - 1901, 1906, 1917, 1919, 1959, 1977, 1983, 1990, 1993-94, and 2000 (an embarrassingly short list).

The first one I want to write about is the 1983 White Sox. These were the great White Sox of my (early) youth. I was 11 years old when the 1983 White Sox played the Orioles in the playoffs - and I cried when they lost in four games to the O's on Tito Landrum's 10th inning home run off of Britt Burns. Had the Sox won that game, Lamarr Hoyt would have slayed the Orioles on Sunday at Comiskey, it was a lock.

Of course, my pessimistic father called the series for the Orioles (as it turned out, correctly) after Richard Dotson got shellacked in Game 2. (Weird how I can remember his statement - "I don't think its going to happen.") The series was tied 1-1 and he'd given up on the White Sox. It was cruel at the time, because it had the finality of your father saying something. If he said it, it was. So I was (to some extent) prepared for game 4 by his hopelessness.

21 years later, I can look back at that team with a little more objectivity. And, objectively, that team never should have won 99 games and wasn't really in the same league as the Orioles.

Despite winning 99 games and he AL West by a record 20 games, the White Sox were, surprisingly, in the middle of the pack in the AL in most categories.

They finished 1st in runs scored with 800 - quite amazingly, given the statistics that follow. They were 9th in Batting Average, 8th in On-Base Percentage, and 6th in Slugging Percentage. They did, however, finish 3rd in steals with 165 stolen bases with only 50 times caught - an amazing 77% success ratio. Sure, that kind of success will add runs (probably 10-15 runs, and maybe 2-3 wins), but not that many as to make them a 99 win team on their own. In terms of scoring runs, the 1983 White Sox may have been the luckiest team of all time. They didn't get on base that often, didn't hit for THAT much power (3rd in homers, 7th in doubles) to explain the run scoring. All other things being equal, they probably would have scored 750 runs and finished 92-70 or so. Just a freak year, I guess.

The starting lineup was bizarre in terms of the variety of production. There were several very productive hitters:

Carlton Fisk - .289/.355/.518 (28 HR 86 RBI)
Greg Luzinski- .255/.352/.502 (32 HR 95 RBI)
Harold Baines- .280/.333/.443 (20 HR 99 RBI)
Ron Kittle - .254/.314/.504 (35 HR 100 RBI)
Rudy Law- .283/.340/.369 (77 SB)
Tom Pacoriek- .307/.347/.462 (32 2B, 9 HR)

And several very non-productive hitters:

Mike Squires- .222/.326/.281 in 153 AB from the 1B position (!)
Julio Cruz- .251/.311/.311 in 334 AB
Jerry Dybzinski- .230/.283/.289 in 256 AB
Vance Law- .243/.325/.348 in 408 AB
Scott Fletcher- .237/.315/.370 in 262 AB

The Sox were just OK up the middle - Fisk was great, Law was good, and Cruz, Fletcher, and Dybzinski were a disaster. The corner infield was a disaster with Vance Law not hitting at third and the first base trio of Paciorek/Squires/Walker being below league average for 1st based. Kittle and Baines were decent corner outfielders offensively (Kittle was a disaster defensively), but not that special. So, overall, you could only say that the 1983 White Sox were an average team offensively, despite leading the league in runs scored.

The pitching was stronger, and was the source of the team's strength. The staff finished 3rd in ERA with a 3.69 mark, essentially equal to that of the Orioles at 3.67 (Texas led the league that year - Texas!). They were also 3rd in strikeouts, and 1st in walks allowed, due in no small part to Hoyt's freakishly low 1.07 BB/9 rate. The bullpen wasn't as solid, and it was a committee situation, with 48 saves split among Dennis Lamp (15), Salome Barojas (11), Dick Tidrow (7), Juan Agosto (7) and others.

All luck aside, the 1983 White Sox probably would have won 90 games with their production anyway, which would still have been good enough to win the AL West in the bad year that it was. But they probably were 5-10 games worse than the Orioles, who were 13 points better in OBP and 8 points better in SLG, and had a much better defensive team. The better team won that playoff series.

How does the 1983 White Sox team rank? Emotionally, very high. But strength wise, I'd put them 9th out of the top 10 teams of all time, ahead of the 1990 White Sox.

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