Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Well, Now I'm Just Stealing

On the White Sox mailing list, Doug Gribben has been doing some absolutely fantastic post-season analyses. Doug is proving again and again that he's a genius, but he shouldn't hide his light under a bushel - which is what the Sox listserv/Kosin trolling machine is.

On Carlos Lee:

[Responding to the statement that "Carlos Lee is arguably the best offensive left fielder in the history of the organization."

I just don't buy it. You have to put statistics in a vacuum to come to that conclusion. Shoeless Joe was the best left fielder of his era. Minnie Minoso was a considerably better hitter than Carlos, we just don't realize it because he played in an era and a park that neutralized his power. Tim Raines was as good or better a player in 3 of his 5 years with the Sox than Carlos has been, because of on-base percentages of .359, .380, .401, .365,
and .374. Carlos' best season was 2004, where he was 23% better than the league. For his career he's 11% better than the league.

Here are the numbers for some left fielders in the org's history:

Lee (2000-2004) +3%, +3%, +19%, +16%, +23%
Belle (1997-1998) +16%, +71
Raines (1991-1995) -2%, +22, +38, +2, +10
Kittle (1983-1985) +18%, 0, +2%
Kemp (1982) +22%
Minnie Minoso (52-57, 60-61) +21, +33, +55, +16, +49, +35, +31, +13
Jackson (1916-1920) +66, +43, +75, +60, +72

So, if you rank the left fielders, Lee is *nowhere* near the best. Depending on how much you want to discount deadwhiteyball, it's either Joe or Minnie. And there is *no* question Minnie Minoso is the best leftfielder in White Sox history since the end of the dead ball era. Carlos Lee's best season is about the same as Steve Kemp hit in 1982 (!), and his average production is closer to Ron Kittle's than Minoso's.

Just because everybody and his sister hits 20 homers a season now because of athletic training, double-lacquered bats, a strike zone the size of a dinner plate, every-shortening fences, and slide-stepping pitchers, doesn't make them BETTER than the guys who played 20, 30, 50 years ago. The reason I am harder on hitters than pitchers is simply because a pitch right down the middle belt high is called a ball most of the time now, whereas 25 years ago
the hitter would have been sent to the dugout The reason I am harder on hitters is because there's no excuse for not hitting.

On Garland's place among starting pitchers:

Subject: [WHITESOX] Starting pitcher ranking
Taking the top 150 starting pitchers (by "VORP", which is essentially park adjusted total value added above a AAA player) and dividing them into 5 groups of 30... take it with a grain of salt, but it gives you an idea of how "unusual" a Kris Benson actually is and reminds Sox fans that they actually have two #1 starters by any reasonable metric. Remember this method will punish pitchers who miss starts because it presumes (accurately) that they are replaced by the #6 starter on the team... Don't split hairs with the data, but it gives you an idea...

Top 30 starters in 2004:
Johan Santana, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Ben Sheets, Carl Pavano, Roger Clemens, Carlos Zambrano, Brad Radke, Jason Schmidt , Livan Hernandez, Jake Peavy, Oliver Perez,Jake Westbrook, FREDDY GARCIA, Kelvim Escobar, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez, MARK BUEHRLE, Odalis Perez, Doug Davis, Tim Hudson, Rodrigo Lopez, Al Leiter, Ted Lilly, Tom Glavine, Chris Carpenter, Rich Harden, Carlos Silva, Jaret Wright, David Wells

This shows the Twins with three #1-class starters.

Second 30 starters:
C.C. Sabathia, Ryan Drese, Mike Maroth, Jason Marquis, Jeff Weaver, Mark Mulder, Matt Clement, Brad Penny, Zack Greinke, Joe Kennedy, John Thomson, Greg Maddux, Russ Ortiz, Barry Zito, Kenny Rogers, John Lackey, Brian Lawrence, Woody Williams, Josh Beckett, Jose Lima, Robert Madritsch, Kerry Wood, Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber, Dontrelle Willis, A.J. Burnett, Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin

This shows how effed up the All Star game was in 2004.

Third 30 starters:

Brett Tomko, Roy Halladay, Steve Trachsel, JON GARLAND, Bronson Arroyo, Paul Wilson, Mike Hampton, Mark Prior, Javier Vazquez, Mike Mussina, Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, Jeff Suppan, Kris Benson, Jarrod Washburn, Brandon Webb, Bartolo Colon, Mark Redman, Wade Miller, Zach Day, Vic Zambrano, David Bush, Joel Pineiro, Nate Robertson, Scott Elarton, Eric Milton, Noah Lowry, Kip Wells, Daniel Cabrera, Esteban Loaiza

Fourth 30 starters:
Josh Fogg, Paul Byrd, Andy Pettitte, Gil Meche, Jason Johnson, Aaron Cook, Adam Eaton, Randy Wolf, Rob Bell, Tomokazu Ohka, Bruce Chen, Kirk Rueter, Mark Hendrickson, Jerome Williams, Matt Morris, Sidney Ponson, Kazuhisa Ishii, Aaron Harang, Jamie Moyer, Dewon Brazelton, Cory Lidle, Erik Bedard, Jamey Wright, Cliff Lee, Vicente Padilla, Josh Towers, Gary Knotts, Tim Wakefield, Kevin Millwood

Fifth quintile:
Wil Ledezma, Jimmy Gobble, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jae Seo, Aaron Sele, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Lohse, Ismael Valdes, Tony Armas Jr., John Patterson, Sean Burnett, Juan Dominguez, Peter Munro, Joaquin Benoit, Chris Young, Scott Schoeneweis, Kirk Saarloos, Jason Jennings, Dave Williams, Victor Santos, JOSE CONTRERAS, Matt Ginter, Chan Ho Park, Mike Gosling, Mike Wood, Scott Kazmir, Chris Capuano, Jeffrey Francis, Matt Riley, Josh Hancock, Aaron
Heilman, Nick Bierbrodt, Scott Erickson

By this metric Garland is a "solid" #3 starter, 64th best in baseball.

On Jon Garland on the rest of MLB teams:

Taking into account park effects:

Number of better starters on each team in baseball than Jon Garland (VORP again):

None: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa Bay
One: Arizona, Baltimore, Colorado, Kansas City, "Washington", Pittsburgh
Two: Anaheim, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, San
Francisco, Texas, Toronto, Sox
Three: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Yankees, Mets, San Diego, St. Louis
Four:: Oakland
Five: Cubs, Florida

You can split some hairs differently but it doesn't change the overall conclusion:

Average number of pitchers per team better than Jon Garland? Two. Most common number of pitchers on a team better than Job Garland? Two.

He is a #3 or better on 2/3 of baseball. He is a textbook third starter, an average starting pitcher in the age of five-man rotations. He's marginal only for the Cubs, Florida, and Oakland. So only on a team with a KILLER pitching staff is he really a five pitcher. I'm all for making him the #5 too. But let's stop whipping the boy for posting a 4.89 ERA in a bandbox and pretending the rest of the league is still at 3.50.

On the Sox and the playoffs in 2005

There are two real questions. First, how far is the team away from the playoffs? Second, if they get into the playoffs, what ingredients are missing that win playoff games?

The answer to the first is pretty easy to estimate. 95 wins is the
threshold where a team usually gets in, even in this division. It happens to be what the 2000 White Sox won. If you win 95 and don't make it, you're just extremely unlucky. To expect to win 95 games, you need to outscore your opposition by, oh, about 140 runs. (2000 they were +139 runs, hmm). 92 wins *might* get you in, that requires a margin of about 115 runs on average.

The 2004 team scored 865 runs and allowed 831, a margin of 34 runs. That computes to an expected value of 84 wins, which is pretty close to the 83 they actually got. The 2003 team scored 791 and allowed 715, a margin of 66 runs, which computes to 89, three more than they actually got. So they need to come up with about 100 more runs worth of improvement to be considered a favorite for the division, without hoping the Twins collapse or the Indians and Tigers flail some more.

Replacing their awful fifth starter runaround with even a competent pitcher would get them 30% of the way there by itself. A healthy season from Frank Thomas and *anybody* more productive than Timo in right field might get them another 40-50% of the way there. Random luck could easily get them there, too -- I thnk that's what happened in 2000 -- but luck runs both ways. And you don't out-luck the Twins.

What wins in playoff games? According to Joe Morgan, little ball and execution. In reality, power actually wins most playoff games, power pitching and power hitting. The team with the stronger top five pitchers and starting lineup will win, and the benches are irrelevant most of the time. The roster as currently constructed with two #1 pitchers is reasonably well positioned to take a shot if they get into the playoffs. Remember, the Sox play fine against the Red Sox and Yankees, it's the West Coast and the dregs in their own division that hurt them. If they could catch the Twins, they probably stand as good a chance as anybody in the Fall Crapshoot to get to the WS -- but that's only 1 in 4.

And A Harsh Post On The Chances of Meltdown, 2005:

----- Original Message -----
From: "Douglas Gribben"
To: White Sox Mailing List
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2004 2:48 PM
Subject: [WHITESOX] Meltdown

Did anybody else read the trickle of info out of Las Vegas and come to conclusion that a meltdown is coming?

The White Sox have three players on their roster who figure to have better years next year than they did this year, because of age and/or because they were really bad in 2004. They are Joe Crede, Timo Perez, and Jason Grilli. Crede will either get better or lose his job; Perez was even worse in 2004 in terms of total production than he's ever been; and Grilli isn't really as bad as he looked.

The White Sox have a lot more players who figure to be worse in 2005. Konerko, Rowand, Uribe, and probably Freddy Garcia all played considerably better this year than they have before. Shingo's still an unknown, Frank Thomas is coming off a major injury and is 37, Carl Everett is also getting old and fat, and Jaime Burke has no significant history (and the Sox have no minor league catchers with promise at all).

The farm system, the collection of pitching question marks aside, has maybe three players who are ready to contribute in the next two years. Maybe.

Nineteen years ago Bill James wrote an essay on "The Devil's Theory of Park Effects". What he wrote was that stupid organizations in ballparks that sharply favor either the hitter or the pitcher tend to mis-evaluate their teams and get stuck on a treadmill because of it. The White Sox, who play in a very hitter-friendly park, now seem to be following that pattern. They have supposedly decided that they can spare offense (Konerko, in the latest rumor) to beef up their "thin" pitching, and that they need certified banjo hitter Omar Vizquel to shore up their defense. The fact that their pitching and defense was actually more above average than their hitting is masked by the ballpark's tendency to turn doubles into home runs. What Hal Vickery complains is "offensive inconsistency" is actually just normal, plain, old ordinary offensive mediocrity. Take away all the bombs and the team couldn't score runs at all.

The result, I predict, will be ever more futile attempts to acquire
"competent" pitchers (read: guys who aren't really any good in the first place) at the expense of what offense the team has left, and a decline into the mid to low 70s in the win column next season.

I have tried very hard to imagine a scenario where the team actually gets better next season, but I don't see where the improvement would be likely to come from, with one exception. This isn't the Texas Rangers, who have a talented core of younger players, or the Twins, with their productive farm system, or even the Indians, with an efficient offense built around smart ballplayers. The only hope would be the free agent market, but buying your way out of decline is expensive and unreliable, and the Sox fan support is too weak to sustain that.

The one exception is the starting pitching. If I pretend hard enough, I can imagine the Big Four, supplemented by some diamond-in-the-rough Esteban Loaiza 2003 clone, dominating opposing teams while the competent but hardly outstanding bullpen holds enough leads to stay in the race. I can pretend really, really hard, and see Alex Escobar blossoming into a star in right field, and Rowand continuing to hit .320, and Ben Davis finally becoming the ballplayer the scouts all said he would be. I can pretend really hard that the Twins have a brain lock, sign Omar Vizquel, and force the White Sox to spend their money somewhere where they really have a problem.

The GM of the White Sox is pretending even harder than I am. The problem with that is that pretending is not supposed to be his job, his job is to take the pretending out of it.

So do we just get to ride it out for a few more years and hope that the kids in A ball will amount to something, for a change? Given that the same bumblers are running the draft and the minors now who have run it for years, that seems to be very unlikely.

Meltdown in 2005. I'd bet on it.

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