Sunday, April 23, 2006
2006 On Its Own
Vince Galloro has a thought-provoking post over at Exile in Wrigleyville asking Sox fans to stop comparing 2006 to 2005. Vince argues:
I'm not suggesting that we should forget about the 2005 season. Far from it. Every time I see little clips of last season's magic moments, I luxuriate in the memories. We waited a long time for those moments. But my advice is to avoid using the 2005 season as a prism through which to view the 2006 season. Every baseball season should be appreciated on its own merits. Like today, for instance, a sublimely beautiful spring day that I will spend, in part, in the right-center field stands at the Cell. Enjoy the game.
Vince is right. Every season should stand on its own, although teams should make efforts not to repeat the mistakes of previous years.
And it is true, the 2006 team has a much different feel than the 2005 variety. I've slowly got this feeling over the first few weeks of the season.
First, this team walks a lot more than the 2005 variety. I remarked on that fact several times in early 2005, and Baseball Prospectus even had an article about it. The 2006 team, led by Jim Thome, walks a ton. Even Jermaine Dye - not someone who has walked at a high rate in his career - has 11 walks. Juan Uribe and Joe Crede both have four walks!
Second, the team is winning by large margins. The Sox, 12-5 overall, are 1-2 in one-run games. They are 5-2 in games decided by 2 runs or fewer - meaning that 10 of the 17 games they have played have been decided by 2 runs or more (Sox record - 7-3). It was the opposite last year - 10 of the 17 games have been decided by 2 runs or fewer (Sox record 9-1).
Third, we have some sort of freaky new Joe Crede. Three strikeouts in 55 at bats? Wow. Joe has shown the ability before, but has had some serious breakdown months. Whether it was coming back from the injury, a new stance, or whatever, he's .342 / .383 / .624 since September 10, 2005.
Finally, and most importantly, the Sox have a dominant presence in the lineup in the form of Jim Thome. Last year's team had a bunch of average - to - above - average hitters, led by Paul Konerko (136 OPS+). Jim Thome looks like he has the possibility of producing a Frank-Thomas like season. Remember those? He influences everyone around him - Konerko gets more at bats with men on base, as does Jermaine Dye. Tadahito Iguchi gets better pitches to hit, and he has really responded.
More than anything, I get the impression that whereas the 2005 team needed a lot of things to go right for them to succeed, the 2006 team needs a lot of things to go wrong for them not to succeed. I hate to jinx, or to be overconfident, but that is my feeling at this point. The foundation seems very solid. Because Javier Vazquez is this team's fifth starter, the Sox have a favorable pitching matchup in almost every game this season. Indeed, the Santana vs. Buehrle matchup on Friday was probably the first time a clearly better hurler was on the mound for the other team. Other teams must feel this too - there is no rest for the wicked with this starting rotation.
So Vince is right - let 2005 go. You'll enjoy 2006 more. This team is better.