Chicago White Sox Preview

Thursday, March 04 2004 @ 09:03 AM EST

Contributed by: Gerry

Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth from White Sox supporters, the 2004 White Sox should be as good as the 2003 Sox. The departure of Bartolo Colon and Carl Everett will be offset by better seasons from Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Joe Crede and Mark Buehrle.


Player signed Player lost
RHP Cliff Politte (Blue Jays) RHP Tom Gordon (Yankees)
RHP Shingo Takatsu (Yakult Swallows) RHP Scott Sullivan (Royals)
RHP Mike Jackson (Diamondbacks) RHP Bartolo Colon (Angels)
INF Juan Uribe (Rockies) 2B Roberto Alomar (Diamondbacks)
OF Marvin Bernard (Giants) OF Carl Everett (Expos)
1B Brian Daubach (Red Sox)
INF Tony Graffanino (Royals)


I was a little tardy when volunteers were asked to sign up to write one of these pre-season reviews. When I looked to see which team to select there were two teams left, one of them being the White Sox. That made me think, why would anyone jump at the chance to write about the White Sox? Let's be honest, the White Sox are not an appealing team. First of all they suffer badly when compared to the cross town Cubs. Sox fans just don't understand why. It is as if you have an older brother who is more popular than you. You don't think he is any smarter, you don't think he is any better. He might be a little bit prettier, but is that why he is more popular? You are just as good as him. That, my friends, is the lament of the Sox faithful, the aggrieved sibling.

The owner is disliked, really disliked. I think Jerry Reinsdorf must be one of the most unpopular men in Chicago. Steve Bartman might be more popular in Chicago than Jerry. Those of us with long memories remember Reinsdorf's hard line at the strike, only for him to open his wallet to sign everybody's pal, Albert Belle, when the strike ended. Then there was "el foldo" when he threw in the towel in mid-season when the Sox still had a chance to win. Most fans think he is more interested in making money than fielding a winning team. But it is not just the money, the Sox appear to go out of their way to find ways to alienate their fans. At least one fan has commented that 2004 would be better if Reinsdorf croaked. That was a little harsh but it goes to show you the depth of dislike for Jerry in Chicago. There are persistent rumours that the Sox would like to trade Magglio Ordonez to save money. Kenny Williams denies it, but fans are suspicious as it fits with Jerry's modus operandi. Ordonez should be their best player in 2004, if he gets the chance. In my daydreams, I had wondered if the Sox failure to win the division in 2003 was a sign from God that maybe he was unhappy with Jerry, but then I remembered Jeffrey Loria, so I figure God has taken a pass on the whole World Series thing.

The general manager is flaky. Blue Jay fans still remember "Sirotka-gate". I know Gord Ash is a nice guy, but when Kenny did that deal, he received a special award from the used-car salesman's association. Jays fans' other abiding memory of Kenny Williams is his baserunning. The play where he changed direction on a steal attempt about four times still ranks as one of the best blooper plays ever. Now Chicago fans get to experience the same Kenny, still confused, changing directions, and no-one can figure where he is going. The recent fanfest in Chicago was a PR nightmare for the Sox when Kenny did not take too kindly to some comments from unhappy fans. He gave back as good as he got. He should have known better, and the Sox always find a way to alienate their fans.

Some Sox fans wonder how Kenny still has his job. He did sign Esteban Loaiza and I bet even he was surprised at what he got. However many of his other moves have been unsuccessful. Kenny acquired Todd Ritchie for Kip Wells and Josh Fogg. He also traded Keith Foulke for Billy Koch. Kenny is probably batting under 500 on his trades. He cannot afford more bad deals. Nobody knows what team Kenny wants to put on the field. One minute he wants to sign free agents, then he needs to cut salary. The Sox offered big money to Bartolo Colon. They did not spend that money but now they might trade Ordonez? Do they have money, or are they short? Kenny's latest position is that he has a lot of players with big hearts, who will come together to prevail in 2004. That might be right but it also might be a smokescreen to cover his inability to upgrade the team over the winter.

Jerry Manuel was not an appealing manager. He was almost fired many times before the final push out the door. He just did not look comfortable as manager, a red ass from sitting on the "hot seat" for too long can do that to you. Sox fans did not like many of his choices, lineups, starting pitchers, etc.

Then there is the stadium. I could go on, and on....

So, what is appealing about the Sox, the players? Esteban Loaiza? Frank Thomas?

Is there any good news here? Many fans bemoan Williams's "stand pat" performance in the off season. The good news is the White Sox still have a good chance to win the division in 2004.


2003 - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Entering 2003 the White Sox had a good chance to win the AL Central. The Batter's Box pre-season poll had 58% of Bauxites going with the Twins and 42% the White Sox. In the end the Sox fell just short but most Sox fans thought they should have won the division. The Sox lost their last five games against Minnesota, all in September, to put the final nail in their coffin. The Sox were tied with the Twins at the start of their seven game matchup in September. The Sox won the first two games, then lost five straight. The final result was in their hands and they blew it. So what happened in '03?

2003 = 86-76 (.531 - 2nd in AL Central)
791 RS / 715 RA (.550 Pythagorean)

2002 = 81-81 (.500 - 2nd in AL Central)
856 RS / 798 RA (.535 Pythagorean)

In 2003, the offense lost 65 runs, while the pitching improved by 83 runs. The Sox won five more games in 2003.

Lee Sinins publishes Runs Created Above Average ("RCAA") and Runs Saved Above Average ("RSAA") for all major leaguers. Here are the 2003 final numbers:

RCAA
Frank Thomas 48
Magglio Ordonez 39
Carl Everett 11
Carlos Lee 11
Tony Graffanino 4
Aaron Rowand 3
Aaron Miles 1
Josh Paul 1
Jamie Burke 0
Brian Daubach 0
Jose Valentin 0
D'Angelo Jimenez -1
Joe Borchard -5
Sandy Alomar Jr. -7
Joe Crede -7
Roberto Alomar -10
Willie Harris -11
Armando Rios -11
Miguel Olivo -14
Paul Konerko -22


RSAA
Esteban Loaiza 39
Damaso Marte 26
Bartolo Colon 16
Tom Gordon 11
Mark Buehrle 8
Kelly Wunsch 7
Scott Sullivan 1
Jon Adkins 0
Gary Glover 0
Scott Schoeneweis 0
Jon Garland -1
Matt Ginter -3
Mike Porzio -3
Jose Paniagua -4
David Sanders -4
Josh Stewart -4
Neal Cotts -5
Billy Koch -8
Rick White -11
Dan Wright -16


2003 - The Good

He's baaack
Frank Thomas returned to form. The 2003 Thomas was a reasonable facsimile of the 2000 "Big Hurt" Frank. The alien inhabiting his body had gone back to planet Zerblat and there was a lot more "Hurtin" in 2003. With his improved play came a better attitude, Frank was a little less cranky in '03. Thomas was the best offensive player on the team. Thomas's BA was only .267 but 100 walks and 42 home runs do wonders for your OPS and your RCAA.

2003 - Who is that guy?
When Esteban Loaiza joined the White Sox, it was on the heels of two disappointing seasons in Toronto and the Sox took a gamble, albeit a cheap gamble. It was the signing of the year. I checked back to Batter's Box last year when Loaiza signed with the Sox. There were a couple of messages in passing but it was like a non-event. Aaron Gleeman wrote the Sox preview for Primer last year. His comment was: "With the Sox rotation as it is and some possible injuries on the horizon, Loaiza will probably be asked to simply soak up some innings this year. Thatís not something for Chicago fans to get excited about, but Loaiza is better than some of the other rotation options." In summary a huge yawn. So what happened? The answer is Loaiza started missing more bats. His K rate jumped from 5.2/9 IP to 8.2/9 IP. His hits allowed dropped proportionately. Loaiza had learned a new cutter when he was with the Jays and now he had Mariano Rivera like stuff and the hitters had no idea what was happening.

Loaiza had 23 win shares last year. If the Sox had signed a more average pitcher, like John Garland, the difference would be 13 win shares or 4 games in the standings.

2003 - Steady Eddie's
Magglio Ordonez and Bartolo Colon performed as expected. Ordonez, Thomas and Loaiza were the top performers on the team. Ordonez in the last five years has never hit under .300 and has averaged over 30 home runs per year. Colon pitched as expected.

2003 - The Bad

Tight Rope Walker
Jerry Manuel. The White Sox under-performed their Pythagorean expectation in 2002 and 2003. The difference was 6 games in 2002 and 3 games in 2003. In June the teams record was 25-33 and rumours were rife that Jerry would be axed. But the team played well for the next three months, until they had another losing record in September. Jerry just seemed to be a little bit overmatched. The team did not appear to rally around him, and he made some curious decisions.

2003 - Jekyll and Hyde
Billy Koch. In 2002 Keith Foulke struggled in Chicago and earned a trip to Oakland where he excelled. Billy Koch came in, off an excellent 2002 for the A's, and struggled. Fingers were pointed at Jerry Manuel and the pitching coach, Don Cooper: Manuel is gone, but Cooper still survives. Blue Jay fans know that Koch was always a bit hit or miss. He throws hard but his pitches can be too straight. Manuel's closers tend to struggle for some reason. Now Ozzie Guillen will work on Billy's fragile psyche.

2003 - The Ugly
Paul Konerko's game went south faster than a snow bird in November. Konerko was never a great player but he was a solid above average first baseman. But 2003 was a disaster. Konerko was almost the worst 1B in the league, measured by RCAA. (Ken Harvey was the worst). Konerko started the year badly and was hitting .213 on April 25th. But then he began to improve and his average increased to .240 in early May. But that was a tease and by the all-star break he was hitting .189. .189 is bad for a slick fielding shortstop, but a big firstbaseman should be forced to wear a skirt with that average. After the all-star break Konerko hit .275 with an OPS of 853, which is where he needs to be in 2004.

Summary
Every team has weaknesses. Although Jerry Manuel was a disappointment managers usually are not as important as we think. Koch's meltdown cost the Sox two or three games. In the final analysis Konerko was the biggest disappointment. His shortfall was worth about 5 wins. I think it is fair to say that had Konerko had a decent season in 2003, the Sox would have won the AL Central.


2004

Lineup

C Miguel Olivo/Sandy Alomar
1B Paul Konerko
2B Willie Harris
SS Jose Valentin
3B Joe Crede
LF Carlos Lee
CF Aaron Rowand
RF Magglio Ordonez
DH Frank Thomas

SP Esteban Loaiza
SP Mark Buehrle
SP John Garland
SP Scott Schoenweiss
SP Dan Wright/Jon Rauch/Josh Stewart

CL Billy Koch
BP Damaso Marte
BP Kelly Wunsch
BP Shingo Takatsu
BP Cliff Politte
BP Mike Jckson

Manager Ozzie Guillen

The Sox roster has not changed significantly from 2003. Bartolo Colon and Carl Everett are the major departures. Their spots will be filled from the Sox roster, there have been no major additions.

2004 - The Manager

Which Ozzie are the Sox getting? Kenny Williams hopes they are getting Tony Pena V2 who will motivate the team with his belief and enthusiasm. But when Ozzie was introduced to the media he took some shots at Frank Thomas. So there is also the possibility that the Ozzie and Frank show could polarize the clubhouse into two camps. When Ozzie played for the Sox, he and Frank were not compatible. Ozzie used to needle Frank. If Frank had a bad day Ozzie would look to see if Griffey had done well and talk loudly about it in the clubhouse. He felt this motivated Frank to do better. By all accounts Frank can be moody. Will Ozzie's old ways of motivating Thomas work in 2004? The start was not good. Frank was "unavailable" when Ozzie called over the winter. Frank has shown up in Arizona and says everything is good between Ozzie and him. However if Ozzie gets on Frank's wrong side, look for Frank to sulk and maybe ask for a trade.

2004 - The Offense

Most of the Sox hitters had much better numbers after the 2003 All-Star game than before. Look at this chart:

SLG OBP OPS
Pre All-Star 408 319 727
Post All-Star 496 348 844

The Sox offense led the league in OPS after the break. When I look at established levels of performance most of the Sox hitters under-performed in the first half of 2003. 2004 will see an improved Sox offense despite the loss of Carl Everett.

The offense is built around the three big boppers, Ordonez, Lee and Thomas. I expect Ordonez to be the Sox's top offensive player in 2004. He is 30 and his numbers dipped a little in 2003. Expect a big year in 2004. Ordonez is entering his free agent year and reportedly he has told the Sox he does not want to resign. If the Sox do not start well he could be traded before the deadline. Ordonez had 39 RCAA in 2003. I expect that to grow to 49 RCAA in 2004.

Carlos Lee will be 27 and should take a big step up. Lee ended 2003 at 11 RCAA, but like many of his teammates had a much better second half. Expect 25 RCAA in 2004.

Frank Thomas is 35 and will likely not be as strong as 2003. His relationship with Ozzie Guillen will be paramount, but Thomas should be able to put together another good year. Expect Thomas to drop from 49 RCAA to 40 RCAA.

Joe Crede will be 26 and should be better. Again Crede was much better in the second half of 2003. When a young player gets comfortable like that he usually holds that level the next year. Expect Crede to go from -7 to +10 RCAA.

Jose Valentin is old and should be worse. Jose will be 35 this year and his performance will likely drop from a 0 RCAA to -5.

The wild card Paul Konerko will rebound and have a much better 2004. Konerko's second half stats in 2003 were close to his career average. Konerko should be extremely focused coming into spring training and will hope to get off to a good start. At age 28 Konerko should be hitting his peak, offensively. His -22 RCAA should rebound to a +5.

I don't see much change at catcher, second base or centre field. CF will drop off somewhat without Carl Everett. Aaron Rowand was injured early in 2003, but hit well after the all star break. However that was only 46 at bats so nothing to get excited about. The Everett/Rowand tandem were 14 RCAA in 2003. Rowand appears to be an average player and to date has not established himself as a fixture in CF. Assume 0 RCAA or a drop of 14 runs from 2003.

Second base will be manned by Willie Harris. Roberto Alomar and Harris stunk up the joint last year with a combined -21 RCAA. Now Harris has the job. Harris will take a walk but a .250 batting average would be welcomed by the Sox. Assume no change in 2004.

Catcher will still be a mix of Miguel Olivo and Sandy Alomar. I expect little change.

So expect more from some of the hitters as they reach their prime hitting ages. The shortfalls could come from Frank Thomas, Jose Valentin and replacing a half season of Carl Everett. The overall negatives are 28 runs. Improvements from Konerko, Ordonez, Lee and Crede will total 68 runs. So I expect the Sox to score 40 more runs in 2004 than 2003. I am going to estimate 831 runs.


2004 - The Pitching

Loaiza and Garland's performance will be similar to 2003. Buehrle should be better. Colon will be missed.

Now some of you may wonder what I am thinking when I say Loaiza's performance will be similar. I believe that in 2003 Esteban was able to use his new pitch to dominate hitters. He did not improve in 2003 because of luck, he increased his strikeouts because he was able to fool the hitters more than he did in 2002. He has shown this skill and should maintain it. He might slip a little, but he will be roughly equivalent to 2003. Loiaza had 39 RSAA in 2003. I am forecasting his ERA to increase by .30. This translates to 7 more runs allowed.

John Garland was Average Joe in 2003. I see no reason why that should be any different in 2004.

Mark Buehrle was a little disappointing in 2003. Buehrle was one the leagues top pitchers in 2001 and 2002. Buehrle started 2003 poorly and was 5-10 with a 4.15 ERA after the first half. Buehrle found his form and knocked almost a run off his ERA in the second half. I expect a rebound in 2004. Assume a 10 run improvement in 2004.

The loss of Bartolo Colon is a big hole to fill. Colon had 16 RSAA in 2003. Scott Schoenweiss apparently has the job. Schoenweiss is no Colon. Expect him to have an ERA around 5. Schoenweiss will be a 25 run shortfall from 2003.

The #5 pitcher will be one of Dan Wright, Josh Stewart or Jon Rauch. Dan Wright was the worst pitcher on the staff last year with a -16 RSAA. None of these guys inspire confidence, assume no change.

Overall the starters will be -22 runs from 2003.

The bullpen in 2003 was a mix of very good and very bad. Among the good were Damaso Marte (+26), Tom Gordon (+11) and Kelly Wunsch (+7). The bad featured Billy Koch (-8) and Rick White (-11). Gordon is gone now. He will be replaced by Shingo Takatsu, aka "Mr. Zero". Takatsu took over from Sasaki as Japan's career save leader and got the name Mr. Zero from his performances in Japan. He has junky stuff and could be the closer or a setup man, depending on Koch. The Sox say they will not let Mr. Zero pitch against AL teams in spring training. They do not want the hitters to get a feel for his stuff. Expect the bullpen to be worse without Gordon and worse from Marte (because he had a career year in 2003), but better from Koch. I think Guillen's positive attitude will help Koch. Net minus 15 runs. The Sox also added ex-Jay Cliff Politte and Mike Jackson to the bullpen mix.

The starting pitching will be worse than 2003 by 22 runs, and the bullpen worse by 15 runs, in total a decrease of 37 runs and a total runs allowed of 752 runs.


Summary

Bartolo Colon and Carl Everett have left at a cost of 27 RCAA. I have forecast Paul Konerko to improve by 27 RCAA. That is why I expect the 2004 Sox to be very similar to the 2003 Sox. I am forecasting the Offense to be better by 40 runs, and the pitching to be worse by 37. That means Runs scored - 831; Runs Allowed - 752. That computes to 89 wins. I have not tried to compensate for a forecast improvement in the overall talent level in the AL in 2004. Within the AL central where the Sox will play 47% of their games, I believe Minnesota will again be their major threat. Aaron Gleeman will be by next week with his Twins preview. I believe KC will drop back after their big jump up in 2003. Bill James showed years ago that teams who take a big jump ahead one year usually regress towards .500 the next. KC is a prime target for that regression. Minnesota still has their strong pitching staff, so I am looking for a repeat battle between the Twins and the White Sox in 2004.

Farm System

When Kenny Williams traded for Carl Everett, Roberto Alomar, Scott Sullivan and Scott Schoenweiss last year he depleted the Sox farm system. Also a couple of highly rated prospects, Jon Rauch and Joe Borchard, appear to have fizzled. The Sox have one premium prospect, Jeremy Reed. Reed is highly rated and vied with Alexis Rios for minor league player of the year in 2003. After Reed the Sox have one other player in Baseball America's top 100 prospects. Pitcher Kris Honel is at #55. Honel will be at AA in 2004 and could be in the rotation in 2005. After Reed and Honel the pickings are slim. I have not seen Baseball America's organization rating yet but I expect the Sox to be bottom half, if not bottom quartile.

Epilogue

The final words in this review come from the GM. "People want to look at this team as being stripped down, and we certainly, based on how we ended the season last year, appear on paper not to be as strong. But the one thing you have to be mindful of in the sports arena is how much desire, heart and determination your guys have. From that standpoint, I feel good about what we are taking down to spring training.''

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