The White Sox Two-Player Problem

Ozzie Guillen is not a happy man. He hasn’t been all season, really. His team figured to play a big part in the AL Central race this year, but instead they’re the poster boys for the division’s mediocrity. The pitching staff has been fine1, but the offense has fallen far afoul of expectations2. Still, only five of their regulars are currently hitting worse than their ZiPS projections. Of those, one is close, one is a rookie, and one is performing about in line with 20103. The Sox offensive deficiency stems mainly from two culprits who have dragged down the entire unit: Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. It’s because of these two that the Sox aren’t enjoying more of a competition with the Tigers for the NL Central crown.

After two months of futility, I inserted an average Adam Dunn into the Sox lineup and found that his poor play was costing them a win, maybe two, in the standings. His hitting hasn’t gotten any better since then, so he’s cost them plenty more by now. Rios had cost the team plenty by that point, too4, and like Dunn he hasn’t shown any improvement since then. It has gotten to the point where Guillen has started penciling Alejandro de Aza’s name on the lineup card in Rios’s place.

As one might expect, given the Sox woes this season, Guillen has become more and more animated with the media. His words center mostly on the offense, and in particular its approach at the plate. But if we look at the White Sox team page we can see that it’s really three players dragging down the entire unit. For the moment Brent Morel can get a pass, because he’s a rookie and maybe not that good. But seeing Rios and Dunn around him at the bottom of that list is highly discouraging. It’s easy to imagine that the Central would be a tighter race if even those two started hitting.

How much different would the Sox offense look if both Dunn and Rios reached their preseason projections? We can make some quick and dirty substitutions, using their preseason ZiPS numbers instead of their actual accumulated ones, while factoring in the same number of plate appearances. As expected, both Dunn and Rios go from below average players to above, and in Dunn’s case well above5. The net result brings the team from below average to well above average. In fact, they’d sit ahead of the Blue Jays for No. 5 in the American League with 39.6 runs above average. That’s just seven runs behind the Central-leading Tigers.

With their offense performing reasonably in line with expectations, the White Sox pitching would almost certainly vault them ahead of the Tigers in the AL Central. While the Tigers would maintain a small advantage on offense, the White Sox have a considerably superior pitching staff, besting Detroit’s staff by a little more than 60 runs. That more than compensates for the seven-run difference on offense. Detroit does have a small advantage on defense6, but that’s hardly enough to overcome the difference pitching creates.

It must be tough on Guillen and the White Sox brass to observe what’s happening on the field. They made quality personnel decisions and put together a quality team for 2011. Had those players put up seasons reasonably in line with expectations, they’d sit atop the division and probably would have added players instead of trading a useful pitcher at the deadline. Instead they’re on the outside, but not far, looking in, as they have been all season. Even with perfectly league-average hitters in Dunn’s and Rios’s places they’d have a shot in the Central7. But as it stands, those two are going to hold them back from any 2011 postseason hopes.

1In AL: 7th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 1st in xFIP, 1st in WAR. (Back)

2-26.1 wRAA, with a power-loaded offense is quite below expectations. (Back)

3Juan Pierre is close with a .303 projected and .293 actual wOBA; Gordon Beckham is just below his wOBA from last year, and Brent Morel’s projection can be somewhat excused, because he had no MLB experience to project. (Back)

4He was hitting .201/.253/.306 then and has hit .214/.250/.280 since. (Back)

5His projected wRAA is 24.9, a 36.7 runs swing from his actual production. (Back)

6Detroit’s defensive efficiency is .706 to the White Sox .703, though both are in the bottom half of the league. (Back)

7They’d have a team wRAA of 9.1, which would rank 8th in the AL and only 0.3 runs away from No. 7. (Back)

Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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12 years ago

I concur. Adam Dunn blew my mind away and taught me baseball on the surface seems mechanical but under the core, it is organic. As for Alex Rios, it is beyond me but one name pops up into my noggin, and that is Zack Grienke – maybe a sports psychologist can alleviate the inner problems and anxiety of EXPECTATIONS and PRESSURE.