Chester Hajduk's Cup of Coffee

All White Sox. No more, no less. Except more. Lots more.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

On to Greener Pastures

There comes a time in every blog's life when it must grow up, face the world, and be what it will be. For Chester's Cup of Coffee, that time has come. No, we're not dissappearing - we're moving. We've been asked by the people who run Most Valuable Network to take over their White Sox site, and we've obliged. From now on, you can find all the same Chester's content at:

whitesox.mostvaluablenetwork.com

Our name is also changing upon arrival at MVN; from here on out our blog will be called "The Bard's Room," in honor of the bar/dining room at Old Comiskey Park where Sox reporters, players, and team personnel met to hang out and talk baseball.

So please come check us out at the new address. Joining MVN should give us a lot more traffic, and ability to do things that we simply can't here at blogspot, so we're hoping it will be a major improvement. You can even sign up there for an RSS feed (top left of the page), to get an email notifying you of new posts.

Thank you for reading - we truly appreciate it. However, there's no reason to stop; see you in The Bard's Room.

Yowzah!

Wow - what a game. I have to admit that while watching it, I regressed to pre-World Series Championship mode, where I assumed everything that could possibly go wrong would. And given the way the Sox played (poorly, that is), it would have seemed perfectly normal for us to lose 3-1. I was actually shocked by the comeback, both by Cintron's homer (made possible by a chance occurrence) and by the fact that we didn't throw away the lead in the 9th.

My next sentence was going to be about Sox starter Freddy Garcia, but then I struggled with how exactly to structure it. So I'll give you two options, and let you decide:

A) Garcia looked terrible, but somehow settled down enough to throw the minimum definition of a quality start (6 innings, 3 runs).

B) Garcia did throw a quality start, a small miracle given how poorly he pitched - it looked like the bottom third of the Tigers' order was taking batting practice against him.

I'm actually leaning a bit towards A, mostly because Garcia retired eight of the final nine batters he faced (and the one guy who did reach base got there on a bunt single), but B is certainly true as well.

There would have been no need for Cintron's heroics if the Sox had brought home a few of the nine runners they stranded on base. But I do fault Ozzie for a tactical error that had the potential of costing the team a run or two: in the bottom of the 2nd inning, after Jermaine Dye cut the Tigers' lead in half and the Sox put the next two batters on first and second, Guillen had Cintron attempt a sacrifice bunt, trying to move the runners to second and third with one out. However, the bunt failed, with A.J. Pierzynski being thrown out at third.

But why even attempt such a bunt? We can do a cost-benefit analysis using one of my favorite tools - the Expected Runs Matrix. Basically, the Matrix tells us how many runs are scored on average during an inning, given the runners on base and the number of outs. When a situation changes, you can see how many expected runs were gained or lost. This season, teams with runners on first and second and no outs have scored an average of 1.625 runs during that inning. Let's say Cintron's bunt succeeds, and the Sox have runners on second and third and one out: that situation yields an average of 1.438 runs. So by bunting the guy over, the Sox would actually lose some ground; this happens because outs are much more precious than baserunner positions. But what if the bunt fails, as it did last night, and the defensive team gets the lead runner out at third? With runners on first and second and one out, teams score 0.919 runs on average. So if the bunt works, we're in worse shape, and if it fails, then we're definitely in worse shape.

But perhaps using the 2006 data is not helpful, as only a third of a season has been played. Then let's use the data for the three year period before this season, 2003-2005. During that stretch, teams in the initial situation scored, on average, 1.497 runs. With a succesful bunt, that number dropped to 1.438. With a failed bunt, with the lead runner thrown out at third, that number dropped to 0.927. So, the numbers for the three year period aren't as extreme, but the point remains the same: there is a very minor negative impact (-0.059 runs) of succesfully laying down the sacrifice bunt, and a major negative impact (-0.57 runs) of trying to do so but failing (half a run is a lot when teams only score about 4.5 per game).

The move is a little more excusable when you consider that the next batter up after Cintron was Brian Anderson, who has struggled mightily at the plate thus far. However, the bunt attempt was still foolish, and for three additional reasons beyond the statistical one detailed above: 1) playing for one run - which lessens your chance for a big inning by giving away an out - is idiotic in the 2nd inning, especially in a high run-scoring environment like The Cell; 2) playing for one run makes more sense for a team that hits poorly, which the Sox do not (.276/.350/.462 after last night); and 3) the runner on second base was our very slow catcher, thereby improving the chances that the Tigers would throw out the lead runner.

Two more quick things:

The Sox selected University of Texas right-hander Kyle McCulloch with their first pick in the amateur draft yesterday. Selecting a college pitcher fits in well with their recent draft strategy, which you can see here in an interesting study; basically, the Sox favor college players, with a pretty even split between hitters and pitchers. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus had this to say of McCulloch: "The Longhorns' ace this year, McCulloch was solid nearly every time out, but both his statistics and his stuff lacked any sort of 'wow' factor. It's not that teams stopped liking him, it's more that they found other guys that they liked better. McCulloch has a ton of polish and it's very easy to see him as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter... but not much more."

Lastly, if you watched the game on tv last night, perhaps you caught this gem from Hawk Harrelson: "Fernando Rodney, he of the good changeup Rodneys."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rough Patch

After Friday's loss, the Sox had played 54 games, or exactly one-third of the season. You know what that means: another installment of my meaningless line-score game.

The Sox went 3-6 during the "bottom of the third." They were only outscored 43-39, but bear in mind that one of their only wins was an 11-0 drubbing of the Indians, so the run differential was actually much worse. I give the team a little credit due to the fact that the level of competition was high - Oakland, Toronto, Cleveland, and Texas are all good teams. But the Sox played too poorly, and threw away too many winnable games, for me to the give them the score of 2 that the tough schedule implies. Therefore, they get only a 1, by far their worst half-inning of the season so far:

Team
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Total
Opposition
3 2 1 - - - - - - 6
White Sox
6 3 1 - - - - - - 10

Friday, June 02, 2006

Please, Relieve the Pain

Since Jake chose to focus on the positive (the stunning production of the middle of our order) after last night's debacle, I thought I would mention a few things the game made me think about:

1.) We have the worst middle relief of any of the four contenders in our division. And it's not even close.

Setting up Joe Nathan, the Twins have Juan Rincon (2.00 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) and the so far disappointing Jesse Crain (6.94 ERA, 1.80 WHIP), who, based on his stats the last two years, should get it together shortly. Setting up the admittedly mediocre Todd Jones, the Tigers have Fernando Rodney (1.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) and Joel Zumaya (2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP). Either of these guys is capable of coming in and blowing the opposition away, with a combined 56 K's in 45 IP so far. The same, I fear, will soon be said of the Indians' tandem of Rafael Betancourt (3.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) and Fernando Cabrera (6.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). Cabrera got off to a bad start this year but he's got 58 K's in 53 career major league innings and, after a stint on the DL, registered a 1.64 ERA in May. Betancourt also served time on the DL this season, but has a solid history as a setup man and has given up nothing in 7 innings since retuning in mid-May. Thus, what looked like a glaring weakness for the Indians a few weeks ago (back when Guillermo Mota was routinely serving up 8th inning bombs), now looks like it could be a strength, just as it was last year for Cleveland.

And who do the Sox have setting up for Bobby Jenks? So far, I would submit the answer is, "nobody." Not one person we can count on to get guys out, much less strike them out (no one besides Jenks averages anything approaching a strikeout per inning, which is really what you need late in games against strong hitting teams like the Indians). Last night, Thornton, McCarthy, Cotts and Nelson were successively unimpressive. We know what's happened to Politte. In my opinion, if the Sox are going to be successful this year, definitely in the post season and maybe even to get there, they are going to need a shutdown eighth inning reliever - and they aren't going to get him out of retirement (like Nelson) or the minors (much as Jeff Farnsworth has impressed so far). Maybe Dustin Hermanson will come back but I doubt it. In the end, Kenny Williams is going to need to trade for somebody like Tom Gordon, Scott Linebrink or (gulp) Bobby Howry. Right now, none of the teams those guys are on would make those trades, but a couple months down the line you never know. The one guy I can think of who might be available in the near future is the Dodgers' Denys Baez (Gagne is back and Baez is close to falling behind Saito and Broxton on LA's depth chart). Maybe LA would be interested in, say, Casey Rogowski?

Anyway, the point is, there are going to be a lot more games like last night until we bring someone in. Until then, we are going to continue having trouble holding leads against the likes of the Indians/Yankees/Red Sox/Blue Jays/Rangers.

2.) Brian Anderson should be starting almost every day in center field.

Maybe you were covering your eyes and cursing and missed it, but right after Ronnie Belliard's 3-run smash last night Aaron Boone hit a long fly ball to center field. Rob Mackowiak made a valiant effort but was nowhere close to catching it. The result: For the second time this series, a ball that would have been caught by Brian Anderson went for a triple, directly costing us a run.

How do I know Brian Anderson would have caught the ball? Well, I don't. However, there is a fair amount of evidence suggesting Brian Anderson is the best defensive center fielder in baseball so far this season. He has a 1,000 fielding percentage (and I don't think it gets much better than that) and is leading the major leagues in range factor, at 3.36, handily ahead of the likes of Andruw Jones (2.95) and Torii Hunter (2.85), and way ahead of the great Aaron Rowand (2.42). Where does Rob Mackowiak clock in? Mackowiak - and it's not his fault, he's not a center fielder - has a range factor of 2.36, which would place him 17th among 23 qualifying center fielders. This is the guy Mr. Defense manager Ozzie Guillen has put in the center of his outfield. Given that, in large part because of the middle-of-the-order hitting Jake documented, we are not having any problems scoring runs right now, I simply don't get the insistence that we need to platoon Anderson because he's hitting .164.

As my dad likes to say, nothing is more underrated than outfield defense. When outfielders make mistakes or don't get to balls, an out turns more often than not directly into a run. With the amount that teams put the ball in play against our pitchers, it's just not worth it to sacrifice defense for a few singles a week.

I hope that after Anderson serves his suspension, Guillen, who may have already talked himself into a corner on this one, will reverse course on the platoon. Now it would be nice tonight if Garland could keep the ball in the park for a few innings (didn't Garland used to be a groundball pitcher?)

Knock On Wood

I consider myself a very logical guy - rational, skeptical in the scientific sense, even-handed. I subscribe to Scientific American, and have for many years. I'm not religious, and faith is just about the exact opposite of logic and science (although I think it's possible for them to co-exist, such as in the belief that God created evolution). And yet occasionally - very, very occasionally - I am superstitious, and always about something sports-related. So it makes perfect sense to me that after yesterday, when I sung the praises of Neal Cotts and Matt Thornton, they would go out and, with the help of some other guys in the bullpen, blow a very winnable game. I accept responsibility for jinxing them, and will do my best to avoid doing so again in the future.

Having said that, I'm now going to break my promise and laud a couple of Soxx (the double-x means plural, remember), meaning they'll no doubt injure themselves tonight and be out for the year. Great. Anyway:

If I were to ask who the Sox' best two hitters have been over the past 15 years, I think the answers would be pretty clear. Frank Thomas is a lock, and I will not even entertain any arguments to the contrary. He's the best Sock hitter ever, and not by a small margin, so clearly he wins for the much shorter time-frame in question as well. And the second best hitter, with all apologies to Paul Konerko (and a mini apology to Albert Belle's monster 1998), was Magglio Ordonez. It was very easy to forget about Maggs last year, what with him being injured and the Sox winning the World Series and all (note: roughly seven months later, it still feels good to type that), but from 2000 to 2003 (and to a lesser extent in 1999) he was one of the premier right fielders in the game. He was also absurdly consistent; check out these batting lines:

Year AVG OBP SLG HR RBI R H
1999 301 349 510 30 117 100 188
2000 315 371 546 32 126 102 185
2001 305 382 533 31 113 97 181
2002 320 381 597 38 135 116 189
2003 317 380 546 29 99 95 192

With the exception of 1999, when his rate stats showed him to be more on the ascent to stardom than actually there, and 2002, when he was a viable MVP candidate, Maggs hit like a very predictable machine during that span. In my opinion, it's very clear that he and Frank were the cream of the Sox crop.

Both ex-Sox sluggers are experiencing a resurgence these days. Magglio, healthy for the first time since 2003, is hitting .318/.363/.551 with 12 homers and 39 RBI for the (yikes) first-place Tigers. And although Thomas' batting average this season is still just a minute .229, he's been on a hot streak ever since he came to Chicago to play the Sox: in those 11 games, he's hitting .400/.523/.857 with five homers and nine RBI. For the season, his on-base and slugging percentages of .353 and .484 are well above average.

I bring this up because so far this season, the Sox' two best hitters - Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome - are Ordonez' and Thomas' respective replacements. In fact, Dye and Thome haven't just been the Sox' best hitters - they've been the American League's best hitters. After last night's game (in which Dye hit two homers and drove in five runs, and Thome went 1-for-3 with a walk and three RBI), they had the two highest OPSes of anyone not named Albert Poo-Holes. Along with Konerko, they currently form the best 1-2-3 punch in the majors; here are the top trios, ranked by average OPS:

Team
Players
Average OPS
White Sox
Thome-Dye-Konerko
1037
Blue Jays
Rios-Wells-Glaus
1000
Indians
Hafner-Blake-Broussard
993
Cardinals
Pujols-Rolen-Eckstein
987
Yankees
Giambi-Rodriguez-Posada
977
Red Sox
Ramirez-Lowell-Youkilis
957
Rockies
Hawpe-Holliday-Atkins
956
Phillies
Howard-Abreu-Burrell
951
Pirates
Bay-Sanchez-Wilson
931
Mets
Beltran-Wright-Delgado
924
A's
Swisher-Chavez-Thomas
922
Astros
Ensberg-Berkman-Biggio
921
Marlins
Cabrera-Ramirez-Uggla
916
Brewers
Lee-Hall-Fielder
913
Braves
McCann-Jones-Jones
912
Tigers
Shelton-Ordonez-Guillen
910

The Sox' top-heavy offensive formula has made up for some of the deficiencies at the bottom of the batting order (such as Uribe's .208/.243/.333 and Anderson's .164/.271/.291), although it certainly helps to have a number of other guys (Pods, Pierzynski, Mackowiak, Iguchi) with good on-base percentages, and another (Crede) who slugs pretty well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Road Bump

Is it safe to say this is a slump? Perhaps just a rut? I don't know. On the one hand, we've lost four out of six games, which is never good. On the other hand, those games were against two good teams: the Blue Jays are on track to win 90 games, and have played a very tough schedule so far, and the Indians, even though they're only at .500 in the standings, have a run differential (285 runs, 224 runs against) that says their record should be more or less just like Toronto's. Furthermore, when you consider the 3-game sweep of the A's that preceded these two series, it doesn't look all that bad. If the Sox can win tonight and salvage a series split, I'll feel ok. If they lose again tonight, well, then perhaps it's time to start worrying.

In other news, Ozzie finally came out and said that Anderson and Mackowiak will platoon in center field. It has become more and more obvious in recent weeks that Anderson no longer held the job exclusively, especially since Mackowiak hit .344/.425/.500 in May. While this makes sense on one end - Macko has hit righties to the tune of .296/.390/.465 this season - I'm not so sure about the other. Anderson has been atrocious against lefties this year (.115/.242/.212), even worse than against righties (.207/.299/.362), and I think perhaps he needs some time at AAA. Sure, you worry about damaging his confidence by sending him down, but I think letting him continue to get manhandled by major league pitchers is potentially much worse.

I like the idea, now being floated around, of having Pablo Ozuna play center field against lefites, as he's torched them at a .382/.432/.676 clip this year in limited action. However, I'm skeptical about his defense; he's barely able to handle left field yet, let alone center. If they went that route, I'd prefer that they sent him to AAA to play center every day for a week or so, to learn the position a bit without risking it in actual Sox games. I get the feeling the team would never do that, though, as Ozzie values Ozuna too much to give him up for a bit (not to mention that I think Ozuna might be out of transaction options). Of course, if Ozuna played center against lefties, then we'd be stuck playing Pods against them too, so perhaps the Sox are right to give Anderson another chance. Brian's actually displayed a fair amout of patience at the plate this year - .124 walks per plate appearance, as compared to the AL average of .085 - so if he can get a few more hits to fall in, he'll at least be servicable.

Lastly, it appears the the lefties in our 'pen have finally found their groove. During May, Neal Cotts had an ERA of 2.53 and a WHIP of 0.84 in 10 and two-thirds innings, while Matt Thornton had an ERA of 3.27 and a 0.91 WHIP in 11 innings. If Jeff Nelson can throw strikes (7 walks in 7 and two-thirds innings this year between Charlotte and Chicago), and Brandon McCarthy can regain some of his early-season form, we'll have a nice righty tandem to compliment the lefties in settting up Jenks. You'll notice I didn't include Cliff Politte in that group; that's because I think this is just going to be a really rough year for him, and that the Sox should send him to AAA to work on some things. In exchange, they could call up Jeff Farnsworth, who has been nasty for the Knights this year: a 2.13 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 20 strikeouts against just three walks in 25 and one-third innings.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Medium Ball

Last season, there were millions of words in the press devoted to a discussion of the Sox' new "small ball" or "smart ball" tactics. Of course, many observers noted at the time that the team was still extremely reliant on the long ball - they ended up hitting over 200 homers on the year - an anti-small ball tactic if there ever was one. At the same time, they did attempt a lot of steals and bunts. So who was right? For a while now I've been planning on dissecting the issue, but then I found that someone at The Hardball Times (a terrifice website, if you've never been) had done just that, and quite well. And as I am a lazy, lazy man, I figured I'd just pass along the article: so here it is. Enjoy!


Post Script - earlier this year I ranted about how much I hate off-days after losses. But yesterday was an off-day after a winning sweep. Now that I can handle.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Creative Title

With a nice win over Oakland last night, in a game in which our starter clearly didn't have his best stuff, the Sox finished the top of the third inning with a 6-3 record. During that stretch, they lost two games to the lowly Devils Rays, and blew a seemingly sure win against the Cubs; however, they also outscored their opponents 54-35, and twice beat a team - the A's - that they've had a lot of trouble with in recent years. I'll give the Sox a score of 1 for the half-inning (remember, we were "pitching," so low is good), making the updated line score look like this:

Team
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Total
Opposition
3 2 1 - - - - - - 6
White Sox
6 3 - - - - - - - 9

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hurt's So Good

Great game last night. Great. Exactly what I wanted to happen happened - Big Frank had a great game, and the Sox won.

Thomas has always been my favorite Sock, and probably always will be. A lot of that has to do with the fact that his reign of terror on the AL took place from about the time I was ten until some time during college, formative years to say the least. But part of it also has to do with the fact that he was just an absurdly good hitter during that time. In my mind, he's not just a Hall of Famer, he's an inner circle Hall of Famer.

Don't believe me? Coming into this season, Thomas had the 11th highest career OPS of any player in history, and the 6th highest for a right-handed hitter. Of the five righties above him, three (Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and Rogers Hornsby) are already Hall of Famers, and the other two (Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez) should be there some day. And keep in mind, Frank's career OPS has dropped precipitously in the past few years as he's declined; when you consider his peak seasons (1991-1997), he ranks even higher.

I was extremely proud to be a Sox fan last night when the crowd gave the Hurt a standing ovation his first time up. Sox fans get a bad rap due to a couple of admittedly horrible on-field episodes, and I have to admit that I was expecting something along the lines of what Jim Thome got this year in Cleveland, so to see them do the classy thing felt good. Frank launched a homer to left right after the ovation (his first of two on the night), a storybook event which I think he deserved after missing out on the playoffs last year.

Perhaps, as the media so often insinuates, Thomas is a big asshole. Perhaps not. They used to chastise him a bunch for caring so much about his personal statistics, but that never really bothered me. For starters, shouldn't he care about his individual performance? Those stats are how a player bargains his next contract. It's the same thing as a person caring about their grades in school, or a work evaluation by a supervisor. Baseball is Frank's career, after all. And furthermore, why should we care what he was thinking about, as long as he was helping the team win? And until Magglio took over the reigns in the late 90s, no one on the Sox made a bigger contribution in the standings than Frank.

Besides all of the hullaballoo surrounding Thomas' return, it was a very odd game. A squirrel ran around on the field for a few minutes, chased by groundskeepers in what easily could have been footage from a 100-year-old slapstick silent film. And more importantly, the Sox bench pulled out the win with some unlikely heroes.

Barry Zito was damn near unhittable. And I say that in the broadest sense, because Sox hitters actually did a good job of exploiting his one weakness - a propensity to walk batters. But all we could muster against him was a measly sac fly, and it looked like it would be an easy win for the A's. But super-sub Rob Mackowiak finally displayed some power - and clutch power at that - in the 8th inning, and Pablo Ozuna won the game with a bunt in the 10th. Chris Widger, starting in place of Pierzynski with the nasty lefty on the mound, was another contributor off the bench.

I actually wasn't so crazy to see Ozuna lay down that bunt. I mean, of course I was elated about the result, but as a tactic I think it's risky. Players who bunt are thrown out at least 90% of the time; perhaps that number is slightly lower when a player is trying to bunt for a single, but the point still stands - your chances of getting on via a bunt are lower than trying to get on via a full swing. And with two outs and the winning run in scoring position, you pretty much have to lay down the perfect bunt to score. Granted, Ozuna did, so I'm not complaining. But re-do that play 100 times, and most of the time the game goes into the 11th inning.

I thought the behind-the-plate umpiring was very inconsistent last night. Zito was getting a lot of calls that Garland wasn't, and Thome was called out on an absurd strike in the bottom of the 9th.

Lastly, there were two good examples last night of how hit-or-miss Hawk Harrelson's announcing can be. And I'm not talking about his shtick, which consists of about 20 or so expressions used over and over again - that you either like or don't. I'm talking about his baseball insight. His hit last night was when he said that when healthy, Bobby Crosby is one of the most underrated players in baseball. Hawk is absolutely right: just 26 and immensely talented, Crosby is a shortstop who most teams would take in a heartbeat. Hawk's miss was when he called Nick Swisher an "aggresive young man" at the plate. Swisher, another great young talent, has a career OBP 91 points higher than his career batting average; you're not going to find many "aggresive" hitters who walk that much. As if to prove my point, Swisher prompty drew a base on balls mere seconds after Hawk's comment.