WTNYOctober 05, 2005
Ken Williams v. Baseball Public
By Bryan Smith

Breaking News: On the heels of a 99-63 regular season and Game 1 destruction of the World Champions, Ken Williams shocked the baseball world yesterday by bringing suit against its followers. The fifth-year GM's claim is that the public has been too outspoken in their criticisms against him, and is demanding universal recognition of his skills. Williams has pointed to Moneyball, as well as other factors, as reasons behind the misconception. Below is a brief from the proceedings...

Issue Brought Before Court: Is Ken Williams one of baseball's most underrated General Managers?

Argument of the Defense: When Ron Scheuler retired from the Chicago White Sox after the 2000 season, he left an organization on the verge of success. The club Scheuler left behind had won 95 games during the regular season, only to be crushed in the playoffs at the hands of the Seattle Mariners. There was universal agreement for the reasoning behind the White Sox' ultimate downfall: pitching, or lack thereof.

The offense in 2000, led behind Frank Thomas, was one of the American League's best. Furthermore, much of it was in position to return the following season, leaving little on the plate of Scheuler's successor (Williams). Williams did not even have to worry about the bullpen, which had been great behind Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry. With the promise of good, young pitching going up the ladder, Williams was told to acquire a veteran ace, and find a way to make everything mesh.

Fans watched as good teams underachieved for four seasons (2001-2004), as the rotation never truly clicked. David Wells, Williams' first attempt, had a horrible season with the Sox, as many indicators should have signaled. Jim Parque also was injured during the season, which proved to be a devastating loss. Then in 2002, Williams tried to add Todd Ritchie, following a career year. However, the cost -- Kip Wells, Sean Lowe, Josh Fogg -- was disastrously higher than Ritchie's output. The next season was the Bartolo Colon expiriment, one that ended in one of Colon's worst seasons yet.

Another problem within the rotation was that of the fifth starter. While many in the sabermetric field have called for the return of the four-man rotation, someone forgot to completely explain it to Williams. Instead of constantly repeating the same four starters, Williams thought the idea gave him permission to bring a club to camp with only four viable starters. This led to a long winless streak from the #5 spot, as Dan Wright, Felix Diaz, Jason Grilli and others can attest to.

These issues just highlight a significant theme that Williams has issues with: replacement. Problems in the rotation are just one example where Williams has taken too long to put proper replacements in place. Another example is second base, which was vacated by Ray Durham when he was traded to the A's during the 2002 season. The club finished the year with Tony Graffanino gaining most of the playing time. The next season, however, Williams mixed D'Angelo Jimenez (a good acquisition that was poorly handled) and Roberto Alomar (a poor acquisition that was poorly handled). In 2004, the team let Willie Harris have the job, during which time Harris proved to be nothing more than a bench player.

While Tadahito Iguchi appears to be the answer to the White Sox 2B woes, it took Williams over two seasons to find the right fit. The same is true behind the plate, where after Charles Johnson, a bad mixture of players split time before A.J. Pierzynski arrived on the scene. Williams also chose to have a left side of Royce Clayton and Jose Valentin, despite being able to move Valentin over and play Joe Crede during his prime. We could also guess the same would still be true in center field, if Aaron Rowand hadn't taken a step forward in the 2004 season, and made himself a full-time player.

These issues could likely be resolved if Williams was active in the free agent market. However, seldom do the White Sox make a splash, as Jermaine Dye is pretty much the largest signing under Williams' tenure. This is a disastrous notion for a team in one of the largest markets in the country. Mix this with a trading career blemished with disasters -- Todd Ritchie, Koch/Foulke, Carlos Lee -- and you have a bad General Manager.

If time wasn't up, the issues raised in Moneyball could just add to the obvious facts.

Argument of the Plaintiff
: First of all, the snide remarks from the defense are not appreciated. Nor are the lack of facts. In 2001, what held the White Sox back was not Williams' inability to bring in the right team, but injuries. Frank Thomas went down (prompting a genius PR move -- signing Jose Canseco), as well as Jim Parque, David Wells, Bill Simas, and ineffectiveness/injuries from James Baldwin and Kelly Wunsch. Even Branch Rickey would find such problems difficult to overcome.

We will concede the Todd Ritchie trade -- a disaster, and the lowpoint of Williams career. He more than made up for it in 2003, however, acquiring Bartolo Colon, in addition to finding Esteban Loaiza on the free agent market. The what? Yes, the free agent market that the defense claims scares Williams. This is not true, but instead, he is simply able to find bargains. A look at the mid-level free agents acquired by Williams in his tenure: Alan Embree, Kenny Lofton, Esteban Loaiza, Shingo Takatsu, Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson, Jermaine Dye, Tadahito Iguchi, A.J. Pierzynski.

None of these players made more than $6 mllion in the season that Williams signed them. They did, however, provide both veteran leadership and very good statistics at a low cost. This must be considered Williams best trait, as he deserves credit for many of their unexpected random career spikes.

Another strength is Williams increased ability to do well on the trade market. While a few of his larger trades are victim to scrutinization, Ken has been on the right side of the fence more often than not. Quick, defense, name the worst young player the White Sox have given up? Thinking, thinking, can't think of any? The closest is Jeremy Reed, a player blocked by players in front and behind him, and the necessary bounty for a Freddy Garcia acquisition. After Reed there is nothing, allowing a player like Aaron Miles to slip into the argument.

Williams also has acquired quite a bit of talent. The Bartolo Colon trade was a fantastic one that forced the White Sox to give up little more than Antonio Osuna and Rocky Biddle. His 2002 deadline deals, just short of the White Flag era, landed some impressive, if not fantastic, talent. The Garcia trade gave the White Sox a middle-of-the-rotation starter that they badly needed. Finally, both Carl Everett and Jose Contreras were good deals that helped Chicago both in the short and long-term.

And, if nothing else, Williams knows his market. He understood that Ozzie Guillen would become a Chicago icon, and made the very bold hiring after getting rid of Jerry Manuel. He also knew the Chicago fanbase would fall in love with blue-collar outfielder Scott Podsednik, even at the expense of Lee. The outcome? A big home run, and another swipe from second-to-third in the largest game of Podsednik's career: Game 1, yesterday.

It's unfair to blame the White Sox inability to make the playoffs from 2001-2004 on Ken Williams. It is not, however, a stretch to say that Williams provided the blueprint for this team in 2005. His ability to build the AL's best pitching staff, and a viable offense, is what landed the White Sox in the playoffs.

Opinion of the Court
: Ken Williams is, without question, an underrated General Manager. However, this comes with a few stipulations, as one must understand Williams' flaws to rate him properly amongst his peers.

First of all, Williams constantly looks to fix holes from the trade market, rather than from free agents. Whether this is a mandate given to himself or from his owner, we don't know, but the Sox have never been able to land a big name during the Ken Williams Era. He also is guilty to overpay at times, when a certain player will help his team in the short term. The trades of Kip Wells, Carlos Lee and Jeremy Reed all prove that much.

Williams does, in fact, deserve fair recognition, though. He is great at finding cheap, mid-range talent, and has made a nice stab at rebuilding a declining fan base. Seldom does he waver from his original plan, as well, and has every hole accounted for in February.

The Court finds in favor of Ken Williams, and orders all readers to admit to Williams genius in the comments...


Was the Podsednik trade a good one? If the White Sox didn't make the playoffs would the fans be calling for Ken Williams' head?

Getting Everett the first time might have been a good move -- but if he was so great, why not keep him in the offseason? Why give up 4 (or was it 5?) prospects for him?

"but if he was so great, why not keep him in the offseason? "

Because Carl would have only been able to take a pay cut of 20% - max. Thus he'd have cost too much. Kenny got him back for much less.

"Why give up 4 (or was it 5?) prospects for him?"

Kenny didn't give up a single prospect of value to the team. Look at all the players who we traded for Carl - not one of them would be either on the 25 man roster today nor would they project to be on the 25 man roster on opening day next year.

"The trades of Kip Wells, Carlos Lee and Jeremy Reed all prove that much."

Almost everyone agrees on Wells - so lets drop that. Trading Lee for Podsednik freed up 6mm in salary in 2005. That money was used to get Iguchi, AJ and Duque plus have a legitimate leadoff hitter. Kenny effectively got Iguchi, AJ, Duque and Podsednik for Carlos Lee. (FWIW - Carlos Lee hit .265 with a .324 obp and a .487 SLG. Dye hit .274/.333/.512 and did it for much less money than Carlos Lee made, while playing very good RF compared to Carlos being a below average LF. Unless you isolate just Podsednik and Lee, and only look at SLG and its derrivatives, the trade Williams made was pure GENIOUS. You can argue that Podsednik himself is overrated all day. I'll tell you a leadoff hitter who hit .290/.351/.700 and stole as many bases as he did has tremendous value - you can tell me that you'd rather have Matt Stairs or Jeremy Giambi leading off since they might have an OBP that is 20 pts higher...that's your choice. But look at what Kenny got for Carlos Lee and the salary slot he filled. It's hard to not credit Williams for making a great move.

There are no data to support the argument that the Lee for Podsednik trade was genius. That is Kenny Williams' KoolAid speaking. Podsednik was one of the worst corner outfielders in the league this year. His low stolen-base percentage did not add runs to the offense. His impressive-looking counts stats (2nd in the AL in stolen bases) is obfuscated by his lack of triples and homers.

Look up the VORP numbers and post them before you make such wild claims.

Here's the thing about the Lee for Podsednik and Vizcaino trade:

It, by itself, was not a good trade. The talent given up was superior to the talent received.

But that is not the way one should look at the trade.

Kenny Williams had a budget of about 75 million for the 2005 season. Both Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko weren't going to fit into that equation. Kenny had to trade away one of them to clear up payroll so he could construct a more balanced team.

After the Lee for Podsednik deal was made, Kenny Williams was then able to fit El Duque (not the best signing), AJ Pierzynski and Tadahito Iguchi on the payroll. He may have been able to get El Duque regardless, but there would certainly be no AJ and no Tadahito if Lee is still on the team. The difference betweeen AJ and Miguel Olivo/Ben Davis, as well as Tadahito Iguchi and Willie Harris, was absolutely worth the downgrade in left field. Even El Duque, while not a world beater, was a gigantic improvement over the 5th starter debacle that existed before 2005.

A proper understanding of the trade is impossible without that context. It really was the trade that led to a more balanced team and probably led to the White Sox being in the position they are in now.

"First of all, Williams constantly looks to fix holes from the trade market, rather than from free agents."

What about the laundry list of valuable mid-level free agents he signed? True, he likes to swap big-leaguers, but I don't think he "constantly" overlooks FA's. What about Pierzynski and Iguchi this year? Hermanson?

"...but the Sox have never been able to land a big name during the Ken Williams Era."

And how is this a BAD thing? He's kept the team competitive every year, and every player is a changeable part -- no $10mm+ millstone contracts. Would it be better if they had landed Randy Johnson last winter and handed him an extension, or Griffey? A "big name" doesn't always produce "big" results, and Williams recognizes this as a risk usually not worth taking when there are other options available.

"He also is guilty to overpay at times... the trades of Kip Wells, Carlos Lee and Jeremy Reed all prove that much."

What's with all the Reed-love? The guy hasn't done ANYTHING yet. He'd be back in AAA with any club but the Mariners. And Kip Wells? In case you haven't noticed, after two solid years with the Pirates, he's slumped mightily the past two. Still a bad trade for the Sox, but pretty irrelevant now. And although Carlos Lee is good, was he necessary to the Sox? No, he was fairly redundant, at a higher salary, and was exchanged for a different part.

What the heck kind of judgement is this? I'd argue that the defense team also wrote the verdict. I would never nominate you for the Supreme Court, unless you were my friend and I had to.