Change-UpMarch 06, 2008
Assessing the Problem
By Patrick Sullivan

As with many other endeavors, a sober and honest self-diagnosis when things go awry in baseball is a true rarity. Excuse making is rampant because it is hard to admit failure. When failure is undeniable and right there staring us in the face, it's quite easy to flail and grasp at straws looking for the reasons why. After all, it is often the case that the root of failure is attributable to causes that would amount to an indictment of some of the very core beliefs and principles of the responsible parties.

A prime example of this sort of behavior is on display in today's Chicago Tribune. Rick Morrissey has written a piece examining the White Sox problems in 2007 and how they are addressing them for 2008 titled "Sox have rhetoric, but what's behind words?" In it, we get numerous quotes from General Manager Kenny Williams (among others) talking about what they need to do to get back to their tip-top, 2005-2006 form.

"We as a staff—(manager) Ozzie Guillen, myself and all the coaches—we had to look at ourselves in the mirror and reassess some of the things we had done," general manager Ken Williams said. "We won the World Series and we came back and followed that up with 90 wins. OK, we were a veteran team, so we said, 'Go out there and play. You know what it takes to get yourself prepared.' Well, it got away from us."

Morrissey concludes the piece with another Williams quote, and then finishes it off with a line of his own.

"There's a little different focus and intensity," Williams said. "One of the best things that maybe could have happened was some of the criticisms that were levied against all of us during the off-season. Guys showed up in shape ready to go.

"I like that in the second game of the [spring] that Orlando Cabrera turns around to the rest of the bench and says, 'Hey, let's go. Spring training or not, I'm here to win.' Nick Swisher said something similar."

Wait a second. That sounds suspiciously like passion. Or swagger. Or both.

According to Morrissey and Williams, passion and swagger, or a lack of it for that matter, accounted for the 72-win Chicago White Sox in 2007. But let's just have a quick look at 2005, 2006 and 2007 for the White Sox and see if we can't identify more tangibly what might have gone wrong for them last season. In its most basic form, here is a glimpse at Chicago's run prevention and run scoring ability in each season.

        OPS+   AL Rank   ERA+   AL Rank
2005     95    9 (tie)   124      1
2006    103      4       103      6 
2007     87      13       99    8 (tie)

Just once, how great would it be to hear something like this?

"Said, Williams: It's really pretty simple. In 2005 we pitched the living daylights out of the ball and had a bang-up defense out there to boot. We had four starting pitchers combine for 890 innings of 3.51 ERA pitching. Of our top three relievers, the lowest ERA of the bunch belonged to Dustin Hermanson; it was 2.04. Going a full season allowing only 645 runs while playing home games at our ballpark, I don't care how run of the mill your offense is, you will figure out a way to win games.

In 2006, as you might expect, our run prevention fell off a bit. We were still a pretty decent pitching team but our bullpen was not nearly as strong. We picked up Javier Vazquez but he disappointed and Mark Buehrle took a major step backwards after a Cy Young type 2005. We were able to counteract all of that because we acquired Jim Thome, while Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye went nuts. The stellar performance of these three had the dual effect of off-setting some pitching regression while masking some serious problems elsewhere in our lineup (we had three regulars with an OPS+ of 75 or less).

Given how instrumental three guys north of 30 were to our offense in 2006, I probably should have foreseen some of the problems we experienced coming in 2007. Unfortunately, I probably compounded them a bit by tacking on another player on the wrong side of 30, Darin Erstad. We ran him and Jerry Owens out there for three quarters of our innings in center field, only to have Erstad put up an OPS+ of 68 while Owens managed a 67. Meanwhile we kept pretending that Scott Podsednik was a good player and that Jose Contreras wasn't 51 years old. Predictably (in retrospect), Thome struggled to stay healthy while Dye and Konerko fell off pretty drastically from their 2006 performances. In short, it was a foreseeable situation that I failed to see.

Fortunately, I think we made some moves that figure to help the 2008 edition of the club. The team is playing hard thus far this Spring, and I look forward to seeing what kind of season we can put together."

I'm not going to hold my breath.


A quote like that sure would be refreshing from any ball club, but nobody is ever that up front about their mistakes. Theo Epstein with the Sox sometimes does admit things along the line of 'we didn't focus on defense as much and that hurt our run prevention' or 'we didn't give ourselves enough depth to get through some injuries' and whatnot, but never does he get so specific. It'd be nice, even if an ex-GM came out and talked about past seasons that way.

Williams, we can hope, actually knows what really caused their deterioraton since 2005. Morrissey would rather construct a theory like a lack of energy caused them to score 20% fewer runs than 2006. These are the people that thought the 2005 offense had a special kind of magic by not relying on basecloggers like Carlos Lee, Magglio and Thomas.

What's cool is that people who learn well verbally - people who aren't interested in pouring through spreadsheets - can get just as much out of what you said as the "stats nerds". Nice quote!

Of course if you are GM and you say it pretty much verbatim as per what you have written, I believe the response from the club will be.....
you're fired.

Maybe, but with the World Series title and the 90-win season in 2006, I think Kenny would have the credibility capital to pull off such a quote.

What's sad is the passion/ST preparation nonsense can be peddled as sensible. It's not. These things are accountable by simply pointing out very tangible reasons.

It's a little funny when the bloggers know more then a GM isn't it?

How about... they're simply getting old. they had a flukey 05 season. they miss the defense of guys like Aaron Rowand a lot more then they realize.

I could see the Pale hose finish 3rd if everything break right this year... but i can't see them make the playoff barring some non-baseball related catasprophy on the other teams in the ALC.

It is also possible that Williams and other GMs recognize the reality but will not publicize it in the media. That the responses they give are convention, intended to satisfy most fans without giving anything away.

Focusing on attitude in the general way he does disperses responsibility. While it is an indictment of the team, it is the customary one that even the players often use to explain losses and does not put anyone specific on the hot seat.

Identifying individual performances focuses "blame" not just on the GM for his mistakes but on the players named for their failures. Even more general comments, such as the big three masking weakness elsewhere indicates that 6 starters are ineffective players.

We've seen managers and GMs say things like that (we need better defense at shortstop), but I think they prefer the banalities for public consumption. It would be nice to read what you suggest, but as you say, you better not hold your breath. I am not sure that is so much a criticism of the GMs as it is a recognition of the reality of their circumstances.

if the Sox were the Cubs:

"Its a curse! Ever since Kenny mother-F'ed Frank Thomas out of town, he doomed the franchise to mediocrity!"

there were several other factors to the Sox decline:
horrible third base coaching- Joey Cora was the worst I had ever seen, then he was replaced but his performance amazingly was matched by Razor Shines.

Kenny's 07 bullpen experiment:
Are you huge? Can you throw the crap out of the ball? Yes, but you dont know where its going? Ah thats okay, come aboard my friend. A couple of you guys will figure it out. WRONG.

Ozzies is a hell of a motivator, but his strategy is questionable. They won several games despite the wizard of Oz in 05 and beyond. Hes pretty sharp with the pitching staff, but his pinch hitters, line-ups, things on the offensive side are often head scratchers.

Utility infielders in the outfield:
Rob Mackowiak in centerfield? really? Fields in leftfield was ugly, too.(But I think that could mean winnin' ugly, keep Crede at third if he is healthy, put Fields back in left, Swisher in center, Dye in Right and you have a 90 HR outfield. Crede should stay but I digress...)

Rolling Wave, 2005 was not 'flukey'. The career years of Politte, Cotts and Hermanson(no ERA until June!) was a nice coincidence, but you cant call that season a fluke. I watched all but probably five of those games and those guys were flat out getting it done. It was amazing to watch. Definitely not a fluke. And Aaron Rowands defense is what was missing? Really? Brian Anderson took over for him in 2006 and has probably twice the range in centerfield. Maybe a few of his hits were missed, and he was almost certainly missed in the clubhouse, but his defense? Just because he is willing to mash his face into fence doesn't mean he is all that great defensively.

How about "All we could do on offense last year was hit solo home runs. We couldn't manufacture runs if you stuck a gun to our heads. Did you guys notice that all of last year's relievers expect for Bobby Jenks were arrested and charged with three counts apiece of impersonating a major league pitcher?"

While it would be refreshing to hear some of those things out of a GM, it probably isn't going to happen very often. Imagine if Williams said, "Well, we should have expected Konerko and Dye to drop off, and for Thome to miss significant time...", or "You know, we think that the reason that Jose pitched so poorly is because he is on the wrong side of 40, and we can't really expect much more out of him". A lot of the players would see this as base treachery. We may be able to say, "You know what, I don't expect more than 25 home runs and another injury plagued season from Jim Thome", but Williams simply can't. They are still employees, and this type of employee has a huge ego. If Williams and his staff are competent, they'll say it to each other behind closed doors, but we'll never get a whiff of it. As it should be.

I hate all these "experts" KNEW that we'd have that type of season in 2007. It is these same "experts" that had NO idea we would win the World Series in 2005. Where was your statistical forecast on that season? Get a life, there are so many different variables that go into a baseball season. You can't claim you "foresaw" the 2007 collapse when you've been wrong on so many other predictions. I bet your statistical analysis didn't predict the Rockies and Diamondbacks making the playoffs either. Don't compare Erstad's OPS with Jerry Owens. Owens stole 35 bases last season. I'd rather a leadoff guy steal 35 bases with a .670 OPS than a leadoff hitter with 5 stolen bases and a .680 OPS. Come on!

"if the Sox were the Cubs:
'Its a curse! Ever since Kenny mother-F'ed Frank Thomas out of town, he doomed the franchise to mediocrity!'"

Everyone knows it was only after Man-Soo Lee left that the decline started.

"I hate all these "experts" KNEW that we'd have that type of season in 2007"

PECOTA tagged the White Sox for 72-90. So you may hate it, but it was right.

"It is these same "experts" that had NO idea we would win the World Series in 2005"

Winning the world series is a bit of a mixed bag where predictions are concerned. It's possible to predict a team's performance over 162 games. It's almost impossible to do so again for three series of 5, 7 and 7 games.
Furthermore, if several guys have absolutely insane career years, like your bullpen, that's also hard to predict.

What is NOT hard to predict is that guys aren't going to have two career years in a row. So that the bullpen, which was stellar in 2005, was going to come down to earth again in 2006. Similarly, Konerko and Dye had career years in 2006, and were a safe bet to come down again in 2007.

Again, you may hate it, but it's simple fact that has been observed over 100+ years of baseball.

"I bet your statistical analysis didn't predict the Rockies and Diamondbacks making the playoffs either"

I think the Diamondbacks ended up within 1 or 2 games of most of their predicted win totals. I think PECOTA had them at 88. The Rockies were performing pretty much according to expectation (they were 2 games above .500) when suddenly they caught completely on fire as a team. That happens sometimes, and in the Rockies' case, it allowed them to squeak into the playoffs.

That can't be predicted. What CAN be predicted is that the Rockies aren't going to play .944 (17-1) baseball for the coming season.

"Don't compare Erstad's OPS with Jerry Owens. Owens stole 35 bases last season."

What does that have to do with OPS? Still, a guy who only gets on base ~32% of the time should probably not be leading off. No matter how many bases he steals.

"I'd rather a leadoff guy steal 35 bases with a .670 OPS than a leadoff hitter with 5 stolen bases and a .680 OPS."

And where is anybody saying differently? Try not to kick that straw man too hard.

"Come on!"

I'm wondering why you're reading a site dedicated to baseball analysis when it's obvious you don't believe in it, and in fact claim to hate it? No offense, I'm just curious. Don't worry though, the Sox will swagger their way back to 90 wins this year! Rick Morrisey predicts it!

For completeness' sake, PECOTA numbers mentioned above are off the top of my head. My work internet won't let me access PECOTA. So if they are off, my apologies.

What's really depressing about the Sox is not the fact that Kenny said this, since, as others have pointed out, he pretty much has to say something like that. What's depressing is that, based on his moves this offseason, he truly does believe that they're close to a playoff team. I would have appreciated the Quentin and Swisher moves a lot more after the '05 season, when they were still considered a good team.

The '05 World Series was, in a way, the worst thing that could have happened to the Sox, because now, instead of rebuilding to contend for a long stretch of time, like, say, the Indians, Williams feels forced to try to catch lightning in a bottle every year.

To those who think Kenny has to say something like that I would point to Josh Byrnes's recent interview with Jonah Keri on Also check out some of Billy Beane's interviews over the years.

You can be candid and honest about your team's strengths and weaknesses w/o implicating yourself too much or giving away any house secrets.

hey Paul, Pecota had it right last year for the Sox, but what did they have for the Rockies? the D-Backs? the White Sox in 2005?