Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wild Card Races

Wild card races are fun. Wild card collapses - not so much.

I've only been to two baseball games this year but have been lucky enough to witness the beginning of the collapse for both of the city's baseball teams.

I went to a Cubs game way back in April when they actually had a winning record of 14-10. They lost 8-0 to the Pirates that day and went on to a 4-21 meltdown over the next month.

My first Sox game this year was their 7-2 loss to the Red Sox right before the break. They went into that game 56-29 and have gone 3-10 since.

I'll be at the series finale against the Twins tomorrow and hopefully work some reverse mojo that will get the Sox back on track.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Name Game

Home-Run Javy
Big-Inning Javy
Jav "Yourself a Hanging Breaking-Ball" Vazquez
The Peripherals Man

Whatever you want to call him, please don't let it be "starting pitcher". Many people argue that Vazquez peripheral stats (K's, WHIP) suggest Vazquez' high ERA is the result of bad luck. These people are stupid.

I, for a long time, was a stupid person. But I have seen enough. I am now convinced Vazquez is just unable to get outs in pressure situations. And not only does he seem to give up hits (many with 2 strikes on the batter) in big situations, he has a knack for giving up punch-in-the-gut home runs.

If you can trade Vasquez for a reliever and a prospect, do it. I've heard others argue that you can't trade Vazquez for only a reliever and a prospect because the Sox had to give up a starter, reliever, and their number one prospect to just to get him.

But it doesn't matter what it we gave up for Vazquez, as that's a sunk cost. Get whatever you can for him now.

The trade with Arizona certainly looks bad now, especially as we already had McCarthy ready to take over the fifth spot of the rotation in the spring. I was against the trade at the time, but I knew what Williams was thinking. But it hasn't worked out and it's time to move on.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Pack Is Gaining

Even after losing two out of three before the break, the White Sox still found themselves comfortably positioned for the playoffs as they were six games ahead of the Yankees in the wild card race. All they had to do was win one game in NY and leave the city with a five game lead.

Unfortunately, they picked a bad time to stop hitting the ball with runners on-base, as they consistently failed to to take advantage of scoring opportunities. The result was a three game sweep.

The Sox still have the league's second best record but now the Red Sox are only two games back and the Yankees two-and-a-half back. The Blue Jays and Twins are also now back in the picture. The Sox are now just another bad week from finding themselves out of the wild card lead.

I'm not worried - yet. Take look at these pitching numbers. I take comfort in these numbers because I know there is no way the starters will continue to pitch this bad. Once the pitching returns so will the wins.

Despite losing the last two series against the Red Sox and Yankees I'm not convinced either one is a better team. It will be hard for the White Sox to catch the Tigers but I don't think they will get passed by Boston or New York in the standings.

Finally, the toughest part of this weekend was watching Cliff Politte pitch his final game for the White Sox. Politte seems like a real nice guy and a likeable teammate. The poor guy just couldn''t get anyone out this year. As the Yankees scored four runs off him on Saturday, I knew it was the end of the road for Cliff Politte, and I'm sure he knew it too. Baseball players make a lot of money and are certainly fortunate to make a living playing a game. Yet I still find it incredibly sad when a player is forced out before they are ready to give it up. Actually, I didn't feel too bad for Sammy Sosa, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, here's to Cliff Politte, right handed set-up man for the 2005 World Series Champions Chicago White Sox (7-1, 2.00 ERA, 67.3 IP, 57K, .936 WHIP).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Not Quite Convinced

There is no doubt that Joe Crede is having a great, if not quite spectacular, year. His current batting line of 294/331/512 would give him career highs in average, on-base and slugging percentage. His 50 runs and 58 rbis at the break are both just 18 short of his career highs.

However, the way in which he has improved his numbers lead me to question how much is luck and how much of the improvement is sustainable.

Often when a slugger makes a leap like Crede has it comes with improved patience at the plate. The hitter waits for his pitch and when he gets it he drives it. When he doesn't get his pitch he takes more walks and strikeouts. The strikeouts are usually a necessary trade-off when hitting for power (for example, see Paul Konerko's historical trends).

But this year Crede is actually walking and striking out at the lowest rates of his career. He continues to be a very impatient hitter only seeing 3.53 pitches per plate appearance. His walk rate didn't have too far to go down but his strikeout rate has decreased by 33% (see the blue line in the chart below).

I included two other numbers on the chart: isolated power and batting average of balls put in play (BAPIP). The isolated power number has a lot less noise than slugging percentage and itshows that Crede has improved his power-hititing the past couple years. However, the BAPIP number is known jump around from year to year and might suggest that Crede is just happening to "hit them where they ain't" this year.

Not only is Crede getting more hits on balls put in play, but as previously mentioned, he is putting many more balls in play this year. Crede has a career strikeout rate of about 15% of his plate appearances and this year he is below 10%. That alone would cause his average, on-base and slugging percentage to increase. The table below shows Crede's percentage of hits per plate appearance the last few of years and reflects this increase.

The chart shows that Crede is getting more of all types of hits per plate appearance. But looking at his hits for only when he makes contact (plate appearances minus walks and strikeouts) tells a little bit different story. The results when he makes contact are largely the same.

Crede is getting a few more doubles and singles this year but his rates are not out of his career range and can be explained by normal variataions in his BAPIP.

If Crede's ability this year to get more hits on balls put in play can be chalked up to luck than the big question is whether he can keep his strikeout rate below 10%. He will need to continue to make contact to sustain his improvement.

The truth of the matter is that Crede has not been a very good hitter for most of his career. While he has always hit for some power, his low batting average and inability to draw a walk has prevented him from becoming an asset on the offensive end.

I believe that Crede has improved his hitting over the past couple of years but not to the extent that his current numbers would lead you to believe. I hope I'm wrong, but I think his low strike-out rate is flukish and will return closer to his career norm in the second half of this year. Crede's power numbers will continue to make him a nice complimentary player, but he will keep making too many outs to become a true offensive force.

Looking Ahead

The Sox start the second half tomorrow against the Yankees two games back of the Tigers who start a four game set against the Royals tonight. The two teams have a similar schedule for the second half of the season (schedule sorted by winning percentage in descenging order).


The two teams play each 13 times in the second half. If either team can win the head to head match up decisively they will put themselves in a good position to take the division. Nothing really stands out as a clear advantage in the other games.

Both teams play every other AL team in the second half. The average winning percentage of the White Sox opponents is .523 while the Tiger's opponents winning percentage is .513. The difference mainly comes from the extra 3 games the Sox have against the Yankees, the 2 against the Twins, and of course, the 13 games against each other.

Even though the Twins have a better record than the Indians, I'm glad the Sox get more games against Minnesota in the second half. The Indians have been giving the Sox a lot of trouble since last September.

Hopefully, the Sox will be fortunate enough not to have to face Santana and Liriano in every series against the Twins. But Gardenhire's recent history suggests that he will do everything possible to make that happen.