Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chicago White Sox 2008 Preview: It can't be as bad as last year, can it?

2007...the season that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

For the Chicago White Sox, 2007 was a complete disaster. Two years off a World Series championship, the Sox fell to 72-90 and looking even worse. Only an 11-6 finish spared the Sox the embarrassment of finishing below the Kansas City Royals. The White Sox scored the fewest runs in the AL, allowed the fourth fewest, and were a poor defensive team. The infield was unsettled, the outfield was a mess, and the bullpen was as effective at fire prevention as Mrs. O'Leary's dairy barn. GM Kenny Williams was very active over the winter, replacing most of the mess with better options for 2008.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

No team in the AL put it on the board fewer times in 2007 than the White Sox. Despite playing in a park that increased offense by 6-7% the Sox crossed the plate only 693 times. Twenty two position player played for the Sox in 2007; 17 of them had on base percentages lower than the league average of .338. Twelve were under .300. That should completely explain the mystery of how a team that finished second in the league in home runs (190) could finish last in runs scored.

CF Nick Swisher
SS Orlando Cabrera
DH Jim Thome
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Joe Crede/Josh Fields
LF Carlos Quentin
2B Alexi Ramirez/Danny Richar

The alternate idea is to lead off with Jerry Owens, move Swisher to fifth, and slide Dye and everyone else down a slot. I'd rather see Quentin get the first shot at an outfield spot, because he has much more upside. Swisher doesn't look like a leadoff man, but his on base percentages the last two years have been .372 and .381. Thome is still a great hitter even missing 30 games a year. Konerko probably has another good year or two left. Dye hit 28 homers in 2007 but his OBP was a lackluster .317. This lineup should be much more effective than the miserable 2007 crew, probably at least 50 runs better. That's still probably not enough.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The great pitching of the 2005 postseason was a faded memory in 2007. Mark Buehrle pitched well, Jon Garland was above average, and Javier Vazquez had a season that almost made me forget that the Sox traded Chris Young to get him. Almost. Bobby Jenks had a season I would never have believed he had in him. The rest of the rotation was horrible, and the bullpen (apart from Jenks) was an unspeakable horror.

SP Mark Buehrle
SP Javier Vazquez
SP Jose Contreras
SP John Danks
SP Gavin Floyd

CL Bobby Jenks
RP Octavio Dotel
RP Scott Linebrink

Buehrle and Vazquez should be good again. Danks showed some promise but an avalanche of home runs allowed (28 in 139 innings) jacked up his ERA and hurt his confidence. He has work to do. So does Floyd, who got taken deep more often than Jacques Cousteau (17 homers allowed in 70 innings). Contreras is just finished; the Sox would probably like to dump him on someone else, but have no better options. I have to give Jenks a lot of credit; I've never been more wrong about a player. As a minor leaguer he was wilder than Amy Winehouse on a two week bender; as a major league closer in 2007 he walked one batter after the all star break. Dotel and Linebrink come with built-in problems, but can hardly be as bad as last year's cast of relievers.

Witnesses for the defense

The 2005 world champions were a stunning display of what great defense could do for a team. The 2007 version of the Sox displayed little of that quality. The Sox were below average in defensive efficiency and third in the league in errors committed. Injuries and the unsettled nature of the lineup didn't help. Swisher's ability to play center and the outcome of the Richar/Ramirez/Jose Uribe battle for second base will decide if the defense improves in 2008.

Farm aid

I got nothing here. The White Sox traded their best two prospects to the A's for Swisher. Jack Egbert and Lance Broadway could take over a couple of the rotation slots, but neither is ever going to be more than a back of the rotation guy. The best prospect left in the system is 2007 first round pick Aaron Poreda, a lefthander who will be reaching A ball this year.

Watch out for that tree!

Where should I begin? Thome is still a terrifying hitter for 130 games a year, but I've written a number of times about the fast, steep decline of other power hitters in the Boog Powell mold; Thome fits that profile too. Konerko is 32 and runs like a cement block. Dye is 34 and while he could certainly have a better season this year than last, he's also capable of falling off even more. Buerhle is only 29, but relies on his defense a lot. Another decline in his strikeout rate would be hard to sustain.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The White Sox are in a difficult position. They are clearly not as good as either Detroit or Cleveland, but not so far behind them that a few breaks couldn't put the Sox into a pennant race. Their 2007 season was so bad that it might be tempting to rebuild, but the farm system has been in a severe drought and their is little to build with. I see this team going one of two ways this season. By July team management will know if they have a contender or not, and either go for the win or move into complete teardown mode. I suspect that the latter will be the most appropriate.

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