White Sox notes: You should love home runs AND computers

In the first two years of the Kenny Williams era, 2001 and 2002, the White Sox as a team posted an above-average on-base percentage. Since then, they have repeated the feat just twice. So while the Sox have smacked a lot of home runs during the last 10 years, won a World Series, and both of their playoff appearances since then came with offenses that were below-average at getting on base, fans have rightly identified the team as having trouble “stringing together rallies.”

Because rallies require people on base.

It’s therefore understandable that some curiosity might arise as to whether their reliable power-hitting and typical on-base struggles are related. I shade toward the idea that the major leagues are usually too difficult for players to do much more than fall back on what they’re capable of being effective at doing. However, if there’s an inside organizational reason the Sox have gravitated toward home run hacks, it’s because they play in the ballpark that rewards such an approach more than any other one in the American League.

As Whet Moser of Chicago Magazine reminded, the White Sox fascination with the long ball predates the ballpark.

“It’s likely that the first major change a baseball team made due to computer analysis was by the White Sox, starting in 1982. They’d hired a 22-year-old north-side native, Dan Evans, a Lane Tech grad lifelong stats nerd who’d interned with the Sox as a college student at DePaul, to run Cramer’s system. Paired with the analytical duo of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, the team began to apply Evans’s research to the field, Alan Schwartz writes: “When the printouts showed that Rudy Law, a left-handed hitter, actually performed better against lefthanded pitchers, La Russa eased off pinch hitting for him in those situations.”

“The biggest change, though, was to the field itself. Evans noticed the Sox were hitting a ton of fly balls that died on the warning track. So the White Sox moved home plate forward the year after Evans arrived.  In 1982, they’d hit 51 home runs in Comiskey; in 1983, they hit 84 home runs. In 1984, they hit 103. (Of course, they also gave up more home runs at home: 43, 64, and 77 in those same years.) Evans, of course, went on to become the White Sox’s GM and later the Dodgers’ GM, where he hired former Sox intern and arbitration specialist Kim Ng.”

Rick Hahn once said that he enjoyed the perception that the White Sox were against using advanced statistics, which reflects the desires of almost any team–to cover up their motivations and tendencies. He probably can’t keep that up if he’s going to keep mentioning WAR at SoxFest, though.

The Cubs just hired Tom Tango, of all people, so no challenge is being wagered for who is the most stat-friendly team in town, but it’s nice to see the occasional reminder that the Sox not only use forward-thinking analysis, but use it to reinforce who they are as a ballclub, which is enough to gloss over some frustrating Ozzieball memories.

Peavy claims the White Sox choked more or less

From Chuck Garfien:

“I think you saw the inexperience. I thought you saw a team that had been there in Detroit catching us, and a team trying to get there with a lot of new faces and a lot of meshing to do,” Peavy said. “I think you saw that when things got on the line and we were the team to beat there, being in first place down the stretch and that pressure, you feel the immaturity as a club as a whole. I’m not just saying the young guys. I’m talking about myself, the Adam Dunn’s, the Paul Konerko’s. That’s our job to keep everyone calm and keep us holding on.”

It’s an odd tangent in an interview where Peavy also acknowledged that he thought of possible retirement if 2012 hadn’t witnessed his  and the team’s resurgence. Peavy not only identifies the youth of the team as a possible reason the Sox fell apart in the end, but also indicates a bit of a failure from veteran leadership–which included guys with plenty of playoff experience–to steady things. It’s no rant, and was said in typical Peavy self-flagellating tone, but usually such statements don’t pull down the entire team with him. When a player does acknowledge the failure of a team, it’s usually limited to “we didn’t execute”, rather than “we lacked the mental fortitude.” A no holds-barred indictment of the team’s leadership would be stated a lot differently, but would be worded in a similar fashion.

Gordon BeckhamA photo

It was my great hope that in response to Beckham tweeting an absurd picture of him been nuzzled by an enormous giraffe head, that he would get at least one comment angrily yapping at him out of context to improve his batting average. I was not disappointed.

In a more touching link, if you have not visited the link to the story on Jose Contreras returning to Cuba on The Hub sidebar, remedy that soon.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

 

Topics: Chicago White Sox, Dan Evans, Jake Peavy

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