In yet another round of trying to corral focus on an error-prone defense earlier this week, Robin Ventura said this, according to a report from Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago (I’m sure he said it to all the beat reporters, but this is the article I’m linking to and you can’t change my mind).
“‘I still like the defensive stuff,’ Ventura said when asked about the lack of run production. ‘We want to score runs and do all that, but hitting kind of comes and goes, there’s lapses of it, there’s good stretches of it too. For me, the constant always has to be what we do on the mound and with the defensive stuff. That’s just stuff that you just have to do.'”
If I wanted to make Ventura seem the most out of touch, I might have just reduced it to “hitting kind of comes and goes,” since that’s the line that’s been rattling through my head while pouring through the grim offensive statistics that have facilitated the Sox manager’s Taoist approach to assessing hitting.
The White Sox have the very worst offense in the American League. I always use league stats, because theoretically taking the best hitter out of the lineup and replacing him with essentially a Single-A batter should result in a significant difference in total production, but then again the White Sox are playing Adam Dunn.
They’ve scored 183 runs in 52 games, and while they’re only four games under .500, their -32 run differential suggests they should be four games farther under water. The Rangers have allowed just 197 runs in 54 games, making them the best run-preventing team in the American League. They would have a negative run differential and almost certainly a losing record with this offense.
The 2005 White Sox–a dominant pitching team that famously dragged a below-average, homer-dependent club to the promise land–started the season 35-17 through their first 52 games. They had held opponents to a league-best 188 runs scored through that time span. We’re not adjusting for the approximately .3 runs per game difference in scoring environment, but that would still leave them with a negative run differential if saddled with this brutally awful White Sox offense.
Point being, while no one enjoys watching the White Sox play defense–even select Cubs fans tweeted their sympathies over the course of the Thursday’s laugher–they could be the sharpest unit in the league and this would still be a mediocre club because the offense is simply that bad. To pretend that this is some sort of passing concern sounds like lunacy, but is probably just dishonest.
It brings me back to 2011, when the White Sox—in the midst of a season that Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and a moody and checked-out Ozzie Guillen drained the life out of–spent the trade deadline openly pining for and eventually acquiring (through the use of the best starting pitcher on the trade market)…bullpen help. Help for a relief corps with a late-inning triumvirate of Sergio Santos, Chris Sale and Jesse Crain, as well as Matt Thornton, who was doing fine after a bad first two months.
The Sox giving the family car a new paint job while the house burnt to the ground seemed pointless, but in fairness to them, it was something they actually felt prepared to do. With an even worse farm system than they have now, even more years and money committed to Rios and Dunn than they have now and a manager even more obstinate than who they have now, they opted for a path of less resistance rather than the option of truly doing nothing at all.
Which is what Robin is doing. Adam Dunn can be dropped in the order, he could aggressively platoon every hitter as much as possible, he could bust out punitive benchings, and maybe even Josh Phegley will get called up and actually be an upgrade, but Robin Ventura can’t really do much to fix the hitting. A manager is not an alchemist.
But the defense, or at the very least the problem of errors is where managers can manage. They can drill, they can punish and demand focus and they can see results, both because they can actually instill cleaner play just by emphasizing it–as Robin did last year–or just because errors are irregular occurrences and are bound to even out for the Sox at some point. It’s a source for baseball fulfillment.
Now stuck in a season that most would concede the Sox were likely mortgaging for the sake of immediate success in 2011, they are understandably unwilling to broach the topic of mortgaging any more seasons just to patch up this leaky, hopeless ship. There’s not much to do besides grin and bear it, but apparently grinning and bearing the bitter end of the Dunn and Konerko contracts precludes addressing the issue–what’s happened this season, how Konerko has looked the past two months, the past 300+ games of data Adam Dunn has provided–with veracity.
Part of the job, I suppose.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan