White Sox doomed for regression? Responding to Jeff Passan’s analysis


National sportswriters can have a difficult job at times. When they focus on specific teams, they’re being asked to deliver a simplified summary of the situation for the national audience, which will inevitably draw ire from the local audience of that team that’s used to a more detailed, and nuanced take.

Than again, they have more fame and money, so who cares how hard their job is, right guys?

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports made his way to the White Sox during his off-season summary series on Sunday, and introduced it with this tweet.

That’s a good preview of the tone, which is negative and disapproving of the White Sox refusal to commit with full thrust to rebuilding or competing in 2013. Any digressions from that thesis like “They got Peavy back for a below-market rate” and “there’s nothing inherently wrong with Matt Lindstrom on a one-year deal”, are needlessly distracting from the message Passan is trying to deliver to people who don’t necessarily care about the White Sox beyond the notion that they are a baseball team in the MLB. He thinks they’re stuck in the middle, and not even getting a good deal on it to boot. I’m inclined to agree.

With that said, there’s always room for the local audience to quibble.

Passan notes that by letting A.J. Pierzynski, Brett Myers, Francisco Liriano, and Kevin Youkilis, the White Sox offer a lesser version of the 85-win team that fell short last season. That’s true, but retaining that crew was hardly the answer to the troubles. Besides the fact that Liriano would be a fifth starter at best on a 2013 squad that effectively replaced Myers with Lindstrom (whom Passan dismissed as erratic despite him only issuing 14 walks over 101 innings the last two seasons), Pierzynki and Youkilis can only be expected to deliver diminishing versions of their 2012 campaigns going forward. If we’re concerned about the bloated budget and escaping mediocrity, we cannot turn around endorse paying up for the twilight seasons of the core of a failed team.

Context can be both kind and cruel to the Jeff Keppinger signing. He stands out as better than all of the White Sox detestable options for the 3rd base slot, but is pretty underwhelming if he’s the biggest off-season acquisition. Passan focuses on the latter, and how Keppinger’s lack of experience at 3rd and platoon issues make him unworthy of the starting job he’s being handed. That’s fair, but this is a situation where the local context is so bizarre that it might merit mention.

There’s just nothing normal about how awful Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson were last season. The White Sox received a half-season of Kevin Youkilis hitting above-average and still finished dead-last in baseball in 3rd base production by a country mile. Keppinger can flounder back to his .288/.337/.396 career line as a full-timer, kick the ball around at 3rd and still be a fairly large upgrade. That doesn’t make his signing the steal of the season, but it makes a difference that the other option was just submitting eight-man lineups all year.

In his final portion, Passan identifies Paul Konerko returning to his dominant-form that he displayed in the 1st half as the one possible redeemer for the offense. Besides a great leap forward for Dayan Viciedo, I would say that’s on the money. What’s curious is that Konerko’s performance can be discussed without addressing his health, his wrist surgery, and the bumps and bruises that have been the sources for troubled stretches over the past two years. Surely some of the old Eeyore body language returned in the 2nd half of 2012, but a better framing device for the situation would be that a healthy and comfortable Konerko is an effective one.

Finally, something irked me about this line–

"“…and a pair of effective rookies from last season, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago, the former of whom doesn’t strike out nearly enough hitters and the latter of whom walks far too many to repeat their performances.”"

–besides the fact that critiquing fifth starters for having flaws is a bit obvious. Both are accurate statements regarding the shortcomings of Santiago and Quintana, and reasons why they might regress, but its odd to simultaneously acknowledge the youth of the players involved but treat their talent levels as fixed quantities. Before last season it was unknown if either would ever reach the majors, now they’re major league performance level is being written in ink.

Other than that, whether Danks’ can recover to his old self is questionable, Dunn’s increasing strikeout rate is a problem, the lack of players who can get on base or contribute from the bench are organizational issues, and just because Passan’s tone is confrontational or even downright upsetting , doesn’t mean these questions can be dismissed.

The White Sox have proven the experts wrong before, and that’s something to take heart in, but that doesn’t mean the flaws that national columnists see from the outside looking in aren’t real.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan