Sep 5, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura (23) in the dugout during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
On Aug 28, the White Sox finished up a series victory over the Houston Astros, powered by a dominant outing by Chris Sale and capped off by a three-run bomb from Avisail Garcia to move them to 56-76 on the season. It wrapped up a stretch of 18 games where the Sox had recorded 13 wins, and rather than just clean up against the lesser lights of the sport, they had sprinkled in series victories against three winning teams.
A team that had endured a nightmarish mid-summer swoon (17-36 in June and July) and looked to be headed on the express train to 100 losses had pulled to just 20 games under .500, and with their newly-acquired youngster pulling weight, there was reason to hope they could keep up such an unremarkable pace going forward, or play even better.
Since then they have gone 2-15.
56-76 is a .424 winning percentage, or a 68-69 win pace over a full season. 58-91, the record the Sox have sunk to in a great big hurry, is a .389 winning percentage. That is a 63-win pace, or a 99-loss pace, over a full season. To maintain it and duck 100 losses, the Sox have to go 5-8 over the final 13 games, which seems like more than a notion for a team on a 2-15 jaunt.
Is 100 losses a significant barrier? From a statistical perspective, we know not to waste time catching the vapors over any specific round number. Symbolically, it’s pretty much the final frontier for failure. 80 losses is mediocrity, 90 losses is disappointment, but 100 is abject misery, an assuredly last-place finish in the division and possible ‘worst in baseball’ status. Some years no one loses 100 games.
While 90 losses is obviously not enough to make the Sox blink from their constant approach of swift, ramshackle next-year-will-be-different recoveries (Heck, that was their last playoff appearance!), an 100-loss meltdown is pretty much the only thing left that could induce the amount of pause necessary to result in something other than more mid-tier free agent hunting, ad-hoc rebuilding and cheap, in-house coaching solutions.
And it will probably fail.
Yet in this vein, it’s hard to figure out whether I want the Sox to bottom out to 100 or not. Such a further slide would be the kick they need to challenge Miami for the No. 2 draft slot, but that’s hardly a reason for symbolic tanking. This season has been such an intolerable disgrace that 100 losses hardly adds to the pain, and it might actually direct some more criticism at a front office that deserves it. 100 losses is not a natural feature of a competitive cycle, it’s a sign that mistakes were made, and it looks great in a column lede.
So how likely is it?
Dusting off an old Bill James formula for calculating win probability based on team win percentage, we get the following breakdown for the rest of a schedule that is mostly winning teams.
If we just clumsily add the win probabilities for the Sox, which seems flawed since games are discrete events without carryover, we still get 4.9 wins, which rounds pretty easily to five. That makes sense given that the primary lesson James was trying to teach with his formula is that strength of schedule differences need to be pretty extreme to stop teams from simply playing to their win percentage. The Sox average five wins for 13 games, so that’s probably what they will do.
As such, any expectation that the White Sox are going to find an extra loss in here and push themselves to the century mark is based on anecdotal evidence, of which there is plenty. The Sox look like death warmed over. They’re talking about shutting down flagging starters, but the only member of the rotation who is not flying past his professional career-high in innings pitched is John Danks, the guy whose struggles got the conversation started. Yesterday’s preview had this fun Avisail Garcia fact:
"“Since finding his power and busting out for home runs in two-straight games at the end of August, Avisail Garcia has hit .200/.234/.222 in 12 games, just one of his nine hits has gone for extra bases and the White Sox have lost every contest in which he’s appeared.”"
And he’s hardly the only recent trouble spot. Adam Dunn‘s woes have robbed the White Sox lineup of its only player sporting an above-average batting line for the season, and several players are matching his September stride for stride.
Dunn – .122/.182/.195
Gordon Beckham – .125/.205/.150
Alexei Ramirez – .226/.268/.283
Alejandro De Aza – .170/.204/.234
Leury Garcia – .214/.267/.250
Jeff Keppinger – .174/.200/.217
Slumps can reverse themselves on a dime, but the White Sox are looking with very little left to offer at the end of a humiliating and trying year. “Not 100!” is not the most majestic rallying cry, but it’s all that’s left for this crew.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan