Cubs

The best...and worst of Kenny Williams

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The best...and worst of Kenny Williams

Yesterday the White Sox made the move official: Kenny Williams has been promoted to White Sox executive vice president. A better day couldn't be picked to take a look back at Willams' tenure as general manager, as yesterday marked the seven-year anniversary of his crowning achievement. October 26th, 2005 saw the White Sox on the field at Minute Maid Park in Houston, beating the Astros 1-0 to complete a sweep in the only White Sox World Series Championship since 1917.
Let's take a look, in terms of WAR (Wins Above Replacement; a metric showing the value of a player in comparison to a fringe Major League player) at Williams' best and worst moves during his run as general manager.
1.) December 23, 2006 (16.2 WAR): Sox send Brandon McCarthy and minor leaguer David Paisano to the Rangers in exchange for John Danks, Nick Masset & minor leaguer Jacob Rasner.
McCarthy was impressive in his first season in the Bigs, working as a spot starter for the 2005 World Champs. With the addition of Javier Vazquez in 2006, McCarthy spent his sophomore season in the bullpen, save for two starts. The lanky right-hander was highly regarded, and the move came as a bit of a surprise, as the deal of Freddy Garcia to the Phillies less than three weeks earlier created talk of a possible spot in the 2007 rotation.
Nevertheless, the prospect of bringing in John Danks, the Rangers 1st Round draft pick in 2003 (9th overall) was too much to resist. And it paid off magnificently. Danks got his first taste of the Majors in a rough 2007 season, and his 6-13 record and 5.50 ERA were more or less on par with the performance of the team as a whole. But the next three seasons, he posted double figures in wins, boasting an aggregate ERA of 125 (meaning, when adjusting for the ballpark, the league ERA was 25 higher than his) forming, with Mark Buehrle, a potent tandem of southpaws. Danks has since struggled due to hard luck and more recent injuries, but hopefully hell come back healthy and justify the five-year, 65 million investment made in the 2011 offseason.
However, even if Danks never throws another pitch in a White Sox uniform, Kenny Williams fleeced the Rangers in this deal. McCarthy compiled 1.5 WAR through three mediocre seasons in Texas before resurrecting his career with the Athletics after signing a free agent deal in December, 2010. Danks is at 18.1 and counting.
2.) December 6, 2006 (15.8 WAR): Freddy Garcia sent to Philadelphia for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez.
Knowing what you know about Gio Gonzalez, keep in mind that his contribution to the White Sox in this deal was 0.0 WAR, granted that he never threw a pitch for Kennys crew. And still, the Sox come out ahead nearly sixteen WAR ahead of the Phillies. Garcia made only 11 starts in a Phillies uniform, eventually needing shoulder surgery, and when he did pitch, he was very ineffective no matter how you cut it up (5.90 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 5.83 FRA).
As frustrating as Gavin Floyd has been, hes also been (at least up until this season) durable. He has made 29 or more starts for the last five seasons; ERA hovering at league average or better (much better in 2008). Heres a quintessential Gavin Floyd statistic: in 2012, he led the White Sox in scoreless starts of 6 IP (6; as many as Chris Sale & Jake Peavy combined). He also tied Philip Humber for the most starts with 5 ER allowed (7). Thats Gavin. But he racks up innings; his 948.1 IP over the last 5 seasons is 8th most in the American League over that span. Thats important. And with that comes 15.5 WAR since being acquired by the Sox, while Garcia had -0.3 before walking and signing a free agent deal with the Tigers late in 2008.
3.) March 20, 2006 (11.2 WAR): Matt Thornton acquired from Mariners in exchange for Joe Borchard
The White Sox used the 12th overall selection in the 2000 June draft to nab Stanfords Joe Borchard. Three picks later, Chase Utley was taken out of UCLA. Five years later, he had a .596 career OPS in 102 career games in the Majors. At the time, the deal was seen as a swap of disappointing prospects. Thats where the roads separated. Borchard continued to struggle, hitting .215 in his remaining two Major League seasons with the Mariners and Marlins (finally calling it quits after bouncing around the Braves & Giants Minor League systems), while Thornton became a valuable part of the White Sox bullpen.
The dart-throwing lefty has made at least 60 appearances out of the bullpen for the White Sox in each of his seven seasons on the South Side, racking up nearly 10 strikeouts per 9 innings (9.6) over that span. He even earned an All-Star nod in 2010, when he posted an excellent percentage of inherited runners allowed (13). While he hasnt been quite the same since (including a very brief, very unsuccessful stint as closer to start 2011), he has been solid more often than not, and has long outlasted the player he was traded for, and that is a successful trade.
4.) July 31, 2004 (9.8 WAR): Esteban Loaiza traded to the Yankees in exchange for Jose Contreras and cash.
Cash itself has a magnificent WAR in my book. But for the purposes of this occasion, its not factored in. Esteban Loaiza had a 69-73 record with 4.88 ERA (95 ERA) on his resume when he came to Chicago and provided the South Side faithful with a 2003 to remember. He tied Fernando Valenzuelas record of 21 wins in a season by a Mexican-born pitcher, and should have had more; two of his losses were 1-0, he had a 2-1 no decision loss, and two starts (one loss, one no decision) where the Sox lost 3-2. He had a 2.90 ERA and led the AL in strikeouts. The next season the magic was gone, and Kenny Williams shipped his 9-5 record and 4.86 ERA to the Bronx for the once highly-regarded Cuban import Jose Contreras, who himself sported a 5.64 ERA.
It was the classic challenge trade. Loaiza wasnt much use to the Yankees (1-2, 8.50 ERA, decent relief work in the playoffs), and Contreras wasnt that great either to finish 2004. But 2005 alone makes this trade one of Kennys best. Contreras went 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA in the second half, earning the Game 1 start in the ALDS, ALCS & World Series. He continued his success in 2006, running a consecutive win streak to 17. He faltered in 2007 and beyond, but he was so good on two 90-win White Sox teams, that the edge in WAR ends up much in favor of Contreras (8.7 to -1.1).
Now for the bad; the two worst involve a common player:
1.)January 3, 2008 (-11.5): Nick Swisher acquired from Athletics for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez & Fautino De Los Santos
2.) November 13, 2008 (-10.9): Nick Swisher traded to Yankees with Kanekoa Texeira for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, & Jhonny Nunez
Nick Swisher had seven seasons where he averaged about 2.7 WAR per season with about a .365 OBP. Stuck right in the middle of that stretch is his 2008 season with the White Sox, where he hit a career-low .219 with a career-low .743 OPS. The plan was to have Swisher, a player with good patience and good pop hit leadoff; something the White Sox hadnt had in a long time. He hit 35 HR in a tough environment in Oakland in 2006, and his OBP peaked at .381 in 2007.
After 30 games though, the plan was abandoned. Batting .208 with just three home runs (but a good .351 OBP), he was hitting primarily seventh through the remainder of the season. It was too bad, because it was a good idea having an unconventional leadoff man, with OBP as the focus rather than speed, and they may have given up on it a bit soon.
In any event, Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez & Fautino De Los Santos were shipped to the Bay Area in January 2008. In a late season call-up in 2006 and some games in May 2007, he didnt show the solid .290 BA he showed in the minors, but Sweeney found it with the As (although with an anemic 110.4 ABHR). Sweeney alone out-values Swisher in this deal (5.3 WAR for Oakland to -0.5 for Chicago).
The bigger name is Gonzalez. The right-hander broke out in 2010 with a 15-9 season striking out 171 in just over 200 innings and was even better in 2011, although walks were a concern both seasons. He was good for 5.8 WAR in Oakland alone. Prior to the 2012 season, the Athletics flipped Gonzalez to the Nationals in a package deal which netted them Tommy Milone (2.0 WAR) and Derek Norris (0.6 WAR) among others (and they won the AL West).
The second Swisher deal could be considered even worse. All three players the Sox received appeared in a combined 28 games...and were worth -0.8 WAR, even in that short a time period. Wilson Betemit didnt hit, and made four errors in eight chances at third base. Jeff Marquez gave up two runs in his only inning with the Sox, and Mr. Nunezs main accomplishment was to become the second Jhonny in Major League history. To add insult to injury, Swisher returned to form with two straight seasons of 29 HR and 120 OPS in the Big Apple. Hes at 10.1 WAR and counting while its been well over two years since a player from that deal played for the White Sox.
3.) July 18, 2004 (-6.8 WAR): Carl Everett acquired from Expos for Gary Majewski & Jon Rauch
The WAR number looks worse than this deal really was. Carl Everett was the primary starting DH for a World Series team (albeit for just one season) and the relievers (more so Rauch than Majewski) simply benefited from lasting a few seasons longer with the ExposNationals (Everett -0.3 WAR in 04-05; Majewski 1.9 WAR in 2004-06, Rauch 5.2 WAR in 2004-08).
4.) December 13, 2001 (-6.7 WAR): Todd Ritchie and Lee Evans acquired from Pirates for Josh Fogg, Kip Wells & Sean Lowe
Eight pitchers have logged 120 innings with an ERA of over 6.00. Todd Ritchie is the most recent, doing it in his sole season on the South Side (6.06 ERA in 133.2 IP in 2002). He had a 3.32 ERA through his first nine starts, then embarked upon a stretch of 12 starts in which he allowed 6 earned runs seven times (in one of the other five, he allowed eight runs all unearned). He had 15 losses on August 3rd. Etc. Etc. By the end of the season, he had contributed -1.9 WAR.
That same 2002 season, Kip Wells & Josh Fogg tied for the Pirates team lead with 12 wins and both pitched over 190.0 innings. Wells and Fogg both had their moments where they racked up 170 IP on bad Pirates teams. But innings have value, and positive WAR resulted.
Kip Wells actually made some starts with the Padres in 2012. In contrast, the last Major League batter Todd Ritchie faced was Bobby Higginson. You could look it up.
Its a fact that a lot of his better deals were made after they had already won the World Series. But thats the point. Its a constant stream of smaller deals that made Kenny Williams run as White Sox general manager great. Getting Freddy Garcia from Seattle, bringing in Kevin Youkilis for next to nothing, acquiring Carlos Quentin from Arizona...even flipping Aaron Miles to Colorado for Juan Uribe. Not to mention the shrewd free agent signings. All things said, it is clear that Kenny Williams rise to Executive VP is well-deserved as the good trades clearly outweigh the bad.
WAR calculations are from the incomparable baseball-reference.com, where I spend as much time as I do breathing.

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

They began play Sunday night with a chance to sweep their division rivals in St. Louis and sitting in first place in the National League Central, percentage points up on the Milwaukee Brewers. A +100 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157) and Boston Red Sox (+102) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-12 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

ST. LOUIS — Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

The team announced Javy Baez has a left elbow contusion after taking a 90 mph fastball off it in the third inning of Sunday night's game. Baez will still undergo X-rays to be sure there is nothing more sinister at play, but for now, it looks as if he has avoided serious injury.

Still, this is not what the Cubs wanted to see.

The Cubs entered play Sunday night having gone 24-12 since getting swept out of St. Louis in the first weekend of May. They were feeling good about themselves, starting to get their mojo back and playing more like the team everybody expected.

And then Baez took a fastball off the left elbow.

After a couple minute delay, Baez was led off the field and Addison Russell came in off the bench to replace him at first base.

The 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season for the Cubs, sitting 5th in the National League with 46 RBI and on pace for a near 30-30 seaosn (33 homers, 29 stolen bases). 

He had slowed a bit (.175 average, .502 OPS in June) but still gives the Cubs so much energy and versatility on a daily basis with his ability to move around the infield and lineup.

If the Cubs are going to be without Baez for any length of time, it could be a huge blow to a team that was just hitting its stride.