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Breaking it Down with WAR: White Sox vs. Twins

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Breaking it Down with WAR: White Sox vs. Twins

Thursday, March 31, 2011
Posted 2:45 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Everywhere you look, theres talk of the AL Central Division race being a three-way thriller, surely undecided until late September. The defending champion Minnesota Twins appear weakened, but rarely pull their dogs from the fight until the last day of the season. Motown went loco, spending even more crazily than the Chicago White Sox, who appear to have the best balance in the division.

But no offense to the Bengals, this division will come down to the Chisox and Twinkies, as it has in two of the last three seasons.

So, how weakened are the Twins, and is the retooled White Sox offense and bullpen enough to make up the six games the team trailed Minnesota by in 2010? What follows is by no means a definitive outlook, but an educated projection, position by position, on how the two clubs stack up. (Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is the standardized figure Im using to compare players and teams.)
Catcher

A.J. Pierzynski is unlikely to have as poor a year as he did in 2010, but then, he did little this spring to inspire confidence, so lets chalk him up with the same 1.8 WAR performance as a year ago. Joe Mauer is all-world, of course, and with his knee woes likely behind him, its safe to predict a few more games played in 2011 and thus an uptick in WAR to 5.5.
Advantage: Twins (3.7)

First Base

Its still a question mark for Minny, as Justin Morneau continues his tentative return from the concussion that knocked him out of the second half of 2010. He may play more games this year, but his production is likely to take a dip (4.9 WAR). Still, Paul Konerkos gilded 2010 season is unlikely to be duplicated, so chalk him up for an even bigger WAR drop (to 3.1).
Advantage: Twins (1.8)

Second Base

The Twins bring another question mark to the season, with Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka manning the position full time. How his game will translate to the majors is hard to determine, but his skill set obviously fits the pesky Twinkies tendencies, so Ill project him a notch above Akinori Iwamuras strong debut in Tampa (2.9). On the Sox side, Gordon Beckham is poised for a breakoutdefensively settled at second, renewed confidence on the basepaths and seeing a steady diet of fastballs hitting in front of Adam Dunn means Bacon is due for a large jump in his production (to 3.1 WAR).
Advantage: White Sox (0.2)

Shortstop

Without a significant uptick in on-base percentage, its going to be hard for Alexei Ramirez to substantially add to his WAR numbers, but with continued stellar defense and perhaps a stronger running game, lets nudge him to 3.9 this season. Minnesotas similarly-monickered shortstop, Alexi Casilla, has little of Ramirezs ability or breakout potential (1.1 WAR).
Advantage: White Sox (2.8)

Third Base

Brent Morel is an X-factor for the Chisox this season, figuring to be a plus-WAR player based on defense alone, so with regular time on the diamond as anticipated, he earns a 1.3 projected WAR. Danny Valencia was a 2010 surprise for Minnesota, playing at a 2.7 WAR clip. In a sophomore season, expect a modest step back for Valencia, to 2.4.
Advantage: Twins (1.1)

Left Field
Juan Pierre just keeps on ticking for the White Sox. Its easy to expect some sort of stumble from the 68 stolen bags and a .341 on-base percentage, so his WAR will drop to 1.5. On the Minnesota side, Delmon Youngs defense alone could see him drop in WAR as well, an equal amount as Pierre (to 1.6).
Advantage: Twins (0.1)

Center Field

Alex Rios had an incredible comeback year in 2010 (to 3.7 WAR), and the White Soxs success this season is predicated on him coming close to matching that strong campaign. With all the tools in his box, dont expect much of a fall-off from him (3.6). Denard Span just keeps getting better for the Twins, so another jump in WAR (from 2.9) is far from guaranteed, but to be on the safe side, lets pencil him at 3.8.
Advantage: Twins (0.2)

Right Field

Two plodding players populate right for these two teams, Carlos Quentin on the South Side and Michael Cuddyer in Minny. Quentins durability and defensive weaknesses keep him from ever being an elite WAR player, but hes a safe bet to jump to 1.0 this season, and Cuddyer could easily match that.
Advantage: None

Designated Hitter

This ones tricky, as Jim Thome was dominant (3.6) a season ago, largely subbing for Morneau, but hes not only due for fewer at-bats, but has been supplanted at DH by Jason Kubel, who will be lucky to double his WAR in 2011 (to 0.6). The White Sox have imported Dunn, who will find it almost impossible not to duplicate his National League WAR of 3.9 in the bandboxy U.S. Cellular Field.
Advantage: White Sox (3.3)

Lineup Advantage: Twins (0.5)

Core Four on Bench

White Sox: Ramon Castro (0.6), Omar Vizquel (0.0), Mark Teahen (0.2), Lastings Milledge (1.2). Total: 2.0 WAR
Twins: Thome (1.8), Jason Repko (1.0), Drew Butera (0.5), Matt Tolbert (0.5). Total: 3.8 WAR

Bench Advantage: Twins (1.8)

Starting Rotation

The White Sox run out a strong first five, with the only real potential limitation being Jake Peavys injury, which earns him an overly conservative 2.8 WAR for 2011. John Danks should emulate 2010 (4.2), Mark Buehrle will take a slight hit (3.4), and Gavin Floyds predicted drop to 3.4 is well offset by what Edwin Jackson will bring to the rotation for a full year (3.5). Total Rotation: 17.3 WAR

Minnesota is more riddled with question marks, although many pundits dont seem to note it. It will be nearly impossible for Francisco Liriano to match 2010s 6.0 WAR, so he bumps down to 5.5, still the best on either team. I have doubts about Carl Pavanos ability to duplicate his 3.2 of last season, but well hold him steady there. Brian Duensing should benefit from a full season of starts, so he hops to 2.4, while Nick Blackburn also will benefit from a full season of starting and bump to 1.4. It may be overly generous, but Scott Baker should also see a WAR hop, to 3.2. Total Rotation: 15.7 WAR

Rotation Advantage: White Sox (1.6)

Bullpen
Matt Thornton is as steady as can be, whether as a closer or setup man, so he sticks at 2.2 WAR. Sergio Santos is in line for more responsibility, thus seeing his WAR double to 1.0. Chris Sale will encounter a sophomore slump or two, but his electric arm earns a 1.0. New acquisitions Jesse Crain and Will Ohman should also mostly duplicate past performance, Crain holding steady at 0.8 and Ohman dropping a tick in the AL, to 0.1. Long reliever Tony Pena should have a more productive season with the bullpen better settled, so well jump him to 0.4. Total Bullpen: 5.5 WAR

Joe Nathan had a poor spring but should be relied on to nearly duplicate his last healthy season WAR (1.9, 2009), so hell slot at 1.3. Kevin Slowey has been bounced from the rotation and into a Pena role, so his past WARs (2.2 in 2010) are no measure for his 2011 production (1.0). Matt Capps is taking on a new setup role and should see little room to improve on his poor 2009 WAR, so he hops to just 0.9. Jose Mijares, Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins are all pitchers of little distinction, so I forsee small ticks back for the two former hurlers (0.1 apiece) and a slight uptick for Perkins, also to 0.1. Total Bullpen: 3.5 WAR

Bullpen Advantage: White Sox (2.0)

Final WAR Tally

White Sox 48.1, Twins 46.8

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

Dallas Keuchel spoke, and the White Sox responded.

That was an easy way to read what happened this week in Detroit.

After a seemingly listless performance in the series-opener — a 5-1 defeat that followed the sting of a missed opportunity against the Cleveland Indians one night earlier — Keuchel addressed the team. Then he told reporters what he told his teammates.

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“I would have liked to see the team play better tonight, especially after a kind of defeating loss last night,” the veteran left-hander said Monday. “We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game. … We've got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win, and we've got some guys going through the motions. So we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we're going to have to start that now.

“When you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it's very frustrating when you have games like this, and it just seems like we were out of it from the get go.”

The White Sox won the next two games in Detroit, scoring 15 runs on a combined 18 hits.

So Keuchel woke everybody up. His words spurred these White Sox.

Right?

“I think the conversation that we had with him, that he had with us, it didn’t really effect the way that we played the last two games,” first baseman José Abreu said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think that we would do that either way.

“I do appreciate the conversation that he had with us. He had some concerns, and he’s a veteran. He shared those concerns with us, and I appreciate that. But it’s not a secret that the first game in Detroit wasn’t one of our best games. That was a bad game for us. But it wasn’t because we didn’t want to do good. It just was one of those games where we couldn’t do better in that particular time. The next two days, we did perform and we did what we were supposed to do.

“That’s why I think there’s no reason for people to put the spotlight on what Dallas said because we won the last two games. I think we would do it either way.”

Before anyone thinks of making the leap to clubhouse controversy, know this. Abreu, who’s been described as a team leader and certainly has been a mentor and a role model to the young players around him over the last few seasons, has been a vocal proponent of two things: the need for players to work hard and do the things they’re supposed to do to put themselves in position to win, and the high level of talent these young White Sox have.

With rebuilding cornerstones like Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and now Luis Robert firmly under his wing, it’s understandable Abreu would be protective of them and their fellow youngsters when called out for a lack of effort. And why shouldn’t he if that’s not what he’s seeing? Few are closer to those guys on a daily basis, and he would know if they weren’t living up to his own high standards when it comes to work ethic. Of course, Keuchel didn’t name any names, and those closest to Abreu might not have been the ones he was referencing Monday night.

Abreu has spent years talking up how good this group of players can be, and he knows what it's capable of. It's no surprise that he believed the White Sox capable of turning in a better performance than the one they did Monday night, and that belief would have been the same whether Keuchel opened up or if no one said a word.

RELATED: White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

For what it’s worth, another White Sox mainstay was more willing to connect the dots between what Keuchel said and what happened in the days that followed.

“I hope they had some effect,” manager Rick Renteria said Friday. “I hope it affected them. I think any time you have a peer trying to motivate you, it's a good thing, especially somebody who's been around a little bit.

“As we've talked about before over the last three or four years, at some point we want the players to go ahead and take ownership. We've had guys doing it subtly, you guys haven't heard about it. In this instance, you heard about it. And I hope it did have an effect.”

This seems less like the White Sox answering the prayers of talk radio with a brewing battle inside the clubhouse and more just an interesting comparison of vantage points.

Keuchel knows what it’s like to win. He’s got a World Series ring on his finger. But Abreu knows this team. He knows these guys. Keuchel’s a newcomer, but one brought in partially because of his winning experience. Abreu has no winning experience in the major leagues, all six of his previous White Sox seasons ending in sub-.500 finishes, but perhaps no player in that clubhouse is more familiar with the intricacies of this franchise’s rebuilding process. And the White Sox made what seemed like an easy decision to keep him a central part of it with his three-year contract in the offseason.

This season — before it was all jumbled up by the pandemic — was supposed to be about the White Sox finally reaching the stage of their rebuild where they started to win. But it was also supposed to be about getting to that point. A schedule squeezed down to 60 games, and an American League playoff field expanded from five to eight teams, might have given the White Sox a better chance to do something they haven't done in more than a decade. But the shortened season robbed them of the typical six-month marathon in which a team can evolve into a winner.

Keuchel and Abreu both have important roles to play in getting the White Sox to where they want to be, and both of those vantage points will be critical along the way.

Remember: They both want the exact same thing.

“I told Rick Hahn this,” Keuchel said during spring training, “I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years to be any different.”

“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said around the same time. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.

“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.

“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”


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White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

Despite their preseason stockpile of starting-pitching depth, the White Sox will resort to their second bullpen day of the season in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.

Lucas Giolito, the ace of the South Side staff, takes the ball in the first game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, who will be seeing game action for the first time in more than two weeks as they finally resume play at the end of a pause caused by nearly 20 positive tests for COVID-19 among players and staff.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria revealed Friday that Game 2 will feature another group effort by his relief corps. Remember that doubleheader games are now just seven innings long.

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This bullpen day comes just one week after the last. A week ago, in the second game of the White Sox series with the Cleveland Indians, Renteria called on seven different relievers in a 7-1 loss. While Matt Foster started things well, Drew Anderson, who was newly called up from the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg, fell apart in the fourth inning and was tagged for six runs. With the White Sox unable to solve Indians starter Zach Plesac that day, the remaining five White Sox pitchers mostly served in mop-up duty.

Now, that's certainly not to say every bullpen day will yield a similar result. The White Sox bullpen has looked like a strength this season, even if the team's relief ERA of 4.15 was just the 15th best in baseball as of this writing. But it's a perfect example of how quickly the White Sox starting-pitching depth has been drained and the position it's put the team in just a third of the way through this shortened 60-game season.

Reynaldo López and Carlos Rodón remain on the injured list with no timetables for their returns to the White Sox rotation. Gio González has been called on to fill in for López, and he's been unable to make it out of the fifth inning in any of his first three starts in a White Sox uniform, though the team has won two of those three games. There has been no replacement in the rotation for Rodón.

RELATED: White Sox, Cardinals to play doubleheader after Friday's game postponed

Back on Aug. 5, general manager Rick Hahn said both injured pitchers could be back in action within a few weeks, certainly better than season-ending diagnoses for those two key cogs. But a few weeks is a big chunk of this 60-game season. With Renteria not delivering timelines for either pitcher Friday, it seems Saturday's bullpen day might not be the last one we see from the White Sox this summer.

For those wondering where highly touted pitching prospect Dane Dunning fits into all this, Hahn specifically said that Dunning would not be called upon to take Rodón's spot last weekend. The general manager said on Aug. 5 that Dunning, coming off Tommy John surgery, had not yet worked his way to the kind of length the team wants to see from starting pitchers at the big league level. That's not to say Dunning won't appear at all for the White Sox this season, but as of nine days ago, he wasn't ready yet, not to mention that the front office continues to operate under the idea that an injury at the major league level should have no effect on when a prospect is ready for a promotion.

But with López and Rodón on the shelf — along with youngster Jimmy Lambert, who's on the 45-day injured list — Dunning not ready, Michael Kopech electing not to play this season due to personal reasons and Ross Detwiler limited to a relief role at the moment, there are few if any places for the White Sox to turn. The team inked veteran left-hander Clayton Richard to a minor league deal, but Hahn said going outside the organization for rotation help isn't very likely with the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month.

That all makes it seem like bullpen days might be something to get used to for a little while.


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