As sports fans, we are always looking for results, instant gratification in the form of some hardware for our beloved teams. We long for it because at the end of the day we deem the success of a professional ball club as our own. It is truly a personal investment both monetarily and emotionally. For the past 12 years, White Sox fans have intermittently praised and pointed the finger at general manager Kenny Williams. Approval ratings plummeted to an all-time low last year when 28 million in the form of Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn reaped next to no production. The first chapter of the 2012 season has told a much different story to this point so what is the reason for Williams sudden return on investment?
In 2011, Peavy was underwhelming to say the least. It may sound harsh, but the overpowering right-hander was having trouble with velocity and control which caused him to record the highest ERA (4.92) of his career. Peavy only saw 111 and 23 innings of action, less than half of his 2007 Cy Young year total. The problem was 2011 Jake and 2007 Jake were two completely different pitchers. Last year, Peavy was battling not only opposing hitters, but also the uncertainty of his surgically reattached lat muscle. It was his first season back from surgery to repair a completely torn latissimus dorsi and his lack of confidence in his body was glaringly obvious.
This year, Jake has taken a different approach to his pitching philosophy and the results are undeniable. While he still relies mostly on his fastball, Peavy has thrown substantially more change-ups this year, stressing location rather than trying to overpower hitters. He knows what his bodys limits are and he is beginning to play to his own strengths. Peavy holds the third lowest ERA (2.39) in the American League, the second lowest WHIP (.91), and is still top 10 in strikeouts. The south side ace was named AL Pitcher of the Month for April, and has already thrown more than half the amount of innings as he did last season. Peavy is currently in the final year of his contract, so naturally trade rumors have gotten louder as his production has increased but this has not fazed the anchor of the White Sox pitching staff, if anything it has made him more effective.
Another big time performer that has Williams wiping the sweat off his brow in relief is Dunn. The slugger is widely regarded across baseball as a pure power hitter. The behemoth of a man stands 66 285 lbs. and he can promise you two things: home runs and strikeouts. Unfortunately for Williams and the rest of Sox nation, Dunn only held true to one half of that statement last year. The big man hit a befuddling .159 last season and every single one of his power numbers dropped by more than 50 percent. Whether it was playing with a new team or facing new pitchers in the AL, Dunn was frustrated at the plate and at one point he even went as far as throwing around the idea of retirement.
If Im not having fun anymore, Ill go home, flat out Ill go home. I mean that. Swear to goodness, Ill go home. I enjoy playing, even though I suck, or have been sucking. I enjoy playing the game. Love it. But as soon as I lose that, Im gone dude. Its true, Dunn told Yahoo Sports in the midst of his slump.
It is apparent that Dunn has cast away whatever self-doubt he may have had. He's already hit 15 homers, three more than his total last year, he is hitting .239 and rising, he has an OBP of .383, and he has driven in 35 runs. Dunn has already struck out 64 times in 148 at bats, but thats simply business as usual with the big fella. Dunns confidence is sky high right now and his preseason goal to be named Comeback Player of the Year is becoming more and more of a reality.
It is obvious that these two White Sox standouts are experiencing some sort of resurgence this season, but what is the reasoning for them being hotter than North Avenue Beach in July? Ultimately, it boils down to three things: money, reputation, and the future.
As we all know, one of the major motivating factors in professional sports is the all-mighty dollar. This year is the final stanza of Peavys three-year contract and he is scheduled to make 17 million, with a 22 million option next season. Whether the Sox plan to trade him before seasons end, pick up his option, or let him go to free agency, Peavy is in a make-or-break position and he knows it. A 15-20 win season could mean a long-term deal with a lot of zeros in it for Peavy. Dunn will make 14 million this year, and 15 million in 2013 and 2014 with the White Sox. Kenny Williams paid over 100 million dollars for these two premiere athletes and it appears as if they are finally giving a true return on investment.
The second motivating factor of the recent success of Dunn and Peavy is reputation. After a dismal 2011 season both of these once superstar-type players were put into question. They were not playing anywhere near the levels they were capable of and the south side faithful let them know it. Peavy mentioned that it was hard to go out to dinner with his family without being verbally harassed last year. He has admitted to taking the hill this season and throwing with a chip on his shoulder. So I think it is safe to say that both of these players have something to prove in 2012, and they are both well on their way there.
The third motivating factor for Peavy and Dunn is a harsh reality of not only sports but of any professional realm; tomorrow is never promised. Despite having a multi-year contract, your future as a major leaguer is never completely certain. We are talking about a 30-year-old Peavy and a 32-year-old Dunn who are both in what many would consider their prime. Two years ago, Peavy was told that if he re-injured himself he would never throw a baseball again and last year Dunn toyed with the idea of retirement so an uncertain future is not a foreign concept to these two.
The reality is both of these men are All-Atar caliber athletes who deserve the big time contracts they have been given. The only difference is that in 2012 they had their abilities and mental toughness questioned and they are responding in a big way. For that, Williams is breathing a sigh of relief.
--Joe Musso contributed to this article--