Monday, May 21, 2012

A Quarter Of The Way Through The Season, What Have These Sox Taught Us?

With their sweep of the Cubs on Sunday afternoon, the White Sox had finished their 42nd game of the season. That means the Sox are a quarter of the way through the 2012 season.

Okay, they're 25.9% of their way through the season, but you understand what I mean.

Besides, since today's an off day it makes it that much more convenient to mark this as the quarter point.

Through those first 42 games, the Sox are in the same spot they started in: .500.

But what should we make of what we've seen so far? It's commonly accepted that you don't really know what kind of baseball team you're dealing with until June, and though it's not quite June yet, there isn't much of May left.

So I don't think we're stretching things to say that the Sox are who they are. It's a team that's just as capable of finishing a few games above .500 as it is below .500, but probably not much more than that either way.

Which, I think it's safe to say, is what most of us were expecting from this team.

Now, what we weren't expecting were the results this team has gotten from a resurgent Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy, along with better efforts from Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham.

Before the season started I said, and others said, that the White Sox would be an average team, but if they could get strong seasons from guys like Dunn, Peavy and Rios, they could shock some people.

Well, it's hard to imagine either Peavy or Dunn playing better than they have been through the first 42 games. Dunn is on pace to hit 54 home runs and drive in 123. Peavy seems destined to win 20 games and get serious contention for a Cy Young award.

Then there's Alex Rios, who isn't playing well enough to justify the $12 million he's getting paid this year, but is playing much better than the Rios we've seen the last two seasons.

Yet, even with those three "key" players all contributing, the Sox still sit with 21 wins and 21 losses.

There are plenty of reasons for this. The biggest one being that the Sox offense has been, by and large, pretty damned terrible. The Sox offense is ninth in the American League in runs, ninth in average, and tenth in OPS.

Only Oakland and Baltimore have struck out more than the 330 times the White Sox have. The White Sox have struck out 330 times in 1,556 plate appearances this season. That's more than 20% of the time.

As far as "clutch" stats go, the Sox offense has definitely been better this season with runners in scoring position. They're currently sixth in the American League with a .255 average. However, when there are runners in scoring position and two outs, the Sox are hitting .209. Only the Angels and Athletics are worse.

That's what happens when you strike out over a fifth of the time.

The good news for the offense is that over the last couple weeks, it's looked as though Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo are coming out of their early season slumps. A trend that can only help the Sox offense should it continue.

But what about Alexei Ramirez? Alexei typically begins to come out of his hibernatory period at this time of year, but he hasn't shown any flashes of hope just yet. Then there's the black hole that is third base.

Can the offense produce consistently with two automatic outs in it every night? How about when Adam Dunn stops hitting home runs every other at bat, or when Paulie goes through a funk?

As terrible as the offense has been, though, the pitching has been quite a pleasant surprise. Well, at least Jake Peavy has. He's been magnificent. Behind him is Gavin Floyd who has had some bad starts, but some fantastic ones as well.

In other words, he's being Gavin Floyd, but he's trended toward good more than bad, which isn't the norm for him, particularly this early in the year.

Chris Sale has been better than we reasonably could have hoped for as a starter. Take away that week where we all feared for his life, and there hasn't been much to complain about there.

Phil Humber is your fifth starter. He's pitching like one, but he mixed in a perfect game.

Then there's John Danks, who may be the biggest red flag in this staff. He looked great against the Cubs this weekend, but the Cubs sent out a Triple-A offense on Saturday night. Outside of that game Danks has been a pitcher without command of his pitches, and one whose velocity has dropped, and it seems to have taken some of his confidence with him.

I won't lie, I'm worried about him. I look for reasons to think that Danks is just experiencing some bad luck at the moment -- like Matt Thornton, who has made his share of mistakes, but has been screwed by fate just as many times -- but I can't find any. All of John's problems this year have been brought on by John.

He's missing spots, and he's giving in too easily. For instance, Manny Acta put out a lineup of lefties against Danks because he knew that Danks doesn't like to throw his changeup against left-handers, effectively taking John's best pitch away from him.

A confident Danks says screw it and throws his changeup anyway. If he puts it in the right spot and at the right times, it doesn't matter anyway. This is not what Danks did. He abandoned the changeup, allowed Cleveland hitters to just sit on a fastball that isn't over-powering in any way, and got lit up.

As for the bullpen, Will Ohman has been the biggest problem, and while Matt Thornton has had some problems in May, people seem to forget that he was untouchable in April. I actually like the way the bullpen is shaping up now that it looks as though Addison Reed is your permanent closer, and Hector Santiago is being allowed to work in less intense situations.

The only real surprise out of the pen has been Nathan Jones. Who would have thought that at this point of the season, Jones would have thrown more innings out of the pen than any other reliever? What's most surprising is that, of all Sox relievers, Jones has been the most consistent.

He's pitched in 15 games and has had a run charged to him in only two of them. He's been lights out for the most part, and I didn't even know who he was when spring training started.

Then, of course, there's the biggest wild card this team had coming into the season: Robin Ventura.

It's still hard to really read the kind of manager Ventura is, because I don't think he knows yet himself. I haven't agreed with how Ventura has managed the bullpen most of the season, but that's to be expected for a manager that hasn't actually managed anything, let along a bullpen before.

Do you know why Will Ohman has appeared in more games than any reliever other than Matt Thornton? I get that Hector Santiago was the closer for a while, but now that he's not, why not use Hector in those situational spots?

What I do like about Robin is the freedom he's giving his players. I love seeing Sox hitters allowed to hit on 3-0, and I like the idea of giving his base stealers the green light. What I don't like as much is his patience with that freedom.

It's hard to find a complaint about Alejandro De Aza this season, as he's exceeding my expectations. That being said, I do have one. He's not the best base-stealer on this team.  He may have the most stolen bases, but it's only because he has the most attempts.

He's been successful 67% of the time this season, but he's also been picked off twice. Factor that in and his success rate drops to 57%. This is not good, and I'd like it if Ventura would if not completely revoke the green light, at least throw the yellow one out there.

Alejandro gets on base quite a bit, and he does so in front of Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. I do not want De Aza running himself off the basepaths, especially with the way that Adam Dunn is hitting the ball.

This team has hit enough solo home runs as it is.

So, going over all that, what do we really know about the White Sox after a quarter of the season? Well, we know more about their tendencies, and we know that 2012 won't be the nightmare that 2011 was.

But as far as what kind of team we're truly dealing with, well, let's play another 40 games or so and try to figure it out then.

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