2010 MLB All-Star Break: Why The Chicago White Sox Are Back In First Place

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2010 MLB All-Star Break: Why The Chicago White Sox Are Back In First Place
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If the pattern holds, then every five years the Chicago White Sox General Manager/Manager combination of Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen will put together a great team and make a run at the World Series.

Because they did it in 2005, and they've done it again in 2010.

I've railed numerous times on the job Kenny Williams did dismantling his 2005 Chicago White Sox World Series team in the off-season between 2005 and 2006.  After winning a championship with a team built on pitching, speed, and defense with smart, under the radar moves, Williams blew it all up, getting rid of Aaron Rowand and Orlando Hernandez in favor of Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez.

The obvious moves screwed up the team that the smart moves had built.

Well, I railed on Williams for making what I thought were bad moves, so let me take a minute to hail him for making a series of moves that I think were good ones (and that I thought were bad at the time they were made).

The first move that I thought was a disaster at the time was the acquisition of Alex Rios.  

Here is a guy who enjoyed a break-out season in 2007 at the age of 26, and then never replicated it.  When Williams got him last season, he had just been waived by the Toronto Blue Jays—that's right, waived—for playing so poorly, and after joining the Sox, he played even worse.

The second move that I thought would explode in Williams' face was the acquisition of Juan Pierre.

At 32 years old, Pierre has been one of the most overrated players in baseball for several years.  He is one of the few players to ever have a consecutive games streak come to an end because of performance related issues.

After a 2009 season in which Pierre subbed admirably—but not valuably—for a suspended Manny Ramirez, Williams sent not one but two prospects to the Dodgers for him in the off-season.

Yikes.

The third move that I thought provided all the evidence that Williams has lost his mind was pencilling in Jake Peavy and Freddy Garcia for two of the White Sox five spots in the rotation for 2010.  

Peavy had spent his career in San Diego making his money off of Petco Park, and was destined to get shelled playing at U.S. Cellular Field.

Meanwhile Garcia hadn't played a full season since 2006, back when he was with the Sox, and had a terrible go of it in the brief times that he had been able to pitch from 2007 to 2009.

Finally, the fourth move that I took issue with was not so much a move but a perception: the perception that Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham are major league caliber ballplayers.  

Beckham has shown nothing coming into this season to indicate that he can handle major league pitching, while Ramirez had a good, but not great, year as a rookie in 2008 before regressing in 2009.

From my perspective, there were four (really five, if you count Beckham and Ramirez as two) flaws with the Chicago White Sox going forward at the beginning of the 2010 season.

And I was wrong about every single one of them.

Alexis Rios, somehow, has defied all the odds and become a hitter again with the White Sox.  He is on pace for a career high in all major categories, and leads the White Sox in runs scored and doubles.

What's more, Rios has been an outstanding defensive center fielder for the Sox.  

Fangraphs.com shows Rios to be the fourth best defensive center fielder in the American League, behind four excellent players—Franklin Gutierrez, Austin Jackson, and Curtis Granderson.

Juan Pierre, meanwhile, has been deceptively valuable in a way that only he can.  

His rate stat line is a pretty lousy—.257/.326/.289/.615—but he has been a key contributor in other ways.  He is somehow second on the team in hits, and he leads the team in stolen bases, HBP, and sacrifices.

Moreover, his defense in left field has been stellar.  Turning again to Fangraphs.com, we see that the site considers Pierre the second best defensive center fielder in the AL behind Carl Crawford.

Meanwhile, Peavy—though now hurt—and Garcia have pitched keep-you-in-the-game caliber baseball; Peavy's ERA is 4.63 while Garcia's is 4.36, and the two are combining to allow less than a hit per inning pitched.  Their combined record, right now, is 16-9.

Not too shabby.

Finally, the infielders.  Make no mistake about it—Ramirez is barely hitting the ball well enough to be considered below average, while Beckham has a been a disaster at the plate.  But hey—this is the AL Central, and this is the Year of the Pitcher, and if the White Sox can get great defense while sacrificing offense from their middle infielders, they should do it.

And they are.

Fangraphs.com shows Beckham to be the fifth best defensive second baseman in the American League, while Ramirez is the number one defensive shortstop in all of baseball.

So what do we have here: four great defensive players in key position, left field, center field, shortstop and second base?  Along with a help-you-not-hurt-you pitching staff?

The results have been sublime.

It is important to understand that Beckham, Ramirez, Pierre, and Rios aren't carrying merely league average or below league average defensive players with them.  Paul Konerko is one of the worst defensive first basemen in all of baseball, while Carlos Quentin is actually THE worst defensive right fielder in baseball.

If the White Sox weren't getting stellar defense from the other positions, Konerko and Quentin alone would kill them.

Nevertheless, guess which team is allowing the fourth fewest runs in the AL, and the fewest overall in the AL Central?  The White Sox have also allowed the fifth fewest hits in the league and the second fewest home runs.

Meanwhile, the defense has committed the fourth fewest errors in the AL and turned the fourth most double plays.

The Chicago White Sox have built themselves back into a playoff contender once again by reverting to the principles that got them there in 2005, when they won the World Series.

And I think Kenny Williams deserves a lot of credit for that, because some General Managers catch lightning in a bottle once and are never able to recreate the magic.

It looks like that is exactly what he is doing now.

 

Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com .

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