Jake Peavy to the Chicago White Sox: What If?

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IMay 22, 2009

Good call Jake Peavy—and while the news is not what the White Sox wanted to hear, it's probably best for Chicago as well.

Soon after we started our "What will Jake Peavy mean to the Chicago White Sox?" analysis this afternoon, that will mean became a could have meant when Peavy invoked his no-trade clause to stop a deal that would have reportedly sent him from San Diego to the South Side in exchange for current White Sox starter Clayton Richard and three minor league players.

As we discovered, everyone is better now than they could have been.

Peavy gets to keep batting (which he loves to do), keep exploiting spacious Petco Park (more on that later), and keep waiting for a better, more lucrative deal from a desperate team later in the year—all without worrying about whether or not he could have drastically changed his likelihood of making the playoffs.

By that, I definitely do not mean to suggest that the San Diego Padres as presently constructed are a likely playoff team, but that the Chicago White Sox, with or without the former Cy Young winner, are a flawed team without the necessary offensive tools or pitching depth to even contend in a generally weak division.

Using our award-winning baseball simulation engine, we "played" the rest of the 2009 season 10,000 times with and without Peavy in Chicago's rotation (he conveniently takes Richard's place that was previously held by Jose Contreras).

Without Jake Peavy, the White Sox average 72.6 wins for the season, meaning they finish the year winning approximately 56 of their last 122 games. In 10,000 simulations without Peavy, Chicago makes the playoffs 6.9 percent of the time.

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With Jake Peavy, the White Sox average 76.7 wins for the season, meaning they finish the year winning approximately 60 of their last 122 games. In 10,000 simulations with Peavy, Chicago makes the playoffs 11.4 percent of the time.

In other words, Peavy is worth 4.1 wins and a 4.5 percent improvement in the White Sox's chances of making the playoffs. In the 24 expected starts with their new ace, Chicago would likely finish 14-10 as opposed to 10-14.

While they almost double their playoff likelihood with the trade, the White Sox still fall very short of Detroit and Minnesota and are about even with the Royals in the race for the AL Central title.

Why wouldn't Jake Peavy to the White Sox be this year's version of CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers? Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts on the Brewers, helping the team to a spot in the playoffs as the NL Wild Card representative.

First of all, it is impossible to expect almost any pitcher in the history of baseball—with the possible exceptions of Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, or Walter Johnson in their primes—to go on that kind of run. It's just highly improbable. Sabathia is a good pitcher who was also very lucky to get on that hot streak.

Secondly, the Brewers were much better than this year's White Sox. Milwaukee was 49-40 when Sabathia made his first start for the team on July 8, 2008. The White Sox are currently 17-23. Worse yet, they recently finished second-to-last in our latest Power Rankings.

The Brewers were already looking at a very possible playoff run and got Sabathia for insurance (which they would need).

The White Sox are a desperate team with a GM always looking to make the huge deal that will turn everything around. In this case, they are more than one player away.

Lastly, Sabathia was much better suited to succeed with the Brewers than Peavy would be for the White Sox. That doesn't exactly mean that Sabathia is better than Peavy—just kind of.

To come up with the appropriate inputs for our simulations, we use numbers that strip away biases unrelated to the actual pitcher's ability. This includes ballpark factors, strength of competition, and whether the defense behind him helps or hurts his numbers.

Sabathia went from one fairly neutral ballpark—Progressive Field in Cleveland—to another—Miller Park in Milwaukee. In the process, he joined a significantly better offensive club and no longer had to face designated hitters. Everything was in place to suggest that Sabathia's numbers would improve going to Milwaukee.

For Peavy, it would be the opposite.

The most significant difference he would face is the ballpark change. In the history of baseball, no park has favored pitchers more than Petco Park. Petco gives up about 10 percent fewer runs and almost 25 percent fewer home runs than an average major league ballpark.

This can be evidenced in Peavy's own statistics. On the road versus at home, Peavy has an ERA more than one full run higher—3.82 to 2.81—and has given up 34 more home runs—85 to 51—in 106.1 fewer innings pitched. In this case, "road" can be assumed to mean that, on average, Peavy is pitching in neutral parks when not at home.

US Cellular Field, where the White Sox play, is hitter-friendly, particularly with home runs. The stadium has ranked in the top four most homer-heavy ballparks in each of the last six years, averaging a staggering 33 percent more home runs than a neutral stadium over that time period.

Petco hides the fact that Peavy struggles with the long ball. US Cellular and opposing hitters would exploit that weakness.

Not only would the ballpark change be a major issue, the lack of run support may be even worse for Peavy in Chicago than it can be in San Diego. The Padres may not be the Big Red Machine, but they have Adrian Gonzalez, and the rest of their offense—especially given their park—is respectable.

Independent of ballparks, San Diego is currently 10th in the National League in OPS. The White Sox are second-to-last in the AL, relatively much worse than the Padres and trailing only the Oakland A's for offensive ineptitude in all of baseball.

Wins for Chicago would actually be more difficult than wins for San Diego (assuming the Padres' impending fire sale does not drastically affect its offense).

Then there is another stat that has to be mentioned: Peavy has been inordinately good at pitching to opposing pitchers in his career. While his batting average allowed all-time is an impressive .231, his batting average allowed to non-pitchers is .242.

Typically this difference for NL pitchers is 6-7 points, with pitchers usually hitting around .150. One could assume that good pitchers facing very bad hitters would have exponentially better numbers, but Peavy's case is a little extreme.

Peavy's .095 batting average allowed against pitchers is almost 40 percent better than .150. His batting average allowed against non-pitchers—the kind he would face all game, every game in the AL—is almost exactly 10 percent better than league average.

Strip away his advantage from pitching in San Diego half his games and make him face nine non-pitchers a game, and Jake Peavy does not project to be too much better than an average AL pitcher even before he is thrown in "the Cell."

Obviously, Peavy would have been a notable upgrade over the performances that Jose Contreras and Clayton Richard have turned in this year for the Chicago White Sox. But it would have been a bad fit for all parties that would not have improved the team enough to be a serious playoff candidate.

Jake Peavy can be a very good pitcher who can help the right team in the right situation. The Chicago White Sox just aren't that team. And don't ever expect him to be "Sabathia-esque."


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