During last weekend's series, I suddenly looked at Fangraphs and realized there were a lot of wOBAs and OBPs under .300 in the White Sox lineup. Seriously, what happened? It wasn't that long ago that they were at least on the edges of being competitive.
The wheels started to come off of the offense in September of last season. The White Sox were in first place of the AL Central on September 1, and by the end of the season they were three games short of the playoffs. This season they have presented what is undoubtedly one of their worst offenses in recent memory. There are a lot of issues which are causing problems this year-they don't walk enough, they didn't make enough offseason moves, and key hitters are slumping. Simply put, they have a roster built for slugging, but they don't slug. They are 12th in the league in home runs and 14th in slugging, so the plan isn't working.
However you want to capture it-pick your favorite offensive stat-the White Sox are near the bottom of that stack. Heading into Wednesday's game, they were second to last in the majors in OPS+, walks, RBI, and runs and show no signs of improving. As much as it's been fun to mock the Marlins this season, there may come a time in the near future where it's just as fashionable to bash the White Sox for their ineptitude. For now, though, their suckitude seems to fly under most people's radars.
The White Sox were much better offensively for most of last season, which wasn't necessarily because that roster was so much better, but because several players hit their upsides at the same time. Paul Konerko hit .329/.404/.528 with 14 home runs in the first half of the season, Pierzynski had a career-high 27 home runs, and Adam Dunn's OPS+ was 113 (this year it's 71). But that sort of output was a fluke, and the organization knew it. Had they made the playoffs, they might have taken the offseason more seriously and maybe kept Youkilis and Pierzynski on the payroll (or at least tried harder to fill roster gaps), but with key parts aging and a weak farm, a rebuild on the South Side has been inevitable for seasons.
The transition to the rebuilding was supposed to be gradual, but the Sox took some gambles, like making Tyler Flowers the everyday catcher, that haven't paid off. Aside from Alex Rios, who is the only hitter with an OPS+ above 100, and Conor Gillaspie, who is proving to be the best acquisition of the offseason for the Sox (but fading fast), there just aren't any bright spots in the offense right now-which is good news for A's or any team who plays them.
Shortly after last season ended, it was announced that Ken Williams was promoted to an Executive VP position and Rick Hahn took over day-to-day GM duties. Have there been any noticeable changes in organizational philosophy since then, or is it simply a paper promotion for both men?
As long as Kenny (we call him Kenny around here) Williams is sitting down the hall from Rick Hahn, it will be incredibly hard to evaluate Hahn on his own merits, because he still answers to Williams on all major decisions. Still, there are some things that are known about Hahn's approach that make him seem like the best candidate moving forward, and that he will ultimately be successful.
It's clear that Hahn embraces sabermetrics more than his counterparts, and that's a step in the right direction. Hahn has always been praised for his negotiation skills-it's fabled he convinced Pierzynski to stay with the team prior to his last contract extension with just one phone call-and that's obviously a trait that you want in a decision-maker. The White Sox have now structured their front office in a way that plays to the skills of their people. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has the money, Williams is the mouthpiece, and Hahn is the mastermind. It's the right idea, but the biggest struggle for Hahn will be the paradigm shift from overspending and prospect-dealing for a more measured long-term approach.
The White Sox may be sellers at the deadline, and other than Jake Peavy (who is injured) and Alex Rios, they don't have many players they'd consider trading who will bring back much in value. Hahn will undoubtedly try to shift the strategy towards replenishing the depleted farm system and grooming young talent, which is the opposite of how Williams leveraged prospects for the instant gratification of major-league talent. Bottom line, Hahn is the right guy for the day-to-day GM responsibilities; what remains to be seen is if he can teach old dogs new tricks.
Between guys like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, it seems like there are several White Sox hitters who never saw a pitch they didn't like. Do you think this is an organizational thing or just those guys being super aggressive at the plate in general?
The patience situation has been an issue for several seasons, but it has crescendoed to uncomfortable levels and is a real problem for a struggling offense. The biggest offender has been Jeff Keppinger, who didn't get his first walk of the season until he was 140 plate appearances into the season, more than double the next closest offender in the majors, Dayan Viciedo. The Sox need to find (or teach) some plate discipline if they want this offense to improve.
Part of the problem is organizational. Adam Dunn was told to be more aggressive early in the count, while guys like Viciedo, Tyler Flowers, and Alexei Ramirez have struggled at the plate and their first instinct now is to hack at everything...and as A's fans who watch a team take walk after walk after walk, this series will make you grateful to have patient hitters like Coco Crisp and Derek Norris in the lineup nightly.
The walks issue is worse than it seems on the surface, too. The White Sox are on pace for 380 walks this season, which would be the lowest season total since the 2002 Tigers. Because of their approach, they have seen the fewest pitches as a team aside from the Royals this season, and their strikeout percentage is tied for second worst in the league. Since 1961, only 25 teams have walked less than 400 times in a season, six of those since 1998. If they do continue hacking-which they will, since plate discipline isn't taught overnight-there is a chance this team goes down in history for the wrong reasons.
What is your opinion on Hawk Harrelson? For my money, every team needs a homer -- Ray Fosse is the A's homer -- but I am curious what other teams' fans think of their broadcasting homer.
There's been a lot of talk about Hawk Harrelson this season, especially since his epic battle with Brian Kenny involving The Will To Win (TWTW) versus sabermetrics on MLB Now. This isn't the first time that Hawk has received considerable grief for his beliefs or his approach in the booth, and it certainly won't be the last.
Whenever there's a ranking of worst announcers, he's on it. If you like ridiculously antiquated viewpoints from an old man with a southern accent, he's your man. If you enjoy blatant homerism and yapping in a frequency that will never allow you to take a nap during a game, then tune in. Most people would chose waterboarding over listening to Hawk and Steve Stone call a baseball game; others, who don't have the option of choosing the away broadcast on Mlb.tv, have Stockholm Syndrome.
My feelings are fairly controversial. As easy as it is to discredit Hawk for some of his antics-for instance, CSN will post the run expectancy chart on the screen, and he's supposed to explain it during the broadcast, but he doesn't-he's actually much more educated and attuned to the game than he's given credit for, which is something that I wish more people would recognize about him. I wouldn't say he's my favorite broadcaster to listen to by any stretch, but there's a difference between disliking someone's mannerisms and doubting their knowledge of the game.
He has a clear rooting interest in the booth. He says "we" and "good guys" when talking about the Sox, but he doesn't sugar coat the team's struggles, and I respect that. He has all of his catchphrases like ducks on the pond, You can put it on the board....YES!, MERCY!, and HE GONE, but below that carnival-act veneer, he does know a great deal about the sport, and there is value in the things that he says on-air.
Last month, he lost it when home plate umpire Mark Wegner ejected pitcher Jose Quintana for throwing behind Ben Zobrist. On Tuesday night, he clearly explained the rules of ground rule doubles after the umpires made a questionable call on a hit by Nick Franklin. And even though he was a position player, Hawk has a lot of valuable insight into pitch selection, far exceeding some of his peers.
Still, he's an easy guy to dislike. What's important is to remember that a lot of his ignorance, especially on sabermetrics, is an act. He's an old-timer and he's just trying to preserve the game that he played long ago with his best friend Carl Yastrzemski, of whom he speaks fondly (and often).
Again, thanks to Cee for putting these answers together for me. I will have your game thread tonight starting 5:10 PM PST.