October 2007

Odd Thoughts

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Random Items …

In case I get too ahead of myself, a reader pointed out that while ranking ahead of the media in "trust" factor, bloggers still trailed GW by 2:1.  "Try getting elected with that," one noted.

Touche.

Best Records

A day or two ago, I asked how often the team with the best record in baseball actually won the World Series … well, my trustworthy, super productive interns, Tim Miller and Colter McElree, checked.

It has happened 45 times in history, but interestingly, the last time was 1998 (NYY) and before that, 1989 (OAK).  Since Division Play began in 1969, it has only happened eight times (1970, BAL; 1975-76, CIN; 1978, NYY; 1984, DET; 1986, NYM and the other two).

Also of interest, in the 12 years since the three-round playoff began in 1995, the AL’s best record has reached the WS five times (including us in 2005), while the NL has done it four times.  During that span, the team with the best overall record won just once (Yankees in 1998 above) … remember, the Cardinals won more games than we did in 05.

R-E-L-I-E-F

So Dan Fabian, a brilliant analyst in our baseball operations department, spends hours each season statistically evaluating the game, including relief pitchers.  Dan has devised and developed an interesting grading system for relief pitchers over the years.  I asked him how many of the Top 10 rated relievers from one year are among the Top 10 in the next year?

From 2005-07 the answer is 2 … Ryan from 2005 to 2006 and Saito from 2006 to 2007.

Thanks

To Mark Newman for posting the photo of Milano and for the kind, if untrue, editor’s note in yesterday’s blog.

Eeeck

So I read today that fans can wake up to hear my favorite columnist’s voice on their cell phone.

Look, I can tell you from hilarious, knee-slapping experience that hearing his voice on your voicemail the first thing in the morning spouting rubbish (and profanities, although I assume those are edited out for the general public) is ABSOLUTELY THE WORST IDEA IN THE WORLD.  Don’t do it.

Don’t start your day polluted.

Postseason Jitters

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Game Time

I’m excited to see today’s playoff action.  The extra day off has screwed up my internal clock.  As excited as I am, I wish we were playing.

Alyssawhitesox
Jealousy

I have to come clean … I am jealous of Alyssa Milano and have been for some time.  Here I was in mid 2005, quietly blogging away with my good friend, Mark Newman of MLBAM, serving as the blog angel on my shoulder.  Due to his diligence and oversight, my blog had photos and links and all kinds of pretty cool stuff.  Then along came Milano, aka The competition.  Suddenly, Mark had no time for my paltry blog … there was a Hollywood celebrity (and devout Dodgers fan) to service.

I kept my mouth shut (surprising for those who know me, eh) and went about my business, but today, TODAY, I gain a small amount of revenge.  A friend sent along a publicy shot of Milano to me, a shot that works perfectly for this blog, and Mr. Newman has consented to lower himself to work again on this site, just for today, by posting this photo …

So here it is …

(Photo to be inserted later by Mark)

Thanks, Mark.

Note from Newman: Scott is the first pro sports executive anywhere to start a regular blog that could reach out to fans and speak directly to them (and vice-versa) without media filter. He is a true blogging pioneer, is going strong after 2 1/2 years (wow, has it really been that long?), and as such definitely doesn’t need anyone’s help! We are immensely thankful for Scott’s diligence as a voluntary service to baseball fans and as a leader by example for other MLB/sports personnel.

Wading In

I may regret this and the conversation may be unwinnable, but here is my take on our bullpen woes this season (and by my take, I mean my take, not KW’s, not the organization, just my opinion … so feel free to ignore).

First, my bullpen philosophy.  The very best bullpens are ones where each pitcher is best suited for his specific role (which means that you don’t always want or need the six best (read: most talented) pitchers, you want the best pitcher given his specific role … call it the Rick Honeycutt rule).

We entered 2007 having tried to improve our bullpen from 2006 (which was a weakness of sorts considering we won 90 games) by adding "talented" arms with the feeling that teams succeeded most with hard throwers late in the game (not to mention that we felt they were best suited to succeed in our ballpark).

So when 2007 opened, our bullpen consisted of Aardsma and MacDougal from the right side, Sisco and Thorton from the left, Masset as the long guy and Jenks as the closer.

For the first five weeks of the season, we boasted one of the best bullpens in the American League (remember that?).  On 5/8, our bullpen ranked third in the AL in ERA (3.29) and fourth in OBA (.229).  Then the wheels came off.  From 5/8 through the end of July, our bullpen ERA was 7.46.  Ouch.

So back to my point about roles.  Aardsma was outstanding early as the second right-hander.  MacDougal was struggling as the set-up guy.  As MacDougal continued to struggle, we tried moving Aardsma into the set-up role.  It did not go well (remember when Aardsma tried to close that game in Detroit?).  As a result of MacDougal’s ineffectiveness, Aardsma’s role changed and, in my opinion, he was not able to perform to the same level when asked to pitch later in the game.  We essentially lost both guys, which threw all of the bullpen roles up into the air.

To solve this, moves impacting the bullpen came early and then often.  Logan joined us on 4/17 to give us three LHP and he took on Sisco’s role.  We tried Day, Buckvich and Prinz in June.  MacDougal came back in mid June (but then went on the DL for much of July after admitting his shoulder has bothered him most of the year even though he had tried to pitch through it).  Haeger came up to log innings at one point, but for most of the summer, we suffered as the bullpen tried to sort out roles and find where guys could best perform.  It was painful to eperience at times and painful to watch at times.  But you saw guys like Buckvich and then Wassermann come up and pitch well at certain times.

Near the end of the summer, I think we at least had a sense of who would perform in given situations, but I think everyone would admit the bullpen still fell far short of what is needed to win a championship.  No question.

In the end, our bullpen ranked 12th in the AL with a 5.27 ERA, went 19-25 and converted 42 out of 65 saves (64.6 percent, ninth in the AL).  Our 23 blown saves were fourth (25 led the AL).

So heading into 2008, the bullpen is again a key.  The problem with relievers, in my mind, is that there is no consistency.  Give me a list of last year’s top set-up guys and then see how that list performed in 2007.  Compared the best relievers of 2005 to the best of 2007.  Remember Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts?

A consistent, healthy (another big issue), talented reliever is extremely difficult to find, and therefore, is extremely valuable.  What teams try to do instead is find the right guy for the right role and try to put together a bullpen "team" to get the ball to the closer.  The weakness then, as we experienced in 2007, is that if one of those links breaks, you risk the entire bullpen blowing up in your face (and that is not pretty or fun or conducive to winning baseball games).

So, people say talent is the answer?  Hmmm … according to my unprofessional scouting eye, we opened the 2007 campaign with the most talented bunch of arms I’ve seen in our bullpen during my time here.

Tell you what, feel free to give me a list of possible bullpen additions from among all the pitchers out there who are available for 2008 (send them to me in email, don’t post …).  We’ll take an idea from anywhere we can get it … and then I’ll save the list during next season and we can see how those guys all perform in 2008.  My guess, based on past experience, is that injuries will take a toll and performances will be all over the board.  Constructing a bullpen is tough.

Funny Email

So a wise-guy friend (note the hyphen, he wasn’t a wise guy or a wiseguy like Paulie Walnuts) sent me an email from the Center for Media Research on measuring trust.

According to the latest by BIGresearch, only 2.6% of 3,978 respondents say members of Congress are trustworthy, while 2.2 % say the same thing about the Senate.  The President comes in at 14.2 %.  The media score a 4.4 %, which, while low, is still higher than our elected bodies.  The stunning number … drumroll, please … 5.8 % have more trust in bloggers.  (and 70.7 percent don’t trust anyone, a reassuring figure if there ever was one).

The blog "trust factor" for males was 5.4%, females 6.3%, age 18-34 was 8.5 %, 35-54 was 6.1% and anyone over 55 doesn’t trust a blog … 2.8% (which I guess is still more than they trust Congress).

Interesting Factoid

At a recent Ragan Conference on Social Media (blogs, wikis, tweets, IMs, etc), the point was made for me by industry guru Shel Holtz that for people born after 1980, 62 percent of their on-line content is generated by someone they know … a friend, family member, etc.  The internet is truly social for young generations.

So maybe that’s why they trust blogs "more."

Can you tell, unfortunately, I have a little more time on my hands now?

What A Game

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

About Last Night

If last night’s thriller is any indication, baseball fans are in for a terrific October.  You really cannot beat baseball for the unscripted drama, whether it is Jim Thome hitting his 500th in walk-off fashion or last night’s back and forth, all-time saves leader blowing a two-run lead, loser goes home mega battle.  Good stuff.

I realize there are statistical arguments for Trevor Hoffman being one of, if not the, best closer in baseball history.  But my own personal experience, admittedly very limited, is of Aaron Rowand beating him with a home run in 2005, of the AL rallying to win the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and of last night.  Of course, you remember the failures, in part because they are the abberations.

Reply To Palehose

I saw palehoses response to yesterday’s post and wanted to reply in turn.

On the point of scouting, development and the patience often required to see it through, I think my argument was misunderstood.

There are two paths here.  The first is for players you sign and develop through your system.  In those cases, you are relying on your amateur scouts, your player development personnel and your major league coaches to identify talent and then help players reach their potential.  Sometimes this takes time and rarely does a player come to the big leagues a finished project.  As a result, the organization (and fans) need patience to let the player grow.  Examples of this in my mind would be Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand and Jon Garland (although he arguably might fit both categories).

The second category is the player who your professional scouts identify while he is playing in another organization.  For whatever the reason, they feel this player will be more successful in our organization.  Our goal then is to acquire the player and allow our coaches (minor league or major league) to work with the player.  Sometimes this requires patience and time.  Examples of this are Bobby Jenks, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras.

As for the concept of players helping a team get its edge back, this certainly works in some cases, although my personal experience finds this chemistry to be very elusive.  Individuals certainly can bring an edge into the clubhouse, but this edge can cut many ways.  Also, it seems that guys with an edge tend to have this influence last only a limited time … how long is often the question.  In my experience, it’s never been as easy as saying this guy actually has this personality and will have this affect on a clubhouse.  Sometimes, players perceived by fans as "having an edge" actually don’t.  Sometimes, those who seem quiet and non-influencial, actually are.  I’ll leave it at that.

The 2008 Season Begins

Monday, October 1, 2007


The Day After

Today marks the start of the 2008 season for general manager Ken Williams and the Chicago White Sox.

With a core roster much in place, Williams and his staff still face key decisions as they fight to get the team back into the postseason in 2008.  And there shouldn’t be any question about the team’s offseason direction.

"As long as I’m sitting in this chair," Williams stressed Saturday during a season-ending press conference with the Chicago media at U.S. Cellular Field.  "We are going to be aggressive. If we didn’t take chances, we wouldn’t have been in the spot to win 200 games in two years.

“If you thought we enjoyed winning the World Series the first time, think how much we want to win a second.”

Exactly how Williams’ aggressiveness manifests itself may not be clear until spring training opens next February.

"It’s incumbent on me to go into this offseason and rectify some of the problems we’ve had this season," Williams said.  "People need to know that when you are aggressive and pursue high-impact, championship-type players, there always is a higher risk that sometimes things blow up."

But with many key players under contract and returning in 2008, Williams emphasized that a major overhaul was unlikely.  The answers most likely lie in an off-season mix of trades, free agent signings and personnel evaluation as the baseball department determines which young players have proven they can excel in the major leagues.

"We’re still very much in a championship mode of thinking," Williams said, ticking off the names, Mark Buehrle, A.J. Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome.  “These are great players.  I still remain confident in that core group, and if we had a bright spot in this season, it was seeing which young players performed at this level.  These are pretty good ballplayers we are bringing back to go to battle."

At this point, it’s far too early to tell how this offseason’s moves will unfold.  The team’s organization meeting occurs in mid October, MLB’s general manager meetings in early November and the annual winter meetings in early December.

"Typically, this gets us in trouble with the offseason rumor mills,” Williams admitted.  “(But) our approach is we listen to anyone and any overture.

"There isn’t a player out there we will not pursue."

One point stressed repeatedly by Williams is the importance patience plays in making decisions on talent evaluation.  He pointed to the development of Bobby Jenks, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Joe Crede and Javier Vazquez as prime examples.  In some cases, it is a matter of believing in young players and allowing them to develop.  In others, it is a case of being confident in the ability of your scouts to identify talent and in your coaching staff in helping the player develop. "We go on what we see and what we know from a scouting and development standpoint."

But should fans be concerned if the club opens spring training with a roster very similar to the one that ended 2007?

"We won in 2005 and 2006 with pitching and defense," said Williams.  "We believe the offense is going to correct itself naturally.  Guys performed under their career averages.  I don’t believe that will happen again.  If it does, I’ll need medication."

Sox fans know he won’t be alone.

When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, they ranked ninth in the American League and 13th in baseball with 741 runs scored.  The team improved to third overall with 868 runs scored in winning 90 games in 2006, before dropping to 28th in baseball and last in the AL in runs scored in 2007.

"Coming out of spring training, we never imagined that offensively we’d rank at or near the bottom with the talent we have,” Williams admitted.  “That is perplexing to us.”

Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen are confident in the club’s starting pitching options, particularly with the development of John Danks in 2007, Gavin Floyd late in the year and Jose Contreras’ return to form in the second half.

"We have five big-time starters and our closer is one of the best in the game," Williams said, acknowledging there remains work to be done in the bullpen.  "We do have to get (Mike) MacDougal back on track and have a reasonable expectation of what he will provide next year."

The White Sox must make decisions on 2008 options for three players:  shortstop Juan Uribe, outfielder Darin Erstad and pitcher Mike Myers.  Three other players, Alex Cintron, Scott Podsednik and Joe Crede, are under control for 2008 but are arbitration eligible.

"He’s a top quality shortstop," Williams said of Uribe.  "We don’t know what we’re going to do yet, but we’re going to look at getting better at every position."

In trying to summarize the offseason questions facing his club, Williams argued for a return to the attitude and approach that led to 2005’s success.

"We may not need that flashy move," Williams said.  "It may be more of finding the right fit.  But it may also be a big-name player."

Either way, Williams knows his end goal.

"We need to get our edge back."

Thanks

Thank you to White Sox fans who supported their team to the tune of 2.68 million in 2007, posting the third-highest attendance mark in franchise history.  Fantastic!

Still Waiting

In 2005, the Chicago Tribune ran a story before the Division Series began predicting the baseball postseason based on a formula.  Surprisingly, forecasts for the White Sox that October were very dire.  There was just no way our club could/would win.

I personally had two issues with the concept.  First, they never actually showed us the formula … like a + b = c, although I assume it was much, much more sophisticated than that.

And of course, after the fact, the formula proved to be very wrong. (White Sox victory parade = Time for a new formula.)

So my question is, what does that formula forecast for the 2007 playoffs and the chances of the Cubs?  Maybe a story will show up in tomorrow morning’s paper?

Truth is, if we have learned anything in 2005-06 it’s that any team still alive can win.  The Tigers entered the postseason on a terrible run and still managed to reach the World Series.  The Cardinals won 83 games and celebrated as World Champions.  Any team still alive can catch fire and win 11 games.  And truthfully, if the playoffs were suddenly expanded to 12 or 16 teams, those new additions could win it as well.  At this time of year, it seems it is a lot about good pitching, getting every break, a good bullpen, lucky bounces, clutch hitting, feel-good karma and did I mention, a little luck.

Just how often has the team with the best regular-season record also won the World Series like we did in 2005 (and has recent history shown a different trend)?  Sounds like a project for the interns …

Speed Reading

I sent emails and notes to all of my friends fortunate enough to still be playing this week and reminded them to take the time to enjoy the trip.  It is amazing, when your team is playing in the postseason, just how quickly everything zooms past.  Then, you take a breath and realize it’s over.  Luckily for me, that breath came on a double-decker bus during a downtown parade attended by 2 million Sox fans.

One of my emails went to Larry Shenk, VP of PR for the Phillies and a long-time friend.  I’ve admired Larry’s work as a professional and appreciate his view of baseball, the world and life.  This is Larry’s last full-time season with the Phillies, so I send extra-special thoughts his way.

Larry authors a blog of his own, so check out his trip through October.

My guess is he mentions No. 33 from time to time.

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