Monday, February 24, 2003

This look at relievers will conclude my look at the potential 2003 White Sox squad. There are a lot of arms with potential available to the Sox for the bullpen. The big questions are: Will Jerry Manuel and Kenny Williams sort out the right guys to pitch? And will Manuel put them in situations where they will be most effective? As a manager Manuel has done a pretty good job when it comes to bullpen usage. He hasn't been afraid to give opportunities to unheralded players like Kelly Wunsch or young players.

One of my most striking memories of Manuel is him calling on Chad Bradford, of little major league experience, to face Mike Cameron with runners on first and third in game one of the 2000 ALDS. Bradford was the perfect guy for the job, he is an extreme groundball pitcher and a double play would have ended the inning. Now the move didn't exactly work perfectly, Cameron got an RBI single but it barely left the infield. In other words Cameron got lucky. I think it was a good move by Manuel because it showed confidence in the strengths of his players, even an inexperienced one. If Manuel continues to show that kind of courage it will pay off for him.

The next update should be on Tuesday with a breakdown of how the roster should be configured.

Edwin Almonte RHP
Almonte is a minor league closer and they are a tricky breed. He got some press clippings for a gaudy save total in AA and some people anointed him "closer of the future". But to put this hype in perspective you should know Almonte's 36 saves in 2001 broke a Southern League record set by the illustrious Jerry Spradlin. This isn't to say Almonte hasn't been good, he has and his changeup has been compared to Keith Foulke's. Just don't get too excited, he's got a shot at being a good reliever but he won't be dominant.

Matt Ginter RHP
Ginter has handled righthanded batters well a couple years in a row but lefthanded hitters give him trouble. He gets righties out with a low 90s fastball and a great slider but doesn't have anything to handle the southpaws with. Ginter's other strength is his ability to go multiple innings as a former starting pitcher. Manuel seemed to lose confidence in Ginter after a rough August. If he learns to get lefties out he'll be a good setup man. Right now he needs to make himself better than Gary Glover if he wants a major league job.

Tom Gordon RHP
He's getting up there in years but he's still a good arm to have around. Gordon is a little better than Rick White, the other righthanded reliever the Sox picked up this season. Gordon will be a setup man for Billy Koch and has an outside chance of being really good again.

Billy Koch RHP
Every morning Koch wakes up and prays first with his body facing the inventor of the radar gun and then facing the inventor of the save. Those are the people he owes his arbitration money to because he's not as good as his paycheck would lead you to believe. If you weren't allowed to look at the save column you wouldn't know what Kenny Williams was thinking trading Keith Foulke for Koch. And is that really what it comes down to? One number means Koch is better when everything else tells you he isn't? Fortunately the Sox do have a lot of arms available to make up for the loss of Foulke who is one of baseball's best relievers.

Damaso Marte LHP
Damaso Marte was acquired last year in a deal that on the surface looked blatantly stupid. The Sox traded Matt Guerrier, a somewhat highly touted starting pitching prospect, for a mediocre looking Marte and second base prospect Edwin Yan. Guerrier didn't take a step forward but Marte was the second best pitcher in the Sox bullpen last year. At least Kenny made good after paying dollars on the nickel for Marte. Fine work by the Sox scouting staff. Marte can get righties out as well as lefties and hopefully Manuel will give him opportunity to pitch more innings this year. He'll likely be the best pitcher in the pen regardless of how many saves Koch gets.

Arnaldo Munoz LHP
When someone talks about Munoz the first thing you're likely to hear is that he has a Barry Zito curve ball and that makes me really happy. The next thing you're likely to hear is that he's the Sox closer of the future and that makes me really sad. I think anointing a closer of the future is silly. Most of the guys that take the closer role don't keep the position for an extended period of time. This is because closers are replaceable, unlike say a great hitting shortstop. Picking a closer of the future is about as useful an exercise as picking utility infielder of the future. Willie Harris anyone?

Mike Porzio LHP
It's really not very interesting talking about mediocre players and thats what Porzio is. The Sox tried him as a lefty specialist which was a lot like kicking yourself in the genitalia. Porzio didn't have a strong platoon split in the minors and shouldn't have ever been expected to be especially effective against left handed hitting. And he wasn't. Porzio had a great August where he allowed 5 hits and 16.1 IP, it was his defense backing him up. Lightning doesn't strike twice.

Rick White RHP
Rick White's numbers with the Rockies look horrid but Coors field can do that to you. Away from Coors he was good and once he joined the Cardinals he was dominant. There was some questioning among Sox fans as to whether this guy is worth having around. The answer is a big yes. He's got a low-risk contract and there is no reason to think he can't pitch at sea level.

Kelly Wunsch LHP
Can't get much closer to out of a job than this guy. He's only useful against lefties and had a pathetic 19/22 bb/k ratio last year. He's been a nice story but even if he survives and has a decent season this year he's too replaceable to be worth going to arbitration with. I wouldn't be surprised if he landed in Oakland at some point, Billy Beane seems to have a thing for guys like this. Beane did sign Mike Holtz after all.

Questions? Comments? Just want to tell me I'm a moron?

Friday, February 21, 2003

Here's my look at White Sox starting pitching. There is a great top of the rotation and a lot of potential in the other three spots.

Mark Buehrle LHP
Ace. Buehrle has been the star of the staff for two years running and there's little reason to expect that his effectiveness will putter out. It's great that the Sox handle their young staff carefully but you could argue Buehrle should be handled even more carefully. His limit seems around 115 pitches which is reasonable but he's so effective he always throws a lot of pitches. There has to be some worry about pitch volume. Buehrle has tired down the stretch two years in a row. He has lost velocity late in the season, had two tough Septembers and his K-rates have been significantly lower in the second half. The Sox will surely need Buehrle at 100% in the playoffs (providing they make it that far), so it might be a good idea to be even more careful with him so that he's still throwing just as well in October as he is in May.

Bartolo Colon RHP
Ace #2. Colon gives the Sox a good shot at having two All-Star starting pitchers for the first time since 1994 when the Sox finished first in the AL Central in a strike shortened season. There's little chance Colon will repeat the 20 wins and sub-3.00 ERA he had last year but he should be a great number two starter behind Buehrle. I still can't believe they got this guy for virtually nothing.

Jon Garland RHP
Can you say breakout candidate? Not many pitchers can hold their own in a major league starting rotation for a full season at 22. So even though Garland's numbers last year don't look impressive, they are. Most highly touted guys his age are somewhere on Baseball America's top 100 prospect list. Last season Garland showed marked improvement over his 2001 season. He shined up his strikeout, walk and home runs allowed rates and completely dominated righthanded hitting. Right handed batters hit a meager .220/.295/.351 off Garland while lefties raked him to the tune of .287/.373./460. When he works out how to use his changeup and get lefties out he's going to be real good. That could be this year.

Gary Glover RHP
One of the things ex-Sox pitching coach Nardi Contreras said after he was fired was that Gary Glover was about to turn a corner. Could there be any better evidence Contreras needed to be fired than that? All the talent he's had to work with and he's talking about Gary Glover. Glover might have a future in the bullpen but he has no business starting major league games. Look for Glover to grab the low leverage long relief role in the bullpen.

Corwin Malone LHP
In 2001 Corwin Malone rocketed to the top of prospect lists seemingly out of nowhere. He was briefly considered one of the best lefthanded pitching prospects in baseball. Then Malone showed us how hype surrounding pitching prospects is fleeting by injuring his elbow and walking more batters than he struck out last year. Thankfully it was "just" elbow damage and not shoulder damage. If he gets off to a good start this year in AAA look for him to get a midseason call up and work out of the pen the way Mark Buehrle was used in 2000. He could be replacing Bartolo Colon in the starting rotation next year.

Esteban Loaiza RHP
Call me crazy but I think Loaiza will be a big help to the team. He won't be more than a fifth starter but he's much better suited to hold down the fort than Gary Glover. No one will argue that Loaiza doesn't have good stuff and he's been decent in the past. All we need is decent and if we're lucky he might have a run like he did with Toronto in 2000. Of course if we're unlucky we'll get a run like Toronto in 2002.

Jon Rauch RHP
He's a monster on the mound at 6'11" but theres a bit of a concern about him making it there in the first place. Like Malone, the question with Rauch isn't talent, it's health. He had a ridiculous minor league season in 2000 before missing almost all of 2001 with a torn labrum (technically a SLAP lesion). The treatment of labrum injuries is pretty sketchy right now with a high percentage of repeat procedures (see Anderson, Ryan) but it seems Rauch has a shot at a full recovery. He looked at or near full strength at the end of last season. I'll be convinced if he makes it through this season healthy. For now I wouldn't bet on him making more than 15 starts. But if he is healthy he'll be good.

Josh Stewart LHP
Overrated. He was Birmingham's best pitcher last year but he was in AA for the second season in a row, has mediocre stuff and doesn't really strike anyone out which isn't a good sign. He got some hype for pitching well in the AFL which is why more people know who he is than really need to. I'm placing the over-under for Stewart's career major league starts at 3.

Dan Wright RHP
Wright seemed to come around in the second half of last season. He increased his strikeout rate while lowering his walks and lowering his ERA more than a full run. I'm not surprised it took him a while to figure things out since he spent most of 2001 in AA and has no AAA experience. He's got four pitches and probably the best fastball on the Sox staff. He might be even more valuable than Garland. He doesn't have quite the same upside but his stuff makes him a candidate to take a step forward and he's past the age where pitchers randomly wreck their arms. A low starting point projection for Wright next year is 200 league average innings. He reminds me of Jason Schmidt.

Andrew Ritchie

Monday, February 17, 2003

Wow this took a bit more time than I expected. Here's my overview of the White Sox positioned players, I tried to take a quick look at each player with a shot to contribute in 2003. The links for players who spend most of last year in the majors lead to Baseball-Reference and for guys who played in the minors to Baseball America.

All in all I'm very happy with the Sox positioned players. There isn't a single glaring weakness in the lineup, which is tough to pull off. If thats not enough there's also depth and manuverability. Centerfield is my area of most concern, not because there isn't someone to handle it but because I think the Sox may go with the wrong guy, Aaron Rowand. Even so I don't think it would take them too long to figure out their mistake. This team could score 900 runs.

I'll have my analysis of the pitchers up as soon as possible but this week I have a paper due on Friday and test the same day. Wish me luck. I'll likely split up the starters and relievers so I get some more content up ASAP.

Catchers

Sandy Alomar Jr. (r)
The White Sox got some surprising production (105 OPS+) out of Sandy Alomar last season. However when Alomar was dumped on the Rockies reality set in and his performance was comically bad (45 OPS+). Unfortunately Alomar's early season performance may have tricked GM Kenny Williams into thinking bringing back Alomar is a good idea. Over a full season Alomar is just going to be wasting plate appearances, even as a reserve. In the last three years his best full season OPS is 82. Alomar won't make it through the season without either retiring or being permanently placed on the DL.

Miguel Olivo (b)
Olivo is the best candidate to open the season as the Sox starting catcher. Frankly Olivo is the only option with the potential to be a decent major league starter. Last year Olivo rocked the Southern League to the tune of .306/.381/.479 in a great pitchers park. Olivo was the league's best player even though his teammate Aaron Miles, a non-prospect second baseman, walked away with the league MVP. On defense Olivo's arm has been compared to Ivan Rodriguez and his receiving skills are said to be solid. Olivo even has wheels, he stole 29 bases in 42 attempts and lead the SL in triples. With opportunity Olivo should be above average with his bat and his glove. There is star potential here.

Josh Paul (r)
I'm still not sure why this guy has gotten as many chances as he has. Paul is a weak hitter, isn't particularly good on defense and has become known for less-than-heads-up play. At his best Paul is a passable backup catcher. He can also fill in at third and in left and he has some speed for a catcher. For the 2003 season the Sox should make him the backup catcher and leave him alone. In this role he wouldn't do much damage and he is no longer taking playing time from Mark Johnson. At 28 he's older than most people think and only a year younger than Magglio Ordonez.

Infielders

Joe Crede (3b-r)
In 2002 Joe Crede was finally handed him the major league job upper management denied him for too long. Once in the the majors, he hit a respectable .285/.311./.515 in 209 plate appearances. Over a full season he'll need to be a little more patient at the plate. His minor league record says he'll make the necessary improvement. The Sox won't have to worry about third base for a while.

Brian Daubach (1b-l)
Daubach is a useful spare part at the moment. He looks like Magglio Ordonez against righthanding pitching and Rey Ordonez against southpaws. Okay, maybe more like Paul Konerko against righties. Nonetheless he will be miscast on the bench, he's still useful as the lefthanded half of a platoon. Daubach can also play leftfield. His presence could facilitate a trade of Carlos Lee or Paul Konerko.

Tony Graffanino (ut-r)
Graffanino is like that girl who you keep around as a safety blanket. You're never going to date her even though she's probably better than half the girls you do go out with. At the same time you're not going to just let her go. Graffanino isn't going to get a chance to start for the White Sox but he is one of the best reserve infielders in baseball. Jerry Manuel should be very happy to have him again this year after recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in August of last season.

Willie Harris (2b-l)
Harris came over from Baltimore for centerfielder Chris Singleton. Many people, myself included, believed it was a coup for Kenny Williams to get anything for the mediocre and arbitration eligible Singleton. Harris is an exciting player, he's fast, he stole 54 bases in one AA season, he legs out an occasional triple and he does backflips a la Ozzie Smith. Despite the excitement he hasn't learned to get on base enough to be useful. Right now he projects as a utility player. It helps that he can also play the outfield.

Tim Hummel (2b-r)
Hummel is a big guy for a middle infielder. He actually played most games at shortstop last year in AAA Charlotte but second base is his best position. He was a sleeper prospect going into the 2002 season and dissapointed many with his .260/.332/.346 showing in the Charlotte bandbox. He seemed to get things back in gear late in the year. Perhaps not coindently he was playing more second base at that point. Permanently moving to the less challenging position could help him. I still like him but he's getting old for a guy not yet seriously battling for a major league roster spot.

D'Angelo Jimenez (2b-b)
I like this guy a lot. Jimenez has got a lot going for him. He's perceived as a dissapointment but if you look at his aggregate major league performance, which is well over 800 plate appearances, he's already been a solid major league middle infielder. He's also only 25 this season. Jimenez can get on base and should play second base solidly. He's certainly athletic enough, he played shortstop in the minor leagues with the Yankees. The only skill he hasn't shown at the major league level is hitting for power and his minor league record says he can do that a little bit too. Don't be surprised if he hits .280 with 75 walks and 45 extra base hits.

Paul Konerko (1b-r)
Paul Konerko may be the most overrated White Sox player despite still being productive. Konerko had an electric first half of 2002, hitting .328/.379/.571 and finally looking like he'd fulfill the potential he had when he was minor league player of the year with the Dodgers organization. Unfortunately a mediocre second half brought Konerko's overall production back down to his established level. Now it looks as though Konerko will never take the next step and become a star.

In November Konerko capitalized on the publicity he received in-season and signed a 3 year 23 million dollar contract extenstion. For the duration of the contract he should remain a reliable yet unspectacular first baseman. There is value in the durability and year to year consistency Konerko brings to the table.

Frank Thomas (dh-r)
He's here because he has to be somewhere and the potential for him to play first base does exist. Realistically he's not going to be the guy he was in the early to mid 90's or even in 2000. He can still be a very good 1B/DH type. The most comparable player to Thomas is Jeff Bagwell and he's still good. In fact Thomas's BA/OBP/SLG numbers over the last five years look a lot like Bagwell's performance in 2002. Look for Thomas to be healthy, post an OPS around 900 and provide the lineup with some well needed plate discipline. He'll be a bargain.

Jose Valentin (ss-b)
The Sox are blockheaded for ever screwing with Valentin. He came in for the 2000 season, hit really well and played 90% of the team's games at shortstop. The team won 96 games, so what do they do? Move Valentin to third base to get Royce Clayton, an all-glove no-hit shortstop, on the field. Valentin kept hitting but his bat was wasted at third base. Two mediocre Sox seasons later Valentin will be back at shortstop where he belongs. E6 be damned. The decision to bring in Royce Clayton was one crippling decision in a series of them that kept the Sox from dominanting the AL Central over a period of several years. Right now the Twins are in a better position to do that.

Outfielders

Joe Borchard (cf-b)
Borchard is a major prospect. He's comparable to Jim Edmonds except with more power and less defensive prowess. Once he takes hold of centerfield he'll be productive for years to come. The Sox have taken their time with Borchard, similar to the way they handled Joe Crede. An offseason injury to Aaron Rowand may have opened the door for Borchard to start the season with the White Sox. He's a 30 home run threat immediately.

Cliff Brumbaugh (lf-r)
Brumbaugh is a slick minor league signing by Kenny Williams. Brumbaugh is a right handed hitting corner outfielder who could be the other half of a platoon with Brian Daubach. Brumbaugh is 28 and has just 21 major league at-bats but his career line at AAA is .295/.385/.458. He could get on base enough to be valuable.

Carlos Lee (lf-r)
Carlos Lee has confused the hell out of me. Just as I was ready to give up on him, he completely turned his game around. In the second half of last season Lee finally figured out how to take a walk and hit .283/.407/.521 in 266 plate appearances. That includes 45 walks for a guy who had walked 38 times in each of the last two full seasons. He was literally a different player. Ironically at the very same time trade rumors regarding Lee seemed to become serious. It would be a shame to trade Lee now that he seems ready to become one of the AL's better leftfielders. I did some reasearch on plate discipline leaps like Lee's and the results showed he's likely to keep his production up. Right now the Sox could use the plate discipline Lee brings to the table. Now there's something I never expected to write.

Magglio Ordonez (rf-r)
Each year with Magglio Ordonez on the White Sox has been like getting a surprise gift. The surprise is how he improves his game in each particular season. Since his 1997 International League MVP season there have been analysts to reasonably argue that we've seen the best Magglio has to offer. Ordonez has continued to prove otherwise. He's been called an MVP candidate here and there, if he takes his game up another level he really will deserve the award.

Armando Rios (rf-l)
Rios has a good career line of .276/.358/.461 and could be very useful off the bench, if healthy. It's a big risk for Rios who was plagued by a myriad of injuries below the belt last season. It's possible that the problems were caused by adjustments he made to rush back from an ACL tear. He's just as likely to be a non-factor as he is to help out.

Aaron Rowand (cf-r)
I'm not entirely sure what to make of Rowand so I'll go with what I've said all along, he's no more than a fourth outfielder. In 2002 he saved being completely passed by in the organization with a good half season at AAA and some part time work with the Sox. In 2002 Rowand hit like I expected him to right when some people convinced me to reconsider my stance on his lack of usefulness. He'll be a good defensive replacement and passable bat off the bench.

-Andrew Ritchie

Sunday, February 09, 2003

This is going to become a blog about the Chicago White Sox and general MLB news. I'm going to begin with an overview of the White Sox team. I'll have an outline of positioned players up by Wednesday. Once the season starts I plan to update at least three times a week. This should be interesting!