White Sox 2014 Preview: Predictions

Last season went poorly for the White Sox. They finished with their worst record since 1970. They did not lose much this offseason outside of close Addison Reed, but last place teams don’t really need closers. The offense massively underachieved, and despite some deceiving power numbers, there wasn’t much to see. There will be five new faces in the Opening Day lineup that were not here a year ago1. The other four guys (Viciedo/De Aza, Ramirez, Dunn and Flowers) won’t all hopefully be as bad as last season. So where does that leave things?

Best Case Scenario

Unlike last year’s overly optimistic theory that if everything broke right the White Sox could make the playoffs, that doesn’t seem possible this season. Detroit should be just as good, and Cleveland and Kansas City should be better. The White Sox finishing 2nd is probably as good as it could get, and they would need one of those three other teams to really falter.

Individually, Chris Sale would win the Cy Young and Jose Abreu would win Rookie of the Year. Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia would build on what they have done and become good-to-great players. Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez figure out how to get back to what they showed flashes of. Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers become the players everyone thought they would be. Jose Quintana is a legit #2 starter. John Danks improves enough to be a great #3. Nate Jones is the latest out of nowhere closer. And the Sox going into 2015 in serious consideration as possible AL Central Champs.

Worst Case Scenario

The Twins are so bad, that finishing last would take a lot of bad breaks, but finishing with 99 losses again would be tough. Chris Sale would get hurt, or struggle to maintain what he has. The bad Jose Quintana sticks around too long. John Danks is his 2013 model, instead of 2010. The plethora of new arms in the bullpen totally implodes. Jose Abreu is a trainwreck. Adam Eaton can’t stay healthy. Avisail Garcia is a strikeout machine. Gordon Beckham gets sent to the minors. Adam Dunn makes fans long for his abysmal 2011 season. Paul Konerko’s Farewell Tour is the only highlight.

Likely Scenario

Obviously if those are the extremes, the prediction lies somewhere in the middle. The White Sox will finish 3rd or 4th this year depending on which direction Cleveland and Kansas City trend. Chris Sale will continue to be one of the best starters in the AL. Jose Quintana will bounce between great and awful and leaving the end result somewhere in the middle. John Danks will continue to make the Sox regret the huge contract. Nate Jones will be decent as a closer, and one other new guy will emerge as a great reliever.

Jose Abreu will have a good first season, win AL Rookie of the Year and show promise for the future. Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko will not hit well. Adam Eaton struggles in his first full season, but shows just enough at times (likely with some spectacular catches) for Sox fans to keep a positive outlook. Avisail Garcia gets better, but doesn’t take the leap just yet. Neither Dayan Viciedo or Alejandro De Aza is starting in LF by August 1st. Matt Davidson gets called up before Memorial Day and never goes back down. Alexei Ramirez gets traded. Gordon Beckham plays some shortstop afterwards, but doesn’t hit better and this is his last season with the team.

The Sox will enter 2015 without Dunn, Konerko, Ramirez or Beckham. Their offensive core of Abreu, Garcia, Eaton, Davidson and someone whose name we haven’t heard yet will

  1. One of those guys is likely Marcus Simien who will be starting the season in place of Gordon Beckham []

White Sox 2014 Preview: Pitching

The White Sox quietly had a much better pitching staff in 2013 than most people gave them credit for. Chris Sale proved that 2012 was no fluke, and Jose Quintana was probably the most underrated starter in the AL last season (realistically he was one of the 15-20 best starters last year). Both of those guys are back and locked into deals that will keep them around for a while.

Sale looks like the real deal. He was 5th in the AL in both FIP and fWAR last season, which for non-stat nerds, is really good1. Sale should continue to be in the Cy Young conversation as long as he stays healthy. Some analysts/scouts think his arm is a time bomb waiting to explode, but every year that goes by is a good sign. He is the first bonafide ace the White Sox have had probably since Jack McDowell.

Quintana was picked off the scrap in 2012 and put together a solid season that year. His numbers were better in 2013, and even when factoring in a bit of good luck (see his BABIP and xFIP), he was very good. It’s unfortunate that like Sale he is left-handed, but he’s only 25 and still has some room to grow. Sale’s track record indicates that if he is healthy, he will be good. Quintana needs to show another solid year, but seasons like last year make him a true No. 2 starter on a good team.

All of the above bodes well for John Danks, who from 2008-2010 looked like the future ace of this team. His 2011 season was actually better than it looks on paper, mostly due to some bad luck along the way. Then an injury ruined his 2012 season, and part of 2013, neither of which was very good when he was pitching. Looking at his pitch data, he relied on his curve and change-up far more in 2013 than any previous season. Overall, his pitch data shows that he has slipped a bit over the years. Danks is no longer a threat to be an ace. But if he can get those home run numbers down, he is still solid enough to contribute as a #3 starter on a team like this.

After trading Hector Santiago for Adam Eaton, and deciding the Dylan Axelrod Experience was over, the Sox are going to add two “new” arms to their rotation. New is a relative term, since Felipe Paulino, the likely #4 starter, will turn 31 before the World Series ends. Paulino has 91 games (63 starts) over 5 seasons dating back to 2007. He did not pitch in the majors last year, and had just 7 appearances in 2012, so there are not a lot of numbers to look at. Despite the small sample size, it appears Paulino is capable of strikeouts, and has had some bad luck over his career based on BABIP. He was actually very good in his 7 starts in 2012, so it’s a surprise he was nowhere last season. Paulino definitely fits the mold of a classic Don Cooper Reclamation Project, and it’s not crazy to think Cooper could turn this guy into much more than a 4th starter. For a team that isn’t ready to compete this season anyway, this is a good gamble.

24-year old Erik Johnson will get first crack at the last starting spot. Johnson has spent plenty of time recently at, or near, the top of White Sox prospect rankings. He looked overmatched at the end of last season in his first 5 starts despite a respectable ERA. Hopefully those starts helped him get his feet wet. Johnson won’t have to do much to keep his 5th starter job on a team that is projected to finish 4th, so hopefully the pressure is low. He is projected long term as a solid #3 starter, so the hope is that he fits in behind Sale and Quintana going forward.

Bullpens are incredibly hard to predict, and are typically very inconsistent year-to-year. When looking at FanGraphs, one could conclude that the Sox had four solid relievers last season. Two of those guys (Addison Reed and Jesse Crain) are gone. Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom are back though, and will likely anchor this bullpen. Jones appears the odds on favorite to be the closer, and he deserves it. His two big league seasons have been underrated, particular by that 4.15 ERA in 2013 that doesn’t jive with his FIP and strikeout numbers. Jones appeared to be unlucky in 2013 more than anything, and has the goods to be a closer. Since closers aren’t that important on 3rd and 4th place teams, it probably doesn’t matter much if he is as good as Addison Reed or not.

Lindstrom is 34, and back for his 2nd (and likely final year) with the White Sox. Somehow Lindstrom’s home run numbers were down despite pitching in a homer friendly park. His stats mostly jived with his career numbers and nothing in his FIP or xFIP seems to indicate that he over/under performed much. He figures to be the primary setup man, and should handle that role just fine.

Donnie Veal seems to move back and forth from the minors more than anyone ever, but he should spend the entire 2014 season on the team. The lefty specialist job is officially his, and while he had a good 2012 season, and just an OK 2013, he has only thrown 58.2 ML innings to this point.

The Sox signed Ronald Belisario from the Dodgers to (presumably) be their other setup man. Belisario had a solid 2012, but less than great 2013 in LA. His numbers have been all over the place in four seasons, and 2012 grades out more to luck than dominance. Moving from the NL to the AL, and a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s one probably won’t bode well here. Relief pitching is hard to predict, but this might not end well.

Like most AL teams, the White Sox will likely carry 12 pitchers, which means there are three more spots available. 23-year old Daniel Webb figures to be one of those guys. Webb pitched in 9 games for the Sox last year, and it’s too early to tell much. Scott Downs on the other hand, has 12 years of experience. Downs has been consistent, but not great for his entire career.He doesn’t have a negative fWAR in the last decade. He should bring some veteran leadership to the bullpen. Lastly, 24-year old Maikel Cieto will likely hold the last spot. Cieto has 13 appearances of three seasons, so there isn’t much to gleam here so far. He is the kind of wildcard that Cooper could mold into gold, or a guy who will be in the minors by Memorial Day.

  1. The Tigers threesome of Verlander, Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez occupy 3 of the spots ahead of Sale []

White Sox 2014 Preview: Offense

The White Sox went into last season with a wide range of possible finishes. If everything broke right for them the playoffs were possible. Instead they lost 99 games and finished with their worst winning percentage since 1970. The good news is that it would take a lot of things going wrong for them to be that bad this season.

Of the 13 guys who got at least 100 PA last season, only 5 registered positive fWAR. When only factoring offense, only three were positive, and one was Alex Rios who didn’t last the season with the team. Paul Konerko had what was easily his worst offensive season ever. Adam Dunn was horrible again.

So now what? Adam Dunn is back for his 4th season with the team, after an atrocious 2011, a pretty good 2012, 2013 was somewhere in between. He has to be better in 2014, and will get most of the at-bats at DH. Most of the projections aren’t very good, but time will tell. Jose Abreu was the White Sox big acquisition of the offseason. He is from Cuba and hasn’t played a game in the Major or Minor leagues yet. The projections put him somewhere around 30 home runs, which is what people are hoping for. The really test will be later in the season after teams have more tape on him. If he works out he should be better than any hitter on the team last year. He is probably the most important offensive piece on the team.

Gordon Beckham’s struggles have been well documented. He hasn’t been a positive offensive player since his rookie season, and his defense wasn’t particularly great in 2013. Still, when all rolled together according to FanGraphs, he was a positive WAR player last year (and every year so far). The White Sox would like to see him take the next step, but even if he doesn’t the probably couldn’t do a ton better. Beckham will start the season injured so Marcus Simien will get a shot. It’s a golden opportunity for him to win the job away from Beckham. Alexei Ramirez has slipped some as an offensive player over his career. He struggled to take walks last season, and seems to lost any power he had, although his 39 doubles are respectable. His defense is also slipping, and last season was the worst it’s been in a while. If both he and Beckham have better seasons it will be a big boost to the offense, but the trends are not moving in the right direction.

Conor Gillaspie had only played 29 major league games before 2013. He came out of nowhere to play 3B for most of the season. His 13 home runs overshadow what was a pretty dismal season. He managed just 17 other extra base hits, and didn’t play good defense. Matt Davidson was acquired for Addison Reed in the offseason, and should be the future, but the White Sox want him to get a bit more seasoning in the minors first. In the meantime Gillaspie needs to hold things together.

The White Sox traded for Avisail Garcia last season and are hoping his 42 games was just a start. He needs to learn to take more walks , and although it’s a small sample size his defense wasn’t great. Like Abreu, his performance is not just important for this season, but the future as well. It’s too early to see what he is, but this season will show a lot. The White Sox added Adam Eaton in a trade, and he started strong before getting hurt last season. Much like Garcia, it’s much too early to see what Eaton is. He is fast, and scrappy, and fits the mold of the kind of guys the White Sox have preferred over the last few years. He is supposed to be their leadoff hitter, and if he, Garcia and Abreu come close to hitting their potential anytime soon the Sox should have a good offense.

Left field will be manned by a combination of Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo. De Aza smacked 17 HRs last season but based on wOBA and fWAR he really didn’t have a very good season offensively. He has never been a great defensive player either, but he has some speed and can be a good part-time player. Dayan Viciedo is the last Cuban player the White Sox signed, and four seasons in he hasn’t much lived up to his potential. He has shown some power, but struggles to draw walks and does strike out a fair amount. Despite having a good arm, he isn’t much of a fielder either. He will only be 25 on Opening Day though, and still has a chance to improve offensively. At the moment there isn’t another option besides De Aza, but Viciedo could get traded if the right offer came around.

Tyler Flowers is entering his 6th season with the White Sox. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, probably because it’s only been 192 games. Flowers, like many guys on this team, is a strikeout machine with immense power. He couldn’t stay healthy enough to hold the job all of last season, but now more than ever the job belongs to him. The expectations have to be low at this point outside of 15 or so home runs.

The odd man out from De Aza or Viciedo will be the primary backup outfielder. De Aza could play all three positions which means he will probably rotate around as needed. Paul Konerko is expecting a much smaller role after an awful season in 2013. It’s unclear exactly how much he will play. It would make sense for him to spell Abreu and Dunn each once a week or so, and he will probably be the first pinch hitter off the bench. Adrian Nieto won the backup catcher job out of the spring. He has shown some hitting ability in the minors, so it’s possible he is a diamond in the rough. Jeff Keppinger will serve as the primary utility player on the bench for now. There isn’t much to say there. The less he sees the field, the better.

Pygmy Movies #37 – Movies

Go (1999)

One Line Description: A night of shady drug dealing told from multiple perspectives

I remember this movie coming out, but I don’t think I have ever heard a soul mention it since. That’s why I was surprised to see it had a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes1. I was even more surprised when it lived up to that rating. This movie had a very Pulp Fiction feel to it. It told the story of a night of drug dealing, scamming, violence and other debouchery from several different perspectives. It was entertaining and the multiple angles kept you interested. Timothy Olyphant and Katie Holmes are the biggest names in the cast. I don’t know how this one escaped me all these years, but it was really good. I would see it again.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

One Line Description: A divorcee trying to win back his wife after being released from a mental hospital befriends a widow with her own problems.

Really no excuse for it taking me this long to see this Oscar winning movie. Jennifer Lawrence absolutely brings it in this one. It’s rare a movie with this much hype lives up to it after this much time, but this movie totally did. Cooper was very good, but Lawrence totally owned this thing. The story was good as well, and while I don’t think Robert DeNiro deserved an Oscar nomination, he was very good. It was also good to know that Julia Stiles isn’t dead. I wish she would make more movies. I was always given the impression that this movie had a lot more to do about football than it did, but it was a small side story that could have been a lot of other things. So much what is great about this movie is awkwardness done right. Often times awkward scenes in movies don’t feel genuine. This felt real. A+. Four stars. Two thumb up. So great. Can’t wait to watch it again.

Broken City (2013)

One Line Description: A former cop is suspiciously hired by the mayor of New York to investigate his wife’s infidelity.

This movie also lived up it’s hype…of being crap. At what point do we start talking about Russell Crowe losing his fastball? Are we there? We are at least close. I always enjoy Mark Wahlberg, but you never know when he is going to be Good Mark Wahlberg (Lone Surivor) or Bad Mark Wahlberg (Contraband). This one squarely falls in the second category. Jeffery Wright is the lone bright spot, but he isn’t around enough to matter. Kyle Chandler is around for an even shorter amount of time so he is no help either. The movie seems pretty predictable, but there at least a couple of curveballs thrown in to make you want to see it through to the end, but afterward you wish you hadn’t. Don’t waste your time.

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

One Line Description: The story of the summer President Franklin Roosevelt carried on an affair with his cousin while also being visited by the King and Queen of England.

This was the opposite of Go. Surprisingly no hype, horrible Rotten Tomatoes score, awful movie. Bill Murray is a hall of famer. He can chase the championship ring (i.e., an Oscar) that he has never gotten. You can see where diving into this character would turn some heads. But this movie is so excruciatingly bad that he deserved to not even be nominated. I generally enjoy Laura Linney, but even she couldn’t help this one. It’s boring, and while not very long, I still couldn’t make it to the end. Replace Murray and Linney, and make it about some random old guy and this movie goes straight to DVD. Just horrible.

Midnight Run (1988)

One Line Description: A bounty hunter tries to collect a huge fee for bringing in an accountant who is wanted by the mafia and the FBI as well.

Although not on my List of Shame, this is a well known ’80s movie that was entertaining. Very much in the same vein as Beverly Hills Cop, or a super toned down 48 Hours, Robert De Niro’s character is trying to bring Charles Grodin’s character from New York to Los Angeles to collect a bond fee since Grodin jumped bail. Dennis Farina, Joe Pantaliano and Josh Ashton (from Beverly Hills Cop 1 and 2) are also involved. The movie has some funny moments mixed with some action moments, and the pairing of De Niro and Grodin is a nice complement. The story is OK, but the number of times De Niro and Grodin get separated is a little ridiculous after a while since you know they will end up together at the end. Ashton is really great in his role as another bounty hunter trying to capture Grodin. This was a good movie that I would see again, but doesn’t probably need to be.

  1. Good luck finding it without that link. Searching for Go doesn’t turn up that movie until the 4th page of results, behind All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 []

The Dwindling Sitcom Lifespan?

Every year the number of options for TV time continue to grow. As on-demand options continue to grow, and DVRs become ubiquitous with consumption of TV, the lifespan of TV shows is going to continue to shrink. Just over two years ago, an article appeared on this blog calling Modern Family the funniest show on TV. Now in it’s 5th season though, it’s lost some steam, and is definitely not the funniest show on TV (that would appear to be Brooklyn 99 at this point). But more importantly it says something about the lifespan of sitcoms and how long they can hang on.

There are still exceptions to the rule. CBS just inked three more seasons for The Big Bang Theory, meaning it will run through the 2016–2017 season. Other shows on CBS seem to run forever (Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother come to mind), but that doesn’t mean they are still good. As good as 30 Rock was for a while, eventually it got too ridiculous and exaggerated (which happens to most sitcoms). More and more though, it seems like shows peak in their first 3–4 seasons and then just spin off their axis.

New Girl is in it’s third season and has made the Winston character so unbearable that he needs to just leave at this point. The Ross and Rachel-esque storyline of Nick and Jess got there too fast and now there isn’t anything big to keep people coming back. Modern Family was so great because it was so deep. But most of the characters were so over-the-top so early that there wasn’t anywhere to go. And despite starting to mature in age, all of the children appear to just be the same people they always were.

The very best dramas (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) are pushing a trend where shows don’t outlive their quality by too much. Sitcoms don’t need as much continuity and can more easily throw together standalone episodes without people questioning it too much. That gives them the ability to run longer, but that doesn’t mean they should.

Brooklyn 99’s rookie season has been spectacular. It produces countless laugh out loud moments in the Hippo Household. But it feels too much like 30 Rock, where a lot of the laughs are achieved by dead-panned or perfectly timed ridiculousness. That only works for so long before a show needs more. Because sitcoms don’t have the same long-term hooks as dramas, they are much easier to give up on abruptly. And since Netflix and Amazon Prime create what is for all intents and purposes and infinite amount of content to view, sitcoms wear out their welcome much faster than in the past.

A Different Perspective on NBA Age Limit

Andrew Sharp of Grantland wrote last month about Marcus Smart and talked about him coming back to college:

And this is how the guy who was college basketball’s favorite superstar just four months ago turned into a symbol for what college basketball can do to superstars who stay too long. Saturday was the culmination of a few underwhelming months in general. Smart has struggled, his team is losing, and scouts have started to question where his game fits at the next level. It’s a familiar pattern for guys who turn down the NBA draft.

[…]

There will still be mistakes and lessons, but instead of costing yourself money while that happens, you get paid to learn. If Saturday was a “teachable moment” for Smart, it was also a lesson for every superstar freshman who’s considering sticking around another year. College basketball works great for almost everyone who plays it, but for the guys who have the option of the NBA right now, there’s a lot more to lose than there is to gain.

Whenever anyone talks about players returning to school or age-limit rules it almost always comes back to the player, not the league or sport. When a guy goes back to school and drops in the draft, it’s perceived as a personal mistake, but few look at the relief some teams probably feel about having missed drafting someone who would not have worked out.

Draft bust lists in both the NBA and NFL are very topics of conversation for a lot of people. There are lists and lists of players who were taken in the top 5–10 who ended up not working out at all. Some get injured (Greg Oden) while others just can’t cut it (Kwame Brown). Maybe another season of college would have helped Oden get stronger, or maybe he would have gotten hurt and people would have learned sooner what an injury liability he was. Brown didn’t even go to college, but maybe one year would have been enough for people to evaluate him better.

It’s easy to feel for these kids, many who come from poorer backgrounds, who lose out on millions of dollars by making the wrong decision or being prevented from going pro because of rules that seem unfair. History shows though, that it’s incredibly difficult to evaluate future professional success, and any way to increase the sample size before millions of dollars are handed over is a good thing for the teams that most people root for.

Most of the time both college and sports teams are better off with these age limits. It makes the talent at both levels better. College teams get players to grow and mature and play together for a couple of years. Meanwhile it would give NBA teams more time to evaluate players and make better decisions. For every LeBron James there is, there are three Kwame Browns. It may suck for the players, but it’s better for the game.