Rough season for Hawk talk

... to stop ruining his pearls of wisdom!

It hasn't been a good year for Hawk Harrelson phrases. It started with the venerable, harmless "can of corn," which has been under assault since Juan Pierre's first few rough weeks in the field. His play forced Hawk to provide himself an out -- "should be a..." -- on lazy flies hit to left field, which saddens me more than it should.

The becorned can isn't alone, because two others have also suffered under the weight of this most unusual of seasons.

No. 1: "Your offense is only as good as your bullpen."

This one is good for plenty of jokes on a game-to-game basis, but I know what Harrelson is trying to say. When a relief corps leaks oil, it keeps moving the goalposts farther and farther back. A bad bullpen can make even great offenses insufficient -- but that's too wordy, which makes it sound less black-and-white. Harrelson does like his absolutes.

But with the 2011 White Sox, it doesn't even apply in any way because the pitching staff is carrying the offense. The White Sox bullpen has the fifth-lowest ERA in the league, which is impressive when remembering how the season started.

 

The ERAs have been trending downward, along with the damage the White Sox bullpen has allowed in terms of triple-slash lines:

  • April: .281/.347/.441
  • May: .231/.328/.342
  • June/July: .208/.277/.303

Compare the relievers' general effectiveness to the offense's runs per game:

  • April: 3.89
  • May: 4.41
  • June/July: 3.69

For comparison's sake, the pre-Dick Allen 1970 White Sox, the last team to lose 100 games, scored 3.90 runs per game. Good luck getting your bullpen to coax victories out of that kind of support.

Conclusion: When Harrelson says, "Your offense is only as good as your bullpen," he's either insulting the efforts of seven fine individuals, or he's lying to us.

No. 2: "The more pitches you see, the more dangerous you become."

Harrelson has introduced this bromide recently, and this doesn't sound right to me, either. I formed a hypothesis before looking into it, thinking that the numbers would reveal the following:

No. 1: Long at-bats have lower batting averages in general (due to two strikes on the hitter), but OBPs will probably be higher (due to the increased likelihood of a walk).

No. 2: The White Sox aren't nearly as good in deep counts as the rest of the league.

So I ran Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index until smoke poured out of its figurative ears, and both are true. When running the Play Index for all plate appearances with seven or more plate appearances, the White Sox's resulting triple-slash line was well below the league average:

  • White Sox: .170/.357/.293
  • Rest of AL: .212/.386/.351

What I didn't realize was how hit-or-miss the entire offense was in deep counts. Breaking it down individually for all White Sox starters, and you get haves and have-nots:

Pos PA BA OBP SLG OPS
C A.J. Pierzynski 21 .211 .286 .211 .496
1B Paul Konerko 30 .318 .500 .591 1.091
2B Gordon Beckham 19 .176 .263 .365 .498
SS Alexei Ramirez 25 .235 .480 .353 .833
3B Brent Morel 10 .100 .100 .100 .200
LF Juan Pierre 18 .333 .444 .333 .778
CF Alexis Rios 15 .111 .467 .111 .578
RF Carlos Quentin 32 .050 .375 .200 .575
DH Adam Dunn 41 .161 .366 .516 .882

 

Now, when seeing Paul Konerko dominating his teammates in this category, I thought, "Of course! You'd see more fastballs with full counts!" But that doesn't explain the whole thing, because the second-best fastball hitter on the 2011 White Sox is the guy batting .050*. Meanwhile, Alexei Ramirez is the worst hitter in the league against fastballs, and he's quite respectable in this case, and the similarly struggling Juan Pierre has the highest batting average of anybody. So ... forget that theory.

(*Thanks to BuehrleMan's dogged documenting, Quentin's abysmal performance in long at-bats should catch few by surprise.)

Conclusion: I'm guessing Harrelson believes this due to some kind of memory bias. When a batter sees eight pitches and grounds out to short, that's just another at-bat. When a batter fouls off four straight pitches before smoking a double to the gap, that's incredibly joyful or painful, depending on who's hitting.

Based on how few Sox become "dangerous" after making the pitcher work -- especially in terms of slugging percentage -- I think we can write this one off. If it accomplishes anything, it just makes you jealous of the Red Sox (who hit .283/.452/.490 after seeing seven pitches or more).

Speaking of which, I tried looking up how well Yaz did under the circumstances, but the pitch-by-pitch data wasn't available during the Triple Crown season. I think we can safely assume that he's the best-ever at it.

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