The return of the value survey: Closing the books on the 2011 White Sox

Most of the players in this photo are not represented.

As a self-admitted numbers geek, attempts made to divine a "perfect" statistic are fascinating. At SLAM, I committed the equivalent of taking a charge in a pickup game by outing myself as a purveyor of basketball numbers. Pursuing the same while covering the Chicago Blackhawks in their only title season of the past half-century, attracted high sticks and cheap shots galore in pursuit of same (a favorite comment from the South Side Sox brother board: "Who the f*#& is Brett Ballantini?").

Most recently while covering our favorite baseball team, the pursuit of the perfect stat came closer still, although you wouldn’t have known it given the amount of inattention the editor gave to such attempted innovation.

Anyhow, every 10 games last season, in-between the perpetual booking of hotels or flights and getting scolded by Don Cooper and eating poorly and powwowing with Ozzie without exchanging rings like that videogaming columnist and being shorted sleep and having my attire criticized by Will Ohman and showing up at parks having to beg for game passes and winning NBA bets with Ramon Castro and getting flipped off by Cubbies beat writers and not talking with Harold Baines and driving home overnight from Minnesota after a postgame flight was banged and talking art with Omar Vizquel and wondering why the team’s feistiness was in inverse proportion to that of the manager and laryngitis-whispering Spanglish questions to Alexei Ramirez and watching hours’ worth of outfield pitcher Frisbee and getting props for my Chuck Ts from Edwin Jackson or Chris Sale and epigraphing pertinent articles, I trotted out a "Value Survey" that attempted to crash statistical performance into salary to determine the best and worst players on the White Sox.

Sadly, the bizarre twists of season’s end, from Ozzie’s departure to the club’s faux managerial search, pushed the final edition of the survey into October. And at the dawn of October, in what was apparently a shock to everyone outside of my boss, and literally minutes after being heralded for my "perfect" treatment of the Robin Ventura press conference, I was informed that my services were no longer necessary.

No, that company hasn’t hired another White Sox writer yet. Gentle reader, you are left to determine if this is a matter of sheer irreplaceability or utter organizational inefficiency.

At any rate, Sox cap in hand, I elbow briefly into South Side Sox to complete the circle, publish the final survey of 2011 and project the 2012 club values. What follows is something you still won’t find anywhere else in baseball, a snapshot that attempts to meaure actual costs of players against the value they provide the team on the field. Arguably, this player value trumps any other you'd find on the back of a baseball card.

So, sitaspell, take yer shoes off, and enjoy. O: Listo? Empiece.

Methodology

I’ve taken the often-conflicting WAR data from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference and special-sauced (with an assist last September from you ruthlessly clever folks at SSS) it into a dollar value for the season. Smashing that number into Cot’s salary data allows us to determine whether a player is a credit or debit to the team.

2011 White Sox Bargains

Players who provided value on top of what they cost the team in salary.

  1. Alexei Ramirez, ss, $13,091,567
  2. Phil Humber, sp, $13,036,597
  3. Alejandro De Aza, of, $9,122,493
  4. Gavin Floyd, sp, $7,604,569
  5. Chris Sale, rp, $7,386,282
  6. Carlos Quentin, of, $6,534,969
  7. Brent Lillibridge, of-if, $6,020,721
  8. Sergio Santos, rp, $5,734,138
  9. Edwin Jackson, sp, $5,296,766
  10. John Danks, sp, $4,562,984
  11. Gordon Beckham, 2b, $4,078,776
  12. Jesse Crain, rp, $2,701,725
  13. A.J. Pierzynski, c, $2,432,128
  14. Dylan Axelrod, sp, $1,641,585
  15. Brent Morel, 3b, $1,560,711
  16. Tyler Flowers, c, $1,486,946
  17. Paul Konerko, 1b, $1,340,267
  18. Jeff Gray, rp, $429,023
  19. Mark Buehrle, sp, $246,713
  20. Hector Santiago, rp, $221,352
  21. Ramon Castro, c, $160,356

If there was any question as to the strength of the White Sox in 2011, it was the starting staff; six of the eight starters provided a profit to the White Sox, with Humber narrowly trailing Ramirez for the best overall value on the club. Also of note, all three catchers provided a positive value to the White Sox.

2011 White Sox Busts

Players whose cost to the team in salary was greater than the value they provided on the field, beginning with likely the biggest single-season value bust in the history of baseball.

  1. Adam Dunn, dh, -$23,014,497
  2. Alex Rios, of, -$16,519,893
  3. Jake Peavy, sp, -$8,188,718
  4. Juan Pierre, of, -$5,702,119
  5. Mark Teahen, if-of, -$4,820,181
  6. Omar Vizquel, if, -$4,163,535
  7. Tony Pena, rp, -$2,088,205
  8. Brian Bruney, rp, -$1,530,043
  9. Lastings Milledge, of, -$1,509,297
  10. Jason Frasor, rp, -$1,451,529
  11. Dallas McPherson, 1b-3b, -$1,070,472
  12. Dayan Viciedo, of, -$898,940
  13. Shane Lindsay, rp, -$843,823
  14. Donny Lucy, c, -$410,000
  15. Eduardo Escobar, ss, -$400,000
  16. Matt Thornton, rp, -$381,445
  17. Zach Stewart, sp, -$323,129
  18. Josh Kinney, rp, -$276,853
  19. Lucas Harrell, rp, -$266,782
  20. Will Ohman, rp, -$257,296
  21. Addison Reed, rp, -$559


Dunn had better be on Rios’ Christmas card list for the rest of his life, for while the bearded blunder delivered the (likely) worst value in baseball history to the White Sox in 2011, the bumbling center fielder clocked in with perhaps a top-10 all-time worst effort as well. It was bad enough that the dynamic dud of a duo’s disturbing underperformance alone (-3.5 WAR) dumped the Pale Hose under .500, but Dunn and Rios oversalted the margarita by costing the club a cool $24 million in doing so. In a minor triumph for the duo set in motion by a typically Guillenesque stumble to the finish line in September, the $39 million in flatulence dealt the White Sox by Dunn and Rios was surpassed by the other 20 debits to the roster (a combined $44 million); for much of the season, the horror of Dunn and Rios outpaced the rest of the team debits combined.

All in all, the pitching staff rescued the White Sox from the utter, North Side-style embarrassment of finishing the season in the red, value-wise. The hurlers threw out a total value of $33,253,350, well offsetting an offense that provided a value of, oof, -$12,680,000. It might seem that finishing some $20 million in the black is a good thing, but when you’re looking up at two teams in the standings, don’t break an arm patting your back. It’s a safe bet that the White Sox will have to double their team surplus value in 2012 to have any hopes of sniffing the postseason.

So, what’s the debacle of 2011 mean?

It means that the overarching aggression of Ken Williams never bit back harder; almost every bold move he made turned into a car crash. According to the GM, he offered to resign last year, and even a staunch defender of the man would have to allow that casting him out of the Stadium Club with golden parachute attached wouldn’t have been out of line.

Dunn was, obviously, a mess. Rios gave the White Sox one strong half-season in exchange for around $17 million of the Chairman’s cash. Peavy’s extended prep lap before resuming a presumed full starter load has been a colossal wheel spin. The Teahen instaExtension ended in tatters, costing the club stretch-run starts from Jackson just to dump the underachieving utilityman on the Toronto Blue Jays.

Sure, a field manager as devoted to a successful season as was Williams was would have helped the GM; the drastic underperformances of Dunn, Rios and Pierre, at the very least, could have been mitigated by Guillen flashing some cojones and instructing the trio, no matter how highly paid, to grab some bench. Instead, Guillen mocked those who felt the Lillibridges of the world had earned more PT with increasingly wild justification that began to border on soothsaying—at least until he was giddily penciling in the spritely Lilli at first base. And when it came time to end the six-man rotation, Guillen sent Humber to the pen—however briefly, coincidentally or not, the surprise star of the season was never the same.

But the buck stopped with Williams—and the delightfully brash, aggressive GM took a pass on 2011, nearly to Ozzie’s degree. If there’s one clear signal in the Robin Ventura hiring, it’s that never again will Williams so blindly defer to his manager. And that’s a good thing, because another 2011 will cost the long-tenured head man his job.

COMING TUESDAY: Projecting next season's bargains and siphons

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