For White Sox, pitching and defense don't go together

"Great" defense pictured. - Hannah Foslien

Third error-plagued game in four nights undermines FanGraphs' late swing at Hawk Harrelson

Hawk Harrelson elicited plenty of derisive chortles and sneers for his attack on sabermetrics and his establishment of TWTW, and for good reason -- It was a stubborn and underinformed perspective on an aspect of the game he already had written off for personal reasons.

Given that his stance on stats is such a fat target and can be picked apart by dabblers in sabermetrics, it's surprising that Dave Cameron would jump on the pile this late and miss this badly.

The headline on his Monday afternoon post at FanGraphs is correct ("Pitching and defense wins, as long as you can also hit"), and so is the general sentiment (the Sox aren't scoring nearly enough runs). But here's a case where assumptions drawn from numbers lead Cameron astray.

Hawk Harrleson is the broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox. The Chicago White Sox currently have the second best ERA in the American League at 3.40, trailing only the Rangers, who have a 3.39 ERA. The White Sox are doing this in one of the best ballparks for offense in baseball. It is fair to say that the White Sox — the team Harrelson watches every day — have been pretty great at pitching and defense.

Despite playing in that hitter friendly ballpark, the White Sox currently rate 15th out of 15 AL teams in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. At 3.4 runs per game, the White Sox rank dead last in the AL in run scoring. This is the team Hawk Harrelson has watched play all year long. Great pitching and defense, terrible hitting. It’s not equaling wins.

Harrelson harped on defense because he had seen numerous Sox games turn on extra outs. Team defense may not be the primary reason why the Sox are 15-21, but it's up for Best Supporting Actor.

Cameron may want to take a week to take in the White Sox before he starts talking about what Harrelson is seeing. This is the team Hawk Harrelson has watched play all year long:

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This didn't count as an error. Neither did the pop-up Tyler Flowers dropped by the Twins' dugout. And yet even with the charity the rules of scoring allow, the White Sox still lead the AL in errors. A White Sox fan mentions that in the comments, along with the Sox having the worst fielding percentage, which draws the predictable reply:

Their UZR and UZR/150 are 8th in the AL, DRS is 10th. That’s not good, and it’s of course SSS, but for the love of god don’t use fielding percentage and errors.

In this case, I'm absolutely comfortable with using errors to state how awful the Sox have been on defense, because it best tells the story of their season if you've been watching them. The Sox don't have a problem getting in position to make a play, but they have all sorts of problems once the ball arrives. Errors -- especially a league-leading total -- are much more helpful in describing just how many mistakes in judgment and communication everybody witnessing the Sox have endured, especially since a quarter season isn't nearly enough to stabilize defensive metrics.

If errors and defensive competence weren't a problem, Robin Ventura wouldn't be saying things like this:

"There’s lapses of knowing what’s going on, and we’ll work on them," Ventura said after his team dropped to 15-21. "They’ll have plenty of time to work on. … Eventually you get to that point where you don’t pay attention to what’s going on, we’ll find somebody else to do it."

And fans wouldn't read this and think "What took so long?"

Cameron does good work -- his precise dissection of Adam Dunn's failed aggressive approach is one example -- but he's prone to overlooking nuances. And in this case, he gets into dangerous territory when he takes one crude statistic (ERA?) and assumes it can tell him the story of the season better than somebody whose entire 2013 has been a slow death by bobbles.

Either that, or Cameron made a writing mistake, getting too cute with his retort by trying to turn Harrelson's "pitching and defense" line back on him. Run prevention may not be a problem, but this defense doesn't look "great" -- nor "pretty great" -- to Harrelson, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a Sox fan or employee who disagrees.

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