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Can It Be That It Was All So Simple?

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If we could play a million games, we wouldn't have to worry about luck.  Without that luxury there's always going to be a lot of noise and variance mixed in with the signal.  In the long run, that stuff cancels out.  As we'll see, not so much for the Sox. 

Two months into the season and the team BABIP still sits at .249 thanks to a .266 May average that was still second worst in the majors.  In other words, everybody else has been getting hits at a 30% clip, while the Sox are at 25%. That's a difference of 70 base hits on the season.  That's worth 50-60 runs on the season, the difference between a slightly below average offense and a definitively above average offense.  That's somewhat misleading since as we found out here, the Sox are probably not a true talent .300 BABIP team.  Probably more like .280-.285, which is still a good 40-50 runs from .250.  The Sox wouldn't need to flip that many losses into wins to be hypothetically competitive.

What's weird is that there are no other obvious indicators for a lame offense on the team level.  The K/BB ratio is the 2nd best in MLB, 7th best in ISO, 6th in total HR, with average walk and infield fly rates and a low K rate.  What makes a faltering BABIP such a puzzling malady more generally aligns exactly with what the Sox are experiencing acutely: there are no obvious secondary symptoms.  All we know is that it's likely to get better...but only as better as the players Kenny acquired can be.

Should we blame KW for this? Probably not...but it depends on how long this goes for.  From flipping through fangraphs, it looks like one or two teams in thirty will get a BABIP month like the Sox have now had twice.  It could be the case that Kenny assembled a team that's gotten lucky with its power display so far and in fact it really is much worse than we've dealt with.  That would mean KW didn't field a team full of actual major league hitters.  As bad as its been at times, I'm pretty sure it's a mostly above replacement level lineup from a true talent perspective.  And besides, power stats normalize much more rapidly than BABIP and should be better indicators about this offense's talent.

The pitching has been tolerable, but the team ERA is still much higher than either its FIP or xFIP.  This is expected to some degree because the defense was probably not going to be above average and The Cell is homer happy.  OTOH, if you average UZR and Dewan (like you should), the defense has been average.  And if it were the HR rates, then there would be a significant difference between FIP and xFIP.  So it would seem the Sox have been giving up untimely hits that have cost them about half a run per nine innings pitched.  That's good for 20-30 runs allowed on the season.

All told, batting and pitching combined, we're talking about a serious turnaround (a full spot in the standings and a ticket back into the race) had the Sox been granted neutral luck.  It's not that if everything had gone right for the Sox, they'd be in it. If everything had just evened out, they'd be in it.

That conclusion makes me somewhat skeptical that I'm doing it right.  After all, it's rarely the case that it's just you getting crapped on.  But look at the lineup! Beckham and Quentin are worth a combined -1.6 WAR.  Floyd and Peavy have ERAs above 6.  Plus, Mark Kotsay! DH!  If anything, it's good for the soul to call it all bad luck.  Better that than listen to the ghosts of Andy Gonzalez and Luis Terrero.  And there's clearly a good bit of '07 to this season.  Even with the luck evened out, this team isn't as good as the Twins but it's paying more.

In the same vein as '09, Kenny's probably going to have to trade away Konerko, Jenks and AJ, perhaps Buehrle as well.  Throw in Freddy too and the team will finally be rid of anyone who was playing for the squad in '05.

If KW manages all five, then we can officially dub this season Bizarro 2005.