As Larry pointed out on Sunday, it stands to reason that a new manager might make Alex Rios' life in Chicago far more uncomfortable. For instance, Mark Gonzales is hip to the notion that Robin Ventura could take center field defense more seriously.
How’s this for a 2012 White Sox outfield:
Left fielder Alex Rios, center fielder Alejandro De Aza and right fielder Dayan Viciedo?
Rios moves from center field, where he misjudged or took unique routes on several flies that eluded him. De Aza and Brent Lillibridge are the Sox’s best center fielders, and De Aza played well over a two-month stint while giving the team some much-welcomed energy.
(This is all assuming Carlos Quentin is traded somewhere else in the offseason, which everybody seems to be doing.)
Gonzales goes on to note that Rios has played just one game in left during his entire major-league career, which would be an obstacle to the plan. But moreover, Rios was a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder before the Sox moved him to center. Considering Viciedo's range extends barely beyond his shadow, moving Rios a notch further down the scale might be taking things one step too far.
But I can understand the urge to start Viciedo in right, if only because of throws like this:
The Dayan Cannon was responsible for two outfield assists over 163 innings in field field. Extrapolate that to 1,100 innings, and you get about a baker's dozen.
Small sample size concerns are justified, but the league took notice of Viciedo's arm in relatively short order -- probably because he stood out in an outfield with Juan Pierre's noodle arm and Alex Rios' crazy two-seamers. Viciedo saved several bases over the last month by making runners afraid to go from first to third, or second to home.
A double-digit assist total would be huge, because the Sox haven't had an outfielder with 10 assists since 2004, when Carlos Lee had 11 and Aaron Rowand had 10. Throw in Timo Perez in right, and that was probably the strongest-throwing outfield of the new century. Those White Sox racked up 37 outfield assists overall,
El Caballo is a popular comparison for the Tank, and it would probably extend in this direction as well. Lee's arm wasn't scary strong, but it was accurate, and given that he looked fundamentally shaky in all other aspects of defense, he was able to lure baserunners into a false sense of security every once in a while.
Since then, the White Sox have had two kinds of arms -- weak but accurate (Pierre, Scott Podsednik, Nick Swisher) and strong but erratic (Rios, Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, Brian Anderson). The problems came to a head in 2011, when even with Viciedo's small-sample success, White Sox outfielders combined for just 16 assists. Not only was that the worst in the league, but that's the lowest total for the Sox since they moved to New Comiskey Park, beating their previous low of 17, set in 2008.
So it's easy to understand the urge to keep Viciedo and his arm in right, given the visible impact it made during his limited time there.
Once upon a time, though, Alex Rios was that guy. According to The Hardball Times, Rios graded out as the top right field arm from 2004-2007, and even though he dropped off a bit, he still managed to pull off a positive score in that category... until this past season.
Now, I don't think Rios has that arm anymore. For one, when you look at his Arm Scores on his FanGraphs page, you'll notice a pretty steady downward trend starting from 2004. Also, I'm guessing he benefited from playing at Rogers Centre, where it's all artifical turf except for the bases and the mound. It's probably a lot easier for infielders and catchers to read hops on one consistent surface (although said FieldTurf couldn't prevent Rios from giving Gordon Beckham a nasty black eye on a throw to second in May).
But Rios always has had that funky throwing motion, because I remember Hawk Harrelson criticizing it when Rios played for Toronto. Is it possible Rios could better account for the significant tail on his throws when he played in right field?
Maybe. The safer answer would be to assume that Rios has tailed off all over, but even if Viciedo has a better arm, Rios' range will more than make up for the bases his odd throws give away.
Viciedo's arm won't exactly go to waste in left, either. In 2011, we watched Pierre's pop gun give up the most ground in the American League. So let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's enjoy the thought of a manager who isn't afraid of disrespecting a veteran who isn't worthy of it. And let's enjoy the thought of a left fielder holding baserunners to 90 feet at a time on singles in front of him. If there's still room for improvement when these two minor miracles happen, by all means, nitpick away.