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No Defense For Lack...Of Defense

There's some serious visual metaphor stuff at work in this here picture.
There's some serious visual metaphor stuff at work in this here picture.

When last we e-met, the discussion centered around Kenny's performance over the course of the decade.  In short, it started off hot but after the WS victory, the bad has outweighed the good.  On that note, let's check out the specifics of that failure to see what depths Kenny actually fell compared to his competitors.

To that end, I went to Fangraphs and looked at the White Sox position player WAR at each position starting in '06 summed through the most recent season.  Then I compared those results to every other team in the league and ranked the Sox accordingly.  The results are kind of shocking, really.

The results at DH are not super meaningful since we'd expect National League teams on aggregate to be pretty much replacement level.  It's more like 6 out of 14 teams than all 30.  I guess we can still call that above average, but it's not crazy impressive.  DH is a difficult spot to get a lot of value out of anyway.

Outside of DH, it's absolutely atrocious.  Of the 9 non-pitching positions, the Sox are worse than 25th in 5 of them.  For you remedial mathemagicians, that's more than half.  At no position are they well above average.  Alexei Ramirez and Jim Thome help salvage total disaster, if that's what you can call it.  Because in sum over that period, the Sox are 29th overall in fWAR.  That's worse than the Royals.


...Sorry, I had some phlegm to work out.

Actually, it gets even worse.  On top of that performance, the Sox have the 6th biggest budget for non-pitchers from 2006-2010.*  It would have been cheaper to just buy half a team at free agent prices than stick with what the Sox stuck with.  And isn't that pretty much the definition of a replacement level General Manager?  After the World Series win, Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf were in a position to buy the division over the era in question.  Instead they won just one division title over the course of 6 seasons in a division where they had the most money and by far the best pitching.

Oh right, yeah, that's the saving grace.  The pitching.  According to both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, the Sox had by far the best pitching.  Using the B-R numbers, the Sox were the only team more than 1.5 standard deviations above the mean and they were substantially more than that (2.3 SDs from the mean).  They were 3 wins better per season than the next best team, the Red Sox.

If you didn't notice how good the pitching was, it could be in part because the runs allowed don't always reflect it.  The Sox play in the AL and in one of the best hitter's parks in the game.  But there's more to it than that and it gets at the root of KW's failings in picking players.  By whatever reasonable metric you pick, the Sox have been terrible at defense since the World Series victory.  Dewan, Total Zone and UZR absolutely hate them, ranking the South Siders dead last, second to last and 4th worst respectively.

This wouldn't be such a huge problem if they compensated by hitting a ton, but they haven't. The pitchers very plainly have been hung out to dry by a long string of very questionable personnel decisions.  If the Sox want to step up and own this division, a few critical changes in personnel evaluation really could make that difference.  Put an emphasis on younger, cheaper players.  Limit exposure to huge free agent contracts.  Figure out how to factor defense into evaluation.  

As I've said, I like Kenny as a person and I really want the guy to succeed, especially since he's proven he can.  For whatever reason, I'm invested in the guy, seemingly more than a lot of the players.  And certainly, it's not at all fair to say that he deserves no credit for making the White Sox pitching performance the incredible success that it undeniably is.  But there's a very evident blind spot that needs to be dealt with that throwing an unprecedented amount of cash at could not and will not solve.  



*B-R's breakdown by pitcher/non-pitcher only goes through 2010 at this point.