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The White Sox and the Guillen Number

The White Sox continue to be dependent on the home run, and that's not a bad thing.

"Congratulations.  You have raised our 'me' number."
"Congratulations. You have raised our 'me' number."
David Banks

Ozzie Guillen may have never been a numbers guy, but his obliviousness to where runs come from gave him a prestigious place in baseball statistical nomenclature.

Though the stellar pitching staff was the underlying cause of a White Sox World Series victory in 2005, much was made of Guillen's championing of "smallball", or "smartball", or "Ozzieball" as a key to that team's success. Whichever iteration of the phrase was used, it meant a style of play that emphasized bunting, stealing bases, and sacrifice hits. "Manufacturing runs" is a common term for that strategy of offense, despite the fact that the actual process more closely resembles a painstaking amount of effort to squeeze one run across the plate than a streamlined, factory-like system to mass-produce them.

Funny thing was, though, when you ranked all the teams in baseball by percentage of runs scored via the home run in 2005, the White Sox were fourth. Pitching drove the championship run, but the average offense that supported it could have better been summed up by "longball" than "smallball".

Throughout much of his tenure as White Sox manager, Guillen was resolute in his stance that doing the little things on offense was what mattered most despite having a team that continuously depended on home runs to score. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus took note of this and subsequently coined the "Guillen Number" to represent the portion of a team's runs scored on homers. For many followers of baseball statistics, the Guillen Number is old news.  But since it's been awhile since this has really been harped on, let's take a look at where the White Sox have ranked in this measure since the beginning of the millennium:


That 2000 team stands out as the only double-digit ranking in the chart.  At one point in the summer of 2000, the White Sox had seven lineup regulars hitting over .300, which gives you an idea of what it takes to stop the Sox from being dependent on the home run.  The fact is, when you play in a bandbox of a ballpark like U.S. Cellular Field, you'd best use it to your advantage.  White Sox management has consistently packed the team with power hitters to get the most out of their home park, similar to how the Minnesota Twins used to emphasize speed and contact-hitting to take advantage of the Metrodome.

What conclusions can we draw from this?  The one that sticks out to me the most is that even though the White Sox have done quite a bit to change the makeup of their team for 2014, they still remain dependent on the home run. Rick Hahn made an effort to make the 2014 (and future) White Sox to become more athletic, and he succeeded. However, the fact remains that the longball will always be paramount to a team playing in U.S. Cellular Field.  Many people consider Coors Field to be the best hitters' park in the majors, but if you look at history, a case could be made that U.S. Cellular field has been just as, if not more, homer-friendly than the home of the Rockies.

The second conclusion that I'd make is that it's no problem at all if your team is dependent on home runs for success.  There have been 15 seasons (including 2014) since 2000, and the White Sox have won the AL Central in three of those.  They also have a World Series championship playoff run (during which they hit 18 home runs in 12 games) to show for it, to dispel the notion that "manufacturing runs" is essential to postseason success.  Some have also asserted that it's a problem if you have a team dependent on the home run, because division races are decided in September and it's tough to hit homers in that month due to the cold weather.  But over the previous four seasons, the Sox haven't shown any appreciable inability to hit home runs in September.  I can't speak to all-time history, but it seems premature to think of home run dependency as an obstacle to making the playoffs.

The team figures to go through quite a bit of change in the 2014-15 offseason and it's reasonable to think that whatever tweaks Rick Hahn makes to the roster, home runs will factor very significantly into the 2015 offense. Dayan Viciedo, Adam Dunn, and Paul Konerko don't figure to be in the plan for next year, but they've been significant sources of power for the White Sox over the past few years.  It will be interesting to see what Avisail Garcia, any offseason acquisitions, and possibly Matt Davidson can do to pick up the slack in the home run department.  In any event, I wouldn't expect the White Sox to drop out of the top third of teams in the Guillen Number rankings anytime soon.