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Thursday, June 16, 2005

White Sox win by keeping it in the park

The White Sox are making some analysts (OK, this analyst) look bad.

The White Sox and The Stat Guy have always had something of a star-crossed relationship. That'll happen when you're a denizen of Wrigleyville yet work with a group of South Siders who refer to US Cellular Field as "Sox Park." It also doesn't help when you move to Kansas City and work side by side with an otherwise reasonable young man who has a Hawk Harrelson bobblehead doll on his desk.

None of this explains why Stat Guy's PROFITS projection system pegged the White Sox's revamped squad to finish 74-88 and fourth in the AL Central.

The projection wasn't based on personal malice.

Entering the last offseason, the White Sox were dealing from a position of relative strength. Chicago has finished .500 or better each of the last five seasons and has finished second or better in the AL Central eight of nine seasons. But it appeared that, over the winter, they did everything wrong.

It appeared White Sox general manager Kenny Williams had given away too many runs when he traded Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik and allowed Jose Valentin and Magglio Ordonez to leave via free-agency. While the defense appeared to be improved (it is), PROFITS also foresaw a fly-ball-laden pitching staff that would give up a ton of home runs (it hasn't).

Needless to say, so far, PROFITS has been wrong about the White Sox.

When you burrow into the details of the projection, PROFITS was reasonably accurate in most categories. The hitting and fielding projections fell within acceptable parameters, as did the forecast in most pitching categories.

There is one area where the White Sox have greatly exceeded expectations. The pitching staff allowed 224 home runs last season. This season, they're on pace to allow 144. PROFITS projected 221.

You don't want to oversimplify the matter. The White Sox haven't become the best team in baseball simply because they've allowed fewer home runs. While they've been close to forecast across the board, Chicago is, in fact, doing a little bit better than expected in most every category. But in this one area, they're doing much better.

All five White Sox starters - Mark Buehrle, Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia — are allowing significantly fewer home runs per nine innings than their career pace. All of them, except for Buehrle, also boast improved ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratios.

Allowing fewer fly balls could help the pitchers stay close to their current pace once the warm weather begins to affect the home-run totals in "The Cell." Nonetheless, you have to expect a regression of the pitchers' gopher-ball numbers toward their career norms. They've done about as well as they can so far, but it won't continue - at least not at this pace.

Another area where the White Sox are likely to regress is their performance in one-run games. They've won a big-league-high 19 one-run games thus far. Based on their run differential, they should be about 15-12 in one-run games. They're 19-8. This should even out as the season progresses.

The White Sox aren't as good as they've played. They'll are likely to regress, but you can't take away the wins they already have under their belts.

Chicago is 43-22, the best record in baseball. If they play .500 ball the rest of the way, they'll still win 91 games. A decline at this point, unless severe, might not keep the White Sox out of the postseason.

Even if the expected regression takes hold, the White Sox have built a heck of a buffer. It should be a fun season in "Sox Park."
A lid on the longball
White Sox starting pitchers have been allowing fewer home runs this season than they have previously in their careers. A look:


Note: Numbers reflect home runs allowed per nine innings pitched


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