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November 2, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

White Sox, Marlins

by Baseball Prospectus

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics

"Survivor" begat countless reality survival shows where contestants get voted out of the boardroom, off the isthmus, out of the house, or off the team. One reality show about a tattoo parlor turned into three. One online pet supply store quickly became a dozen (and just as quickly became zero). Though it's a young company, Netflix has seen its business model adopted by many different industries.

Most success stories spawn imitators, and baseball is no different. Mere hours after the White Sox hoisted the World Series trophy, newspapers across the country began speculating on how the White Sox' "pitching and defense" style of play would be emulated by other GMs this offseason, anticipating dueling teams who fight over the likes of Royce Clayton solely because of his Furious D.

"OzzieBall" or "Smartball" became words before they had definitions, and after a season's worth of scrutiny, we now know Smartball means "terrific starting pitching, terrific bullpen, three-run home run." Even the Astros were presented as a data point in the return of a gritty, more aesthetically pleasing, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO PLAY THE GAME RIGHT brand of smallball. If we had to define "AstroBall" or something, we'd probably say "dominant starting pitching concentrated in the top three, dominant late-game bullpen, two-man offense." But what's overlooked is that the two teams who played in the World Series don't have a new model for team building so much as they have a good to great core of talent that they managed to keep healthy.

Intrepid intern Mike Groopman has been tracking DL information for BP all season long, and now that the season is over, we can get a final health report for each team. We'll take a quick look at two versions of the White Sox below. The first chart includes information that includes slugger Frank Thomas, while the second omits him from the team totals--as unbelievable and as tragic as it may seem given his history and stature in that organization, he didn't factor into the championship season that heavily.


White Sox (W Thomas)
--------------------
Days Lost to DL: 374 (27th in MLB)
Dollars Lost to DL: $8,642,191.36 (15th in MLB)
% Payroll Lost to DL: 11.49% (20th in MLB)

White Sox (W/O Thomas)
----------------------
Days Lost to DL: 233
Dollars Lost to DL: $1,679,228.40
% Payroll Lost to DL: 2.23%

Something to keep in mind with the "no-Thomas" data is that it involves quite a bit of Ross Gload, who really wasn't the player he was in 2004, and wouldn't have displaced anybody on the roster. He was out for a considerable chunk of 2005, and wasn't missed; throwing him out of the second chart just hammers home the fact that Chicago did a fantastic job of keeping its best options on the field.

Overall, this is a team that ranked 27th in days lost to the DL (and in this case, being ranked so close to the bottom is a good thing).

So it seems that part of the White Sox' success that needs to be emulated by potential copycats is the capacity to remain healthy, which is always a goal, regardless of the "-ism" fueling the roster construction.

Don't misinterpret what's being presented here. This isn't a dig at a team that "shouldn't have won," or some such thing. The White Sox (and Ken Williams) built a winner, and no amount of Pythagorean reshuffling will take that away. But one of the most overlooked strengths of this team was their health, particularly in the rotation, where they were able to go wire-to-wire with their horses. It was a big step down after that, and that they didn't have to go any deeper than Brandon McCarthy in their rotation depth is a huge factor in why they were as strong as they were.

Nor is this a message of "yeah, but if they had six or seven injuries, they wouldn't have won," which, while it may be true in some alternate universe, isn't true in this one.

Tip your cap to Herm Schneider, Brian Ball, Allen Thomas and the rest of the training and medical staffs, who haven't gotten much press, but who performed absolutely crucial roles for the championship team. Compared to the rest of the league, the White Sox did an amazing job of protecting the investments they made. That's Smartball.

Mike Groopman contributed research to this article.

--John Erhardt

FLORIDA MARLINS
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics

Thirteen Marlins players might be leaving south Florida as free agents this winter. The group includes two fifths of the starting rotation, three eighths of the starting lineup, most of the bullpen, and two key utility players.


Free agent        Pos   PA   IP   2005 WARP  2005 Salary
Juan Encarnacion   RF  563   --      3.6      $4,435,000
A.J. Burnett       SP   --  209      5.2       3,650,000
Alex Gonzalez      SS  478   --      2.3       3,400,000
Jeff Conine        LF  384   --      2.9       3,000,000
Ismael Valdez      SP   --   50.1    0.5       1,500,000
Todd Jones         RP   --   73      6.5       1,100,000
Jim Mecir          RP   --   43.1    1.8       1,100,000
Damian Easley      2B  304   --      2.2         750,000
Lenny Harris       PH   79   --      0.5         425,000
Brian Moehler      SP   --  158.1    3.4         400,000
Antonio Alfonseca* RP   --   27.1    0.6         300,000
Paul Quantrill**   RP   --    5.1   -0.4         300,000
Mike Mordecai      2B    2   --      0.0         300,000
--------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL                 1810  566.2   27.3      20,660,000

* Team holds 2006 option
** Numbers for Marlins only

Overall, the gang was a nice bargain, driven by career years from Juan Encarnacion and Todd Jones, and big contributions from role players like Jeff Conine, Damion Easley and Brian Moehler. A.J. Burnett will be the most difficult to replace, and ironically, he's the one player who is undoubtedly not coming back, leaving on the sourest of notes.

Making up for so much inexpensive talent will be difficult, but the Marlins seem to be in a better position than most teams would be. Their farm system has provided an embarrassment of riches over the years--Miguel Cabrera, Luis Castillo, Edgar Renteria, Mark Kotsay, Charles Johnson, Kevin Millar, Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Burnett, Livan Hernandez, Brad Penny, Ryan Dempster--and it appears another crop is ripe.

Jason Vargas is etched in to the 2006 rotation, but Joshua Johnson and Scott Olsen are next in line to step in behind Willis and Beckett. The Marlins also drafted five pitchers within the top 44 picks of the June Amateur Draft.

Announcers and analysts often say things like, "He makes everyone else in that lineup better," a statement that's almost always either outright false or solid evidence of a mancrush. But for top outfield prospect Jeremy Hermida, it's almost true. Hermida debuted August 31 with a first-pitch grand slam, and Cabrera started 21 of his last 22 games at third base instead of left field. Granted, Mike Lowell's bat-gone-AWOL also led to Cabrera being summoned for infield duty--maybe the mounting pressure of slipping in the Wild Card chase finally wore out the Marlins' loyalty to Lowell--but the Marlins are still weighing their options for a permanent shift of Cabrera to the hot corner. Hermida doesn't make everyone in the lineup better, but Cabrera is slightly more valuable at third base than left field, where offense is a little easier to find. They're expected to re-sign Conine, which seems minor, but doing so could potentially signal many different scenarios:

  • Trading Carlos Delgado sounds like an odd plan after just one year, especially one in which he posted a 71.7 VORP, but Delgado's backloaded deal jumps from $4 million in 2005 to $13.5 million next year, the first of three seasons at Jim Thome money. Theoretically, Conine could play first base, leaving everyday jobs for Lowell, Cabrera, Juan Pierre, and Hermida, but that would basically set the team back to where they were before Delgado. On the other hand, the team could channel that money to extend the contracts of Beckett, Cabrera, and/or Willis, who is headed for arbitration as a Super Two player.

  • Trading Lowell is unlikely without eating most of the $18 million left over two years, but if they find a taker it would slot Cabrera at third base and leave Conine, Pierre, Hermida in the outfield. A less likely but more creative option is minor league vet Joe Dillon for third.

  • Trading Juan Pierre is another possibility. Pierre is exactly the type of player who could get more arbitration dollars than he's worth to the team. Flashy, .300-plus career batting average, oodles of stolen bases…and a dearth of power that almost cancels out everything he does well. Pierre's average and OBP dipped to career lows of .276 and .326, but the stolen bases continued. Pierre doesn't walk as much as Castillo, so if he ever suffers a similar leg injury and loses his speed, .276/.326/.354 becomes more of an upside than a career-worst performance. And defense? Using Clay Davenport's fielding metrics, he's been below league-average for the past three years. That's the hard part if the Marlins were to trade Pierre: who plays center? Hermida really belongs in a corner.

If the Marlins expect a 40-year-old Conine to repeat his .304/.374/.403 performance as a starter, they're at best optimistic, at worst crazy. Ideally, they'll use him more sparingly, maybe even in platoon with Hermida. With Conine (if he re-signs), Cabrera, and catchers Josh Willingham and Paul Lo Duca (who both have some experience at other positions), the Marlins have no shortage of versatile players. That can only help new manager Joe Girardi next year, and can only help as GM Larry Beinfest works the phones this winter to replace half his roster.

--Dave Haller

Related Content:  The Who,  Jeff Conine

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