February 3, 2006
Windy City Revisited
I wanted to revisit my last outing today to clarify and expand on a few things. I think there is a perception in some quarters that I was dismissing the White Sox's chances for 2006 when that is not the case at all. I did point out that recent teams with similar run differentials didn't fare as well by and large the following year but I did so in a vacuum, not commenting on the moves they have made this offseason.
A number of the responses I got understood where I was coming from. The following note did so while also summing up the Chicago situation and throwing in a sane emotional approach to the upcoming season as well:
I'm sitting here wearing my White Sox World Series sweatshirt. I took my son to Game 1. As a Sox fan, nothing else will ever matter again. I did the one thing I often wondered if I would ever do.That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? Once a World Championship is on the books, you've bought yourself a lot of extended joy--although that would have been a hard argument to make around Miami in 1998.
While two consecutive columns about the same team might seem a bit generous, these are the World Champions we're talking about, so they're well worth the attention.
The White Sox have seven basic hypothetical outcomes this year:
What most overachieving teams have in common is a good record in one-run games. The 2005 White Sox (35-19) were no exception. (The reason for some of the larger differentials in history like those of the 1905 Tigers (15) and 1943 Braves (13) was that they were brutalized in games with larger margins. The Sox were decent in those types of games). So far, the Guillen-led White Sox have an impressive 63-37 record in one-run games in his two-year stint.
Is there any reason to believe this won't continue? The Yankees have done it four of the last five years, so there is recent precedent. If Chicago's outstanding defense doesn't hold up, there could be some slippage in this area. Subtracting Aaron Rowand--as the letter above points out--is not going to help in this department, but it is certainly possible the other steps the team has taken will compensate for his loss by picking up slack elsewhere.
One of the points I was trying to make last time out is that it's probably too much to expect the White Sox to repeat their overage against their run differential and that a legitimate shot at another entry into the postseason sweepstakes has to come from legitimate growth. Obviously, general manager Williams understood the folly of sitting still and hoping that another extra eight wins would fall into their laps again as he has been pretty active this offseason--which isn't to say another windfall is out of the question.
While it could happen, such occurrences have been extremely rare in baseball history. Since the turn of the 20th Century, a total of 69 teams have outperformed their projection by eight or more games. Of that group, only five managed to repeat the feat again the next year:
1946-47 Washington Senators: +10 / +11
Three more teams managed a plus-seven the following season and a total of 20 managed at least a plus-five. Of those 20, a large number were either bad teams playing into mediocrity or mediocre teams playing into or to the borderline of contention. In fact, the average number of projected wins among these teams--unadjusted for length of schedule--is just 72.5. Good teams like the '05 White Sox, who played all the way to the borderline of greatness, are much rarer. Of the 20, our choices of these sorts of clubs are just these:
1930-31 Philadelphia A's: 94 projected wins-102 actual / 99 projected-107 actual
1977-78 Baltimore Orioles: 88-97 / 83-90
2004-05 New York Yankees: 88-101 / 89-95
2002-03 Minnesota Twins: 86-94 / 85-90
1961-62 Cincinnati Reds: 83-93 / 93-98
A question: what should a team's goal be at the outset of each season? Consider that, the American League East excluded, 15 of the last 25 division titles could have been won with 90 or fewer victories. The wildcard is a bit more demanding. Seven of the last 10 required at least 91 wins while the fewest wins required was 87. (The American League East has required a minimum of 94 wins the last four years after a couple of years of reduced requirements.)
Any team not calling itself the Red Sox or Yankees or battling same on an intradivisional basis has a fighting chance if they win 90 games in most years. The White Sox appear to be such a team at the moment. Defending champions or not, that's all that can be asked of any team that doesn't list its address as 161st Street and River Avenue or 4 Yawkey Way.
William Burke contributed research to this column.