Did Chicago Really Improve?
Following Sox general manger Kenny Williams's exchange of pitcher Nick Masset and second baseman Danny Richar for Cincinnati's right fielder, the people at AccuScore, a sports forecasting company, did an analysis of the White Sox offense that included the 38-year-old former All-Star. AccuScore Analyst Stephen Oh ran thousands of simulations that suggested the White Sox's chances of making the post-season increased from 58.5% to 64% because of the boost his bat would give Ozzie Guillen's squad. Some people get star-struck by the names involve rather than the reality of the situation, players included, and fail to grasp the realities of the deal. "I just think there's a lot of added things he can bring," Nick Swisher, the Chicago White Sox now relocated centerfielder said. "I mean, I had posters of that guy on my wall growing up. So I think it's going to be an awesome thing for all of us."
Computer-generated odds and Nick Swisher's grade school poster collection aside, this seems like a strange trade for the South Siders. First, Griffey is not a centerfielder by any stretch of the imagination. The last time he roamed center was in 2006 where he ranked 31st among MLB centerfielders according to the Fielding Bible. In his 870.1 innings at the position he had 247 "expected outs" and converted only 229 of those into outs (-18). To give a frame of reference, Carlos Gomez, who is the current leader among Major League centerfielders according to the Fielding Bible, has had 291 "expected outs" and has actually made 305 outs - adding 14 extra outs with his range - in his 835.1 innings this year. As a right fielder, a significantly less demanding position then center, Griffey is currently ranking 30th. In his 755 inning this season he has had 164 "expected outs" and as converted only 156 (-8). Among qualified National League right fielders, Griffey is a distant last in revised zone rating at .826. His range factor of 1.94 is well below the National League average for right fielders of 2.16. This poses a serious defensive liability to a team like the White Sox that already has 71 errors on the season (second behind the leading Rangers) and a poor .981 fielding percentage (tied for second with the Tigers and behind the Rangers).
His defensive track record in recent memory proves that Griffey has been brought in as another offensive weapon. Which brings me to my second point: the White Sox problem is not offense. They are scoring 4.98 runs per game, third behind the Tigers and the Rangers (correlation?), and leading the American League in team home runs with 147. To a team that is already punishing the ball, Griffey is a marginal offensive addition. His 15 home runs appear impressive yet his isolated slugging average is at the lowest it has been in five years (.187), lower when he is away from the lefty friendly Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Admittedly, his peripherals do not indicate any decline as he encroaches on the Big 4-0 as his walk rate (16.9%) has been the best in years and his strikeout rate has declined (14.6%). Sure, Paul Konerko has been a poor version of a first baseman in 2008. His .214/.312/.349 batting line as a first baseman has been well below the league average of .263/.344/.428. Moving Nick Swisher from center to first to displace Konerko is an obvious upgrade - Swisher has been batting .230/.348/.404. A fact that seems evident to the most elementary of baseball statisticians is lost on a Major League manager. Ozzie Guillen does not view the shift of Swisher to first and Konerko to pine the same: ''People say, 'Put Konerko on the bench, do this with Konerko, do that with Konerko,'" Guillen said, "Who's going to play first? Swisher? Oh. Do me a favor, check the book first and check Swisher and Konerko's averages, and it's not that much different.'' Yes, the averages are somewhat comparable. Looking at the on-base percentages and slugging average, you see a completely different story. Konerko is carrying a .661 OPS while Swisher is sporting a .782 OPS.
Lastly, Williams addressed the wrong need. The pitching, while superficially good (one of the American League's better era's at 3.81), has been roughed up both in terms of performance and physically as well. After starting the season strong, the staff took a significant hit in July as in 24 games in the month they accrued 216 innings and left with a 5.04 era and a 13-11 record carried by the potent offense. Starter Jose Contreras has done his best Livan Hernandez impersonation since June, posting a 7.46 era in 44.2 innings of work and has allowed opponents to hit .340/393/.563 off of him in that span. Closer Bobby Jenks missed a portion of the month and has just returned. In 2008 Jenks has been fairly steady as a closer but has been less of a strikeout pitcher than previous seasons with a strikeout rate of 14% (compared to his 22% strikeout rate last year). The bullpen is without Scott Linebrink who had been the behind only closer Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel in use in high leverage situations (1.38 pLI) but just behind Jenks in the wins probability added (1.03 wpa). He is on the disabled list until August 6th at the earliest. Talks with Oakland for Huston Street never came to fruition and the rotation and bullpen must continue through the second half as is.
Even with these points in mind, general manager Kenny Williams is overwhelmingly optimistic. "Adding a player the caliber of Ken Griffey Jr. gives us a better chance to realize those goals. Griffey's addition gives Ozzie (Guillen) more flexibility. Ozzie has the opportunity to field his best team -– offensively and defensively -– on a day-to-day basis over the next two months, and this gives us the chance to keep some of our middle-of-the-order hitters fresh and producing down the stretch. I spoke with Ken, and he is excited to be coming to Chicago to try and help us reach the postseason." Williams told the media after Griffey agreed to wave his no trade clause. Obviously the mastermind behind the trade will defend his acquisition to the bitter end. And judging from the reasons above, it will be a bitter end for the White Sox in 2008.