2013 White Sox: Best in town, not in the division

Floyd Robinson

Floyd Robinson never made an All-Star team despite getting MVP votes for four straight years (despite their being two All-Star Games in 1961 and ’62). Not to be confused with the country singer of the same name, Robinson had three .300 seasons for the White Sox of the early ’60s, and led the AL in doubles with 45 in 1962. He hit .310 with 59 walks, and an .854 OPS in 1961 and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Boston pitcher Don Schwall (15-7, 3.22) and Royals shortstop and future Steinbrenner whipping-boy Dick Howser (.280, 37 steals). Robinson hit .312 and finished 10th in the MVP voting — his best finish — in ’62 and had his final .300 season in 64 (.301). The White Sox finished second for three straight years from ’63-65, and the ’64 team came closest to winning — 98 victories and a season-ending nine-game win streak left them a game behind the Yankees. The White Sox traded Robinson to the Reds after the ’66 season for pitcher Jim O’Toole — both players past their prime. The Reds perhaps hoped having an F. Robinson in their outfield might help fans forget they had already traded Frank Robinson, the ’66 Triple Crown winner. Floyd had great control of the strike zone: he walked 408 times and fanned only 282 in his career. He retired after he spent 1968 with Oakland and Boston, with a .283 average, .773 OPS and 17.7 WAR, including 4.3 and 4.0 seasons in 1964 and 1965.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: For White Sox fans who can’t get enough of Adam Dunn, there’s Trayce Thompson. He’s a 22-year outfielder with more speed, less power and a worse eye than Dunn, but similar strikeout rates. Thompson hit 25 homers, stole 21 bases, walked 55 times and hit .253 at three levels last year. And fanned 166 times in 588 plate appearances, or once every 3.5 times, or not quite as often as Dunn’s 2.9 (222 in 649). Thompson won’t be the power hitter Dunn is, or even the one Dayan Viciedo is. But his skill set is interesting, if atypical: think Rob Deer as a centerfielder.

What is this man doing here? Somebody has to play third base for the White Sox, because it won’t be Josh Fields or Kevin Youkilis or Brent Morel or, thankfully, Mark Teahen. Or manager Robin Ventura, who once manned it. It just shouldn’t be Conor Gillaspie, a one-time first-round pick of the Giants, who upon fruition, was dealt for a low Class A reliever (Jeff Soptic) who threw neither strikes (29 walks in 43.1 innings) nor effectively (5.40 ERA). It’s still hard to say the Giants got the worst of the deal. Gillaspie is not to be confused with the Cole Gillespie, a former D-backs outfielder last seen in the majors in 2011 who is now a Giants farmhand. Nor is he to be confused with a major-league third baseman. Gillaspie has a career .777 minor-league OPS and a career-high of 14 home runs, and that’s having spent the last two years in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League. Perhaps the White Sox got confused and wanted to trade for Gillespie stead of Gillaspie. It wouldn’t have mattered.

What he said: White Sox manager Robin Ventura, in response to a reporter’s argument that sabermetricians are against the use of the sacrifice bunt: “Well, they’re not sitting in my seat, either.” What he meant: “If I let Alejandro De Aza hit like he’s hitting, I won’t be sitting in my seat very long, either.”

Outlook: The White Sox are the best team in Chicago and, apparently, the second-best in the AL Central if they can hold off the Royals. That’s not saying much, on either account.

But they’re also probably not as good as last year, when they nearly won their division and probably should have. Their run differental topped the champion Tigers by 16 runs and their Pythagorean formula, according to baseballreference.com, says they should have won 88 games — what the Tigers won, and one more than the formula says the Tigers should have won.

We won’t wait for White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson to cite such stats any time soon. I’m guessing he has a place such stats can be put, and it’s not “on the board.”

Most of the White Sox’s success last year was due to their power. Their 211 home runs were third in baseball and their 748 runs were seventh, which offset a pitching staff whose ERA ranked 19th.

The Sox still have power — Adam Dunn hit 41 home runs last year despite 222 strikeouts and a .204 average, his sixth 40-home run season. And Dayan Viciedo could hit 40 this year — he hit 25 as a 23-year-old — without Dunn’s 105 walks. Paul Konerko hit 25 last year and has 422 in his career; he’s hit 212 after his 30th birthday (still not Hall of Fame material and won’t be until he’s way past 500 home runs, if ever).

But there’s plenty that can go wrong for the Sox this year:

  • Tyler Flowers replaces A.J. Pierzynski at catcher, and while he’s sure to be more popular, it’s doubtful he’ll match PIerzynski’s 27-homer, .501 slugging 2012.
  • Jake Peavy, despite his 11-12 record, was as good last year (.671 OPS against) as he’s been in half a decade. Also as healthy. He made 32 starts, the most since he made 34 in 2007 and led the NL in ERA for a second time. He hadn’t even made as many as 20 starts since 2008.
  • Rookie Addison Reed may have saved 29 games as a 23-year-old, but he wasn’t as good as Jose Valverde, who wasn’t very good. Reed allowed 57 hits in 55 innings and had a .753 OPS against, or 104 points worse than Valverde’s.

    It’s not that something can go wrong. That’s true of any team. It’s that the White Sox’s motto might be the opposite of the Scouts: Be unprepared. Second baseman Gordon Beckham’s OPS hasn’t topped .700 since his rookie season, and he keeps playing 150 games. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s career has been almost one steady descent, but the more he slips the more he plays.

    Reed may improve. Or not. But if he doesn’t, the options are Nate Jones and Matt Thornton, both of whom had OPSes in the 680s. I’m guessing if White Sox VP Kenny Williams has a second home on the ocean in Florida, he passed on the insurance.

    The White Sox have some good pieces and play in a weak division. But it will take a lot of things going right that shouldn’t for them to win the division.

    Team song: Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes: Trapped Again

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